Hiring a designer?

Discussion in 'Landscape Architecture and Design' started by StBalor, Jan 28, 2009.

  1. StBalor

    StBalor LawnSite Senior Member
    Messages: 798

    I have been in in lawn maintenance for quite a few years. I tend to shy away from larger landscaping jobs for the simple reason i am not very artistic.
    I can do the work but on the design side i am not very imaginative.
    My question is do any of you hire a designer just to layout your job and you do the work?
    If so, how do you go about it? How do you know the designer will not just take the job?
    Other then asking the customer what type of plants, mulch, ect.. they prefer, what else do you need to take to a designer?
    Finally, what if the home owner decides not to go through with the job, how do you not get stuck with the design bill?
  2. PaperCutter

    PaperCutter LawnSite Bronze Member
    Messages: 1,996

    Starting with your last question first- you charge the homeowner for the design. You can either pass on the cost of the designer, or mark it up and make a few bucks. I've had a few guys ask me to do designs for their clients on spec, with a "great payout" if they get the job- not interested. Whether you get the job or not, we've already put in the hours- and it IS hours- creating a great design. No good designer is going to wager their time on someone else's sales ability.

    There are two ways you can work with a designer to get your clients what they need: you can refer the designer to the homeowner and then the design process (and contract) is between the two of them, at the end of which the designer gives you a copy of the design to bid. Or, the designer works directly for you as a subcontractor, at which point you decide whether they get in front of the client or not. If you're trying to work with the designer without them being in the loop with the homeowner, he or she will tell you what info they need. In fact, when I do a design for a contractor this way, I usually send them a list of info I need right away. Once they get me this and photos of the site, I'll sometimes send them back out for more. Obviously, I get what I need the first time on site (mostly), but I know my process.

    As for how you know the designer won't just take the job- I guess if you were hiring a design/build contractor who's a direct competitor, that may be a worry. But if you're hiring someone who's an independent designer or design-only company, I don't see why that's a concern. Speaking for myself, if I wanted to be a design/build company, I'd be a design/build. I'd rather design and consult, so that's what I focus on. If a contractor comes to me to do his design work, I have every reason NOT to screw him. If I give him a great design and the client loves it and it sells, he'll get more call for that type of work... and come back to me again. And again. And again. See where I'm going with this? Hosing the contractor is killing the goose that laid the golden egg.

    There are contractual documents you can have drawn up and all kinds of stuff, but your biggest protection is going to be finding the right designer- one who understands you and your business, the level of work you're capable of doing, and who your clients are- and building a relationship with him or her. I have contractors and nurseries who I love working with, because we've reached a level of understanding and can work together seamlessly. Find yourself the right designer, and you'll be golden.
  3. Mimowerman

    Mimowerman LawnSite Senior Member
    Messages: 645

    I work with a designer, he takes the larger jobs and I do the smaller ones.... hes happy and I'm happy! I do simple mulch jobs, shrub trimming calls he gets, and I sent hardscape /new bed designs to him. he designs for free smaller stuff for me , and even cuts a check for larger jobs I give him
  4. White Gardens

    White Gardens LawnSite Fanatic
    Messages: 6,776

    I do all my own designs. It's too good of money to pass up, and I'd rather sit in my office sometimes doing designs, rather than be outside busting my hump.
  5. AGLA

    AGLA LawnSite Bronze Member
    Messages: 1,778

    If you hire the designer, he's obligated to work for your interests. The hassle is that you have to deal with paying the designer and collecting the money from the client

    If you have him work for the client, you keep yourself out of the hassle of dealing with the collection and dispersal of money. But, he's obligated to work in the client's interest even if he does not want to screw you. If the client wants to put the job out to bid to others, they have every right to unless it is clearly written into the contract otherwise. That is a very difficult contract to write, to enforce, and even harder to get signed.

    It is really hard for a designer to work with a contractor who is not very well refined at facilitating design with a client and communicating it to the designer. You almost need a contractor who is a decent designer to work in this way.
  6. JimLewis

    JimLewis LawnSite Fanatic
    Messages: 6,876

    Some good advice here so far. But I'll tell you what I've found to work best.

    I've had FT designers on staff here and I found out fairly quickly that we couldn't really afford that. So if you're considering hiring one FT, I'd recommend you back away from that idea. Only really HUGE firms have any business hiring designers to work on staff FT.

    So for many years now I've just had good relationships with several freelance landscape designers in my area. I have gravitated toward one who I use 95% of the time nowadays. Only time I don't use her is if she's too busy then I'll call one of the other ones who I used to work with more. Many freelance landscape designers are hungry for work. So they are always happy to hear from you.

    So first thing is make a few connections. Find out where the local chapter of APLD is and attend one of their meetings. There you will find a dozen or more great designers who are just WAITING for a landscaper like you to show up. They'd be happy you stopped by and you'd make some really good connections. Meanwhile, always keep your eyes and ears open for local designers. A great place to find them is your local community college. Contact the professor who teaches landscape design and ask him who some recent grads or soon to be grads are. They will always be cheap and hungry for work!!!

