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WaterShapes LogotypeBy Eric Herman

I’d humbly like to add my own voice to the growing list of those who are encouraging watershapers to seek payment not just for what you do, but also for what you know.

A perfect example of what I mean is found in this issue in “Natural Intuitions,” the article by Jim Lampl (click here).  A landscape contractor who uses water in every single one of his projects – whether it’s just a small waterfeature or a full-blown swimming pool – Lampl approaches the work with an informed and distinctly artistic sensibility based on his background in visual expression and landscape design.  To my eyes, his projects are truly works of art.   

The thing that impresses me most is that his watershapes are just water with rocks and plants and the occasional waterfall – bread-and-butter stuff.  He doesn’t go in for attached spas, waterslides, fancy lighting, special tile or elegant surface materials, and I firmly believe that his simple palette testifies to the potential of  every watershape, from mid-range jobs for middle-class folks to decked-out masterpieces for mansions on the hill.

At all levels, I believe that what separates the artists from the average achievers is creativity:  It’s not the elements themselves that make the watershape; rather, it’s the way they are applied in the context of the design.

I’ve heard it said that it takes time (often, too much time) to be creative – and that time equals dollars.  That’s a good point, so I would think that time spent in designing and creating is work for which you should be paid, whether you get it done on paper in a distinct design phase or do it on site in placing rocks and plants in the construction phase, as does Lampl.

Either way, the fact that you are applying knowledge and skill your clients do not have is something that should add to your margin.  Does charging for creative work jack up the price of a mid-range pool and cut out certain dollar-conscious clients?  Probably, which is why there will always be a place in the market for those who design watershapes in living rooms for free, right before the customers’ eyes.

But I’d be willing to bet that, more times than not, charging for creative work demonstrates to clients that the design process itself has value.  It’s a process that frees you to exchange ideas with your prospects and enables them to be part of decisions that will be made.  It’s a process that enables clients to become more excited by the possibilities and to strive for greater beauty and long-range satisfaction than is the case if a design is pulled from a template book and done up in an afternoon.

Yes, high-end custom builders have budgets that enable them to stretch the envelope when it comes to structural features and materials of construction, but if Lampl and others have anything to teach us, it’s that simple elements such as rocks, plants and water are more than enough to create places of great beauty and interest if the watershaper brings his or her own talent and know-how to bear.

If there’s a lesson here, it’s that creativity and experience are the most valuable assets a watershaper can possess – and sell.

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