Marketing yourself for freelance work.

Landscape Architecture for Landscape Architects Forums STORY BOARD Marketing yourself for freelance work.

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    Young non-licensed LA looking to market himself for work? Any advice?

    Mainly smaller scale residential work. So not having a licence should not be an issue.


    Andrew Garulay, RLA

    Marketing yourself for freelance is a tough gig with or without a license. The reason has less to do with us and more to do with the consumer. They can’t see the product that we will make for them until after they purchase it, so their tendency is to concentrate on whom they will purchase it from as if they are the product (an entirely reasonable thing). Whether it is a simple planting plan for a foundation of a cottage or a full site plan for a multimillion dollar home it is all about how much doubt is removed from the outcome of the project so that the property owner is more comfortable hiring you than anyone else.

    Nothing works better than direct referrals from people they know or trust. A portfolio of built work goes a long way. Your ability to “sell yourself” helps a great deal as well. Giving the potential client the confidence that you fully understand what they are trying to achieve and demonstrating a thorough knowledge of how to get that done is everything. The problem is getting the opportunity to meet with the potential client.

    The hardest thing about this profession is that very few clients buy potential. They are more comfortable with the idea that their project is similar to things that you’ve done many times before. This makes marketing difficult because most marketing relies on putting the business where the customer can see it. That is not very effective in residential design.

    One of the problems is that so much depends on timing. Landscape design is not something that is bought on impulse. It is usually bought as a result of construction, change of ownership, or damage to a property. Typically, other professionals are involved long before anyone is thinking about landscape design. This is very important to understand because those people are going to know that someone like you is needed long before any of us are aware of the project. They usually have built trust in the client and will also be the people whom the client asks a recommendation from. You have to get to the point where you can “be that guy (or gal)” because coming in afterward with a business card or website address is too little too late.

    If you are just out of school and have a limited portfolio, I would concentrate on building your portfolio and network. Put more effort into marketing to people who will use you over and over such as landscape contractors, one person architect offices, and custom builders. They will all likely keep you separated from their clients and try to make you look like an employee, but it will build.

    Depending on your skill set, you could also see if small civil engineering companies in your area have any use for a sub for doing commercial landscape plans for zoning compliance – a very good source of referrals for residential work down the road.

    …. also look to see about working full time in a civil office – that is what I did and began my practice part time on the side (with full blessing). Some civil offices are a little worried about training their future competitors, so someone with an LA degree who has the skill set to do site plans is a good find. That was my road to self employment.

    Working independently in Landscape Architecture or even landscape design is hard to do until you build a referral network. It is not for the impatient.

    You eventually have to get to the point where others are doing the marketing for you. If they are not doing it for you, they will be doing it for someone else. You need to make those others benefit by referring you. I don’t mean kick backs, but how you work with them. If they project manage, don’t try to take over the project management. If you exchange CAD files, do everything you can to make it easier for them to use your files (layer management issues, good drafting,…). If other professionals find it easier to work with you than the next person, they will refer you even if someone else is just as good a designer as you.


    Thank you so much for the sincere and informative response. Great info for me!

    My job is 90 percent city planning and 10 percent landscape / urban design. I love my job and where I am at in my career but having the opportunity to do some freelance design work would be great for me!

    Andrew Garulay, RLA

    Oh, I did not realize that you were already working full time. The difference being that you already have a primary income, so you are not depending on the work for survival.

    You might want to try to do some design/drafting for a well established higher end landscape design/build. Many of those were started by people with LA degrees back before CAD, so the designer still hand draws. A lot of them, at least in my area, don’t get the same steady amount of referrals from other professionals as they did 10 or 15 years ago. One of the big reasons, and many have no idea of this, is that the referring professionals prefer to do what is easier for them – instead of having to re-draft half a landscape to get it into the civil plan, they would rather work with someone who emails them a CAD file that drops right in.

    I did that as well as well as designing for individual home owners for a few years while working full time. I built up my portfolio, I learned a lot from the contractor, and it helped in networking. Design/build residential is usually faster paced and have a lot less (if any) construction details than an LA office.

    That experience can give you a competitive edge in residential design later on. We are taught that more documentation is always better in school, but in residential design it is all about cost control in the making of the design – you have to sell it at a competitive price, so less product is not a bad thing. If you compete in residential with LAs or other people with LA degrees, they tend to want to demonstrate all of their abilities from color renderings to 3d walk throughs, the dirty little secret is that few residential clients want to pay for design in the first place, less want to pay for fluff.

    I make my living on black & white plan view CAD drawings. They are detailed and accurate, but there are not going to excite a university critique session. Efficiency not only means profit, it means staying competitive in design pricing.

    Corey J. Halstead

    I think the best avenue here is working with landscape design/build firms. Many of these companies—especially those with revenues in the $2.5-4M range—need educated designers to handle fluctuating demand throughout the season.

    Many of the lower revenue companies are always looking for professionals who are proficient in computer drafting and 3d rendering as a way to edge out the growing competition as well.

    Have Fun!

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