Is a LA degree/license overkill for contracting

louie613November 15, 2013

I have recently transferred to a 4 year school after completing my associates in landscape design from my county college. I am in the landscape architecture program at my current school, but thinking about switching into the environmental planning and design major with the option of landscape industry. My goal is to have my own design build company. I want to do high end residential and commercial work such as plantings and hardscapes etc. I am thinking about going towards the industry major because I want to learn more of the business side of things and sustainability and what not. I do not really want to have to do a 2 year internship either after I graduate. My question is if I switch out of the LA program will that hurt me in the future? If I get my LA degree will that help me a lot in getting clients? Is it overkill? Is it worth the time, do I need it? I'm very torn. If anyone has any input please don't be afraid to share.

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Education is always good. Credentials are always good. I'm not an LA but I'm a good designer by most standards and run a fairly successful design and consulting practice. Had I known what I wanted to do at 20 and gone straight through school as an LA would've gotten me where I am quicker, but I'd probably be in a similar place. On the flip side, because I became a designer after over a decade in the field building this stuff, I think my stuff works better than a lot of folks. But I *am* biased that way.

The #2 mistake that I see people make who start a business right out of college is that they just haven't built enough jobs and they haven't learned the systems to successfully run a business. The #1 mistake is that they suck at sales. This industry is notorious for people who are good at executing the work but atrocious at selling it.

Here's what I tell everyone who wants to run a design-build co: get a job selling. Ideally you want to sell a product that doesn't excite you and your income is either straight commission or virtually pointless without good commissions and bonuses on top of the base. I can sell my service, that I believe in with all my heart and soul, because I learned to sell toilet paper and urinal sanitizers to car dealerships and carnicerias.

    Bookmark   November 15, 2013 at 5:26PM
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The degree itself is not a magic bullet that will gain clients for you. In addition to it you would need to be a good designer, so you would need the basics -- what school can teach -- and also to develop a sense of good taste and effective solutions ... much of what you will teach yourself by observation. I can only speak from my own experience about the LA degree program, but for me it was weak regarding the business aspects (in spite of the fact that it was a 5-year program.) You might learn more about the business end while on the job. Many LA graduates have unrealistic expectations about how things are constructed in the field, so there is a great benefit from gaining experience at a lower level and working one's way up (including getting paid for it along the way!) Much depends upon your temperament and proclivities. As in all fields, you'll be successful if you are well suited to the work. The degree will probably help you advance farther, especially regarding hardscape capabilities. It might help you get there faster, but offers no real guaranty of success and requires the up-front investment in effort (and ca$h!) Speaking only for myself, by the time I graduated, I wished that I had opted instead for working my way up within a company and gaining field experience along the way. I think it would have been more fun, rewarding and educational. Even after graduating, you'll start at an entry-level position.

    Bookmark   November 15, 2013 at 6:06PM
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I did not see Marcinde's response until after posting mine. I'm glad to see we're on the same page on the value of field experience.

    Bookmark   November 15, 2013 at 6:11PM
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I can't disagree with anything said so far. I got my LA degree at 35 after working in several different landscape positions. The degree does not get clients flocking to you, nor does the license. But the degree shapes the way that you think and approach landscape design. All the stuff that you need to go through to get the license also shapes you and adds diversity to your experience learning from others and from having a front row seat seeing what others do whether they try to teach you or not. I had to work at places and do tasks that I really did not want to do that added a lot of knowledge and skills that have been very beneficial to me.

Having said that, there are a lot of different ways to gain diverse experience and to network with people who can be sources of design work. It is only one way of many.

The one thing that you have to know is that it is one business where hanging a shingle and getting a webpage does not get you many clients. You need people who already have clients who need your services that will refer their clients to you or at least introduce you. Then you have to know how to sell yourself as the product rather than design stuff as the product. That takes a long time to develop no matter from which direction you come to it.

Set yourself up to work for the people who are already successful doing what you want to do. Learn from them. That might take a degree or another path.

    Bookmark   November 17, 2013 at 3:57PM
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