Creative Water Feature Construction

Published on August 27, 2023

Firepit with waterspout feature
This custom feature combines a firepit with a wall spout feature.

Step out of your creative comfort zone

I began my water feature career 24 years ago at a greenhouse/nursery selling pond products. From there, my love of everything water grew tremendously. I went from working at a pond supply shop to working at multiple landscape companies that specialized in water features.

Finally I started my own company, Art of the Yard, 13 years ago with Shane Hemphill. I have training in all types of water-feature construction, including pondless, dedicated koi ponds, water gardens and contemporary features. My first love was natural waterfalls and koi ponds. However, the ever-changing market for contemporary features has pushed me to step out of my own comfort zone. Now I feel I can produce any concept that is presented by a client.

Cautious Beginnings

During my early years of installations, my style was very cookie cutter, so to speak. Create a set of flat falls in a stair-step pattern. Even the thought of trying to take on some of the projects I have done in recent years would’ve scared the you-know-what out of me!

As the years went by, I started to get more and more comfortable with my skills and abilities. Now I am willing to take on the more advanced builds that some of our competitors won’t even touch. When asked by a client if we can bring their idea to life, my response was, and always will be, “Of course!” In the back of my mind, I might be asking myself what I’ve gotten myself into. However, I know that Shane and I have confidence that we can accomplish anything.

Seek an Expert

contemporary water fountain
This contemporary water feature has multiple levels of spillways.

You might ask, “Now, how do I gain the confidence to take on a project that is completely different from anything I’ve done before?” My answer would be to reach out to others in the industry. Don’t be afraid to ask someone for tips and tricks. I think you will find that more often than not, people love to share and feel honored to be asked for help!

If you see someone post an awesome project that you feel is outside your box, send them a message and see if they have time to explain how and why they did something. Learn as much as you can about basic construction. Any trade such as plumbing, framing, electrical, masonry and so on is so valuable in giving you the ability to build something out of this world. I have had many conversations with other contractors in Colorado as well as out-of-state folks who have taught me so much. I also love to teach and share my past experiences, so if you reach out to me or Shane, we will be happy to make time.

Another key aspect in gaining confidence is very simple — Google. I can’t stress this enough. I’ve been doing this a long time and still find myself on YouTube and other sources figuring out how to do things I haven’t done myself. The key, though, is to never let a client see you doing it. My guys call me with questions all the time. I have to remind them that they have the best source for answers in their pocket.

You do have to be careful about where you pull information. Make sure the source you are using have a good reputation. I learn from colleagues’ YouTube channels from all over the world when trying to learn new skills.

Expand Your Water Feature Offerings

Pushing your limits is so healthy for your personal and professional growth. Life is boring when you stick to the same routines over and over. The same goes for your business.

Let’s say a potential client visits your website and notices that every project you have done is the same look and style. They now visit a competitor’s site that shows diversity and creativity. Which company are they going to choose for their project? Even if you aren’t a fan of contemporary water features, dedicated koi ponds or any other specific style, someone out there is looking to pay you to do the install.

The ultimate way to grow your business is to expand the services you offer. I have always been a fan of natural water features and not so much a fan of contemporary. The ironic part is that we won a Water Artisans of the Year award with a very contemporary install. When you put the maximum effort into any project, the rewards that come from that are huge. I am now a fan of contemporary features. I can see the beauty in them as well as the financial gain for our company. Never limit yourself because you are nervous. If you believe in quality, creativity and giving it 100%, it’s very hard to fail!

The Business Side

Frog fountain
“Max” the frog loves his new digs.

We’ve touched on how expanding your style of building and stepping out of the comfort zone can improve your business. Now let’s talk about the business side of things.

During our first three years in business, we did everything in our power to take care of day-to-day operations between the two of us. It became very overwhelming answering and returning calls, typing up proposals, running payroll, etc.

We learned early on to stick to what we are good at and hire others to take care of the rest. Every time we reach a crossroad where we think it’s time to hire someone for a position, we get very nervous. But, we have learned over and over to go with your gut. We have rarely lost by doing so. It started with bringing onboard an office manager, then outsourcing payroll and things that we have no business attempting. Finally we hired our own design team.

The stress it removes from Shane and I is huge! We can focus on our sales and installs and not have to worry about the stuff behind the scenes. This all goes back to stepping out of our comfort zone. Limiting the number of hats you wear for your company will allow you to focus on the creative aspect of your business. After all, we all got into water feature installs for our love of water and nature. Try to limit the amount of office time and get out there to do what you love!

Firepit with water spout feature
A classic-style fountain provides endless beauty.
Japanese Koi Kodama

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