Should landscape architects have minimum fees?

This blog post caused some interesting discussion but less about the topic and more about the act of discussing minimum fees. Depending on the which country you are located and the legal frameworks and legislation around fees it is advised that you seek legal advice prior to undertaking any discussion public or private. My preferred alternative is for the profession to concentrate on promoting landscape architecture and the value you bring clients, the public.

Excerpt from the blog post

Providing a minimum fee scale may provide some comfort that we are “all playing on a level playing field” but it may only work for short period of time as eventually some landscape architects will charge less than the minimum due to a lack of work or working for smaller profit margins due to smaller firm size or outsourcing work. This would lead to landscape architecture or government organisations having to enforce the minimum fee regulations which in turn would create administration and costs that many organisations are not willing to bear. The alternative is for organisations and firms to work towards promoting the profession and the value it brings rather than policing the infighting over minimum fees. We all need to get more involved in providing more education and promotion to the public and clients about the value of landscape architecture and in turn, this will enable us to charge fees that are commiserable with the services we provide.

DISCLAIMER: This post is for educational purposes only. The content is intended only to provide a summary and general overview on matters of interest. It’s not intended to be comprehensive, nor to constitute advice. You should always obtain legal or other professional advice, appropriate to your own circumstances, before acting or relying on any of that content. This advice is general in nature.

Read the full article at my landscape architecture blog – World Landscape Architecture

Free yourself by hiring a manager

For landscape architecture business owners there is often a point when the that they realise that they are stretched too thin and not serving your clients as well as you could or you’re just not enjoying running the business and miss spending time on design or with the team or client. This is due to the fact that running a business requires a lot of overtime in administration of the business whether it is finances, insurances, hiring, labour laws, marketing.

Hiring a manager is the best thing you can do for your business whether it is full time or part time and a general manager or someone to do accounts and HR. It allows you as the owner to concentrate on working with clients and being creative which is why you most likely setup your business.

There are a few different types of manager or assistance you can hire.

  • General Manager (Office/Studio/Business Manager) helps run the business and takes care of the operation side of the business.
  • Bookkeeper/Accounts helps run the accounts, payroll and some HR functions.
  • Business Development/Marketing Manager – depending on the job description they assist in driving new business for you. It maybe getting a new type of customer or a new area but they will bring in the work. You will still have to do the operations side.

Who you hire as your manager is up to you, some will hire someone from inside the industry and others will hire a manager with no ties to the industry.
However, I have one piece of advice if you hire from a manager from the landscape industry, let them manage and don’t make them design or run projects.

Running a business is hard work requiring management skills to keep track of invoicing, payables, insurances, etc and hiring someone to do that and run projects creates a business that slowly grows or when a downturn comes is not ready because the manager was too busy on projects. I have seen some job ads for Landscape Architecture Business Managers that have a job description that is a wish list of business skills and design skills, the person who gets hired for this position end up being pulled in too many directions.

The best thing you can do for your business is to hire a manager to take over the tasks that you don’t enjoy or those that you have the weakest skills leaving you to enjoy creating and designing.

Too many landscape architects can’t see the value of non-billable staff, but often managers are the ones who free you to create and enjoy designing, which is worth far more than the salary you pay your manager.


Creating plans for your landscape business in 2017

Another article on WLA to assist landscape architect businesses prepare for the coming year.

Although 2017 has started and we’re all back to work it is still a great time (during the slow period) to plan for the year ahead for your landscape business (existing or planning to start).

Business Plan
Business Plans are key for a business as it sets out goals for you and the team to know what the year ahead brings. As a starting point answer these two questions, Do you have a business plan? When was the last time you reviewed your business plan? Business Plans do not have to long documents and can be formulated using online templates. Often a simple 4-5 plan that sets out the key information (who you are, what you do, where, market, finances, etc) about the business is enough to get started. When reviewing or creating a business plan you need to be true to yourself and not to over enthusiastic and set expectations (sales or business initiatives) too high for you or your team. If you don’t feel comfortable or confident writing your business plan then speak to your government business department as many of them have guides on how to write a business plan and also offer free seminars on business planning, marketing, people management, finances and other areas of running a business.

Read the full article at WLA

Book Review: Screw business as usual by Richard Branson

I picked up Screw Business As Usual when I was in Hong Kong returning to Shanghai late last year and had seen a couple of videos online of Richard promoting the book and thought it would be a good read.

Screw Business As Usual is full of Branson’s anecdotes on how he setup Virgin Unite and The Elders. The book has some interesting stories about how Richard has evolved the culture of his companies using capitalism for good.  Entrepreneurial philanthropy is gaining favor round the world and this book is brings it into the mainstream. Richard’s main idea throughout the book is “Do good – and the rewards will come” (Pg. 50) and he explains this throughout the book be citing examples of Virgin Group using business for good and also how communities can harness their collective energy for good. The other idea that came across in the book that the “….its not just about doing good. It’s about doing better and having fun on the way.” (Pg. 37).

