Made the jump and gone on my own

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    Stephen Lovering

    Hey guys

    So last week I made the jump and have joined with a partner and started our own firm. I have little experience (3 years) but a background in sales and Business development. My partner has 15 yrs under her belt and is pretty well rounded in the Landscape Architecture profession.


    Do any of you guys have any ideas with regards to the business development side of the profession. I would like to drum up as much business as possible by getting out there and making contacts etc. I live in Calgary, Canada and its a crazy town right now with enough work to go around so there really is no reason we cannot succeed.


    If you have any suggestions with professions to go after, businesses to target, trade shows to hit it would be much appreciated.


    Thanks again and as mentioned any info you can provide is much appreciated.




    Andrew Garulay, RLA

    Getting the work is the hard part. My strategy has been to make sure that those who are already getting the work (busy architects and builders doing the types of projects you want to be doing LA work for) have a reason to refer me instead of someone else. We all tend to think that better design gets that done, but I’m talking about letting some of them maintain the contract administration aspect or at least some of it. The benefit to them is partly that they get more project management $ AND they maintain control of the job site ( a very big deal in some residential construction).


    It works for me. I get 80% of my work from direct or indirect referral from only three people. I don’t work for them. I work for their clients. The other 20% is from web traffic.


    I’ll look to do more contract administration as my footprint grows. This is what I’m doing to grow my footprint.


    Are you residential? Design only, or design/build? Design/build with subs or design/build with your equipment and labor?


    Absent a huge trust fund and wealthy spouse, the most direct way to survive the first few years is by snagging your former clients – especially those shining few who both have money and pay their bills in a timely manner. These will be your best leads because they hopefully know and love you / your work, know that you were the brains behind your old firm’s brilliance, and will pay you when you invoice them. However, they will probably only be willing to pay you less than what they paid your former employer because they know you will starve otherwise.

    I don’t do trade shows and networking events if I know other landscape architects will be there. 

    Stephen Lovering

    Hey Andrew

    Thanks again for responding with some positive info. I am doing some large scale works with some planners and Engineers, also some redevelopment of some older run down playgrounds with the city. I have also approached a design/build residential company who are looking to give me their design work so I have a few fingers in the pie.


    Thanks again, if you remember any other business development ideas please let me know.


    Andrew Garulay, RLA

    Depending how much regulation and permitting you have in Calgary, attend hearings to see what’s going on and keep your eye out for opportunities – direct or general ones that you can position yourself to fill a niche in the future.


    Stephen – I know we’ve had our differences, but I wish you nothing but success in your new endeavor.

    My best advice to you is to keep your overhead low while you’re establishing your firm. You don’t need an office with a waterfront view or fancy stationary. Keep it barebones until you start making the big bucks. Oh yeah, stay on top of your accounts receivables. Know when to cut off a bad client who is not paying you.

    Now go out there and make your dreams come true.



    Stephen Lovering

    Thanks guys

    Yes Craig we have had our differences and I appreciate the words, great points with the low overhead etc and while I do have a good view from my basement it is as far from a corner office as you can get lol. It does serve great tea and lunch is 10 steps away which are obvious benefits!!!

    Henry you have nailed mine and my business partners relationship, unfortunately I was not growing landscape businesses before but instead renovation companies so while I am now in the right field the business development side is a slightly different approach. Know what you mean about the land developers lol, the firm that I was working in before were 97% Land development work and those developers were clueless at times which was okay as long as they were not advising us (which they were) of which plants/trees to encorporate and what grades and grass species to use.

    Architects are a necessary evil, I understand that. We do have one dream job lined up so we can take some of their shitty linear planting plans on without too much regret!!lol.

    Thanks again Andrew, you have a very valid point as I currently live in a small town just outside Calgary with huge potential to be a part of council meetings etc to keep up on incoming landscape work.

    Some good points too Calico, unfortunately I wasn’t in front of to many clients and was always the “green guy” if I was. Also have a lot of respect for the owner of my last firm so I wont be going after his clients, thanks though!!


    Don’t worry about stepping on a former employer’s toes; we live in a small world and it’s bound to happen unless you move several hundred miles away. Rest assured that everybody else in town is attempting to develop relationships with those potential clients.

    Not mentioned in the thread above: small civil engineering firms are in my experience relatively easy to work with and approach with the dreaded cold call, especially compared to a lot of architects… and unlike architects, they at least understand drainage. Many LAs turn up their noses at working under a civil because the work is frequently not glamorous… but it pays the bills and allows you to grow your firm on lower profile projects.

    Robert Anderson


    Congratulations! You don’t indicate what type of client you are seeking. This would be a big factor in what you do as far as networking.

    If you are going to try to work with mostly architects and developers I would suggest that you start with events that draw these individuals, whatever the equivalent of AIA is in Canada, would be my first place.

    Best of luck to you. Having gone through this myself I would be happy to weigh in when I can.

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