Oh no, not that discussion again (I hear you sigh!) :-0)
I have maintained (and I've been sincere about this) that LJN shall remain a free platform to help small businesses get better, sharing knowledge, learn fast, networking and finding business (plus a host of other intangibles).
I think we are achieving these aims admirably but what with the building of Creating Landscapes and the increased administration of running the site - coupled with the need to add more industry content and information - there is becoming a need to start charging a fee to use certain tools.
To a large extent, other landscape associations' members are benefiting (for free) because their own organisations do not have the same reach and resources at their disposal. The bottom line is, mine and your hard work is being enjoyed by some who are not prepared to give anything back.
Ning will be providing tools shortly that will enable me to set charges but I'm not sure at this stage how flexible the facility will be and how it may be applied to certain features.
My ambition would be that free membership will continue to allow access to the forum and other tools but will remove a member's contact details unless a fee is paid. I can also envisage that blogs, photos and video be restricted to so many uploads a month/year with a subscription payment unlocking all of these tools.
Private paid-for groups
I'd hope that private locked down groups can only be accessed by those who have paid membership. One of the proposed features is a live accountancy group with access to a team of industry professionals to help guide you through the tough times.
It would be hoped that savings you make through efficient bookkeeping and accountancy would pay for any subscription many times over any.
Utilising this method will not decrease the through traffic of the site nor diminish the reach of our site advertisers.
Increasing industry content
One of the advantages that Landscape juice has over any of its nearest rivals and wanabees is that I am a fellow industry professional having worked in the trade since the age of sixteen: all of my working life. I've been paid £25.00 a week on a training scheme, I've had arkward clients, I've shared in great successes and I've suffered extreme stress of financial pressure and jobs going wrong.
Information on Landscape Juice is fast and because much is written by our peers it's honest and priceless. Believe me, despite some people commenting that it appears only to be the same people who comment, content is being scanned by many people and I received an email only this week from an unlikely source who complimented me on the value of the site and what they'd learnt (over a long period it seems) from what's being written.
For those of you who aren't aware, Craig McGinty (who introduced me to Ning in the first place) and Carol Miers are being paid from the sponsorship money being received from Marshalls to cover members' events, interviews, research and write articles for www.landscapejuice.com.
I have made payments to some LJN members to write articles for the site.
The adverts in the sidebar and in the enhanced listings are paying for the basic site costs of $599.00 a year) plus the extra premium features such as classified listings, hosting, blogging software and little aids that help me to do my job.
Apart from the headline sponsorship being provided by Marshalls (thank you Marshalls, I am extremely grateful) have personally underwritten the cost of the Creating Landscapes Trade Show.
Just a quick note on the show - through the hard work done by Stephen Ingram, Craig, Carol, Simon Tozer and myself, we are on target for over 100% occupancy at the show, without discounting one single metre of stand space.
My aim is to increase the budgets and payments to existing contributors, pay myself something by the way of a regular sum (I currently make less than £2,500 wages a year from Landscape Juice and I have run LJN full-time for over three years) all other income is invested in the site to benefit our members.
I've identified one new person who I'd like to join the team and I'd like to expand our industry document database and compile them into a searchable index, for your benefit.
I have no hard and fast business plan and I'm in no rush (nothing will happen until the end of the year at the earliest).
We might end up with a smaller membership out of all of this but those who remain may have the strongest set of tools and information available to them in the whole of the industry (if they haven't already).
I can write loads more and I'll contribute to the ongoing debate as questions roll in (and I'll be as honest and open as I can with my answers).
Landscape Juice has twice the traffic (averaging over 3,000 visitors a day this week) of Hort Week and the Landscaper Magazine combined (that's going on their published figures) and has more members than all of the three main landscape and design associations combined.
I think a subscription is a good idea, and would happily pay. I like to think i contribute, but I also get a hell of a lot out of this site, and I think £25-£50 per year is a good and fair value for the site.
The only reservation I have is that it may prevent new members joining or taking the risk, and this would need to be balenced with either something along the line of a Trial membership, sat £2.99 for a month or similar to entice more people in, as many above have said, it could move quickly to the core 50 + members already contributing to the site.
Other options could include more events, such as 1-day paid seminars throughout the country? where Members meet up and give talks, eg machine maintenance walk-throughs, how to services a machine etc? Each person attending pays £30 or similar. Also a good social meet up, generating income for LJN, and strengthening the LJN Community.
I think it would be a good idea to charge something, the site is a valuable source of information and needs to keep running. it is nice to hear what others are saying and doing in these hard times it is nice to know that we are not alone.
LJN old and new?
We may disagree with Phil at times, as he disagrees with us, at times. We retain the upmost respect for what Phil and his team have achieved over a fairly short period.
"Old Hat" - When we first joined LJN had around 300 members, and thanks to LJN we found Warner Grounds and worked with them on one of the first, if not the first, LJN collaberations. "The first LJN Meet-Up" with a 10k job at the end of it.
LJN has changed and got bigger, and better, in our view, over the years.
It is our view that if LJN went part or all subscription, we would still stay a part of it. Our criteria for doing this would ideally be some sort of Association, loose or otherwise.
From this February since we started trading as a new business, 25% of all of our sales leads have come via LJN, so it is for that reason that we agreed, lol Phil, to Somerstock having a stand, and backing Creating Landscapes.
So, to all, if LJN is the best for you, as we think, then back it.