Bowles & Wyer
business strategy

Assume the position

Written by John Wyer

Much of the ‘management-speak’ that we come across from time to time sounds like complete gobbledygook. Some of the ideas also seem abtruse and at times even contradictory. How can we ‘answer client need’, ‘respond to the market’, ‘offer value’ and still make a living without going mad in the process?

If, like me, you were doing your tax return a couple of months ago, did you then start the year with a sigh, or a glint in your eye? Surely, you think, there must be loads of clients out there who would like exactly what I want to do? Why do I have to change what I am offering for each client?

So, where are these clients and how do we find them? Part of the answer to this lies in positioning (and we’re not talking yoga here). Yes, this is more of that management-speak, but it is an interesting idea that makes sense. Let’s take a product or service unrelated to landscape – air travel, for the sake of argument, going to, say, Germany on a plane. This seems like a simple enough concept, but if I say: ‘Ryanair’ or ‘Lear Jet’ to you, two completely different sets of images come to mind. These are, in effect, shorthand for two very different products. You still get on a plane, fly to Germany and get off the plane, but there the similarities end.

What is interesting about this is that although it is possible to dissect a market in lots of different ways, it is often useful to cut them by just two factors. Think of cars for example. Take sporty and cost as the two axes – dissected at the centre so we have a cross – sporty vertical, and cost horizontal (draw this in your head or on a piece of paper). Something like a Nissan Micra would be bottom left – low cost and low sport – while an Aston Martin is top right – high cost and high sport.

But how is this relevant to us designers? Well, it turns out that you can do the same with garden design. You can make the axes whatever you want. Don’t want to travel too far? Make one of the axes geographical. Only like doing contemporary gardens, or sustainable ones, or family gardens etc. Make that the other one. Once you have your two axes, put yourself on there and then add competitors as well – see if they occupy the same space as you or different. Ideally you want to be in white space.

The beauty of this is that it allows you to hone the sort of work you want to do and it will help you find those clients. Once you appreciate this, you can then take this a stage further and gear all your marketing and sales activity to exactly the sort of clients that you want to attract.

You will get more of the sort of work that you like and the best bit is that they will like what you do because they have sought you out. And satisfied clients make for a more enjoyable experience for both of you and ultimately, more profitable work. And that is something to think about.


[This was originally published as an article in the Garden Design Journal in April 2020 as part of the ‘Just Saying’ series.]

April 6, 2020