April 3, 2010 at 12:55 pm #170758
I have viewed “competition” as anyone who can legitimately take potential jobs over me and whom I can legitimately land a job over. Sometimes I think people expect licensure to make them a protected species by excluding others for reasons that go beyond simply their ability to execute the job. I don’t think that should be the purpose, although licensure should add credibility and help prospective clients by at least pointing out that certain individuals have met a certain criteria. After that,I think it should be up to a client to determine who best meets his needs from his own perspective – “Caveat Emptor” (knowing that those with licensure give you less to “beware”).
Design on the landscape is bought for one reason only – to remove doubt from the outcome of the project. It is bought and sold based on how much the client values that doubt reduction and the ability one has to demonstrate it. no matter who they are and what their credentials are. Credentials get you an invitation to the party (a shot at the job) , after that it is purey based on who seems like they will remove the most doubt without pricing themselves out.
Let’s face it, if what we all believe is true, we ought to be able to win that competition every time. When we don’t, it is for one of four reasons. One is that someone else was a better equipped to fill the needs of that particular client (believe it or not). Another is that we failed at presenting our capability (believe it or not). A third is that the client did not value our work as much as the price tag. Finally, the unspoken possibility is that we actually were not well equiped to take on the job (licensure does not guaranty ability and skills).
Make someone else have to out compete you to take the job away. That is what someone else has done every time we lose a job to them. If we are that good, we should kick butt. If we don’t kick butt, it probably says more about us than we would like to believe.April 3, 2010 at 1:14 pm #170757
Andrew: Thanks for stating the facts so articulately! Amen!!!April 3, 2010 at 1:55 pm #170756
Andrew: Now that your discussion thread has matured (in a bit more than a month) into a very real understanding of the qualifications and roles of both LA’s and LD’s, it’s time to pop the question: “Would you consider modifying the “byline” of the Land8Lounge to ‘The premier Social Network for Designers on the Land’ ?” The title of Norman Newton’s pivotal book extolling the profession of Landscape Architecture, now nearly forty years on (pre-APLD!), says it all!April 3, 2010 at 3:30 pm #170755
Never been to Boston but I think that’s the way they talk. It does boil down to licensure and how it is marketed and applied. Someone’s post stating “Caveat Emptor” is also very part right. It’s also how the “buyer” is trained to know the difference in quality. This statement can launch hundreds of examples. What’s the sense of marketing a Château Margaux in a biker’s bar. If you have many potential clients who say “I can’t afford you” you are marketing in the wrong market. As I said earlier, there is the snob factor. I live within 100 miles of two of the most expensive housing markets in the world, Aspen and Telluride, where one would think a demand for LAs would be high. And it was, BUT, guess what, these second home elites not only fly in their own jets but fly in their own LAs. Right now they are not doing a whole lot of that. A similar example. I met with a potential client from the midwest who flew in a midwest architect for their home. The design was nice but more appropriate for the midwest and not high mountain Colorado. Needless to say that lead flopped. This is a marketing failure on my part.
I do have another anecdote. When Virginia first started LA licensure I went to a permitting desk and was told my stamp was only good for planting plans. I could see arguing would be fruitless so I went to see a friend in the planning office. He said he would check it out. Alas, a copy of the State law that said, in essence, “A professional cann’t be denied what he/she has been properly trained for” was taken to the permit office and from that point on Landscape Architectural services were expanded in the most populated city in Virginia. Advocacy rules and know the law.April 3, 2010 at 7:12 pm #170754
So let me get this right. Do think that LAs and LDs as direct competitors or not? I’m a bit confused.
If you think we are competitors and that you have training and experience comparable to LAs, then why would you knowingly charge a fee that is significantly less than the average LA would charge? Weather you realize it or not, you are aiding in driving down the fees for Landscape Architects and Landscape Designers.
If you don’t see us as competitors and you want to maintain a low fee. Then stick to doing planting plans for individual homeowners. Specifically the ones that want cheap “instant gratification” landscapes and don’t respect the time and effort it takes to be a good LA or LD. If that’s the area of work that you want specialize in, I have no problem with you. I guess someone sadly needs to fill that niche. But, if you’re providing people with quality design development and construction document sets $85 per hour, I have a big problem with that. It even brings up concern about billing rates for your help.
