Landscape Designer working with Contractor

Mike LarkinFebruary 29, 2012

I am a Landscape Designer. A Landscape Contractor who tried to do his own design work but could not keep up contacted me and want to work together on his Landscape Projects.

He will meet with client, and get preliminary information, convey that information to me, then I go to site, draw a draft plan so that he can bid the project and present to client. If the cleint accepts I will finalize the plan at the level of detail that the Landscape Contractor needs work from.

My fee is contingent on the acceptance of the proposal and I would then get a % of the total invoice.

My concerns:

There may be time that I do work and dont get paid. (not a big deal if he does a good job bidding the plan) I would have to consider that when negotiating the percentage.

If I dont meet with the client, I woul dhave to make sure that he gathers adequet information from client. ( which plants stay or go, where they want the fire pit , or the patio.... ( this could be worked out with a good check list and sketches or just meet with the cleint.

Fee - how do I confimr he is paying me the correct amount. I would prefer not to just take his word that the job was $xxx .

ANy suggestions on how this may work or why not to do it.


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Embothrium(USDA 8 Sunset 5 WA)

Would of course be better to structure it so that you always get paid at least a certain minimum fee, that you are comfortable with.

If in doubt, don't.

A friend is in a similar arrangement and is doing a lot of drawing for not so much money. Part of the problem is clients thinking they should not have to pay for designing, this includes projects where a certified professional's involvement is required by governing bodies.

So the contractor is hiding the design fees in the overall budget, and so on.

It appears design professionals may be getting caught up in this kind of thing in the first place because the market has decided it does not need them. So how much you need to enter a similar relationship with a contractor probably depends on how much you are affected by this phenomenon.

Probably if you don't really need the work, you do need to act on your doubts.

    Bookmark   February 29, 2012 at 8:58PM
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Not sure where this lands but it does sound like a sticky situation. From what it sounds like, it seems that the contractor is proposing a rather intimate arrangement with a lot of leeway and grey areas.

Putting together a preliminary design to form a construction budget is work that is worth money. It takes time (and therefore money) to bid on or pursue new projects, and your time (and therefore, fees) are legitimate costs that the contractor should account for. All design and construction firms have to do this - it's a part of running a business.

The fact that a preliminary design may or may not lead all the time to a construction project doesn't ever negate the fact that you are putting work into it.

It would probably be much more straightforward to charge as per your usual fee structure - for both the preliminary designs and the construction drawings. I would think that, unless you're going to enter into an actual partner relationship with the contractor, it's best to treat them like you would any other client.

- Audric

    Bookmark   February 29, 2012 at 9:16PM
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rhizo_1 (North AL) zone 7

I would never feel confidant about doing a design without consulting with the clients myself. I see that as an almost certain path towards dissatisfaction from the customer.

    Bookmark   March 1, 2012 at 1:23PM
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Are you out of your %^&ing mind? Talk about an unbalanced relationship! Basically the contractor has no skin in the game whatsoever. You carry all the risk. If he sells the job he wins. If he doesn't sell the job, he loses nothing but the time he spent on the initial consultation. You have so graciously agreed to carry the burden.

I design and consult for a number of contractors and I've turned down several who wanted to do what you proposed. I'm not willing to gamble my billable hours and profitability on the sales ability and integrity of someone in another company. If they want a design, they pay my hourly rate. Once the design is done, if they want me to be a point of contact for the client and monitor the jobsite, they pay me a percentage of the install.

Short version- it sounds like this contractor either doesn't get it, or is looking for a sucker. Don't be a sucker.

    Bookmark   March 2, 2012 at 7:48AM
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Mike Larkin

Met with the landscape contractor. He had no clue on how this working relationship should work.
He just wanted to meet with each of his potential clients, for about 30 min., then send me in to draw a quit sketch, so he could bid the job, then if he got the job, I would go in and do the plan. Then I would present the plan to the client, ( probably because he did not know much about plants. All he wanted to do was be the sales man.
When we discussed a fee, he never committed. Hmmm. Gut said goodbye---
Told him I was not interested.

Thanks for all the great advise - Mike

    Bookmark   March 4, 2012 at 7:27PM
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Marcinde, I loved your response!! As a matter of fact that is virtually the same thought that crossed my mind when I read the initial post :-)

I have a very close relationship with an independent contractor myself - I often refer design clients to him for installations and he refers to me those clients that need more than the very rudimentary design work he feels comfortable in providing. We both charge our own fees for the time we spend with clients and doing the work. IOW, nobody does anything for nuthin!!

plantsman56, I think you made a very wise choice. This does not sound like a relationship that would have proved equally mutually beneficial.

    Bookmark   March 18, 2012 at 6:00PM
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lnscapr(z7 VA)

I agree with Marcinde and Gardengal.....I have been an independent designer for 20 yrs. Worked for years with a contractor like the one described. Made him lots of money but he never saw the value of what I brought to the table. No more. I now work with several wonderful, top-notch contractors who realize they are not designers (and don't want to be) and are glad to refer me to their potential clients. (and I to them!)

I charge an initial 1 hour "consultation fee" to meet with the client, give my best advice and suggestions, and discuss how to best proceed. (Sometimes the contractor pays this....usually the client does.) If more time and further design fees are needed....the client pays.

If the client then signs a contract with the landscaper to do the work, I receive a commission on the total project. This covers my additional time involved in the project....hand selecting plants with the client, spacing plants on site,making decisions about changes from the plan, looking for containers, holding clients hands etc. without my having to "nickel and dime" them every time I visit the job site or look for a special plant or pot. We work as a team.....designer, contractor and client. It has been a win-win for all of us. I LOVE my job!

    Bookmark   May 5, 2012 at 12:19PM
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