View Full Version : Landscape Consulting

03-08-2001, 02:53 PM
There are huge numbers of DIYers in my area. Some contact us looking for some help either in technical advice of to do portions of the project, while leaving other portions to tackle themselves.

Have any of you served as a consultant? Different from charging for a design, I mean going to the site and providing technical assistance for an installation. (Hands-off technical assistance on hardscape stuff primarily)

I proposed it to a customer recently, offering my services for $50/hr, 2hr minimum per visit.

03-08-2001, 03:48 PM
Great way to increase your exposure and learning. Get to be involved in many more projects without getting tied down with the mundane steps. But I would think differently about fees. Do you really make a set amount every hour you are on one of your jobs? Most actual profit is made in design phase, where knowledge comes into play. Organization is another phase where experience pays off. And the mundane on the job installation is the lowest per hour real profit, because of the high cost of labor & materials.

You would want the class of person that wants to do the job right, but enjoys or economically needs to do it himself. Off the top of my head, I would sell this as a basic fee, plus an hourly fee. The basic fee is for your knowledge and experience (probably a percentage of the project cost if you did it yourself), the hourly fee is for the time spent in conveying this advice and criticizing their progress. Some would just want initial advice, but some of these will take twice as long as others; some might want you to criticize after each step of project so they are sure they are procceding properly.

Around here in maintenance work, most of us will consult for $35-40/hr, but if homeowner is really interested, price will quickly go down to $25-30. It makes it fun to find those who appreciate and really listen to your input. Your $50/hr, 2 hr min may scare off some as too costly - any question I have during the project will cost $100?

03-08-2001, 06:30 PM
Well, their are a couple forces at play for something like this.

The learning part I'm not too worried about, other than the learning curve of working with the people in this niche.

The DIYers around me seem to be more into doing it for the financial end, and not so much the reward of doing the project yourself. That being said, I would worry that if my fees were inexpensive, I'd be running all over town doing only this, and not making very much $, which is not my intent.

And I think the 2 hour minimum charge would force the customer to be conscious of the time, so an appointment wouldn't drag on unnecessarily.

The other thing at play here is opportunity cost. If I spend 5 hours doing this, how much could I have made if I'd spent that same time supervising a crew on an install, or selling a project to another client? Would I have made $250?

The more I write the less I like my idea........

03-17-2001, 01:21 PM
There's a company around here (I think it's a franchise) called "Let's Landscape (together)!" On their trucks they've got "together" in smaller text and in brackets. One of our maintenance customers went with them for a landscape project. They re-did her backyard for her. She said you can get 'em to do the whole job, or you can provide all the labour, or you can provide some of the labour (ie. landscape together). It's an interesting, if unusual idea. Personally, I can't see many of my customers being interested in humping wheelbarrows around all day under the hot sun, but hey - they seem to be doing all right so far.

BTW, she had them do the whole job. She scoffed at the idea of actually doing the physical work herself.

04-29-2002, 10:05 PM
I have had this idea in the back of my head for awhile. So I did a little searching, and hey, it turns out that great minds think alike.

My idea has a little different twist than Stonehenge's though. I would tell you about it, but it's a trade secret. :D

BTW http://www.letslandscapetogether.net

04-30-2002, 01:12 AM
Stonehenge... I like the idea. As you're likely to come away with sales as a result of consulting. However, I think $50/hr is low. The customer should pay a premium for knowledge. Let 'em know it's going to cost 'em $100 per hour, but you'll yield tons of benefits to them in that short period of time. They may only need you to come out for 15 min here or there. You could make your visit a 1/2 hr minimum to consult on grade or base course of stone, etc. If you work with 'em, you're making money. At $50.00 per hour for your time, you could be making more managing your crews. Just my $0.02

04-30-2002, 04:45 PM
I usually end up charging more when a customer wants to help out as it almost always ends up taking us longer. I call it the PITA surcharge. ;)

04-30-2002, 11:17 PM
OK, here is what I was thinking...

In addition to the "landscape coach" (as I will call Stonehenge's idea), what about a landscape advisor?

Not a landscape consultant (who basically does the same thing as most full fledged landscapers, except the actual work.)

But a landscape advisor would assist homeowners in choosing a landscaper for their project, based on quality, price etc. as well as making recommendations from received bids. And could also check the work at set intervals to ensure that everything is as planned and quality is up to par. Kind of like a building inspector for landscaping.

A few things I realize:

Not good - Could be seen as "playing favorites."
Good - Good landscapers would have an "out-sider" steering clients away from unprofessional and/or unqualified (read low-ballers) landscapers. Which would only help the "good guys."

Of course this would not be a profession for anyone currently employed by a landscaping company. That WOULD be a conflict of interest.

What are your feelings about this idea? Good points? Bad points?

dan deutekom
05-01-2002, 07:27 PM

Isn't that what a Landscape Architect does?

05-01-2002, 09:19 PM
I've consulted on after the fact irrigation jobs that were screwed up detailing every thing in the design or lack there of that contributed to the failure to get irrigated properly. Usually involved a lawsuit or threat of one. $65/hr, 3 hr minimum which includes site visit, travel and report prep time.

