Backyard: Design work is never profitable in my experience. I use the iPad and sketchbook pro for quick sketches I usually just wrap the hourly rate into the final estimate. I really don't bring out the big guns (sketchup) unless I know the client is on board. I am getting better of "getting the sense," of who sees value in a real design. With that said, I worked in a consultant role/designer on a large pool scape out of town for a family friend. I did make money but it was not really worth the calls, meetings, travel time and hassle. It was good experience. I use design as an exercise to gain experience and work with people. I think it helps me sell. I create relationships with designs. Not much money in it, at least here in Syracuse.
Thats a great way to look at it. I really enjoy designing landscapes but when I could actually be making money now (most of my business is maintenance, mowing and brush clearing), my enthusiasm in design disappears. It is worth it if you bid the job right, but a lot of what I deal with, with new customers/ potential customers is who can do what the cheapest. Being a solo op its very hard to spread myself that thin, if you know what I mean, or do anything for free. I feel like that kind of work is filled with countless unpaid drives to and from their house, mostly from the types of "adults" who want something for nothing from a "young kid" (23). Not to sound harsh. I've had people take my designs and plant selections, and just do the job themselves
. I'm also upstate, feel free to PM. Your design work is inspiring, even for someone as disgruntled with it as I am.