Kevin Reff

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    Kevin Reff

    In Tennessee, we can all cross stamp each others work (i.e. architects, engineers, la, etc.) if we are “competent” in that particular area. However, governmental agencies can place higher restrictions than those imposed by the State. I have had agencies prohibit my LA stamp on grading plans. I argued, but eventually lost. I was told the State laws are the MINIMUM requirements and municipalities/agencies can add additional regulations.

    I deal with multiple State and municipal governmental agencies on a daily basis and over the years I have found it fruitless to fight against them. Fighting or arguing your point only serves to create ill will toward you and your clients. Even though I was right in many cases, and the law was on my side, I was told to “play the game”. It’s much cheaper to install a dozen trees than go to court and argue the case.

    The one thing to remember when stamping plans is that you are assuming liability for any potential problems that may arise.

    Kevin Reff

    1. How did you know when you were ready to go solo?
    I agree with Andrew. Have some work coming in before you quit your current job. I started moonlighting on the side by accident. The church I was attending wanted to expand. They hired an architect, whom I met. The city required a landscape plan for the expansion and after the project was completed, he asked if I could help on another project and it just continued from there. When I left my former employer with 8 years experience as an LA and several more working under LAs and engineers.

    2. What were some strategies you employed to drum up work/get your foot in the door when you were just starting out on your own? (assuming you didn’t steal clients on your way out or win some high-profile competition…)
    I intentionally did not take any clients from my former employer. My entire career has been working with civil engineers and architects, so I picked up the phone and started cold-calling engineers. Admittedly, the first few months were tough, but by the end of the second year my salary had doubled. Maybe it was just luck (and a LOT of hard work), but the economy was good and business has continued to improve over the past 15 years. That being said, I never stop marketing. Even though I have a number of solid companies sending me work, I continually seek new clients or reach out to old clients.

    3. How did you leverage your network to help you get that first project or two?
    My experience seems similar to Andrew’s and while I do some high end residential, I primarily focus on commercial landscape design. Yes, it’s boring, but it pays very well. My residential work comes from architects not engineers. Start calling your local architects and ask to meet with them. Ask if they have any potential projects. Have your portfolio together and be ready to present it. ALWAYS charge for your services… good advice from a former FASLA employer. Eventually, you will land your first project. After that each project will be a little easier.

    On a side note: I have a friend that only designs high-end residential. She hooked up with some developers at first to build her portfolio. The initial residences were fairly cookie cutter. It’s taken a few years, but now she designs landscapes for some of the richest people in the State. I’ve never tried the developer route, but several LAs have told me it’s very profitable.

    Good luck!

    Kevin Reff

    Actually Laura, DDT is not bad.  It has saved millions of people.  Here is a link from the NY times from several years ago.

    Furthermore, it has been proven that renewable energy is a total bust.  The only reason it is even viable is because of government subsidies.  Renewable energy (Solar and wind) simply do not provide a constant flow of energy, which we all need.  If you truly want cheap, safe, and sustainable energy, I recommend nuclear energy.  In particluar, LIFTR (liquid fluoride thorium reactor). 

    YouTube link:

    Currently Americans have an irrational fear of nuclear energy, which is unfortunate.  Because of this fear we are unwilling to develop the LIFTR technology.  China however has no such fear because they need the energy.  Bill Gates is investing millions in China on MSR (molten salt reactor) technology, a very similar technology.  We should do the same.

    Kevin Reff

    Around here Autocad is king.  My knowledge of Solid Works is minimal, however 3D isn’t a strong requirement in many offices.  CE’s do use Civil3D and Architects use Revit as well, but most LA’s I know do not use 3D.  It’s fun to work in 3D, but around here there isn’t a strong demand for it.

    My recommendation is to stick with vanilla Autocad, unless you have a strong desire to work for an architect, civil engineer, or other specific profession.  If you are interested in a specific profession, then you should research the software the firms in your area use and then learn that software.

    Perhaps there is a firm that would offer to teach Autocad to you.  I mentored a high school student for about 6 months.  He came by after school for 2 – 3 hours a day, twice a week.  I did not pay him initially, but once he started producing real work, I started paying him.  During the summer he came by everyday.  It worked out well for both of us.  Perhaps something like this could work for you?

    One final thought.  During the holidays work tends to slow down.  I’m not sure if that helps or hurts.  If you did find someone willing to mentor you, having a slow down may give them extra time to teach you.

    Kevin Reff


    I agree with the people who mentioned CE and LS firms.  This is how I started and when things slowed in the office, I went outside as a rodman and learned surveying.  Working with engineers and surveyors really paid off in the long run.  As an LA our projects ultimately consist of working with the land, so understanding a survey, grading, underground utilities, easements, regulations, etc., is a great benefit to anyone in the profession.

    Learning Autocad is the first thing you need to do.  If you don’t have this skill, you are really at a disadvantage.  Even LA firms are going to require CAD skills.  Going to night class to learn may be hard work, but that would be my recommendation to you.

    What’s the economy like in PA?  Around here (TN), it’s booming and has been for a few years.  Maybe you should consider moving?

    Good Luck in your job search.

    Kevin Reff


    I guess it depends on your goals in life. If you want to make more money and have potentially more job options, I’d say go with engineering (assuming you can handle the math). If crunching numbers isn’t your thing and creativity is, then studying to be an LA could be a potential option.

    You can succeed at both, however engineering generally pays better. At this time, most of the country is recovering from the recession and like all design professionals, civil engineers and landscape architects are having problems finding work. On a side note, there are many branches of engineering and once you are registered, it is possible to switch to other types of engineering, which open up other avenues for employment.

    I have a very smart son, who definitely has an engineer type personality. I would not encourage him to choose a profession in design, whether it be engineer, architect or landscape architect. I am encouraging him to find a profession that is recession proof and potentially a career that cannot be outsourced. Some possible careers that meet these criteria would be veterinarians, doctors, optometrists, dentists, physical therapists, CPAs, attorneys, etc. These are jobs that pay well and cannot be outsourced.

    In the end, you will succeed in whatever field you choose as long as you work hard at it and strive for perfection. 🙂


    Kevin Reff

    I agree with mauiBob.  If you live in the States, Spanish will be much more important than Chinese.  I’m studying Chinese just for the fun of it, but I’m making my kids learn Spanish.

    Kevin Reff

    I’ve been studying Mandarin Chinese for over a year now.  I actually use 2 programs.  Rosetta Stone (RS) and Rocket Chinese (RC) (like Pimsluer and Berlitz).  I think you need both.  I go back and forth between the two.

    RC is conversational while RS focuses on words and word combinations.  The biggest problem with RS is that sometimes it is difficult to understand the words they are trying to convey.  This is where Rocket Chinese comes in.  RC says the word in English and then in Chinese.  I found having both programs to be essential.  RC allowed me to understand some of the words RS was trying to convey.

    RC is in MP3 format (and to a certain extent RS) which allows me to listen to it anywhere. RC also has one mp3 with the 4 tones of the Chinese language.  Once you hear the tones you begin to understand the Chinese language much better.

    Finally, you will need to be immersed in the culture to really learn it.  It takes a lot of time and self discipline to learn a new language without the immersion.

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