I’ve worked in Dallas, Cleveland and currently NYC and I know there are established Landscape Designers and Design/Build Landscape Companies that charge a decent fee for their design work. I feel that these firms make it easier for us Landscape Architects and Designers to coexist. Just because a prospective client has a problem with a respectable fee doesn’t mean you should lower it.
For me to recognize and respect you as a professional (licensed or not), I feel you need to compete fairly, by marketing your skills and what ever else you bring to the table rather than offering discounted landscape design services.
I reference to your comment about LCs, please don’t assume that just because someone is a Landscape Contractor that they can’t design and build beautiful landscapes. The smart LC has clever ways of recovering compensation for design time. Those “free plans” are never as free as they seem. Besides if someone wants spend $150,000 plus dollars for a 30 minute designed “cookie cutter” landscape package for their McMansion, then they are not the kind of folks that my marketing efforts are targeting.
Maybe I’m a little sensitive with the state of the economy and everything. As a recent sole-proprietor I get a bit edgy when I imagine some established Landscape Designer with the same skills, using same software, with a stronger portfolio of built projects, a solid marketing budget and impeccable salesmanship charging $85 per hour for design services. It makes it harder for me to justify my current fee which is considerably higher. I’ve maintained the same fee and I (perhaps foolishly) refuse to lower it. I’m sure I’ve lost a few jobs because of this, but I still get enough wins to make it through these past couple of years.
Besides the individual homeowners that are calling for our services right now have money (especially the Fat Cats here in the NYC area), they can afford to pay us at a decent fee. The economy will get better soon, but it could take years to get the already low fees for landscape architects and other design professionals back if we let them beat us up. Don’t let these greedy SOBs stick it to us again.
Am I the only LA or LD out there that feels this way? Right now I could use some encouragement to continue not to go the “low ball” route.April 3, 2010 at 11:23 pm #170753
Craig: No, I don’t see LA’s as competitors for LD work. LD’s don’t command the hourly rates that LA’s do, but that doesn’t mean that we aren’t as experienced, creative, and caring for the environment, etc. I’m not “low-balling.” And I readily admit that I do not have the same training as an LA. I admire the students that I started with four years ago at UMD who now have all the third and fourth-year courses under their belt. But since I am only interested in residential-level work, I walked away from the BLA curriculum at the mid-point of the 2nd year primarily because those 3rd and 4th year courses would not have increased my ability to be creative at the residential level. And also because I didn’t want to take a coveted place in the program thereby depriving a much younger student the opportunity to continue in the program and have a much longer career than I.
I frankly don’t know what the average self-employed LA in the greater Washington DC area charges. But that doesn’t really matter, does it? We each have our niche … and no, I don’t covet the LC’s ‘cookie-cutter’ designs, either. I prefer the homeowner-gardener who needs some help in creating the landscape he or she would like to have, realizing that they are not as right-brained as I am, have not had the education or the experience I have, and are willing to pay for an objective assessment of their site and a discussion of the opportunities it may present.
BTW, I happily give you the freedom to charge what you feel you are worth and just wish that more well-heeled clients find their way to you, because every professionally and creatively-designed landscape will mean a greater appreciation and demand for your work, and, perhaps, to some small extent, for mine as well.April 4, 2010 at 12:57 am #170752
I’m not sure who you are directing your post to or just to a generic “you”. I am a licensed LA, was an LD before that, and about any other role from mowing lawns to commercial site planning along the way. I have directly experienced several perspectives and have tried to understand each of them and those around me every step of the way. A few things are very consistent over time, economic climates and in each role. That is nothing is granted, the payer decides value, and everything is competitive.
That does not take away from anyone’s achievements including those of us who have gone through the schooling, work experience, and licensing process. In the end it is up to available work, values of the people doing the hiring, capabilities of those looking to do that available work, and the the value those capable place on themselves and their work. They don’t always add up the same way.