The idea probably has more merit like a Dr making house calls than as a construction supervisor. Maybe $75 min for 1/2 hr on site, they take notes, you document yourself for your own records. Talk about turf and ornamental insects, diseases, cultural practices etc., whatever is on their mind. You just need to have some certifications, degree(s) experience etc and really be on top of your game. Priced high enough it could fill a few blank hours a month an make a few hundred with out busting butt.

05-01-2002, 09:29 PM
Yes and no.
Landscape Architects are more involved with the "big picture", things like planning the landscape, design, and in part, overseeing the install.
I am thinking more like a "good friend in the business." Not really giving design ideas or even suggestions.

Think financial/investment advisor + building inspector.... for your yard.

Helping more with the business side of landscaping jobs than the creative side.

As with many occupations, there may be a little overlap of boundries, but I can't think of any current occupation that focuses on this end of the equation.

First, you help them make in informed decision on which landscape company/designer/architect/etc. Then if they wish, you inspect the work to see that it complies with standards and/or the written contract. But at no point are you actually in charge of any creative decisions or day to day construction supervision.

Remember, a lot of this comes natural to those of us in the business, but many homeowners are lost when it comes to these things. That's why they hire designers, they don't know what to do or how to do it. They would benefit from a third party, to keep them from getting "taken" by "less than honorable" contractors that perform sub-quality work that could cost them even more money to correct after the fact.

05-01-2002, 09:57 PM
Thinking of yourself as an advocate for the customer! There are consultants that do this.

You ever see the person that takes on the $250,000 renovation job to their house and they decided they had the skills to be the GC? All too often people feel they are qualified to make that decision- and rarely do they seek the advice of someone who is more knowledgable. Everyone wonders what's your angle.

I think it's a great idea. I'm rarely a pessimist, however, I have to ask how many people are already too dangerous for themselves because they think they know enough to make the decisions. There has to be a market - and like anything else, it would take time to build/develop a reputation to the point where people would come to you for the service. But you certainly would have to figure out a way to make sure there was no conflict of interest on your behalf (kick backs, buddies doing the work, etc) - as this might spoil the trust with the client.

05-01-2002, 10:23 PM
That's an interesting observation...

Sure it will cost them a little, but if you can convince them that it is like an insurance policy...

They really have nothing to lose. But on their own, how much do they stand to lose if they choose a contractor that cuts corners.

Would a homeowner be able to tell the difference between a 50 yard pile of topsoil and 100 yard pile? Could they determine how much base they need for their new paver patio based on the sub-soil? Would they even realize the importance of drainage behind a retaining wall?

On the other hand (we'll call this hand LawnLad's), we now have the Internet. And everyone, including homeowners are quickly becoming experts at everything. Why would they pay somebody when they can just look up all the information they need to become an "expert" in their own mind.
I agree with LawnLad, it may be a hard-sell. But if you can establish trust and at the same time, get them to realize that there is far to much knowledge for them to master in a short period of time, there very well could be a market, even if you have to create the market at the time you are selling yourself.

But you certainly would have to figure out a way to make sure there was no conflict of interest on your behalf (kick backs, buddies doing the work, etc) - as this might spoil the trust with the client. This would surely have to be brought out in the open up front. There would be a level of trust that would have to be acheived, without a doubt. It would be best if you didn't provide any names of companies. Only give advice after they have received the bids. And then let them know if you personally know anyone working for either company, regardless of which bid you reccomend.

05-01-2002, 11:44 PM
Originally posted by Stonehenge
The other thing at play here is opportunity cost. If I spend 5 hours doing this, how much could I have made if I'd spent that same time supervising a crew on an install, or selling a project to another client? Would I have made $250?

The more I write the less I like my idea........

Only you can answer that, but I bet you could make more selling or installing yourself.

I am not totally against it though ... our design department gets bogged down and turns away lots of consultations because they are busy doing full designs .... we have a two hour min . $60.00 per hour.

What about having a employee doing this hardscape consulting for you? A good guy would jump at this opportunity . You would have very little start up cost of this division .... just advertising, transit for setting grades for them ...piece of cake.

The more I write ...the more I like the idea:) You would also get a ton of extra work either right away or down the road.

05-02-2002, 12:17 AM
Kris, that's a good idea.

DaveK, we did a little work for a guy that kind of does what you're describing - he's like a GC, but not really. Like a consultant, but not really. He's almost like a concierge for the home, handling aspects of landscaping, electrical, plumbing, etc, but he doesn't do any of the work.

05-02-2002, 12:21 AM
Just some thoughts on this....... how would you seperate yourself from your firm? I also wonder with all the cad packages around why designers don't included details in their drawings? All the major paver and wall suppliers give them away. Tree and shrub planting details are easy to come by along with most specifaction on proper installing. Most drawing might need one extra sheet for details and 5 or 6 pages of specs.

Now is this do able for home owners? Having not work with them in over 10 years I don't know.

05-02-2002, 08:57 AM
I don't think this service would necessarily be marketed to DIY. There are 2 types of DIY as I see it. Those that are cheap out of necessity or habit and those that are into learning and doing. Neither would probably bother much with consulting.

