CONSULTATIONS... to charge or not

Discussion in 'Landscape Architecture and Design' started by jd boy, Oct 19, 2004.

  1. jd boy

    jd boy LawnSite Member
    from nw ohio
    Posts: 179

    2 QUESTIONS....

    1.- Those of you who are doing custom designing, are you drawing by hand, or computer. What programs?

    2.- Design consultations - Free? or fee charged and put towards install if work is contracted?

    I do pretty good, but I am seriously contimplating charging for ALL site visits / consultations. NO ONE in my area does this so I am sure I will loose some calls, but hopefully it will be the tire kickers that drive me crazy anyway.
    If it works it will be a good way to take my salary out of overhead, and allow me to directly make money for the business.
  2. AGLA

    AGLA LawnSite Bronze Member
    Posts: 1,742

    Question 1

    I happen to use CAD, but that is because it suits my situation. It may or may not fit yours. I use ACAD14 in one office and ACADLT2005 in another. For most landscape contractors CAD would be used as a drafting tool not unlike a pencil or pen. It is different if you have access to CAD files of your projects from engineers or surveyors. I do, so I use them.

    Many people find a nicely drawn hand plan is much more exiting than a CAD plan. It is really what works best for you.

    Question 2:

    I have worked for companies that charge for consultations and those that don't. Again it is a matter of what works best for you. If you have way too many job calls that are unproductive and you are getting plenty of work to carry you, it is a good idea to thin the unpaid work load. Another good idea is to get very efficient at your initial meetings, so that you are not a free advice network anwasting your own time.
    One situation was a design/build/retail nursery that had a huge volume of exposure and a smaller sized contracting company. They only needed to close on a fairly low percentage of consultations, only a few of those needed to close on contracts. They could pay the design staff on the consultation fees.
  3. Randy Scott

    Randy Scott LawnSite Bronze Member
    Posts: 1,915

    Did you go to design school?
    Do you have a vast knowledge and the skills to design?
    Are you providing the customer with something of value?
    Do you want to get paid for your time?

    The first thing I learned was "if you put no value on your designs, they're of no value"! Plain and simple! You have to sell your skills, and designing is a skill. You need to learn how to sell this service just like mowing or an actual install. It's up to you as to how it is presented and portrayed to the customer. A good design is of good value. If a customer cannot understand this, they are not worth the effort. You get what you pay for.
  4. jd boy

    jd boy LawnSite Member
    from nw ohio
    Posts: 179


    I completely understand and agree with what you are saying. In fact, my biggest gripe with this industry is that any moron with a truck and a mower can call themselves a landscaper. That is why we are big on certification through organizations like ONLA & ALCA.

    BUT there is a fine line in my finecky market from getting work and not. My company is one of the largest garden centers in the country, but we operate a relatively small landscape construction firm, doing no maintenance. Even so, it is amazing at the frequency of which I loose jobs to other companies that present plans that looks like they've been done by my son and his crayons.

    That is why I think I am going to charge for ALL consultations. My initial thinking is I should get almost 100% sales beacuse a lot people in my area will go elswhere.
  5. impactlandscaping

    impactlandscaping LawnSite Silver Member
    Posts: 2,332

    We charge for all landscape consultations, especially insurance claims. Our design fee is applicable to the install if they sign a contract. Nothing gets left on site design-wise without first signing a design disclaimer. If people aren't serious enough to spend a couple hundred dollars, they sure aren't going to spend 10K. I do my initial take offs and elevations by hand with charcoal pencil and watercolor pencil, and final designs with DIG.
  6. Coffeecraver

    Coffeecraver LawnSite Senior Member
    from VA.
    Posts: 793

    I draw designs by hand.

    12% of the total cost of all Materials and installation would be the design fee.
    This is cut to 5% if the design and price is accepted.

    A free estimate is for installing a plan that has already been created.

    A consultation fee is if you have to do more than give a price.
    A flat fee of 25.00 is charged for a one trip consultation

    At the cost of fuel wasted trips need to be cut down.
    The plumber has a trip charge and it's not a bad idea.
  7. AGLA

    AGLA LawnSite Bronze Member
    Posts: 1,742

    Randy hit the nail on the head. People will pay for something they value. You have to demonstrate your value. A pretty plan or a nicely enhanced photo does not do that. Your communication, your ability to listen, your demeanor, and a portfolio of biult work will do that in a one hour first time meeting with the client. They value a responsive confident and competent person that they feel they can deal with and get good results. They will take that person over the instrument (plan or picture), every time. When it is close between you and someone else is when the bells and whistles make the difference.