All any of us can do and should do at any time is to get the most that we can out of what is available to us. Know what we can control and what is controlled by others and adjust accordingly. In the boom times we get to reap the benefits because the payers are competing for us both as clients and as employers. In the down times we are the ones competing for those payers. The shoe is now on the other foot.
I’ve been fortunate enough to hold my full time job with all of its pay and benefits (knock on wood) and have not lowered my pricing or reduced my rates in my side business. I’ve definitely made more of an effort to add value by pushing more marketing and trying to bring more work into my place of employment which I put above my side work.
It is all the same thing. You have to have the best value for payers in order for them to choose to pay you. Certainly, this diverse field (LA) overlaps with skill sets that others have and there are times when a particular project can be in totally capable hands that do not hold an LA stamp. We all have to know that and understand that it is competitive and we are not going to get every job at top dollar. Hopefully, we have other prospects that will pay top dollar, but if they run out ….. you are either going to be working less hour$ or pricing less and keeping your schedule full. There is no other alternative.
ASLA can’t order people to have to hire landscape architects and make them all get paid the same rate.April 4, 2010 at 2:07 am #170751
I perhaps wrongly assumed that you have the same training, skills, talents etc. as a Landscape Architect. There are many Landscape Designers that do. As I stated previously, I benefited greatly from working under an excellent Landscape Designer early in my career. I have seen crappy jobs by Landscape Architects and incredible projects by Landscape Designers. It all depends on the individual.
We can agree to disagree as to weather or not Landscape Architects and Designers are in competition with one another. I just feel that a creative, experienced Landscape Designer like yourself who cares about the environment should ask a fee that is comparable to the average Landscape Architect. I appreciate and admire an LD with those qualities. Please don’t sell yourself short.
I’m sorry for taking such a hard shot at you previously. I get upset when I think about how many of us design professionals were just getting by before the economic down turn. The thought of possibly having to adjust my fee anywhere but upwards scares me to death.
Thank you for the civil discussion.April 4, 2010 at 2:14 am #170750
Huh?April 4, 2010 at 2:53 am #170749
Maybe I’m misunderstanding what you are writing, but it sounds like you resent the competition of landscape designers who are not LAs and that you think they drive down the prices that LAs charge.
It sounds to me as though you want it both ways in order to have a competitive advantage. You seem to be telling the LD (John?) to price the same as you, yet you present yourself to be more qualified. His only way to be competitive with a more qualified LA is to offer a lower price simply because no one wants to pay more for less. You want John to go out of business so that you don’t have to?
Am I misunderstanding you?April 4, 2010 at 6:19 am #170748
Wow. If you got all of that from what I wrote, I didn’t do a good job at making myself clear. No, I do not want John to go out of business. But I think it’s wrong if he and other LDs that have the same skill and ability as an LA, to feel the only way that they can compete is to have lower fees. I have a problem with that mind set. On residential projects, I believe that an experienced LD with the right sales/marketing package can easily compete and win against the average LA without being the low bidder. I think we all agree the stamp will only get you so far. I want us Landscape Designers and Landscape Architects to be compensated fairly for our hard work. In most cases it takes several years to develop into a good LD or LA. We often save our clients more money than what we charge them for our fee by offering them good design and sound advice. We help them get the most value from their landscape investment with our expertise with or without a license.
Actually it’s the “blurriness of the lines” and the people that you may have mentioned earlier who are “functioning as any licensed landscape architect” although they are not, that could possibly drive Landscape Architect design fees downward. The average homeowner doesn’t care if you have ASLA, APLD, MLA, ALCA, or RLA after your name, unless they have to submit a site plan for municipal review. There are a lot of people with those letters behind their names that have dedicated numerous years to master landscape design. I just think that we all should be able to make decent living doing it. When the economy improves there will be more than enough to go around for all of us.
Please let me know what you mean by “His only way to be competitive with a more qualified LA is to offer a lower price simply because no one wants to pay more for less.” If you’re saying that a qualified LA that is competing against an unqualified LD is bringing more to the table, then I agree with you. But if you’re saying that an LD is automatically providing “less” than an LA and should lower his rate to even the playing field, I strongly disagree with you.
Remember the whole “blurriness” thing?April 4, 2010 at 12:13 pm #170747
It seems that we are on the same page.
