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View Full Version : Whats the best way to make money as a certified LA?


CLPS
05-11-2009, 09:12 PM
I know there is at least one LA on this site but anyone elses input is appreciated.

I am going to school right now to hopefully finish as a certified landscape architect. I also started a lawncare / landscaping business 4 years ago that has been profitable enough to pay for my education ane hopefully buy a house this year. Now I am having a hard time trying to figure out what to pursue after school (which won't be for a while yet).

Ideally I would like to continue to grow and oversee the business I operate now, while focusing on being a self employed LA after finishing school. I would like to work with some of the contractors, developers, and landscapers in my area, doing design work, and passing some of the work through my own company when possible. Some problems I foresee with this though, are becoming too tied down to the operations of the business to become a successful LA which is what I really want to do. Also being self employed your entire life can be risky.

So I have also considered disposing of the business after school to go work for a LA firm or private company or whatever job I decide to take. This seems like a safer option, but I have been self employed my entire life so far and have a hard time imagining working for some one else. Also, I don't think this option has the finacial potential that being self employed does. At school, it seems like people expect you to get a job and gain expirience in landscape architecture before trying the whole self-employed think. Its hard to see this as possible though when you have already established a business that you can build off of. I would hate to start over again ya know.

Any LAs, how did you do it? Where has your career taken you and what advice do you have? Thanks.

AGLA
05-11-2009, 10:36 PM
The reason that they expect you to go work for someone else is that you can't get licensed in many states unless you have worked as an employee directly under supervision of a licensed landscape architect.

Most people who I know with LA degrees are not licensed landscape architects. Most of those are not licensed because they went into business first and never had the opportunity to intern. I honestly don't believe that it hurt them. There are not too many limitations from not being licensed. Although, I think that the internship and can move you forward into a better cient base from the contacts and portfolio material you can generate in a firm that is already there.

I don't think you'll be denied projects simply for not having a licensed as long as you already have an established track record and portfolio for similar projects. No one hires on potential in this business. That is why the internship can be so important.

It all depends on what you want to do. This is a horrid time to be coming out of school with an LA degree. Three or four years ago it was great. It might be great again in four or five years, but my guess is it will be a little longer.

I think that you will find it hard to work and get an LA degree at the same time because of the class scheduling (most LA programs are small and classes are all in the middle of the day), the length of class (studio) time, and the amount of time dedication you'll need for your school projects.

Not a whole lot of people care whether you havea stamp or not, mostly because they don't know what it is. I know more unlicensed landscape designers who people think are landscape architects than those that are actually licensed. I hear planning board members, conservation commission members, as well as developers and homeowners refer to them as landscape architects.

The best money maker is to do contract administration - basically the landscape architect equivalent of a general contractor. That is to take responsibility for the whole job and hire the subs, inspect their work, approve or disapprove their work, take all the actions to correct their mistakes, deal with money issues, scheduling issues, baby sitting, releasing money, and leaving no responsibility to the homeowner other than paying the bills. If your not tough by nature, it won't work and you can't learn it. Know that before you plan on committing to it.

CLPS
05-12-2009, 03:22 AM
So besides from setting yourself apart, what are the benifits of the license? In other words, what type of clients / projects require a license? Or does it depend a lot on which state you live?

As far as the school / work thing, that's not really a problem for me. I am a one crew operation right now, and during school I have been able to hire an extra guy to pick up the labor where I leave off. It has really worked out great and has actually left me with more time to meet people, do estimates, and paperwork when I'm not at class. I haven't spent two full days on a mower yet this spring, which will change as soon as finals are over this week.

As long as this system works out I actually want to go to school as long as I can. I realize that this not the best time to get an LA degree, so why not wait it out in school? I can support myself mowing lawns for now. I have been thinking about pursuing a masters, and I figure if your going to go that far, why not get licensed? The program includes an internship, but in MN I don't believe that you need any additional expirience with a masters degree to get licensed. Just to let you know I am in my second year with a bachelor of environmental design, I could potentially earn this degree and an MLA in six years total.