This book is not a how-to book, there are no definitive summaries of what was learnt, so keep your notepad and pen at hand whilst reading the book. I recommend reading Screw Business As Usual if you’ve ever had an idea to create something for good, what Richard highlights is that you need passionate people who wish to change the world, it also shows that the days of NGO/NPO’s of handing out money to fix problems needs to change and soon.

What’s in a name? Companies that use country of origin to become ‘international’

There is a growing number of landscape firms in China, some are foreign, some local and many a mix (often referred to as sino-american or sino-australia, etc). The company names are interesting to read some a very simple and aimed at a certain market, others keep their name from abroad or just create a literal translation of their name in Chinese. There is however a disturbing trend of ‘international’ firms in China that are international in name only. These are the chinese firms that register a name in Australia, USA, Canada, UK or another country and state that they are an international company. This is disturbing to me as many do not have any international staff or qualifications but are utilising the simple business registration laws in overseas countries.

Many of these firms are in a ‘rush to the bottom’ by alluding to clients that they are international – they maybe in a legal sense but not culturally or in their design approach. The reason many developers and governments engage international firms is to gain the broad experience and talented staff that many international firms have at their disposal. This is not to say there aren’t good local chinese firms with talented designers – there are many. However, the illusion the ‘international’ companies are creating will in the long run hurt their company, the country they supposedly represent and the landscape design industry in China. I am not disturbed that they are using international names or countries as selling point, I am disturbed that they are harming landscape architecture in China, which is very young although China has a long history of garden and landscape design, the landscape architecture profession is relatively immature.

6 Questions you need to answer when planning a business, startup or idea

Starting a business, a startup or conceptualising an idea can be exciting and hard work but there is a need to focus on the basics so that you can then go to the next step by formulating and ‘fleshing out’ the idea. I have 6 questions I ask people when looking at a new idea for a business, product, or concept. What, Why, How, Who, Where and When. These may seem very simple and easy questions to answer but often people are too focused on the idea or getting customers, creating logos, renting office space and forget the basics. Answering these questions is one of the most important things you do before you spend any money or time on trying to get customers or move forward. You can change the answers at any time and the answers can some flexibility. Having answers that are too broader can hinder the idea and the need to focus is needed so that you resources are used efficiently and effectively.

What is it? What are you selling or creating? What are the services, products, ideas? What are you hoping to achieve with this service, product, idea?

Why are you selling or creating the service, product or idea? If its only for money, start again or trash the idea. Why you are doing something is the main driver for your business or idea, if you are doing it only for money you will quickly lose interest if it is not something you are passionate about or have experience doing. If the main reason is working less hours, or more time with family, to make the world a better place, to improve the industry, bringing a new idea into the market, then you have a driver and the motivation to succeed. Why is probably the most important question out of the six questions.

How are you going to do it? What approach will you take? Do you have the money to start?  if not, how are you going to get the money? How will you distribute the product? How will you market it?

Who are your customers? Who will be your suppliers? Who will market the product, service, etc? Who will sell the product? Who will be you customers 5 years from now? Who will

Where are you setting up the business? Where will the office be? Where will you ship to? Where will the product come from? then go back to How and ask yourself How again.

When will you start the business? When will you break-even? When will you feel comfortable? When will you open another office or location? When will you exit the business?

These are only some of the questions you should be asking yourself when thinking about a startup, business, or idea. Each of the six questions should be asked when you approach any facet of your business. These questions should be used for ideas, projects, pitching, allowing you or your audience to easily understand the What? Why? How? Who? Where? and When? Answering these easy question can make your business run smoothly and you will avoid confusion between people internally and externally.


Creating the right marketing material for the China market

Recently I have seen some brochures from international design companies for the Chinese market. Some were good and others were down right appalling. I thought I would give some insights into what makes your marketing material good or bad for the China market.

Lets start with the bad

  • Too smaller size font for Chinese text – I have seen lots of brochures with large English font and small Chinese font – who is the material for your home market or China? Make sure you use a nice Chinese font and that all the characters are correct – sometimes the fonts will have the wrong characters.
  • ‘Western People’ Stock Images and Graphics – Unless your Louis Vuitton with $$$ to spend on super models make sure to get stock photos with Chinese people or get a photographer to take some good photos with Chinese and western people using the product. Your product may be international but you need to make the consumer feel like they can obtain the product.
  • Irregular Graphic design – this goes for all markets not just China – unless your in-house team was trained as a designer and has some great InDesign skills you should outsource your graphic design. Putting out material produced in Word or Powerpoint is unprofessional and will do more harm in the long run. Also goes for brochures done in InDesign with irregular graphics and numerous fonts it just looks bad.

