Sunday, June 7, 2009

Business as Unusual

These are scary times for landscape designers whose practices overlap both the creative service and construction industries. Anyone in my business who tells you they are thriving is not being entirely truthful. The sad state of the global economy that is a financial disaster for so many is not what I'm writing about here. The media has scared consumers who do have the means and the need for our services into hunkering down, not spending any money and worst of all believing that they 'shouldn't'.

I consider myself to be fairly typical of landscape designers who are out there now. I have work, just not the amount or size of work I've had in the past. I am lucky to have loyal clients who come back again and again as well as some new ones who are willing to spend on new projects.

Creativity is needed in our business so that it isn't business as usual, it is time for business to be unusual. We need to educate our clients about the intrinsic worth of what we provide and make it invaluable to them. We need to enhance their lives in every way possible--drawing them outside into the larger world so that our services become what they are willing to spend money on.

This summer is the 40th anniversary of Woodstock and I am reminded of the lyrics that very wise Joni Mitchell wrote all those years ago:

We are stardust
Billion year old carbon
We are golden
Caught in the devil's baragin
And we've got to get ourselves
Back to the garden


Laura Livengood Schaub said...

Thank you can be discouraging to be viewed with skepticism by potential clients; when all you want to do is help them make their gardens beautiful interesting and useful; they seem so afraid to trust these days.

Getting ourselves back to the garden...Exactly. My business is down 80% at least from last year. I don't know how much longer this can go on. To quote a friend in a similar situation "I just hope my ship comes in before my credit runs out."

But I do believe that anyone approaching their work with love, passion, skill, patience and intelligence will survive, and that the one thing we can all count on is change.

Just like the mutual fund shares that I have doggedly continued to purchase each month, I invest this precious time in my learning, my brand, and my tribe. When the tide turns, all will surge. And the tide WILL can it not?

Sarah from Toronto Gardens said...

It can be scary to be a self employed in a downturn of the economy. People are always asking you, "How are things going in this economy?" and they always expect you to give them terrible news. But I've had slow periods whether the economy is booming or not.

I'm not a landscape designer, I'm a graphic designer, but it's always the same worry - when will the next job come in that you can bill for. But for your business, landscape design, I can see it would be one of the first things people might think: well, it's not absolutely necessary to spend this money-spending the garden is seen as a luxury when money is tight. (except for us addicted gardeners, we can always find the money to buy something for the garden)

Love the line "I hope my ship comes in before my credit runs out."

I do love the line "We've go to get back to the garden" from Woodstock. Joni knew what she was talking about.

susan morrison (garden chick) said...

Excellent post. I also am down from last year and while I expect things to turn around, I think the role of landscape design is changing, and smart designers will be flexible in both their design process and marketing, rather than assuming business models that worked 5 years ago will still be working 5 years in the future.

I gave a presentation a few years ago to new designers on how to find clients when you are just starting out. My primary advice? Figure out where people go when they are looking for a designer, and make sure you are there waiting for them. These days, we all find everything on line, so how can anyone be successful long term without a presence?

Finally, I designers as me how I have time to maintain several websites, a blog and now a twitter account. But by the time a potential new client calls or emails me, they've had a chance to thorougly vet my portfolio, references, design process - and when they read my blog, they also get a sense of my personality, which helps them decide if I'm someone they will want to work with. So basically, I've already sold myself - which in the end actually saves me time, brings me more qualified prospects and limits time spent on lookeeloos.

Lynn Felici-Gallant said...

Thoughtful post, as usual, Susan. Thank you.

I am a garden and container designer (as opposed to a landscape designer), and install and maintain client's properties. While I have been tremendously busy this year (truthfully), people with and without means are behaving very strangely. Many are suspicious and challenge me in ways I've never experienced. Some expect to negotiate pricing and then are slow to pay. Others are choosing to do a lot of work themselves but require a tremendous amount of my time and energy for "consultations" before and after their attempts (often unsuccessful) to replicate a professional project. Many folks here in the Northeast are hunkering in around their homes instead of traveling and, while they are foregoing the comprehensive designs and installations you create, they expect their homes and outdoors to have the same finished look.

It's been an emotional roller coaster to have the work (for which I should be grateful), but make less money whilst explaining every dime I spend. The beauty and purpose and greater goals of gardening are skewed this year. I am not enjoying myself at all. And I don't have time to get myself back to my own garden, and that makes me resentful.

To quote another classic, "what a long strange trip it's been." I'm looking forward to this year being a distant memory.

Susan aka Miss. R said...

Laura, Sarah, Susan & Lynn--Thank you for taking the time to write such personal and thoughtful comments.

Chloe said...

You hit the nail on the head Sista! Thank God for my loyal clients who know my value to them... but this year is riddled with problems and hurdles. Today one of my clients told me how much she enjoys working with me... made my day... I was so used to years where it all came easy that this simple gesture wouldn't have meant so much to me. Thanks for letting us all know that we are in this together. Here's hoping you have happier days ahead! "And we've got to get ourselves ... back to the garden" Love that!

Deviant Deziner said...

Hey Susan,
Thanks for writing such a thoughtful entry on your blog.
I don't have much to add, as you and your readers have pretty much said it all.

Diversification has been my life line in this economic cone of doom.
I've been falling back on my sculpture skills , garden maintenance skills and taking on design projects that I would have passed onto some one else.

I believe that work will pick up again but it is going to take some time for people, their sense of economic security and their financial portfolios to rebound.

In the mean time, diversification.