Business Conditions Flatten for Landscape Architecture Firms, Says Survey

Words: Bronzella Cleveland

Billable hours and inquiries for new work dip, with hiring holding steady.

Business conditions for landscape architecture firms declined slightly for the third quarter of 2015, according to the American Society of Landscape Architects’ (ASLA) latest Business Quarterly survey. Billings and inquiries for new work edged down for the majority of responding firms during the third quarter, while plans to hire remained stable.

The third quarter survey shows that fully 83.40 percent of responding firms reported stable to significantly higher billable hours, a drop from the second quarter (86.67 percent). Some 81.56 percent of firms reported stable to significantly higher inquiries for new work, compared to 84.51 percent during the second quarter.

Year to year, 81.30 percent of firms reported stable to significantly higher billable hours, dipping slightly from the 82.38 percent reported during the third quarter of 2014. Year to year, 84.52 percent said inquiries for new work were stable to significantly higher, compared to the 86.10 percent reported for the third quarter last year.

Some 48 percent of firms with two or more employees said they planned to hire in the fourth quarter of 2015, about the same as the previous quarter (48.10 percent). Some 54.76 percent of firms with five to nine employees will be hiring landscape architects, both experienced and entry-level.

The survey also asked questions about how landscape architectural firms find work.

The highest-ranked business development tools include referrals (4.57 mean score), client relationships with architects and engineers (4.30 mean score) and direct contact with potential clients, including corporations, nonprofits, and government agencies (4.22 mean score).

The top ways firms cultivate referrals include current and past clients (98.43 percent) and people in other related professions, including architects, engineers, planners, and environmental consultants (92.55 percent).

Key survey highlights:

Compared to the second quarter 2015, your third quarter 2015 billable hours were:
Significantly higher (more than 10%) – 11.86%
Slightly higher (5 to 10% higher) – 30.83%
About the same (plus or minus 5%) – 40.71%
Slightly lower (5 to 10% lower) – 9.88%
Significantly lower (more than 10%) – 6.72%

Compared to the second quarter 2015, your third quarter 2015 inquiries for new work were:
Significantly higher (more than 10%) – 7.84%
Slightly higher (5 to 10% higher) – 36.86%
About the same (plus or minus 5%) – 36.86%
Slightly lower (5 to 10% lower) – 12.16%
Significantly lower (more than 10%) – 6.27%

Year to year, compared to the third quarter in 2014, your third quarter 2015 billable hours were:
Significantly higher (more than 10%) – 20.73%
Slightly higher (5 to 10% higher) – 35.77%
About the same (plus or minus 5%) – 24.80%
Slightly lower (5 to 10% lower) – 11.38%
Significantly lower (more than 10%) – 7.32%

Year to year, compared to the third quarter in 2014, your third quarter 2015 inquiries for new work were:
Significantly higher (more than 10%) – 17.06%
Slightly higher (5 to 10% higher) – 34.92%
About the same (plus or minus 5%) – 32.54%
Slightly lower (5 to 10% lower) – 9.52%
Significantly lower (more than 10%) – 5.95%

Do you plan on hiring any employees in the fourth quarter of 2015? (multiple answers)
Yes, we’ll be hiring an experienced landscape architect – 11.37%
Yes, we’ll be hiring an entry-level landscape architect – 17,65%
Yes, we’ll be hiring an intern – 5.49%
Yes, we’ll be hiring support staff – 5.88%
Yes, we’ll be hiring other design/architecture/engineering staff – 9.80%
Yes, we’ll be hiring other staff – 6.27%
No, we’re not currently hiring – 60.78%

How important is each of the following at your firm when scouting for new project work (ranked in order of importance):
Referrals – 4.57 mean score
Client relationships with architects and engineers – 4.30 mean score
Direct contact with potential clients, including corporations, nonprofits, and government agencies – 4.22 mean score
RFPs – 3.17 mean score
ASLA’s RFQs and Opportunities page – 1.58 mean score
Competitions – 1.52 mean score

How does your firm cultivate referral sources? (multiple answers)
Current and past clients – 98.43%
People in other related professions, including architects, engineers, planners, and environmental consultants – 92.55%
Content-driven website – 38.04%
Quality marketing collateral materials – 29.04%
Social media – 28.24%
Former classmates and colleagues – 25.88%
Marketing through client trade associations – 25.49%
Membership/involvement in ASLA – 13.73%
Exhibiting at industry trade shows – 12.16%
Not applicable – 0.39%

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