Those that have occasional hort, agronomic or irrigation problems I would guess and maybe wrongly, might be the target market.

I'm basing this on the phone calls I field even though we don't advertise consulting.

05-02-2002, 11:47 AM
I think some of you are missing the ideas, or not reading all the posts.

Stonehenge was talking about assisting DIYers.

I am talking about a little different concept (although both services could be provided by a landscape "advisor"). The direction I was taking was not for DIYers. It would be marketed towards the homeowners that do not want to do it themselves, but at the same time want to ensure that they have made intelligent informed decisions, and a little peace of mind that they are getting exactly what they are paying for.

Many people use financial firms to handle all the financial aspects of their life, many use financial advisors to assist them in financial aspects of their life, and many "go it alone." The same goes for landscape projects, although they usually hire a firm to handle it all, or go it alone. This gives them another option in between the two extremes.

I am not saying that there is a huge market for this right now, but there certainly is potential. And the overhead would be extremely low, with advertising and marketing being your biggest expense.

The reason that this potential market even exists is because there is such little regulation in the landscaping industry, and because there will always be scrubs. I think this would only help the professional landscapers while also raising the bar for scrubs. The scrubs either get their act together and become professionals, or face the fact that consumers are getting help in weeding them out.

Stonehenge: How much business did the guy you mentioned have? Was he the one that made the initial contact with you or was it the customer?

05-02-2002, 02:07 PM
I have done a little of both.

We had a client that was building a vacation home in another state. He hired me to be a "construction advisor" for the sitework and landscaping. I visited the site about a dozen times during the wntire process. I was his set of eyes for that part of the project.

I have also done many "prescriptions" as I call them. I have got many a call for an estimate, and the only actual reason was that the customer wanted some free advice.

We will make a site visit, and prepare a "prescription" for the maintenance, complete with schedules, material lists, work instruction details... We can also make visits during the progress of the work.

05-02-2002, 10:13 PM
The guy contacted me on behalf of his client.

Who knows how much volume he really does, but when we spoke he said he did $.5M the previous year (and while that sounds like a lot, I believe it was $.5M in total projects, of which he just tacks on a small percentage, making $.5M sound rather small).

05-02-2002, 11:23 PM

I think a major customer in this whole scheme of things is being overlooked....

how about other contractors?

Think about it......there's how many people here on lawnsite every night asking questions and waiting for answers? If you need a bigger market than that, well, sorry, I can't help you then.

Case and point. I currently am doing design work for about 10 diff't contractors in my area. A few of them are small operations, others are large. Every time I go on a design, it always turns into, "how would you go about doing a job like this"

Most guys looking for design work are also looking for guidance on installation. I think it is a huge niche market waiting to be filled. Every day, more and more calls are coming in.

I would much rather deal with contractors all day than homeowners anyway.....well, at least most contractors!


05-03-2002, 09:14 AM
Only a very samll handful of DIY are likely to pay for consultation.

We do a couple of things along this line. we do maintain a lending library of books and tapes that can be checked out to help people with their projects.

As to on sites etc, we tie this to purchases. If you seek assistance from us, you have to committ to buying all of your material through us. This only works of course for those of us that maintain complete garden stores or landscape supply businesses.

I answered an ad from these Landscape Together people once, to try and find out what it was all about. They never responded.

The only market that I seem to be able to get consulting revenue from seems to be attorneys and insurance companies. They don't seem to mind paying the $75.00 per hour and expenses that we charge for this at all. Many time homeowners call seeking advice for dealing with an insurance claim, but they balk at paying for consultation. The insurance companies do it all the time, and then the homeowner wonders why they don't get as much as they think they should. Interestingly enough, most insurance claims for trees and landscaping etc end up being part of larger squabbles between neighbors and relatives. In fact I've been involved in more brother brother complaints than any other kind.

Doug Austreim
Austreim Landscaping

05-03-2002, 10:02 AM
Check this out.....

I knew about this company, but had trouble finding......they do this with pools! Nice model to follow maybe????

I too have thought about this.....there is a very LARGE market that I am missing and that is the DIY...we started a thread about this in the irrigation section......

I am still working, in my spare time right?, on a model for this exact thing.....not necessarily landscaping, but irrigation......just can't get it just right!

http://www.byopool.com/about/companyhistory.cfm (http://)

05-03-2002, 07:29 PM
Only a very samll handful of DIY are likely to pay for consultation. I disagree there. If marketed just right, and tied in with another benefit, I think they would go for it.

there is a very LARGE market that I am missing Yes there is. Just look at all the people that buy products at Home Depot and can't get good advice, so they come to lawnsite to ask how to lay 12"x12" "pavers" (which are actually patio blocks, not pavers)

Starting a project always sounds so easy, but once they get started, many practically beg you to finish it for them.

05-04-2002, 04:42 AM
I think a major customer in this whole scheme of things is being overlooked....

how about other contractors?


You may be right , but I'm sure the thread starter ( Mr. Stonehenge ) is not interested in helping his competition with their installations.
Believe it or not I was once asked to do just that ... I politely declined. They went under about 6 months later.