The good

  • Brochures and websites in Chinese – engaging a local design house or a company with China experience makes a difference. The Chinese consumer has different tastes in the use of graphics and colour – you mightn’t like the design but its not the point; the point is to get sales of your product or service in the Chinese market
  • Use of images of company staff – Chinese like to know the people they are dealing with as business relationships are more like friendships. Using nice photos of your staff  and team photos with friendly facesmakes a difference
  • Chinese office contact details – make sure to include your China office address – people often talk about where your office is in China and relate it to their experience of the city
  • International calling codes remember to put only +86 or (86) or don’t put 011 or 001 in front of the country code it will confuse people . As an example of  a USA number +1 712 555 5555
  • Proof read chinese text – make sure your chinese text is proof read by a native speaker who is not your translator or translation company.
  • Good quality printing and binding – the best brochures have good quality print and binding – you may save a few yuan on cheap printing but is it worth it in the long run
  • Digital Format – make sure to have a digital copy of your brochures, price lists etc. – you don’t want clients to wait 7-10 days to get your promotion material in the post if your office is not in China
  • Country Name – Use P.R.C. or People’s Republic of China – its the official country title so use it on addresses, contracts, etc.
  • Formatting – remember to format dates, numbers, measurements, currency, etc to the regional standard allows for your customers to easily understand and eliminates confusion

China is a market of opportunity and your promotion material is your ‘face’ in China and needs to be the best you can present.

Cities in China need to think like brands

Cities are like brands – they need to have a plan, market, grow, and innovate. Cities can’t just plan and grow and expect investment, residents and tourists to appear. Just getting by can work for some cities such as Paris, Rome or Venice or other world-renown tourist cities – if that is the one of the main industries and it keeps the city going it might work. But for other cities around the world, where the competition internally within the country and externally, where other global cities are growing and innovating it becomes very important for the city to understand their competition and plan, market, grow and innovate.  I am purely talking from an economic and investment point of view. I understand that cities aren’t just economic centres that generate wealth. A City is where people live, where art is created, where sport is played, where people fall in love, where people visit, where trees breathe and where life ceases these are all important elements of a city but for this post I am particularly talking about a city as economic and business brand – not a tourist or lifestyle brand.

Currently, the east coast of China has been developing at a extraordinarily rate since the early 1980’s and some are reaching a stage where its time to review what has occurred what have they learned what has worked in there city and where has the competition beat them. Many cities are starting to compete for the same talent, the same investment dollars and new businesses. In particular its becoming a fight between the Pearl River Delta(PRD), Yangtze River Delta(YRD) and Bohai Economic Rim(BER). The PRD has manufacturing and some services, YRD is the transiting to services (financial, law, business development & tech) and the BER is the government, and tech. These regions and cities require management talent – something that is developing in China but is often the reason that some business sectors don’t perform as expected because the talent pool is very shallow. So the main cities in these regions – PRD – Shenzhen, Hong Kong, Guangzhou; YRD – Shanghai, Suzhou, Hangzhou and BER – Beijing and Tianjin are often fighting for the same money and the same talent.  So like brands they need to put forward the best image and remain competitive and the only way to do that is to be a brand. Branding and Marketing is often overlooked in China as it just accepted that local and overseas people know what the city is about.

In terms of previous branding exercises Beijing used the Olympics, Shanghai the Expo and Guangzhou the Asian Games as a way to reinvigorate the city and create a brand – some brands where more successful than others but now that these events are over and written in the history books the cities need to once again think like a brand. Who can plan, market, grow and innovate in the next 30 years to become the best mega-city or region. Its also the 12th 5-year plan (125)  for many developed cities in China, so many new proposals and ideas have been formulated for the next 5 years.

Currently, the lines are being drawn on what cities will be in the future. It seems that Beijing is announcing that its brand will be “Beijing Service” with industrial competitiveness in ‘human capital, knowledge and technology-intensive service industries’ creating a Silicon Valley environment with “Two Cities, Two Zone”. Shanghai is going after Financial services (New York) by creating a more friendly investment environment and also creating several new CBD/CAD areas that can house commercial development(similar to Canary Wharf) – although the existing towers of Lujiazui will be always be the ‘financial hub’. Guangzhou/Shenzhen is moving forward with manufacturing but moving more towards cleaner and greener technologies. Although the Tianjin and Guangzhou/Shenzhen will be fighting for the same green/cleantech dollars and talent. All the East Coast cities are also important shipping ports, however a shipping port as the sole city brand will not work as China transitions away from manufacturing.

Each city or mega-region needs to generate a brand that saids  Tech, Financial or Manufacturing  and they need to be marketed correctly to the get the  right talent and increase innovation so they can gain the overseas and local capital for the next 30 years. Of course, other city brands will rise as Western China develops but currently the East Coast cities are in a period of consolidating and maturing and need to create that quintessential brand that said Financial Shanghai, High Tech Beijing,  Green Tech Shenzhen and Eco-tech Tianjin.