If you’re not making mistakes, you’re not learning!

Submitted by APLDCT member Rich Schipul, Designing Eden, LLC

I’m one of those people who has been on a direct path with the Green Industry my whole life, and I’m proud to say I’ve never worked for anyone else. I started my career in 1980 cutting one lawn a week when I was twelve years old. That property took me 5-6 hours to cut with a push mower and for my efforts I was paid $25. Since graduating with degrees in both Horticulture and Landscape Architecture, I’ve been focused on the landscape design, landscape installation, and garden maintenance side of the business through my company, Designing Eden llc.

Window Box, Plantings, Hydrangea
Seasonal window box and plantings by Designing Eden

I graduated with two college degrees, in Horticulture and Landscape Architecture, yet knew nothing about running a business. Over the years, I’ve come to realize that every week we, as business owners, face ideas and obstacles, that affect the direction of our careers or businesses. These choices can speed up success or hinder growth. I thought it would be fun to do a little self-reflection on some of the things that have most likely held me back in my design career.

Over the years, there have been many mistakes. What do they say, ‘If you’re not making mistakes, you’re not learning? As I look back over my career, the three things that stick out the most are being too conservative as a business owner, not hiring a bookkeeper earlier in my career, and not making the jump to computer-aided design sooner. Let me explain.

Here is one example of being too conservative. There have been plenty of opportunities to grow over the years, but growth has always felt outside of my comfort zone. I never had the gumption to ‘go for it’. In my eyes, the growth opportunities, that were right in front of me, were always going to be short-lived. Maybe they were, maybe they weren’t, but it seemed as though a little man was sitting on my shoulder, whispering in my ear, and telling me that this was a temporary issue I was having. Every spring, for years, I could have easily sold more work, employed more people, and put more trucks on the road, the problem though, was that I was always thinking about the slow times that inevitably occur in the heat of the summer or late fall when no one is thinking about planting. Each season has at least one point when I start questioning what we’ll be doing the following week, and during those times, I envision my

Jobsite, Paving, Equipment, Foundation Planting
Designing Eden crew, protecting a gravel drive while planting.

employees standing around twiddling their thumbs, instead of envisioning them contributing to a larger bank balance. Many companies have an annual hiring bonanza in spring, knowing full well that those same people they hire, will be on the streets in a few short months after the busy spring planting season has slowed. That’s just not me. If I’m going to commit to someone, I plan to make a long-term commitment. Because of my conservative nature, when presented with a growth opportunity I would sit it out on the sidelines, and possibly miss an opportunity.

Another mistake I’ve made over the years is not letting go. Letting go has been difficult and uncomfortable for me throughout my career. I’m one of those people who when I ask someone to do something, and I think it takes too long or they didn’t follow directions correctly, I get frustrated (read: I didn’t communicate clearly). Over the years, I’ve had the mentality of “I’ll just do it myself”, which is not a good mentality to have if you’re a business owner. There are only so many hours in a day, a week, or a garden season, to make money, and in my opinion, it’s difficult enough, without letting go, to make a real living as a designer unless you have a hand in the installation of the project.

To make a living in this business, or any business really, you need people you can trust, and you need to be comfortable delegating tasks to others. Without either one of those scenarios, your future bed has been made. Here’s an example. For years, I did my own bookkeeping, I’m not sure why, I guess I thought I was good at it or I couldn’t afford to have someone else do it for me. Then, I hired a bookkeeper, and the work that I used to do at a snail’s pace was finished at lightning speed. I was so naïve; I should have added a bookkeeper to help out years earlier.

Lastly, making the switch from hand drawing to CAD should have happened a lot sooner, but I was scared from an experience that happened decades earlier. I was one of the first classes at SUNY Syracuse to take AutoCAD. The year was 1990, the software seemed great, but the problem was that the computers weren’t appropriate for such a demanding program. The computers continually crashed throughout the semester and when they did, I’d lose everything. I lost my final exam twice during finals week.

Designing Eden, Site Plan, Cad Drawing
CAD drawing by Designing Eden

After that experience, I said I would never do another design on a computer ever again. Then, a few decades later, I jumped back into computer design and haven’t looked back. Designing on a computer definitely has its drawbacks. That said, designing in CAD has given me the ability to do design work that I would never have been able to take on if I was still hand drawing.

Being self-employed can be lonely at times. There are many thoughts and ideas that pop into my head daily that I might not want to share with my people. Instead, I share them with a business networking group that I’ve built over the past 20 years, a network of friends and colleagues that I can bounce ideas off. It’s why I love being a part of an organization like the Connecticut Chapter of the APLD, without that network of people in my life, I’m not sure I would have lasted this long as a self-employed landscape designer/landscaper. Owning a landscape design and installation business is not for the faint of heart but it’s the only way I can imagine my career as a designer.

Colorblends, Tulips, Sponsor, Field trip
APLDCT field day at Colorblends trial gardens!


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