    The bells and whistles on their own will only excite the more simplistic people. Those simplistic folks don't generally have the type of job that you are going to make a living from as a designer.

    You have to know your craft as it applies to the people that you are trying to work for.

    You have to sell yourself rather than wating time on trivial details of what you will put in their design.

    When you sell yourself, they buy a design.

    When you do the design you all but own the construction contract.

    If you can get yourself targeted by "the right" consumer, a free initial consultation is much more professional than charging. If you get brain pickers or to many job calls, you have to thin them down to more serious buyers by charging.

    You have to design and get them to react to it and revise from there. Do not make them a continual part of the design team.

    Never lose site of the fact that as a designer you have little to bill for unless something is built and you are selling materials and labor. Design and run is of little value. Design to completion is worth a lot whether you do that as part of a team or as a company owner.
  8. activelandscaping

    activelandscaping LawnSite Member
    Posts: 241

    I will usually meet with the customer, get some idea of what they want to accomplish and then give them a broad estimate of what I think it will cost. If they appear in a state of shock then I tell them to think it over, and usually that's the last I hear from them. If they start asking questions about what that would include then it's time to start the design.

    I don't charge the customer, then it's their design and they can bid it out to other contractors. I copyright my designs instead. Most of my customers either have seen my work, or have been referred by someone I have done work for. I will usually have met with the person 3 times before I do a layout, so I have a pretty good idea if their serious. I will occasionally get a customer that knows exactly what they want, and want a price. I then write up a " estimate " that states " final price will depend on material selection and work specification ", takes me 5 minutes in the truck.

    Bottom line, by the time I have finished testing, designing and material spec. I have 10 hrs into the job, I give the specs. and doodles to a guy I know who is a professional draftsman and let him finish the work. I then submit my copyright application and give the print to the customer to look at.

  9. NNJLandman

    NNJLandman LawnSite Bronze Member
    Posts: 1,306

    This is how I suggest to do it, do the consultation, send them a bill but tell them you will void the bill if they go for the job. Otherwise why not charge them. This way you might have a better chance of getting the job, plus even though not truely ethically you can always put the consultation cost in your estimate/bill for the job. I usually give free estimates

  10. mdvaden

    mdvaden LawnSite Bronze Member
    Posts: 1,944


    I was just thinking about this stuff as I read your post.

    Read my estimate policy, and you will see my ideas. It's on my site, see menu.

    Today, I just replied to an email. I had done pruning for someone, a first job. They asked for a sod removal and planting bid. About 3 days of work for me and a few guys. I bid to make only about $1500 profit, maybe 2K.

    They said they got other bids, and went with another company and would call in the future.

    I emailed our new pollicy as of the last 5 months - we only offer ONE FREE estimate. In the future, they will need to pay $80 for any estimate for any work.

    Of course they won't calll, but I'm doing this to some of my long term customers that have been value shopping.

    We are average priced, at the top level of quality with 20 years experience supervision every project.

    So I am forcing a situation where customers need to decide between bargain shopping, or decidiing they want a good business arrangement with someone they like doing business with.

    One couple who I've pruned for for years, just turned down my $1840 bid to remove three 50' tall trees around their house, with stump grinding, to go with a $1450 bid with a company that has an un-certified owner that pumps no contribution into our industry.

    The customer called that an "extreme" difference in prices.

    Anyway, I have been pruning - for 8 years - a small 10 tree apple orchard for him, plus his 200 foot long bed of huge roses, for a mere $200 each time.

    In other words, I've been allowing him to get about a $450 pruning job for only $200. And I've been very happy to come out each winter.

    But I am going to either charge him $80 for a bid, which will be around $500, or, I will just decline to bid or work for him.

    It's a matter of principle. The reason he lost the $1450 to get the big vacant holes, is because they hired a designer that was at the lower end of the spectrum - a designer that didn't pay their dues. The customer got what he paid for. And he selected a tree worker that fits the same mold as the designer.

    And I am done with this free estimate game.

    Also, I make it known, that if my estimate sheets are shown to a second bidder to get an identicle quote, that the home owner will be billed a consulting fee. It's even going to be printed on my next forms. The only way out of that, is if the homeowner provided all the details to be bid on. In that case, they provided the plan that we could all bid on.

    I think that contractors need to find a way to get customers to start paying for bids in the future. I'm not sure how it will be done. But people should pay for company time, and I'm not totally sold on the idea that the customers we do get should be paying for time used by other individuals.

    Pruning estimates are no big deal - those only take 5 to 20 minutes to figure out if even that. But even small landscape projects are taking hours to estimate to calculate time and supplies and verify that nurseries are stocking plant material.


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