Would you agree that someone entering a competitive field with a license would have a advantage? Or at least access to some types of projects that the other non-licensed percentage wouldn't have? If nothing else the masters degree can't hurt with expirience and just greater knowledge.

What excactly do you do? I have read a lot of your post and you seem to know your stuff well, I appreciate the advice.

AGLA
05-12-2009, 07:27 AM
There are some projects that a developer or government agency specify a landscape architect, but they are a small percentage of work in general. There are advantages to being licensed. Architects and engineers who may not know you personally understand that you have an education and experience that is documented by the fact that you have a license. It gets you in the door with some credibility. If you don't have it, it is up to them to speculate what kind of background you have and your depth of knowledge. A lot of landscapers without a degree or LA license have great experience and depth of knowledge. The problem is that so many do not. That leaves other professionals with having to assume what you know or research you. They won't take the time to do that if they have someone else who they know is qualified because they are licensed.

It is more about other design professionals looking at you (and bringing you in) than whether the job requires a license. Architects and engineers are the first to get the work, so they are in a position to get others in.

PaperCutter
05-12-2009, 08:44 AM
You mention worrying that your landscape co. will get in the way of being a successful LA. I guess that begs, the question, what do you consider being a successful LA? I'm assuming from what you've written that you'd love the security afforded by the revenue stream from design/ build/ maintain, but you'd rather focus on doing design work?

I'm not an LA. I would love the accreditation that goes with it, and if I had it all to over again I would have gone that route. At this point in my career, I don't think it'll make a huge difference in the types of projects available to me, so I'm fine without. But, it sounds like you're in a position where you can make it work, and I'd have to think that you'll learn more and quicker with the direct mentoring that comes from working in a firm. Even just with general skillbuilding... I took a great graphics workshop a few years back that I, as a little guy, agonized over dropping the $1000 for. There were LAs there whose firms sent them without giving it a thought. I just think that while right now, it may feel like taking a step backwards, it could really move your career ahead faster than you could otherwise.

AGLA
05-12-2009, 12:51 PM
Also, there seems to be a lot of LA firms that view a BLA as being a better degree in a potential hire than an MLA with a different undergraduate degree. The reason is the rigorous studio training a diversity of design skills taught. There was a good exchange on this, which surprised me, on another LA professional network.

CLPS
05-12-2009, 05:36 PM
You mention worrying that your landscape co. will get in the way of being a successful LA. I guess that begs, the question, what do you consider being a successful LA? I'm assuming from what you've written that you'd love the security afforded by the revenue stream from design/ build/ maintain, but you'd rather focus on doing design work?

By successful I don't just mean financially. I want to be able to have the time I need to develope quality work because thats what I really enjoy doing. I think that would be more of a challege when your overseeing other aspects of a business like landscaping and maintenance just because that takes time away from your day and can be stressful. I think that if you let it, it could easily inhibit the effort and creativity that goes into your designs, and that it would be a challenge to balance the two. I am not speaking from expirience so correct me if I'm wrong but that is a foreseable challenge to me.

What I am trying to decide I guess, is whether to get a job with a firm after school, or start doing work on my own building off of my current business and contacts. I like the firm idea because of the guarenteed expirience and being able to focus only on improving my design skills without the responsibility of owning a business, but I don't want to do that forever. I like the self employed idea because I like working for myself, seeing a project through implementation to maintenance, and I think the income potential is higher.

AGLA
05-12-2009, 09:04 PM
CLPS,

You have to remember that if you try to build off of what you have, your point of beginning is established as where your company is when you get your degree. You might not be in the basement, but your not likely to far up the market. If you go and work for a good firm that does what you would like to e doing, you can ride the elevator with them and step off of it on the floor that you want to be on, if that makes any sense.

In other words, your not going to go from the graduation ceremony to taking work away from the established companies. Basically, you are as good as your last job when it comes to getting the next job whether you have potential or not. People do value people who have worked for reputable recognized firms. You've heard the term "springboard" before. This is it.