1. Missed the live Ask the Expert event?
    Catch up on the conversation about fertilization strategies for success with the experts at Koch Turf & Ornamental in the Fertilizer Application forum.

    Dismiss Notice

Charging For Designs

Discussion in 'Landscape Architecture and Design' started by HolleysLandscaping, Feb 20, 2013.

  1. PaperCutter

    PaperCutter LawnSite Bronze Member
    Messages: 1,996

    You know, computerized Colorforms.
  2. JimLewis

    JimLewis LawnSite Fanatic
    Messages: 6,872

    Ok. That's what I thought you meant by that term.

    Well, I agree in general terms with a lot of what you said. But I disagree with some of your statements too....

    I agree with all of that.

    I disagree here. I have read countless articles over the years in the trade journals and also attended a fair amount of industry seminars etc. that routinely teach that landscape contractors should charge for landscape designs. So I consider that a standard. May not be a standard everyone chooses to adhere to. But I think it's a standard. I think most professional companies around the US charge for designs. So again, that's a standard. Doesn't mean everyone does. But it sets the bar. I consider that a standard.

    The more local you get, I think there are standards as well. I know it's pretty standard for most of the medium-large landscape companies in my area to charge for a detailed landscape design. Not every company around here does it. But most of us do. It's pretty standard. And the pricing is pretty standard too. Most professional landscape outfits these parts will charge anywhere from $700-$1500 for a design plan. That's also fairly standard. I'm not sure that all the smaller landscape firms around Portland (and there are hundreds of them) realize that we charge for designs. They may be under the impression that everyone gives designs away for free just because the guys that THEY talk to do it that way. But I know most all of the owners of the larger firms in my town and most all of us charge and charge within the rates I mentioned.

    I also believe that not charging for designs is a trap. It severely limits you, devalues you, and sucks up a lot of your valuable time for something you may never get paid back for. More on this further down.....

    I fully understand that. There are guys in my town that do that too. I guess it's one way to compensate for a lack of advertising. But to me, that's a totally flawed way of getting jobs. I never believed in doing a loss-leader or giving away something valuable for free just in the HOPE that someone will buy from me. So although I totally understand that this occurs, I just think it's a really bad idea.

    First problem with doing this is you're actually giving away a lot of your time, and therefor your money. Let's say it takes you just 10 hours to make a nice, full, complete landscape design. And let's just assume you're cheaper than most. Maybe you only charge $40 an hour for your time. These numbers are a lot lower than ours. We'd usually spend about 15 hours between time on site, travel time and time designing. And our designer is at $50 per hour. But let's just assume for argument sake that yours is lower. So now you're spending 10 hours on each design you do ($400 worth of your time) just in the HOPES of getting a job? Are you kidding me? Do you know that for that same amount of advertising, you could get way more clients? Especially if you did targeted advertising that really worked. Let's say you just gave away 6 of these designs a month. That's $2400, man! Holy cow! And some people wonder why business is slow. If you would have spent that same $2400 on some really good marketing/advertising you would have gotten a lot more calls and would probably be able to find a lot more customers who are willing to PAY for designs. So I just think giving them away or at a huge discount is a really poor way to spend your money/time.

    My second problem is; Why give something away for free when there are plenty of people who would willingly pay for it? You say that you can't find any customers who are willing to pay for a design? I'd argue that you either live in a really economically depressed area or you just haven't figured out how to appeal to the people who ARE willing to pay for designs. There are plenty of people in this society who buy Mercedes, BMWs, Cadillacs, or Audis instead of Nissans or Chevys. There are plenty of people who eat out at nice steak houses rather than your local pizza joint. Plenty of people in today's society that have money and are willing to spend it. The trick is just tapping into that niche. Once you do, you'll find it's much easier to get people to pay for designs, because they want to use your company.

    My third problem with this is it can be a huge waste of time. If you even did just 3 designs per week and they took you 10 hours each, that would be 30 hours you'd be spending that week, without getting paid! Just in the hopes that it would equate to some work. I don't have 30 extra hours in my week. I don't even have 10 hours extra time.

    My fourth problem is this sets a bad precedent. Giving away stuff for free just goes against what we all know is right. Would you do this with anything else? Would you go do a free $400 or $600 clean-up for a client, just in the hopes that they'd hire you for their install job later? Heck no! Nobody would do that. Would you give away any other service you do that equated to that much value, just in the hopes of getting a job? What if everyone in town was giving away 4 or 6 months of free landscape maintenance, if the customer was interested in getting some larger landscape work done. Would you do that? No. So why would we do this with design?

