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Pricing for design work

Discussion in 'Landscape Architecture and Design' started by bigjeeping, Feb 17, 2006.

  1. bigjeeping

    bigjeeping LawnSite Senior Member
    Posts: 903

    How do you price for the actual designing of the landscaping?

    I have 3 years of landscaping experience, but the landscaping I have done has been on the smaller, residential level, and they have always told me exactly what they've wanted.

    Well I have 2 residential inquiries pending where the homeowner would like me to come up with designs/ideas..... how do you charge for this?
  2. tractrpowr45

    tractrpowr45 LawnSite Member
    from NY
    Posts: 32

    bigjeeping, adding to your question, I would like to know how do you know what trees/shrubs/perennials go together in a landscape design? Is it plant height, color, shape or a combination of all three? I'm just starting out this spring, so I need ideas as how to design a landscape plan for a client. Bigjeeping, I didn't mean to hijack your thread, just wanted to add to what you had already asked. Thankssporty
  3. bigjeeping

    bigjeeping LawnSite Senior Member
    Posts: 903

    Well Like i said.. I haven't designed anything yet, I have only done what homeowners have asked me to do. So if they say x shrub and y perennial, that's what they get.
  4. Dreams To Designs

    Dreams To Designs LawnSite Bronze Member
    Posts: 1,406

    That's where a designer comes in. If you wish to do quality or high end landscaping work and you are not educated as a designer, incorporate one into your business. There are many throughout the country that are independents and would love to work with quality installers to have their design installed. Just giving a client what they think they want is only going to get you so far. They may have seen it on a show, magazine or someone down the street has it, that doesn't mean it is right or appropriate for their home. If you don't do irrigation, you would sub that out, if you are not a licensed pesticide applicator, you better be subbing that out, do the same with your design work. Look around and find a local designer that shares your ideals and vision and has an education in horticulture, an understanding of the landscape industry and it's materials and is an artist in the field of landscape design. A typical designer will get from $50-$100 an hour for their design work. A typical suburban front yard takes between 10 & 15 hours to create a design with a drawing, plant information, materials lists and construction notes along with presentation to your client. A good designer will be able to sell the design and increase the budget for your installation because they will be able to convey the ideas you have come up with to the client. The one caution I will advise of is, the designer will be paid for their work, not just if you get the job. Careful screening of the client and and a complete explanation of the design process and fees must be given up front before the process is started. A good design will take in all the customers needs and desires and your skills and abilities and create a design that meets or exceeds all these expectations and is a sustainable and installable project.

    How to know what goes where and what will work together is something that is learned from education and experience. There is no software that will do this for you. There are some books that will give you plant combinations, but they cannot take into account your clients needs, desires and the site conditions. Good design starts with drainage, then soil, hardscaping, structures then moves to plant materials from large to small. You must take into account, space usage, traffic flows, maintenance a whole host of additional factors before pencil ever hits paper. If this is something you do not yet understand, bring in someone that does and the installation you complete will reflect this thought process. If the service has value a good client will realize that and pay the price for a good design. You would not, and in most states, build a house without a plan, and a good business starts from a good plan, why would anyone think they can landscape a piece of property that encompasses more are than a home without a plan.

    If you wish to do your own design work. Check out local colleges for professional education programs, often offered during the slower winter season or even local high schools or vocational schools for programs. Reading books is a good source of information, along with magazines, but formal education and experience will truly set you apart from the rest of your competition.


  5. AGLA

    AGLA LawnSite Bronze Member
    Posts: 1,742

    Kirk makes a lot of good points there.

    Your question is on how to price landscape design. The idea of that is simple, but to arrive at numbers takes a little more thought. The simple part is that you need to charge what it is worth.

    Well, what is it worth? First, what is it worth to your client? Then what is it worth to you?

    To the customer:

    In order for a customer to pay for a landscape design, they have to see it as being valuable enough to pay for. Not only does it have to be valuable enough to pay for, but it has to be the best value of all of the proposals that they are looking at simply because they are only going to do it once. One thing that effects how much they value paying for design is how much others doing the same level of work are charging for it - that will be covered in how much you value design work.

    A big part of how much the client values a landscape design is what exactly there need is. You mentioned that you have not been doing designs because your clients told you what they wanted and you simply did it. They simply had no need of a plan. They would not have paid anything for one. When you run into a client who wants a very nice planting composition that is going to enhance the look of their house, add privacy, and accommodate certain activities they will want to see that demonstrated in a plan before they proceed. That does not necessarily mean they are willing to pay for that plan.

    How much to pay, if anything, will be affected by who is doing the design work. Knowledge, skills, abilities, and a portfolio of built work are some of it. That puts you on the low end of the totem pole by your description in the original post - no offense. Having those things is only of value to the customer if he actually needs them - they won't pay for a Harvard degree, if they don't feel the need.

    How much do you value design work:

    Design work can be of more value to you than to the client. That is why a lot of landscape contractors design for short money, or even no money. They do this for the same reason why they advertise. It helps land jobs where you can sell labor, plants, and other material that brings in far more money than a design charge.

    The more work you have, the more you can charge for design for two reasons. One is that if you are in demand, you are obviously seen as worth paying for in your market. The second is that you can't sell more than you can produce, so slowing down design sales is not harmful. When you charge more for design, you are getting only clients willing to pay more which tends to lift you up into a higher end client base (which you have earned through your good work that let you charge more for design).

    When a design/build company does a design project for a client, the closing rate on selling the construction job is extremely high. This makes design a very strong marketing tool. **That in turn makes it more important to land design jobs than it is to make money on them**.

    My caution to you is that if you are just starting out and don't have knowledge, skills, and abilities that are well developped yet, you may not want to hire in a designer either as a sub or as an employee (you probably would not attract a good one at this stage). If you don't yet have a portfolio of built work that is at a competitive level with other contractors working in the market that requires a designer, your designer or your client is more likely going to try to get someone who has that demonstrated ability.

    Take plenty of pictures and keep plugging away and work your way up. Try to get a designer to feed you some work. That can be helpful because the designer can teach you through quality control and through experience seeing how they are putting plants and other things together. It also pads your portfolio with good looking plantings that you installed. That is how you move up.

    Your portfolio (photo album) is what helps you move up the market.
  6. bigjeeping

    bigjeeping LawnSite Senior Member
    Posts: 903

    Thanks for the help guys!

    I am not one to jump into something which is over my head, which is why I am actually very happy to start with designing these 2 jobs.. here's what they are

    Job 1, Simply wants flower/mulch beds and trees installed

    Job 2, flower/mulch beds and shrubs

    With a few days research on the internet I know I can pull this off! Also, The homeowners are aware of my situation (lack of experience) and are willing to work with me so the design is exactly what they want!
  7. drsogr

    drsogr LawnSite Bronze Member
    Posts: 1,275

    I wouldn't charge for a design until you become more experience in your designs. Or at least I wouldn't charge much. They are taking a chance with you, that you will put something together that is nice. This is more of a learning experience for you then them.

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