The “more qualified” LA was a reference to everything else being equal and the stamp being the only difference making the LA more qualified. Nothing is standard in pricing from one designer to another or one LA to another. We all try to get the most return for our work. Pricing is set by skills as well as conviction (balls, if you will) in some cases. Lack of either is keeps prices down, but too much “conviction” can price us out of a job as well.
I just don’t think it is good to have a perception tha every LA is charging more than every designer. That will get us ignored rather than more money.April 4, 2010 at 4:21 pm #170746
I’m glad to see that we’ve reached some common ground on this.
I learned a very important lesson at my second job out of college. It was a landscape design/sales position at a design/build firm with around 250 employees in the Cleveland area. I was working there for six months and I was not selling as many jobs as I should have. Because I was successful at my first position at a smaller mom and pop outfit that charged less for landscape installations, my first thought was that “I wasn’t selling jobs because our prices were too high”. I naively expressed this to my boss the owner of the company.
His response was that, “I pay you a competitive salary with good benefits and it’s the same with all of my employees. We have the best equipment for the guys in the field and a pleasant work environment for the office staff. Everyone here can better themselves through tuition reimbursement and continuing education. Everyone here works hard and deserves a comfortable life. And all of that cost money. The company can not afford to provide us with these things if we we’re not asking for enough money for our services. Lowering your price is the absolute last thing you want to do. When you quote a price to a potential client, you have to really believe that you are worth every penny you are asking for.” My closing ratio increased significantly shortly after that conversation. I just had to change my attitude.
The reason I am so passionate about this subject is that, I don’t want younger Landscape Architect and Designers to think, the only reason they didn’t get a job is because they asked for too much money. In some cases you could loose a project because you’re too cheap. There’s the “perceived value” thing; you don’t want to be seen as a “budget” LA or LD. Knowing what to charge for our services is delicate dance. Too much you don’t get the job; too little you’re working for wages or even worse. But, I feel we should all (slow economy or not) be brave enough to at least test the waters.
Thanks for the great discussion.April 5, 2010 at 1:15 am #170745
That I agree with 100%.
It is also important not to be afraid of losing some work that you might get for less money as long as you are not starving. I do know that some are just not going to get as much money as others and would starve if they did not charge less.
The important thing that I’m cettain you’d agree with, is to not settle to keep the same rates, but to improve performance, portfolio, client demographics, sales skills, all communication skills, and the multitude of non-design skills that go into increasing our individual value in order to increase those rates.
I was just trying to make the point that those who may be great designers, yet have not developed in those other areas simply can not consistently get the same money as those who have and will have to settle for less until they do. I don’t think they drive down the price because it is an apples to oranges comparison. I think this particular aspect of value is held solely in the hands of the client and does not affect overall pricing. I hope this is a clearer way to make this point.
Incidentally, the reason why I participate on message boards is to develop my written communication skills (which I realize need a lot of work). Nothing helps this more than by discussing sensitive subjects that force clarification, so I often post contrary views that I do hold and don’t tend to post on threads that I’m all warm and fuzzy with. I sometimes work pretty hard to clarify a point that I’m not making well. I hope that I do not come off as Johnny Negative all of the time because of that.April 5, 2010 at 3:14 am #170744
Jonathan J. BobParticipant
I think that it is important to realize that how much a designer charges is based upon multiple factors. While experience tends to be the obvious, overhead may be the most important. With all things being equal, two designers with equal experience, sales ability, etc., may charge two very different rates. Designer “A” may be have less need for a higher net income, i.e. he may be comfortable with less. Also, in this economy, a designer may be willing to lower his rates to get work and may be willing to work more hours per week to make the same amount of money. Like it or not this is capitalism. In the residential design marketplace, LA’s have to compete with other LA’s, LD’s and others in the landscape field. There are all types of designers and all types of clients. How much should you charge? Enough. Enough so you are getting a fair rate for your time. Enough so you can pay your bills. Enough so you don’t resent the client for the rate you gave them. Enough so that when the client refers you, you will make money on that job too. While I think it is important to know what other designers in your area are charging so you can be competitive on the level you need, everyone has to find their own way.
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