TOOLS AND TIPS:

Designing Your Business

Ryan Prange    Falling Waters Landscape Design  Solana Beach, CA APLD Bay Area District Member

Ryan Prange
Falling Waters Landscape Design
Solana Beach, CA
APLD Bay Area District Member

If you are contemplating starting your own business, these basics will help lay the groundwork for success. If you have been in business for any length of time, these will be good reminders and may fill in a gap you have in your current system.
As designers, we are consumed with making places and spaces pretty for others. We agonize over the details, we pour over the plans, and that often results in neglecting the design of our business. What do I mean? The design of your business is everything from your Business Entity status to your presence online. It’s your logo, your company culture, your office, and your business systems. In the “Think Outside” playbook we will outline and go into detail on 10 basics of starting your business. And again, if you are already in business and taking on clients, you can use this playbook as a refresher course.

Photo courtesy of Ryan Prange.

 

Lets outline the 10 topics and then go from there!

Business Name
Type of Business Entity
Brand
Purchase and hold your name across all platforms
Available in Volume 3 of “Think Outside”
Create Consistency
Identify your Network
Create a purpose statement
Obtain proper licensure
Identify your ideal client
Set realistic goals


Business Name

Choosing what to name your business is a very personal decision.

It’s typical for consultants in most industries to use their personal name. If you decide to use your personal name, remember that it will be difficult to extract your personal life from your business life. If that doesn’t worry you, then your personal name is most likely going to be available. Adding “designs” or “landscapes” or “exteriors” is your choice. This will help in letting your potential clients know intuitively exactly what you do.

Another choice would be naming your business after a geographic place (i.e. “Gold Coast Landscape” or “Dry Creek Designs”). Again, this is a fine choice should you want to serve a specific area. It can be a great way to curry favor in a locale. Clients love the idea of a someone who is familiar with a place, especially if it's the place they call home. A potential downside of this tactic is limiting your reach to ONLY one specific place, or dulling your brand by using common terms and phrases. In my area, the terms “Coast” and “South” appear all too often. Also anything that includes the color “green” (in multiple languages) is used heavily and doesn’t contribute to a “unique brand”.

A third—and probably the most difficult—option would be to go for something unique that doesn't include your name and doesn’t include a specific location. This could really be anything. Anything that you can defend and that can grow with you over time. Extra points if it's catchy and sticks in the memories of your clients.

Brand

To go along with your name will be—at the very least—a logo. This is not your brand. To be sure, a good name and a decent logo are a great start… but your brand is so much more.

Consider your colors, your fonts, how you sign your name on your email. Do you have a company email or are you using Yahoo or Gmail? (Or worse… Hotmail??) What about your voicemail, your employees, your personal appearance. These all impact your brand.

Consider how you respond to online reviews, what you post on social media, how you treat your vendors. These all impact your brand. What about paying your debts on time? Setting an example to your employees? Over time this becomes your brand.

Your brand is all about the story you want to tell, getting to the core of what really sets you apart from the rest. Do you have a vision for your business? Do you have a vision of your perfect customer. These are the foundational components of building your brand.

We will delve more into branding in another issue of “Think Outside”, but for now think about this quote from Warren Buffet, “It takes 20 years to build a reputation and five minutes to ruin it. If you think about that, you’ll do things differently.”

Purchase Your Business Name Across All Platforms

After you’ve decided what you will name your business, the very first thing you will need to do is purchase your business name across as many platforms as possible. I suggest starting with GoDaddy to see if your business name is available. Ideally it is, and you should purchase it right away. It would also be advisable to purchase any names closely related to your business name. I would also suggest having Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram all up as browser windows to make sure you can hold your name across all those platforms.

I would also purchase and hold your personal name (and any common misspellings of your name). If you don’t want to use your personal name AS your business name, you can still purchase the domain and use it to redirect to your business URL.

A few things to remember:

•This name will be attached to you for a very long time.

•Avoid any words or phrases that could be considered copyright infringement or potentially offensive (the example of the Washington Redskins comes to mind)

•If your name is long or awkward to speak or type, remember this name will be used on every application, every email, dictated and re-dictated to clients/vendors. Simplify life by choosing something on the simpler side.

•Be ready to have a story or explanation for the name (even if its made up). People love an origin story!

Create Consistency Across Platforms

Consistency is key to your client’s experience. When I speak of consistency, I am talking about everything from using the same font(s) throughout all your website and content to ensuring your client’s experience is similar no matter whom they speak to at your company.

If you hired a brand designer to come up with your logo, this person can easily create what's called an “Identity Kit” that you can reference anytime. In this Kit should be your logo in Illustrator and PDF format. It should contain clear directions for printing or posting your logo in various formats. For example, your logo will print differently on T-shirts vs. letterhead vs. auto-decals. Printers use either RBG or CMYK colors, and in your ID Kit these colors should be clearly labeled so no matter who you send your logo to and how they print/post it, it will come out consistent.

Consistency also plays a part in the interactions your clients have with you and your team. I like to call these “touches”. Every time you or one of your employees interacts with the client its a “touch”. This includes emails, phone calls, in person meetings, follow ups, etc. Most clients crave consistency and will get spooked if the experience they have with your pushy and slovenly salesperson is vastly different than the image they see on your website, or the great initial conversation they had with you or your admin.

There are so many ways to create consistency throughout your “touches” with your clients. Every time you give them a similar experience, you will reinforce your brand and build trust.

Identify Your Network in Your Location

Whether you are a Landscape Designer, Landscape Architect, Student, Contractor, novice or expert, or none of the above… you have a network. I’m not talking about your friends and family—although these can be a part of your professional network. I’m talking about vendors, other contractors, business owners, nurseries, and home improvement centers.

Especially if you are new to the industry, I highly recommend you personally introduce yourself to as many people as possible. You’d be surprised how many people would be more than happy to help you. I found that by being sincere and humble, I was able to endear myself to industry pros. But here is the key… offer value.

While we’d like to think of people as generally altruistic and willing to help a stranger, that’s not usually the case. By identifying a way to offer value to this new contact, you will set them at ease. Instead of asking what they can do for you, you’ve offered something of value to them. When the time comes they will be a great asset to your network.

Of course, a great way to build your professional network is via Social Media. Sites like Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, Instagram, and Snapchat are all options. Then you have Houzz and Pinterest as well. We could do a deep dive on each of these but for now, Facebook, Instagram and Pinterest are the top options for the design professional. Who knows what new platform will roll out in the future? What’s the key here? Be careful how much time you devote to these sites. While they can be amazing tools, they can also be colossal “time-sucks”. Remember this: the content lives forever, so there is no need to post anything but your best. Doing this will reduce the time you waste and present a more professional online presence.

Finally, professional associations are a fantastic way to create a professional network with like-minded individuals. In California—and San Diego in particular—we have an especially active branch of APLD and ASLA. Both organizations have their unique strengths and membership is available nationwide. Be sure, there are innumerable other small-business associations and Contractor associations geographically situated to you.

Subscribe to “Think Outside” for the additional 6 basics and much more!

Create Consistency
Identify your Network
Create a purpose statement
Obtain proper licensure
Identify your ideal client
Set realistic Goals