    And that's my next problem with this. Free designs are usually cheap. And I don't mean price. I mean if someone is giving away a design for free, chances are they didn't spend 10-15 hours of really creative thought into designing it. They probably spent 2-3 hours just whipping something up. Maybe for a real basic landscape that could work. But for something custom and really nice, you can't just whip up a quick design and really get an amazing job out of it. It might look okay. But it's not going to be nearly as nice as if you had taken your time and really created a thorough, creative, well thought out design.

    I agree with that. And that sucks. What can I say about that? I guess, just maybe move your business out of the back woods of Kentucky. Because that's true. Some areas just don't have many people who have money. Bad area to open up a landscape business, I guess.....

    That's not totally true. In general, that's accurate. But not 100% of the time. There are times when a customer just wants their front yard totally re-planted. And I'm not going to sit there looking through books with them and drafting a planting plan for them for 2-3 hours for free. So I'll refer them to our designer. She'll come over and do that with them for 2-3 hours and just whip up a quick sketch-design and just charge them $250.00. Then the planting installation may only be $1500-$3000. But they still paid for the design, because I'm too busy and not interested in doing that for free.

    Exactly. We're on the same page on all of this.

    That's not true either. We just did a job that was about $250K. We landed that job with just a basic $900 plan-view design. You can see the design and the after photos of the project in our photo gallery here. We didn't do anything different than we normally do in terms of design. The client just really liked our company and our work and was able to understand the concept of everything we were talking about through this design and through the discussions we had.

    I think it HELPS to have perspective-view designs or the imaging software maybe. But it's not totally necessary. This is the second job we landed this size without doing anything fancy. Now, I prefer doing much smaller jobs. I'd rather be in the $10K-$35K range. And those jobs are pretty simple to get with a plan-view design. That's our niche and I like jobs like that. But I'll take a $200K+ job if it comes my way. Certainly is nice to know that you have one crew booked up for several months on end. No having to go out and be constantly landing jobs for that crew for a while. But they're always a PITA in terms of just so much stuff going. Those larger jobs are very demanding and challenging to manage. Regardless, my point is that you definitely CAN land bigger jobs like that without that imaging stuff you're referring to.

    So that's my 2 cents, for what it's worth to anyone.
  3. Gilmore.Landscaping

    Gilmore.Landscaping LawnSite Senior Member
    from Ontario
    Messages: 645

    Well since we no longer use the penny I will round that up to 5 cents. And it was well worth it, very well said!

    Since starting my design carrier a few years back I have always pushed the company I work with to charge for designs. It was common for them in the past to provide free designs but as many of the points Jim touch on it translated into many wasted hours and dollars.

    As we have found if the potential client isn't willing to spend at min $250 (Small Front Yard) are they really a client you want? It is part of our initial process of per-qualifying client.
  4. AGLA

    AGLA LawnSite Bronze Member
    Messages: 1,776

    Jim, there was a plan in that design not just a single photo image. I'm talking about the guys who do no plans and ONLY doctor up pictures. They are a dime a dozen.

    When I say there are no standards, I mean that there are people doing all of the things that we are talking about and many of them make a good living at it.

    I make a living doing design only. I have a degree in landscape architecture and I am a licensed landscape architect. I've been taught all the standards of professional design and practice them. But that does not mean that the landscape industry in general follows them. Anywhere you go there are people drawing cartoon landscapes with crayons, photoshopping retaining walls that look like they work on flat sites, nice concise plans like the ones on your website, huge plan sets with piles of construction documents and spec's ... that is why I say there is no standard. People do what they are capable of .... some of it is pure crap, but it exists.
  5. PaperCutter

    PaperCutter LawnSite Bronze Member
    Messages: 1,996

    I (personally) think that if you're going to sell design, you need to sell design. $150 and a sketch you spent 2-3 hrs on is an extended consultation fee, and if you're then making a second trip to present you've just broken even. Maybe. If your rates are low.

    Unlike AGLA I am not a landscape architect and I did not receive advanced education in this. However, I also make my living as an independent landscape designer, doing designs for both homeowners and landscape contractors. There's no one single path. BUT, we're both selling the same thing: solutions that work, that are appropriate to the site and the client, and that are cleanly presented and easily interpreted.

    If you're going to charge more than a couple of bucks for design fees there are certain things clients are going to expect, and your presentations have to be top notch. That means well drafted plans (hand or CAD), photos of recommended plants, etc. If you can collect $500+ for a pencil sketch on graph paper and a handwritten estimate on three-part carbonless forms and do it week after week? I salute you and will buy you lunch if you'll teach me. I don't see it happening.

    As for when to charge? You have to know your client base, but I personally do not put pencil to paper without getting paid. It doesn't matter if it's a $100k backyard oasis or a front foundation planting. I make that work because I have sold the homeowner on the value of my knowledge and experience that I've gained by working in this industry since I was 16.