    Once you find one or a few, you need to get a good feel for what they charge. Then as you're out giving bids you need to always be thinking to yourself, "Is this a project where I really need to see a design first? Or is this something I can do without a design?" If it's something you really feel you need a design for, then you stop the customer and say something like this, "Ok. Well, everything you're describing sounds great. We'd be excited to work with you on this project. So the first step is the landscape design. And you're in luck. We have a great landscape designer who works closely with our company. She's really affordable and does fantastic design work. She's very creative. You'll probably spend $500.00 (or whatever it is) on a design. And I know you'd probably rather avoid that expense. But it's really necessary on a nice project like this. Every great landscape starts with a great landscape design. So if it's okay with you, I'll arrange to have her call you and set up an initial consultation. It's free. And if you like what she has to say, you can hire her to do the design. Once she's done, she'll give you and me a copy and within a few days, I'll have a bid ready for you. Sound good?"

    And that's how you handle it.

    I know it seems a little risky to do this. But if you and your designer work together (you sell the customer on her and then later she really sells the customer on how great you are) this process works EXTREMELY well. When I can get someone to hire our designer and actually do a design, my chances of landing the job go up to around 80%. Designs sell jobs - period! They get people excited!
  7. Fiano Landscapes

    Fiano Landscapes LawnSite Member
    Messages: 69

    I'm very happy to see the information that everyone has shared so far. It's good to see people really networking together for the greater cause. Alot of these threads get sidetracked really quickly. I have always done our landscape designs for our company. Obviously as times go we get so busy that I sometimes get preoccupied slowing down the designing process. I looked into finding a designer to help me create what i have envisioned for the project. Because the success of our company to this point is not because of a designer I have hired. It's because of the designs I have created. I was not very satisfied with the results in our area. I talked with a couple prospective designers, and came to find out that they also work with some of my direct competition. I just have a hard time trusting this situation since the designers would have easy access to my customers. I for one thought don't want to put someone elses stamp on my work, but also don't want to be in a sticky situation with the whole competition thing. I have basically decided invest a few thousand dollars into a computer based design program to boost our efficiency for our designs. We typically get between 250-1,500 for our designs. Most of the time the design falls between 250-750 though. I never like to be unprepared for a project, so it would have to be a very small project to not have a design. We also weeded through alot of time wasting people. That would otherwise be wasting my time. When we meet with someone we have an extensive project portfolio, and designs for them to see our overall capabilities. If they want to think about it I let them interview other people. If they decide to use us I then collect a design fee to get things started. You would be extremely surprised at how high our close rate for projects is. Our customers really embrace how our well oiled process works. And they have comfort in our company fitting their needs. People have been so abused by idiot contractors, when they get one to their house that has their stuff together they really like don't mind spending the extra money. I know this doesn't answer everything, but i just felt that i should share anyways.
  8. StBalor

    StBalor LawnSite Senior Member
    Messages: 798

    Great advise guys. Thanks for all the responses. I partically liked the idea of hiring someone in college or recently finished. These people will have good ideas and maybe at a cheaper fee. This would also give them a bit more experience.
    I was already thinking about posting at the local college for help this summer anyway. I do not foresee any very large landscaping jobs so this may work out best. But you never know what may happen.
  9. JimLewis

    JimLewis LawnSite Fanatic
    Messages: 6,876

    That's exactly why I hire out for design work. I just get way too busy to work on designs. I've got another 60 hours of work each week to do without having to also worry about doing all the designs for our company.

    The other reason I hire out for it is because designers have an actual degree and have studied landscape design professionally for at LEAST 2 years. And I have not. My designs are pretty decent. But I can't compete with someone who specializes in it and is well trained in design.

    I think there are some landscape contractors who are probably as good of a designer as a professional is. But IME, most of the ones who say they can design as good as a professional designer are being more arrogant than honest.

    I share your concern there. My main designer doesn't work for other designers. And the others I use occasionally mostly just do freelance design on their own, not for other contractors. If I was looking at a designer who had a strong relationship with one of my competitors, I wouldn't probably use that designer much. But most of the time, that's not the case.

    I have tried a few of those out. But I have two problems with these programs. 1) It still requires my time. And I am trying to avoid that. Much smarter for me to keep doing sales, which I am good at, than to take 5 or 10 hours out of my week to do a design. 2) The ones I tried didn't seem to save me any time. It would still take me 5-10 hours to pound out a full property design, which was about the same time it would take to freehand one. And I am partial to the look of a freehand design anyway.

    Just my 2 cents.....
  10. vtscaper

    vtscaper LawnSite Member
    Messages: 159

    This is a great topic. I had spent a few years cranking out designs on sunday nights or getting up early the morning of a sales meeting to finish drafting a design. More and more I felt I couldn't really put in enough time to the process. No mater the size of the job, dollar amount or enthusiasm I had for it I simply wasn't giving the proper time. This became a big problem and the only remedy was to either just cherry pick jobs I wanted ( creative high dollar jobs) or delegate.

    I also went through the same thought processes that others have mentioned. Do I really want someone else "stamp" on my work? Will I lose my creative input? How will I find the right designer whom will be open to my ideas and understanding of my sales strategies? Am I losing touch with the personalized service that we have become known for?

    The large majority of any job is physically creating it, and its outcome depends on the skill of the one implementing it. If working with a designer allows you to build your business, makes you better and frees up more time for you to create then go for it.

    Finding a quality designer that is a good fit will be your biggest challenge. How much attention can they give you? What other contractors do they work for. Will they really listen to you and you clients input? Something you will notice after a while is that some designers work will start looking very similar project after project.

    Good luck

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