In the not so distant past, a state of emergency had descended upon our household.
Our house was in extreme danger of being swallowed whole by the vegetation in our back yard. After five years of minimal trimming, our 15 year old mature plants had taken on a life of their own.
They were encroaching upon our grassy knolls, sagging at the weight of their own branches. They were creeping over the fence into the neighbor’s yard. Whole new ecological communities were hatching in the shade of their giant profiles. They had become ugly, mangy, unmanageable beasts. I think they even grew fangs.
Something had to be done, for the sake of our small children and their ability to sleep at night.
A landscaper gave me a quote to give them all one good trim. But at $350, I said no thanks, and promptly ran off to Sears to buy an electric hedge trimmer with my birthday gift money. An hour after that I was on About.com reading about how to trim a hedge.
(By the way, if you ever do an internet search on this topic, make sure you search “how to trim A hedge,” instead of “how to trim YOUR hedge.” The results are staggeringly different.)
Then one Sunday afternoon, new tools in hand, I stood squarely in the face of plant beast #1, and said, “brother, you’re going down.”
Two hours and two scraped arms later, I had trimmed a measly 1/4 of the plant away. The job was harder than I’d thought.
But by the end of six short weeks (my trimming availability was limited in the following weeks), after a few more similar sessions, plant beast #1 had been tamed. I was beaming with pride.
Then the weather started to get cold, and a perma-dew settled on the lawn. Wanting to avoid using power tools while standing in wet grass, I decided that plants #2 through #4 would have to wait until spring.
Come spring I tackled plant beast #2, in much of the same manner as #1. Then summer came, and it got too hot to work outdoors. Plants #3 and #4 would have to wait until fall.
Come fall, plant #1, now one full year beyond our first battle, had grown back to his mangy state once more.
At this point I had to admit that trimming my overgrown desert plants was beyond my skill set. Actually, it was kind of like pushing a bus uphill on cinder block wheels.
Then one glorious day, my mom got a tip on a new landscaper and sent him over to do a $50 maintenance visit. I was worried he would take one look at our leafy monsters and run away in terror. But no, I sat and watched with wonder as he and two other guys tamed those four plants in under ten minutes flat. No scratched arms or anything, like it was no big deal at all.
My botanical weight had been lifted, just like that.
Then there was the front yard.
It had sprouted a few plant goblins itself. Three, actually. Little palm trees had hatched in our planting bed one day, seeded from another palm not too far away. At first I didn’t pay too much attention to them. But then they got bigger, and bigger, until I really started to worry about them taking over the house too. But lordy, if I couldn’t trim a simple hedge, how was I supposed to remove three whole palm trees?
One day I happened to be home and caught Raul (the landscaper) as he came by to do his monthly trim. I asked if he could remove the palms that had become my new source of fear, and in doing we found another plant life that was terribly past it’s prime and needed to be replaced. He offered to do all this extra work for $40.
I noticed him wince a little when he quoted me the price, like he was expecting me to lash out and talk him down. He immediately started to justify his quote, saying he would only profit about $20, etc. What he didn’t know, was that I was waiting for him to stop talking so I could bolt inside and get 40 bucks so he could get to work.
In my mind $40 was the world’s smallest price to pay for him to solve a problem that I had no ability to fix whatsoever. Actually, it was pretty cheap. I would have paid him a lot more.
And, true to form, once I gave him the go-ahead, he sliced out those palms with his chainsaw in seconds flat. Awe inspiring, I tell you.
There is a point to this long tale about my overgrown yard.
Have you ever had to charge a client for your services? Did you feel weird about it? Did you feel like your rates wouldn’t be justified?
I did freelance interior design for a bit, and always felt odd about telling a client how much I charged. The work was so easy for me that I felt guilty actually charging someone, especially for something I would never pay anyone else to do for my own house (because I can do it myself).
Being one who likes to save a dollar, I also feel guilty for making others spend theirs. I’ve worried about my clients resenting me for making them hand their hard earned dollars over for a few sketches and suggestions.
Someday I hope to charge freelance rates again, down the road, doing something that I haven’t yet determined.
I’m going to remember from my plant beast experience what it’s like being on the client side of this situation.
Just like I’m willing to pay for Raul’s mad horticultural skills, someone else is waiting to bolt indoors and get me a check so my skills can solve their problems too.
So, you hear that Raul? No more wincing when you set your rates.