Lori Hawkins, RLA, ASLA, is the principal and owner of Hawkins Landscape Architecture in Greensboro, North Carolina
Even before the pandemic, I faced some challenging circumstances that caused great personal and professional disruption and despair. During the great recession in 2008, I was unexpectedly laid off. I was completely stunned. After the shock wore off, I realized the gravity of the situation. Landscape architects and designers were a dime a dozen in the marketplace and unable to find employment.
That day marked a new beginning and eventually the start of my own company. In hindsight, that layoff was one of the best things that ever happened to me. Eleven years later, I can say with confidence, the skills I learned then assisted me to grow a thriving and successful business today. Here are 10 tips I hope will help you.
1. IDENTIFY GOALS
Goal setting provides clarity and focus, measures progress and tracks accomplishments. I knew I loved design and wanted to stay in the industry, but I also wanted change. So I formulated a game plan.
2. LEVERAGE YOUR STRENGTHS
Ask yourself: What am I good at and how can I use this now? I discovered I was good at networking and marketing and needed those skills more than ever. I signed up for a local leads group and began researching how to market online.
3. TAKE A RISK
I had always wanted to have my own design firm where I could call the shots and be fully creative and financially independent. The big risk I took was forgoing a reliable paycheck versus generating income on my own. I looked at my options and set a schedule for when I had to start making money.
4. GAIN A COMPETITIVE EDGE
Commit to an atmosphere of continual learning—online, through manufacturers or trade associations. I realized I had to reinvent myself and remain current, so I decided to invest in technology. (When I was in college, PC’s did not even exist!) After seven months of work, I learned how to use VIP 3D by Structure Studios, which my clients love.
5. GET OUT OF YOUR COMFORT ZONE
Difficult times spurred me to try new and different avenues. I forced myself to do something I loathe: public speaking. But it met several of my business goals and allowed me to market myself and my brand. Now I try a public speaking engagement several times a year, and it gets easier every time.
Network and when you’re tired, network some more. This is what allowed me to find additional staff and contractors as well as business partners. Join a leads or professional service group or a charitable organization. You’ll not only help your business but your community.
7. FOCUS ON CUSTOMER SERVICE
Retain and grow your client base. Happy clients will refer you to other potential clients. Create a culture that encourages repeat business. Offer a gift for referrals or as a thank you at the end of a project. Customer loyalty can give you a continuous stream of leads.
8. CHANGE UP YOUR MARKETING
When I first started, I distributed flyers in every mailbox in my target neighborhoods. I got zero leads. Now I use a variety of online marketing tools to create brand recognition and garner new clients. I showcase my work on HOUZZ and Instagram, @3Dlandscapearchitect, and participate on Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter.
9. ACCESS RESOURCES
Take an inventory of resources currently available to you to tackle ongoing challenges. Need help brainstorming? A local entrepreneurial nonprofit may be available to assist with a business plan. Are you running a business and home schooling your children? (I will say a prayer for you!) See if a family member can help or form a childcare co-op with like-minded friends.
10. SELF CARE
I put this last because I always do this last, and often within minutes of a complete meltdown. In these stressful times, taking care of yourself is more important than ever. Take a walk, call a friend, meet a family member for lunch—whatever it takes to get refreshed and ready for the next hard day.
As they say, “This too shall pass,” and eventually any challenge you’re facing will too. The skills you learn now will not only make you stronger, but your business ready for future success.