The law of value

“Your true worth is determined by how much more you give in value than you take in payment.”


What? That’s supposed to be a ‘Trade Secret’ for making it in the business world? According to our main character, “…that sounds like a recipe for bankruptcy! It’s almost like you trying to avoid making money.” His mentor, Pindar, should’ve followed this up with, “Well, I’m not a business major, but I did stay at a Holiday Inn Express last night”. That would’ve been hilarious.

The first Law of Stratospheric Success, The Law of Value, is always the toughest one to grasp. But once you absorb this one, all the rest make perfect sense.

However, the man that is at the center of these laws, an uber-successful fella named Pindar, equates this principle to standing in front of a fireplace demanding heat before adding any wood. Not a bad analogy. The main character, Joe, is introduced by Pindar to another man that has become a very wealthy businessman, chef and commercial real estate magnate after starting with a simple sidewalk hot dog cart.

How, you ask? It’s all in the attitude. Instead of trying to become the best hot dog stand in the city, he created the best outdoor dining experience in the city through his interactions with his clientele.  He made buying hot dogs an unforgettable experience by remembering as much about each particular person he served as he possibly could. He made his business (and their meal) more about the person serving them than the hot dogs themselves.

And what does this have to do with landscape design? Everything. Let me explain. When I relocated to Southern California a few years ago, thousands of miles from my family, friends, former colleagues, clients and comfort zone, I had to figure out how I was going to appeal to future clients in order to get work. I tried everything I could think of. I made a Facebook Fan Page, a Craigslist ad and designed our website. I cold-called builders, architects, realtors, landscape construction companies and landscape architects. I made business cards, brochures and fliers and joined a professional networking group I could barely afford to attend. I even dropped off some of those cards, brochures and fliers at nearby sales offices for new communities being built. I basically thought I had left no stone unturned. I became increasingly frustrated at my lack of progress and hoped that my unemployment would never run out, even secretly prayed for a raise by the government.

Then, after multiple sessions of encouragement from my better half, I finally realized what the problem was. I was focusing too much of my attention on the lack; what it was that I WASN’T getting, instead of what I already had. What I had, was me. She helped me realize that a website, Facebook Page or portfolio, business card, flier or brochure could only go so far. What I needed to do was get out there and represent my brand personally. Put a personality, a smiling face, an intelligent conversation behind it all. I needed to humanize Square Root Design Studio. So, I did. Over the next few weeks, I walked around neighborhood to neighborhood, going door to door like the Amway salesperson, pitching myself to anyone who answered their door past the chain lock. With me I took a notepad and pen, a bunch of business card and my professional portfolio. I was armed and dangerous. Give me a minute, and I’d talk your ear off about why you NEED to get rid of that grass in your front yard. Give me two minutes, and I’d show you every project I’d worked on since grade school. But a funny thing happened along the way. For every door I knocked on, only about10% were home. And out of them, only about 10% were interested in what I had to say before the token ‘No thank you’ was muttered. But in that small portion of homes I visited, that were home, that answered the door and let me finish my 17 second spiel, not one of them asked to see my portfolio. That’s because I was no longer selling my work. I was now selling myself. And believe me, I got good at that 17 second script. I spouted off enough information about me, my company and why you should hire me to make War and Peace look like a pamphlet.

I landed my first client on the first day of walking around, at the last house I had decided to visit that day. It felt great. Like I had just sold a ketchup popsicle to a woman in white gloves. And I didn’t charge them a dime. I offered to produce a full consultation and concept design at no charge, explaining to them that not only was I grateful for the opportunity to work with them, but also because I wanted to truly get to know them in order to produce a design that was tailored to their wants and vision, and not just a cookie-cutter back yard that everyone on their street already had. But I didn’t stop there, I memorized their names, their kids’ names and even their beagle, Roxy. During one meeting with them, I watched the husband dance around his back yard pointing in various directions to indicate which elements he wanted here and there in his native French accent. Do you remember that scene in Boondock Saints when Willem Dafoe arrived at the crime scene to formulate theories and recreate the timeline while prancing around and listening to opera music through his earphones? It was like that, but more dramatic and without the opera and earphones and spent casings.

Anyway, I gave my heart and soul to that project and to that family. And they got a custom design that met all of their wants and perfectly reflected their personalities. He got his outdoor kitchen, she got her cafe/breakfast nook, and the kids got their fire pit and hot tub. And Roxy got a custom doggie litter box.

After the concept plan phase was finished, they were so pleased with my work that they decided to extend the contract with me to produce a plan to submit to the Homeowner’s Association for approval. And they insisted on paying me.

In the time since, I’ve been fortunate enough to have a few other channels produce promising leads. But none met the level of satisfaction I received from just getting out there and doing it. The face time with prospective clients has been the most fruitful, and the most rewarding. The two projects identified in the introduction to this series’ main page are also examples of projects done on a pro bono basis. As mentioned previously, I hope I get to see those projects come to fruition.

But, it’s not about the money. It’s about seeing the expressions on folks’ faces when they see their dreams become a reality.

The second law, The Law of Compensation, will follow shortly so check back often for updates.

We hope you’ve enjoyed this so far. See you soon..