As a kid I was more of a lawn jockey than a landscape professional. These days, the thing that sets me apart most from other folks, that might be deemed my competitors, is the fact that I portray and see myself as an expert. When I started working, hosting shows for DIY Network, they asked me what my title was. I told them I was a gardener. That wasn’t a good enough title in the Network’s opinion. In a world of titles, degrees, sophisticated salesmen, and bullshitters, gardener wasn’t even in the realm of earning respect, much less capturing the attention and respect of television viewers.
Being a business owner in the Green Industry takes that little something extra in order to demand a reasonable, and what I call sustainable, wage. Being able to articulate one’s value, in the world of what others see as mundane weed pulling, is an art that I’ve been working on for over 23 years. The business of gardening, landscaping, and what’s now termed “Outdoor Living,” requires a few basic principles. I feel that it’s both my responsibility and obligation to share what I’ve learned with others; so they might begin to better understand the ways in which they’ll need to manage their own “green industry” businesses, and actually make a little green, while going green.
1. Learn To Teach. All of life is an opportunity for us to learn. If you’re interested in a particular subject, you’ll put in the time and research galore. I started my continued education at San Francisco’s City College. Then I spent about a decade taking several horticulture and landscape construction classes at Merritt College in Oakland California. I signed up for classes that most appealed to me. I looked over the list of Horticulture classes offered at the time and signed up for the ones that most appealed to me. There was of course a pre-requisite course titled “Intro to Horticulture”, which was a basics class about tools and practices. Earning a degree is less important than knowing how to talk the talk and walk the walk. It’s just a certificate.
2. Network with others in your industry. Classrooms are an awesome place to network with like-minded and like-interested folks. Seeing how others do what they do and love, while also generating income, will allow you to emulate your peers, and eventually, your career role models.
3. Begin freelancing and taking on small projects for the experience, rather than the money.
This isn’t to say that you shouldn’t charge, but consider yourself a student and real life experiences are your opportunity to learn and expand what you’re learning and building your confidence in.
4. When charging for your services, the rule of thumb is to charge as much as you can and feel comfortable with. Since you, after all, are the one who will have to negotiate your fee, schedule work and payments with clients, then collect what you ultimately charge. Since you, after all, are ultimately the one who will have to negotiate your fee schedule with clients and collect. Just remember to be fair and transparent with your clients, and they’ll likely be fair with you.
5. An hourly rate is safe since you’ll always get paid for your time. Bidding on projects as a whole requires a solid and expanded awareness of the scope of work and what could and most likely will go wrong and/or require your time. Do your best to be responsible and accountable, but a reasonable hourly rate is always gonna be the safest bet. Your clients will absolutely watch you and determine whether they feel your rate is comparable to what you charge. Know this.
6. Always charge for your time. A professional charges for their time because they understand and respect their own value. So many contractors offer free estimates. I stopped doing these years ago. There are plenty of folks out there that believe that if they don’t give away their info, time, and energy trying to get a job, they’ll go broke. News Flash! If you’re giving away free estimates, you’ll definitely go broke!
7. Learn to charge for an initial consultation. The agreement you see below is my pre-qualifying form to help me get rid of the tire kickers and window shoppers. My time is valuable. Maybe you can’t charge what I do. You might offer a different kind of service, but please, for yourself, your family, your self-esteem and our industry; consult and trade your valuable time for a sustainable rate.
8. Give yourself ample time to walk, talk, listen, and take copious amounts of notes. I typically walk and talk with my clients for 1 or 2 hours, depending on the size of their property and how much we like to talk. Once we’re done, I’ll walk the property again to write down my notes, thoughts, suggestions, and things I’ll need to research and address. (My consultation is a flat rate. Once I’m familiar with what’s wanted and needed I can discuss hourly charges or a flat rate or bid.
9. Lastly remember that phone calls are free but house calls will cost you. Gas costs money and leaving your family and home to go help someone else at their home is worthy of a fee. This isn’t a hobby, and if it is, you’ll still have to charge in order to make your gardening and home improvement hobby a sustainable and enjoyable one. Thanks for reading, caring, and sharing.
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