by Gerry Kiffe
General Manager
GardenSoft, an APLD CA Bronze Sponsor


The California Financial Challenge

If you are just starting out as a Garden Designer after college or high school, or after leaving your old profession and trying to make a living in California, you are looking down the gun barrel of these median home prices: Sacramento County $355,000; Sonoma County $643,000; Marin County $1,108,000; San Francisco $1,289,000;  San Mateo $1,200,000; Santa Clara $1,283,000; Contra Costa County $612,000; Alameda County $875,000; Santa Cruz $868,000; Santa Barbara $1,128, Los Angeles County $615,000; Orange County $746,000; and San Diego County $604,000. Ouch!

So the question is, “How do I make my garden design business financially successful enough to afford to buy a home and raise a family in California?” One of the answers to the question is by generating recurrent revenue.

What is Recurrent Revenue?

Recurrent Revenue is the idea that once you secure income from a particular client, you hold onto them and create a pattern of generating revenue again and again in some cyclic pattern. It is far easier to sell something additional to an existing customer than it is to secure a brand-new customer. You have already laid the groundwork and gained their trust. You know the intricacies of their property and their preferences. Once you have established this level of trust with your client (and our profession is rather good at this), then the necessary threshold needed to convince a client to do further work with you is dramatically reduced.

But what can I sell a client after I have provided a design and stewarded the installation?

The Wrong Paradigm

Part of the problem is the current paradigm landscape design currently labors under: the pattern of business in architecture and home construction. In this business model, a blueprint is handed to a contractor who builds the home, which is then turned over to the homeowner. And that is the end of the story— the homeowner never sees the architect or contractor again. This is not what happens when a garden is created. Instead, a set of plans are drawn, the landscape is installed, then the real process of rearing and cultivating the garden BEGINS (not ends, like in house construction). What happens in that garden over the next several months—and really for the next several years—is CRITICAL to the maturation of the garden. After a newborn child is delivered, your pediatrician would insist on seeing the child repeatedly on a specific schedule for the first few years of their life to ensure her or his health. Why should this process of creating a garden be any different?

Garden Crafting

So, with this idea in mind, a better approach would be for the designer to play a more fundamental role in both the construction process and in what has come to be falsely labeled as ‘maintenance’. 

Horticulture has exited the scene, for the most part, in modern maintenance practices.

Many designers provide plant placement and monitoring during construction. (Do we charge enough for this?) But what about the ‘maintenance’ after the ‘baby is delivered’. ‘Maintenance’ is not the proper term to describe what is needed. As a garden designer, you are not interested in maintaining anything; you are interested in growing and sculpting and crafting the garden as it matures. Anyone who has a home garden knows this. Plants that are not performing well enough in their locations need moving or replacing. What settings does the irrigation controller need from season to season (month to month)? When should mulch be reapplied? Dealing with infestations and disease issues that come up are important. What structural pruning is needed for maximum health and direction? What new ideas have come to mind now that the existing landscape is removed and this new one has taken its place? This ‘baby’ the stork has delivered is not an inorganic building needing maintenance, but a dynamic new eco-system needing the guiding hand of the garden designer—you!

A New Paradigm

Therefore, the services we render should be recurrent and cyclical. And to this end a new paradigm needs to be developed. In this new model, you would charge a development fee up front for the initial design services as Stage 1: Site inspection, client interview, blueprints. Stage 2 would include your fees for guiding the installation phase. This might require multiple visits per week, plant placement, and your advice throughout the installation process, etc. After the installation is complete, you would enter Stage 3: ongoing consultation services for a 2-3 year period, or longer. These consultation services might be actual pruning, setting the irrigation controller to use water effectively, replacing plants etc. (high level tasks). Or it could be in the form of information, counseling, or coaching.  You could provide written instructions on what needs to happen to keep the ‘child’ healthy and growing (to continue the pediatrician metaphor).

(To see how the math works out to generate a six-figure salary from this model: read the whole article here:  plantmasterblog.com/generating-recurrent-revenue/)

“But My Client Won’t Pay for That”—Overcoming Objections

Maintenance is expensive. Water is expensive. Plant replacement is expensive. Fixing mistakes is expensive. If done correctly under the guidance of a trained professional garden designer, these commonplace costs can be seriously reduced. In exchange for those savings, the Garden Designer deserves some—but not all—of these savings. What is being advocated here is that some of the monies currently going to maintenance companies be redirected to Garden Designers who can bring horticulture back into the equation.

When done right, a garden costs less money than when it is done wrong. This is an obvious fact too infrequently employed when confronted with the “I can’t afford this” argument. Short term thinking leads to long term costs. You must convince the client that your way saves them money over the long run. What is the cost of removing plants that have grown too large, replanting an embankment that was poorly irrigated, re-plumbing an irrigation system that is poorly designed? What is the cost of wasted water, unnecessary fertilizer, dump runs, plant replacement?


To see how the details flush-out, see the full article here:  plantmasterblog.com/generating-recurrent-revenue/  Many designers are experimenting with novel business models and branching out of the old box. It is high time to reconsider how to run this kind of business. The accumulated wisdom of a career in horticulture is worthy of financial remuneration in the market place, just as it is in the legal, medical, fitness, or financial planning professions. Yet traditionally, landscape designers give away so much of their expertise for free. With a recurrent revenue stream model you can dispense this wisdom to your customers in a manner that significantly improves your yearly revenue which, if cleverly devised, leads to a six figure salary. Email me your comments.


by Gerry Kiffe
General Manager
GardenSoft, an APLD CA Bronze Sponsor