Experience necessary before starting your own practice?

Landscape Architecture for Landscape Architects Forums GENERAL DISCUSSION Experience necessary before starting your own practice?

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    Richard Longman

    “1.Cut your losses. You will need to low ball or work for free to secure contracts.* ”

    I disagree strongly with the idea of working for free, unless it’s for a non-profit charity. Working for free, say for a developer, devalues your services. What you do, either as a professional or as a tradesman has value. Doing it for free signals to your “client” your talent or skill are worthless. You should, at a minimun, get a retainer before you start your services. If you don’t value what you do no one will.

    And never ever, ever never, never ever….(get the point)… work for less that what you think your worth. Do less work. Cut the scope of the service or size of the project. If someone comes to you with a project then you don’t have to sell them anything, they are willing to buy your services, just know that you need to come to an understanding of what needs to be done and for what price.

    Finally, no one will ever know everything about the LA business. The one thing I left school with was I didn’t know much. But I knew where to go to find answers. No matter what the topic develop contacts, resources, mentors…places to go search for answers. Knowing where to look for answers it the key. Knowing that you don’t know also helps.


    I see your logic and agree.

    Just to reiterate, I am not thinking of starting a business now, but more or less evaluating the possibilities for the future.

    Personally, I know there is a lot more I need/ would like to learn before becoming self-employed. I also think, for what type of work I’d like to be involved in, licensure is probably a good objective.


    ‘I took the landscape architectural license exam in CA ,5 years after graduating and passed the first time worked another 5 years ans began my first business. I think that was …’

    Thanks for the direct answer Keith.

    When you graduate, what have you got? A degree and no experience. What can you do? You need to…

    What happens if you’ve been working at landscape offices through school and even before starting school? Is the experience earned during those years qualitatively different than those post graduation?

    I’m not trying to insinuate that I’ve had experience in those years to allow me to start a practice, just that I feel like I might know what the next few years could look like. If so, the years immediately after graduation don’t seem to be particularly professionally constructive which I suppose would add years in regard to my first question. So, the question becomes, how does one streamline the process of professional development in the midst of a recession?

    Richard Longman

    nr, I didn’t mean to take what you said out of context because I believe that the basic premise of working for free is a bad business idea. Whether your a student or a professional your work has value. Truly, an experienced professional’s time is worth more than a student but even a untrained designers effort has a value worth compensation.

    Other than working pro-bono for a non-profit which one would do for other reasons than directly contributing to their bottom line, I don’t see any business reason to work for a client for free. It’s lost time you could be doing either billable work or out marketing and networking.


    1. The post was not addressed to an experienced landscape architect. It was addressed to any student who wants to start his own business but does not have enough experience or a track record to justify a competitive billable rate.


    The ideal scenario, as I wrote earlier, would be to start a home-based practice in the next, say, 3-10 years, not now. I just want to make that clear, so I don’t seem so foolish.

    To be honest, I can’t say I’ve read anything that is a great deal different than starting and running a landscaping business. Some people prefer to start a business with a big fat loan, three shiny trucks, and a tool for every job imaginable, some people ease into it with a drafting desk and a pickup truck. The profit margin for each business in it’s first year may very likely be the same so long as each owner has the right amount of knowledge skills and ability for the work they plan to take on. I think it’s just about as simple as that. In my humble opinion, there’s no formula or magic, sometimes talent is all you need and sometimes it’s alot more, but for what I want I think it’s going to be a balance.

    Bottom line: I just don’t want to wait thirty years for it.

    (understood: things change, family happens, salaries increase and life goes on, no offense to anyone choosing other paths).

    As far as Landscape Archs not being good at business I think that is a generalization. By and large, I think Nick is probably right, but I think there is something to be said for just being good at what you do and letting the work speak for itself. Am I wrong?



    Mike Tupa

    I’ll agree that you need professional skill and real world experience to become successful. I also offer that to start your own practice you must have a network of clients and that network takes time to build. Unless you are blessed with instant knowledge of the industry you are consulting in you need to know people and they need to know you. And it takes times for one contact to lead to several others and some of those leading to work which puts you in touch with others who can use your skill. So, typically when working in someone elses office you gain those contacts and build your own network. The faster you can help those within your known network the faster that network grows and the sooner you can build your own practice. (does this sound like a video game?)

    My experience is that it takes a minimum of 3-5 years to get that up and running during good times. And I wouldn’t count on it supporting you until after 10 years.

    Lots of design skill and professional experience means nothing if you don’t have clients and clients are what makes a practice (Professional Office) function.


    I get it.

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