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Jay Sifford On Finding Clients That Match Your Niche

How landscape design pro Jay Sifford builds customer partnerships & transformative outdoor spaces

Allison Monea

Before becoming a successful landscape design pro, Jay Sifford worked with a different medium: custom saltwater aquariums. But even as he ran his business designing, installing and maintaining these aquatic homes, he followed his passion, and took on free landscape projects for friends.

It wasn’t until 2008 when the recession hit that he started taking his hobby more seriously. “I had a lot of clients with really bad yards and I thought instead of complaining, I would be as proactive as possible and start a business,” he says. Now 15 year later, the founder of Jay Sifford Garden Design says this career is the best fit so far. We sat down with Sifford to learn how he’s managed to stay true to what he loves while building a successful business that attracts the clientele that stellar reputations are built on 

Dig in to What Makes You Different  

Sifford’s designs do not always reflect the landscape styles traditional to the Charlotte, North Carolina area where he is based. "We think outside the box. We do a lot of stuff that would be more easily found on the West Coast maybe or in the Northeast,” he says. “A lot of the people who moved to Charlotte really enjoy that aesthetic,” he says. 

For Sifford, leaning into what makes his business stand out is a big part of attracting the type of clients he most  enjoys working with and those who inspire him to do his best work. “A lot of people come to us for our style because we definitely have a style, even though we try to tailor it to every individual client in their spaces,” he says. But clients are attracted to more than his design aesthetic, he says. “They come to us basically to pull them out of the box a little bit,” Sifford says.

Know Your Ideal Client 

Sifford has a criteria that helps him gauge whether his style and approach fits the project a client is seeking help with. Topping that list is determining how collaborative the creative endeavor will be. 

“I'm looking for people who are really engaged in the process, very excited and open to innovative ideas,” he says. “I want people who are fascinated with what we do and who want immersive gardens.” 

And while collaboration can be tricky with certain projects and at particular stages of the work, Sifford believes that having a client who wants to be involved produces a more successful outcome. “I feel like one of my roles as a designer is to find out what people like but then to stretch them, to see how far I can stretch them to get out of their safety zone,'' Sifford says. “I think that's what gives people a really interesting garden that just grabs hold of you and immerses you in it.” 

Weed Out Complications 

With all the complexity that comes with planning and executing any landscape project, Sifford thinks finding the right professional to do the job should be the easiest part for clients.

For him that means having a user-friendly website that is seamless and makes his services easy to find and understand. “Some websites are so complicated, but Houzz Pro website services have made it easy,’’ he says  “It's basically tailored to however people want to use it.”

Within minutes, a prospective client can get a feel for his conceptual approach to landscape design such as the difference between a transformative garden and a solely decorative one. Or, he says “they can take a deeper dive looking through photographs of completed projects whether it's a courtyard, woodland or immersive garden.” 

Having high quality photographs that tell the story of how landscape design transforms outdoor spaces are a key way pros like Sifford attract new clients. For those in search of professional photographers to give them an edge, Houzz Pro Perfect Capture connects pro to photographers in their region to help source high quality imagery for portfolio and website use. 

Using Houzz Pro to help him build his SEO-optimized website has made that part of running his business not only more effective for growing it, but efficient. He appreciates the quality tech support and the ease in which he can migrate information like client reviews between the website and his  Houzz Premium profile.

“It's definitely helped my business,” he says. “Life's too complicated, it needs to be as simple as going with Houzz Pro,” says Sifford.

Grow an Awesome Reputation

Sifford believes that being able to attract the clients that help your business thrive requires setting a solid foundation built on a stellar reputation “It just all goes back to reputation and that's why I tell people we don't develop and continue to have a good reputation, we might as well close up shop.” 

The best way to build a reputation that brings referrals and more projects is to always aim to exceed your customer’s expectations, he says “I always tell my clients before even starting on a project that if we meet your expectations regarding the potential of your space, I totally failed because my goal is to exceed your expectations, really blow people away,” he says. 

A satisfied client is a loyal client, “When people are that happy with what we do and that happy with the uniqueness of our designs,  people tend to call us back when they move or want to phase two or phase three,” Sifford says. “I’ve followed some of my clients around to two or three different houses.”

Value Your Worth

Understanding the value of your services is also an important part of knowing which clients your business best serves, Sifford says. And, knowing the worth of what you bring to the market and industry  is one of the most important things you can do for yourself as a business owner. “I've raised my minimum project price three times in the last year, I think and the first two times it didn't deter anybody,” he says.

Some people were deterred the third time he raised the price, but that did not deter Sifford because he says it was a necessary decision. The more you know and convey who you are and what your company stands for, the more clients will see the value of your service as being worth the price.

“You shouldn't apologize for what you charge,” he says. The people who apologize for it. I think it gives a negative viewpoint to the client because if you're not sure you're worth that, then they're not going to be sure they are worth it either.”  

And, as the winner of 15 Best of Houzz awards, Sifford has shown just how many clients value the design and service that his business has been offering since he harnessed his passion and made it into a successful career. 

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Allison Monea is an Associate Content Writer at Houzz. A lover of art, design and her local Seattle scene.

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