    If the argument is "well everyone else does free designs", well, that's fine if you're no better than everyone else. When I'm on a sales call and someone asks "well why would I pay for a design, I've had two companies give me plans and estimates?" my response is always "if you think their plan is the absolute best way to go for what you want, you don't need me. But my job as a designer is to come up with the best plan for your needs." I don't negotiate, I don't back down, and I usually get the job. So the other companies not only wasted their time for nothing, they're not even going to get a crack at bidding the job because when we're done, the homeowner trusts me and anyone I recommend.

    There are still a LOT of guys out here who give it away for free. I got a call from someone who had already talked to several pool companies and several contractors who had given them drawings. I almost didn't go but I pre-qualified them hard and I had a slot to fill in my schedule anyhow. Well, after all the folks they talked to they signed a full-price design agreement. Why? Because every one of the "free" guys were trying to play it smart and only come up with rough concepts and ballpark pricing, saying "sign the contract for construction and we'll figure out the details as we go." My clients wanted to know how it all would work together, how it would look, and exactly what it would cost, BEFORE committing to build. This is why they are now my clients, and it's what you should be selling when you sell design.
  6. NC Greenscaper

    NC Greenscaper LawnSite Senior Member
    Messages: 446

    Hey Jim,

    I saw that drawing had a copyright protection on it so I wanted to go ahead and tell you, in case you see something similiar in my backyard, I had the same idea. It wasn't copied its just coincidence. :laugh::laugh:
  7. JimLewis

    JimLewis LawnSite Fanatic
    Messages: 6,872

    EXACTLY! Amen to that! I've had the same exact experience many times and handled it exactly the same way. For those of you who are still sort of new and interested in building your business to become one of the premier companies in your area, take notes! This is how you should do it.
  8. AGLA

    AGLA LawnSite Bronze Member
    Messages: 1,776

    If it has value, people who value it will pay for it. It is that simple. A lot of free design is not of high value.

    When it comes right down to it, free design is about whether you value the attempt at getting the job more than the time and effort it takes to make the design. Clearly some people do. I'm not saying it is right or wrong, but it is a reality in the landscape industry that has been around as lond as the industry and I don't see it ever changing.

    Papercutter and I still make a good living despite the free designers out there and some guys are getting installs and making money on their free designs. It all works.

    Ideally, we should all get paid for whatever we do, but reality is reality.

    I should say that most of my work is single sheet landscape plans drawn on 24"x36" sheet in black and white line work and range from about $1,200 to $3,000 .... most are about $1,500. .... similar to what Jim has shown, but done in CAD because I don't draw well with my hands. I can produce Construction Documents, but I find that the residential market will much more easily buy what I call a Schematic Landscape Plan (like Jim's) than a full set of construction detail$ that price the design much higher than they are ready to pay for .... I could throw those in and look more professional (like designing for free) but the best rate of return that I find as a residential designer (who happens to have gone through the hoops to be a licensed LA) is a single sheet landscape plan.

    Having said that, if a new designer or LA comes into my market and adds construction documents to the mix and charges the same that I do, I'd completely understand why. If another one comes in and does what I do for half the price, I' not going to knock him. These are all things that we do to get an advantage selling. When we need them, we do them. But I'm going to do what I do as long as it works for me.

    Many of us don't like what others do because we want the playing field tilted toward what we do. If you own the market, someone else will try to tilt it so they get a piece of it. It is what the free market is all about .... if anyone remembers what that is.
  9. New2TheGreenIndustry

    New2TheGreenIndustry LawnSite Senior Member
    from GA
    Messages: 925

    Came across this last night and thought it would be appropriate here. Every state will be different, but here is the law for GA

    "Finally, Georgia House Bill 417, passed during the 1993 legislative session, relates to who can and cannot do landscape design work for money. According to this act, only a Registered Landscape Architect can sell his design. A Registered Landscape Architect is one who passes a stringent Landscape Architect’s Certification Exam administered by the American Society of Landscape Architects and is licensed with the GA Secretary of State’s Office). A landscape contractor, designer or retailers (or anyone who is not a Registered Landscape Architect) who performs design services can not charge for his/her design and must follow up by installing the design. Newcomers to the landscape profession need to be aware of this act if they are considering design services as a part of their business."
  10. Gilmore.Landscaping

    Gilmore.Landscaping LawnSite Senior Member
    from Ontario
    Messages: 645

    To me that's a step in the right direction but taking it a little too far. There are plenty of Certified landscape designers and similar that do equal or better work then some of the landscape architects in our area, and charge accordingly. Doing the law this way practically forces people to do free designs or they are breaking the law. I would be highly opposing this law if it ever came up my way!

Share This Page