What separates a professional landscape lighter from an amateur

What separates a professional landscape lighter from an amateur

By Mike Gambino

missing the targetRecently I have noticed a disturbing trend where some dedicated landscape lighting companies have either reverted back to offering a more diverse range of services outside of landscape lighting in order for their business to survive or have gone out of business entirely.

My friend, co-author (The new original garden lighting book) and colleague Mark Carlson has a blog that all dedicated landscape lighter’s should be reading on a regular basis. He has also decided in 2014 to offer consulting and support services to the dedicated pro a decision I endorse entirely. I will support him in this noble endeavor whenever and wherever I can.

With landscape lighting becoming increasingly prevalent, the line between professionals and amateurs seems to get thinner and thinner at least in the eyes of some. The LED revolution has brought a great contribution to this condition and it has also brought many general trades persons and do it yourselfers to install landscape lighting. All that is due to the quicker learning process that is different from the old halogen days and this is the main reason why an increasing number of tradespersons are offering landscape lighting installation. Professional quality gear is more readily available than it was twenty years ago and that makes it partially easy to understand.

However it’s not entirely the gear that separates a pro from an amateur or a hobbyist. While landscape lighting may not be rocket science, it still requires a high level of skill and a certain amount of talent.

Here is a list of traits that separate the professional landscape lighter from the part time practice.

This camphor tree has 3 carefully selected fixtures and lamps placed strategically within under planted shrubs effectively creating a high lighted focal point

This camphor tree has 3 carefully selected fixtures and lamps placed strategically within under planted shrubs effectively creating a high lighted focal point


One tree one light one bulb

Landscape lighting starts with a good design plan. A common and often seen amateur mistake is to place 1 bullet type fixture with the same lamp (bulb) directly at the base of a tree regardless of the size, type and configuration of that plant.

Professional choices are influenced by past experience, site conditions, budget and expectation of the end result. Professionals understand what looks good and what works after many years of practice in the trade. Quantity and choice of fixture type, positioning for best effect and buffering and concealment of the light source are all important components. Lamp type, lumen or lamp brightness and beam spread are also important considerations. Primary and secondary views, maintenance requirements, cost of operation are just as important and are a part of the professional landscape lighters process.

Business inclination

Landscape lighting is a business like any other. Successful landscape lighting experts are successful business people. That means constantly developing and honing marketing skills, negotiation abilities, people skills, occasional accounting, etc. A great part of a professional’s time is spent gaining visibility, acquiring new clients and having an overall interest for expanding business. Consulting and networking with like minded and successful associates and studying related trades for new ideas on ways for improving their own business. Having a lot of likes on Facebook alone just won’t cut it.

A clear pricing method

money photoThere are many amateurs who have occasional landscape lighting gigs, but most of the time they come up with a cost of production based more on guesswork rather than having a rational method of calculating costs and fees. A common approach is to offer landscape lighting as a break even or a loss leader to close a project which is the primary specialty of the service provider. Or an across the board one size fits all price per fixture which takes into account none of the nuances or special challenges of a site or project complexity.

A pro will always have a clear pricing system, based on how much it costs him or her to run business daily, how much investment has been made, what equipment or accessories are necessary, the right of use for the fixtures and so on. It is basically a business plan like any other, but with the specifics of the trade.

A pro always makes sacrifices

Running a successful landscape lighting business means making sacrifices, and not just financial ones. Growing as a professional takes time and many landscape lighters have to sacrifice time spent with their families and stay up long hours coming up with successful marketing strategies or developing new lighting styles that set them apart from the competition. Amateurs find it convenient to be landscape lighters as an afterthought or when they run low on cash and on weekends however it’s not enough. If you want people to take you seriously as a landscape lighter, you have to brand yourself that way. Having a day job could be a lot more convenient for many people, but for those who want to pursue landscape lighting, be advised, it is very different lifestyle.

Pros know what to invest in. Amateurs do not have the necessary tools

The level of entry is not very high as many of the tools required to install a landscape lighting are the same as many other construction projects. Shovels, drills, concrete coring, hammers, ladders etc.

Many professionals are frustrated by the fact that part time lighters fail to own the most critical tool of all which is a digital RMS multimeter and if they do often have no concept of how to use it. A seasoned landscape lighter will always make the right investments. Why? Because he knows exactly what he needs to perform his art and make his business competitive.  Amateurs believe they have the truck, labor and most all the tools already so why not offer landscape lighting. It’s not so difficult right?

Professionals know that what they are being hired for is themselves and what they have to offer in terms of vision and craft, and not for the contents of their truck. It is one of the clearest differences. The best gear in the world will not make you a better landscape lighter if you don’t have what it takes. And that is vision, a commitment to constantly evolve, excellent control of light and design abilities. A seasoned pro could get the job done with lesser equipment if the situation demanded it. Professional landscape lighting products only makes things easier, but demand the same level of skills, if not a higher one.

do what you loveProfessional specialists pursue landscape lighting because they enjoy it, because it brings them some sort of fulfillment, and they are financially challenged by it. A professional has passion at the root of everything he does, but at the end of the day he has to design and install landscape lighting to put food on his table. That means doing things sometimes he normally wouldn’t if it was up to him. Professionals know they are going to return to the system to maintain and care for it  so they better do the job right so it lasts or they are going to have some big problems. Amateurs have the freedom to walk away and are in no way bound by client demands. Their future success is not riding on that project because it’s only a sideline and not their primary source of income.A professional landscape lighter doesn’t have a day job. This is his profession

Customer service

The professional landscape lighter is a service provider and because he works with people, his ability to make clients happy is crucial. It is often a lot of pressure and amateurs experience none of it. Even if they are asked by a relative to install some lights, it is still not as demanding as designing installing and maintaining a lighting system for a client. It is crucial for the success of the business to provide satisfactory customer service on top of professional level quality in landscape lighting.

The professional is aware of competition and tries to stay one step ahead

There are so few existing specialized landscape lighting companies because it is extremely challenging to stay in business when you have as much competition as you do in the landscape lighting business. With information and  education being available just a click away or at  product manufacturer sponsored seminars designed to entice the masses to install their products, many pros must work extremely hard to stay on top and maintain existing clients while searching for new ones. None of these worries are familiar to the amateur. Pricing is also an issue as many newcomers try to enter the market by charging less than established landscape lighters.






This landscape lighting blog is published by Mike Gambino of Gambino landscape lighting inc. all rights reserved. Mike is a professional landscape lighting system designer/ builder and has been designing, installing and maintaining landscape lighting systems for more than 20 years. Mike resides in the Los Angeles area with his wife and 2 sons. To visit his website go to www.gambinolighting.com . To inquire about hiring Mike please  click here .

Blog articles may be published with permission on other websites without editing or removing links.



  • Mark Carlson
    Posted at 17:20h, 28 November Reply

    Another great article Mike and thank you for the nice comments towards me and my efforts. You hit on many of the clear differences, which is nice to see. I do believe that the biggest factor in this success or difference between types is the “passion” one has for this work.

    You are absolutely right on this, as education and the desire to learn more…..committing yourself to this advancement is what it takes. Thanks for posting this…great job.

  • Mike Gambino
    Posted at 17:37h, 28 November Reply

    My pleasure Mark. Let me know what I can do to help promote your consulting efforts. I am all about supporting the dedicated professional landscape lighting specialist.

  • Keith Rosser
    Posted at 15:34h, 29 November Reply

    Excellent subject Mike. So much for the homeowner to consider when selecting a “professional”. This goes for any trade, none more important than Landscape Lighting…

Post A Comment