Guilt by association

gardengal48June 29, 2007

For some reason, this season I have been contracted by more than a few homeowners to re-work landscape designs provided by others. Most of these are still in the design stage - no hardscape or planting has yet been done although clean out and/or regrading has often happened. Apparently, once the design has been turned over to them and they have gone plant shopping, they've discovered that a) the spec'd plants will get too big for the location, b) the plants are not suited for that situation (sun plants in shade and vice versa) or c) they just plain don't like the plant selection and/or the design. In the case of the latter, why they didn't make that dissatisfaction clear to the original designer is a mystery to me, but there seems to be a reluctance on their part to say "I don't like it". Several have been enormously over-designed with far too many plants spaced too close together, resulting in what would be an immediate, chaotic jungle.

While I have no trouble with helping them to re-do the design to their satisfaction and take pains not to bad-mouth the incompetancy of the previous designer(s), my issue is with charging them for my services. I feel bad that they contracted and paid for what is essentially a useless piece of paper and are now faced with paying more to get it into a functional design. It reflects poorly on our woefully unregulated profession and in my desire to counteract this negative experience, I have a tendency to want to downplay my fees to make up for it. I know this is a bit silly and the quality of my work speaks for itself, but I still have this guilty feeling asking them to pay all over again and often quite a bit more than the rookie/unexperienced designer charged initially.

Has anyone else encountered this and how do you erase or overlook this feeling of guilt by association? Or because some of the prep work has already been done (site measurements, base map, etc.) do you modify your fees accordingly?

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Embothrium(USDA 8 Sunset 5 WA)

You're the second opinion. Doctors wouldn't charge less. The customers can have 10 designs done if they want, what's it got to do with you? I have been accused of "stealing" an account once, as discussed on this site previously. But that was a situation where both companies were working the same site (a small estate, with multiple activities) at the same time. They're gone, now it's your turn. Too bad if the other designer is in the same profession, you can't police the whole industry yourself.

    Bookmark   June 29, 2007 at 4:45PM
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You can not be an insurance company that pays for damages that other insurance companies received the premiums for.

Someone told me twenty years ago that if I did some discount work, I would be a discount company. It took me a long time to implement that (he got a few discount years out of me, come to think of it). You have to hold firm even if it means that you can only help out some of these people. The worst thing that you can do is to feel guilt for getting paid what you are worth.

    Bookmark   June 29, 2007 at 6:10PM
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I don't know how you do it Pam. What do you do, make the plan for someone who doesn't know their ass from their elbow and you send them off with a shopping list? "Hey these look good, let's put a bunch of them green things in", "But I want some colour Donny." After a while YOU will be the person whose work needs revision where will your guilt be then?

    Bookmark   June 29, 2007 at 7:08PM
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My previous message was intended to be supportive having been there and done that but when I read it back it sounds aggressive and not what I intended. I did a revision a while back, it was a project done by someone I mentored when they got out of school. Two years later the client had the garden I did revised by, coincidentally, another young designer I had mentored. I await the next revision with bated breath, my point being that sometimes a fickle client with tons of money aces even the best of intentions. Don't reduce your price and don't feel guilty.

    Bookmark   June 30, 2007 at 4:50PM
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Thanks for the clarification, Ink :-) I'll admit I read it through several times and still wasn't sure how you intended those words, but it didn't sound quite right compared to the Ink I know. So I hesitated to respond.

To be fair, none of the clients in these circumstances are what I'd call fickle. More that they are not familiar with the design process and hiring a professional, didn't know what questions to ask or what credentials to review and so got taken by an inexperienced or unskilled individual. And paid good money for garbage. But still had enough sense to recognize it before they got any further along in the process.

Thank you all for the reality check. I can still feel bad for them but not to the point where I decide to compromise my own professionalism. I grew up with mother was a master at it. It's a family trait that's hard to get away from :-)

    Bookmark   June 30, 2007 at 11:55PM
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gonativegal(zone 5a)

This could be the thread for another topic.

I was given some very good advice from another contractor (a carpenter by chance). He said, 'always remember these are clients; they are not your friends no matter how nice they are.' In essence, (and I have been guilty of this in the past) charge a fair rate and do not undercut yourself.

I guess it's all part of that guilt factor - that nice people should get a better price and the you know whats quoted a higher price.

In my dealings, I've found that some of the more demanding people pay up a lot faster as long as you deliver what you promised. It's all business with them. It's the nice ones (some of them at least) that think they can be your buddy and that excuses their failure to pay up on time.

    Bookmark   July 8, 2007 at 6:39PM
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Embothrium(USDA 8 Sunset 5 WA)

So then who really was nice and who wasn't? I wonder if some actually even look for members of the Guilt Association/Guilt Guild when interviewing designers or contractors so they can get a deal or maybe not even pay at all. I've worked with others who undercharge and don't like it. Expenses are not optional, if they aren't paying for it then you are. If you aren't making enough of a return after everything is paid for to make it worth your time then you are operating a charity.

    Bookmark   July 8, 2007 at 8:43PM
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watergal(z6/7 Westminster, MD)

It would be great if we could give nice people a discount, as there are so few of them left in this world, after all (gosh, I have become cynical!).

However, I see absolutely nothing wrong in quoting a higher price for someone you can just tell is going to be a troublemaker. This is commonly known as the PITA factor (pain in the a**).

When we had our house addition built, we got three quotes (called 7 contractors but only 3 made it out to our house). One guy was so high that I'm sure he made up an outrageous number because he didn't really want the job, for whatever reason (too hard, weird engineering issue to deal with, whatever). The low guy obviously was in over his head. We went with the middle guy and were absolutely thrilled with his work. Of course, I'm sure he gave us a good price because we are NICE PEOPLE! (hee hee)

    Bookmark   July 9, 2007 at 12:09AM
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Embothrium(USDA 8 Sunset 5 WA)

30 years ago that's what we were being taught at the community college: get 6 estimates, pick one of the companies that falls in the middle. The middle range indicates the correct price.

    Bookmark   July 9, 2007 at 1:25AM
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I am an honest designer and I treat each property with excitement as though it is my own. I am also a recovering guilt-alcoholic and can easily find myself giving away what has become my passion. I am fortunate in that I don't have to rely on my income to survive. I raise my children and design if I feel like it. The problem here is by giving away what I spend years in school learning and years in the field doing, I discredit my profession as well as others who are in this profession. This guilt thing makes me crazy and I am trying to make changes. It is progress not profection.

    Bookmark   July 18, 2007 at 7:08PM
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