Professional Garden Design: How Much To Charge

When people first set up their garden design business, they often struggle to make a living, primarily for two reasons:
i) Their  inability to estimate accurately.  Plus the fact that they are still slow and inexperienced and therefore it take longer to complete a project.

ii) Their experience/reluctance to charge money for their work, because of a lack of confidence and self worth.
So many college and even professional bodies such as the  the Society of Garden Designers in the UK and the Association of Professional Landscape Designers in the USA, avoid the subject.  In part because an enforceable (mandatory) professional fee scale is illegal in the UK because of EU competition directives and OFT rules.  Yet the inability to charge properly, is the single biggest reason why new designer's businesses fail in the first few years.  So I would argue a suggested fee guidance document is necessary.

There are 3 ways to quote for a project, the fixed fee, an hourly rate and the contract percentage basis.

Back in 2003, as director of the Oxford College of Garden Design I wrote and presented a fee guidance document (see sample below) to our UK professional body the Society of Garden Designers which explained all three of the above fee options. Although it was adopted as the industry standard, it has sadly been poorly promoted.

[caption id="" align="aligncenter" width="703"]Garden/Landscape Design Fee Scale Guide Click to download[/caption]

It explains clearly to both client and designer how, what and when to charge.

As a newly qualified designer the fixed fee method (although preferred by the client), is not a good choice, as there is a real danger that they will under estimate for reasons I have already explained. The hourly rate may be better for the designer, but may end up costing the client more, due the fact that the designer is newly qualified and not yet up to speed.

The third, and I believe the fairest method for both parties is the percentage fee scale. The design fee is based on a sliding fee scale based on the landscape contract cost. If a client has a budget of £10k then the design fee scale would be 18% i.e. the design fee would be £1800. At £100K the design fee would drop to 10% i.e. a design fee of £10,000 and at £500K it would drop to 8%

A great little recourse I found on the web is a time tracking and analysis devise called Tick (See below)

home_anywhere allows the designer to keep track of the hours spent on a project.  It encourages you to analyse the design process and steps involved in each phase and allows you to estimate the amount of time each phase takes

Another useful exercise you can do is to work out how much you need to charge per hour in order to make a living. The whole question of how much to charge per hour is actually quite simple to calculate, and even if you have been in business for years, it is still an interesting exercise to calculate an hourly rated based on an end figure for gross profit, for example:

Suggested Starting Salary £/$ 30,000 pa

Secretarial £1,000
Training £750
Insurances £730
Repairs/maintenance £450
Website Costs £2,290
Advertising £631
Telephone £1,080
Motor running expenses £2,400
Travelling expenses £57
Entertaining £354
Legal fees £400
Accountant fees £1,200
Bank charges £750
Subscriptions £335
Required £42,427

Working 8 hours per day, 5 days a week, 45 weeks a year, there are 1800 hours a year. Chargeable % of hours is likely to be between 30 and 60%, say 40%.

£42,000 ÷ (1800 x 40%) = £58.33/hr

This assumes a constant workload. It is very difficult to achieve a constant work ethic and a chargeable % at 40%. Inevitably weekends, late nights supplement the equation. The hourly rate charged depends entirely on personal choice. It may be necessary to “buy work” initially, however when you become internationally sought after you can charge accordingly. You may find that you have to charge more than £/$60.00/hr to be profitable.

But whatever you do, Don’t undersell yourself.

Further Study

John Brookes' Garden Design Secrets

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