Charging for designs?

Discussion in 'Landscape Architecture and Design' started by nlminc, Jul 14, 2007.

  1. nlminc

    nlminc LawnSite Bronze Member
    from GA
    Posts: 1,671

    I know there's another thread right below at this moment but I want to run something by all of you and hear your opinions.
    First off, I've been in business for about 20 years. Mainly in the landscape management part....maintenance, small installs. I would install for other designers but would be frustrated when they insist on planting Green Giant Arbs against the house ....15 ft blue atlas cedars 3ft off a picture window! Yeah, it's happened and I'm ashamed to put my name on this work, but the money was good so I would do it. I would always suggest an alternative to the customer and most of the times they would listen. But it gets me when they have some designer from a nursery who's never worked the field behyond the point of sale(plants to customer) and they take their advice as gold! Bottom line is I'm tired of dealing with "designers" who never work the field and never consider what the job will look like down the road. My neighbor had a 400.00 design drawn up by a large nursery here and they placed 3 Hemlocks in his back yard where the view of a new 400 acre lake was going to be! Nice!! block the water view and add some trees that are currently being destroyed by the wooly adelphid! What a waste of money...okay...no more venting!!

    I purchased Pro Landscape 13 and Horticopia about 6 months ago and have been doing alright with the program. I've got it down enough to design and show new customers what their project will look like. I'm going to take the class PL offers when they come back around Atlanta but for now I'm teaching myself. I'm very happy with both programs so far!

    So my questions? Starting out without any portfolio of designs of my own how should I charge? I was thinking of offering some designs for free at first to build up a client base. I did this once already and was burned! I told myself walking into it that this could happen so I kept my AR-15 in the safe after I found out I had been used! LOL ;-) It wasn't all bad because the quote got my feet wet with the presentation side of the work. Anyway! How would you all go about starting in this situation? Another thing is I've found most people expect a "free design" as part of their free quote! Blows my mind people would expect this, but it's the way it is people want everything for free.

    How do you get the budget out of them? I asked one couple about their budget and was told 8-10K for a job that I know was going to run close to 20k with irrigation! I told them they were unrealistic and decided not even to get started on the quote.

    Thanks for reading and any advice!
     
  2. Dreams To Designs

    Dreams To Designs LawnSite Bronze Member
    Posts: 1,406

    How much you charge is entirely up to you, but you should charge for your designs. If you value the time and effort you put into the designs, so should your clients. Design fees can run anywhere from $25-$150 per hour, depending on skill level and complexity of the project. as well as the region you are working in. You'll find most landscape designers getting between $50 & $100 per hour. A good designer will have a vast knowledge of plants, soils, drainage, hardscape, Structures and garden art and the ability to make these elements all work together in a cohesive design. If you have the ability to project manage as well, that just increases your marketability.

    Notify the client up front what your design fee will be and get a deposit to start the project. I too have been burned in the past, so know, pencil does not touch paper to 1/3 of the design fee is in my hand. The 2nd 1/3 comes when the concept drawing is presented and the final 1/3 when the final drawing, plant list and construction notes are turned over to the client.

    Folks only expect a free design, because that is what installers that don't value their design work give them. Perhaps the "free" design is included in the price of the installation or will be "credited" if the the installer performs the job. Either way, the client does not typically value a design they did not "pay" for. The interaction with the client is typically much more than the drawings. There will be numerous phone call, emails and additional site visits with questions and explanations. Consider yourself another professional, and what do they give away... You still have to pay for a doctor visit, even though he is just renewing a prescription, or an attorney that must review your contracts. Get the fee you deserve in relation to the clients you are working for and the work you are doing for them. The design is not about pretty pictures of 3D imaging and plants, but in a well thought out and environmentally responsible map and plan for the beautification of a sustainable landscape.

    Kirk
     
  3. PaperCutter

    PaperCutter LawnSite Bronze Member
    Posts: 1,954

    From a sales perspective... you need to have something to show your prospects that'll convince them that you're an authority and worth the design fee. With the design/ build firm I worked for, my sales portfolio had one page that was a reduced copy of a rendered master plan, just to give the client an idea of what they were buying. The remaining several dozen pages were all photos of installed designs. My personal portfolio is the same way, except that I have several rendered perspective drawings as well because those are what they ooh and ahh over.

    How many clients have we met who look at a plan of their yard and don't understand what they're looking at? Now, how many would look at a plan of someone else's yard they've never seen until you opened your portfolio, and not even know where the house was? But before and after pictures... those are what sell you as a contractor or designer. Plus, just because you have a pretty plan doesn't mean it works (as you mention in your post). That's actually why my portfolio is set up with my 3d rendering of the proposed feature immediately followed by a photo taken from roughly the same angle- it's proof that yes, my designs are thought out in such a manner that what I'm telling you you're getting is what you'll have.

    Kirk makes a great point- no one will value your work unless you tell them hey, you should value my work. Part of the reason why I do a fair bit of drawing by hand still (even if it;s integrated with a CAD output) is that some homeowners seem to think there's a magic box computer program that we put everything into and the final design has nothing to do with our creativity, talent and knowledge. I think in a lot of ways they respond better to the look of manually created work, because they know that I just did something they cannot. A lot of folks think anyone can be a designer with the right software.

    Good luck, and feel free to PM me if you have any sales questions. I love the selling part of this.

    Dave
     
  4. AGLA

    AGLA LawnSite Bronze Member
    Posts: 1,749

    I think that all of these posts add up to one common thing. The customer needs a reason to value you over the other people that will provide services for them. Sometimes they will get that from your portfolio. Other times it is your ability to listen to their needs and explain what may work well for them. Still other times it may be possitive references from people they trust. Your personality and how much they feel like you will do right for them is huge.

    The more you can build yourself up in each one of those and other ways, the more people who have the ability to value your work will do so.

    The other side of the coin is that there are some people who do not have the ability to value your work. Some can't because they just do not have the money. Some can't because they don't have enough appreciation for landscaping to see a difference. Others can't because they are more determined to get some crap for nothing than to pay for something good. And, there will be some who find better value in someone else.

    In other words, you can do a lot to build your value, but you can't sell to someone who is unwilling to buy. More than half the battle is to be dealing with those with the capacity to value your work and avoiding those who do not have that ability.
     

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