I've been practicing permaculture principles for about 5 years now, at home and in friends' gardens. I've done two introduction courses (about a half-day each), and I've read quite a few good books about the topic (by Holmgren, Hemenway and Mollison). I tend to "see" the world around me through the lense of permaculture principles.
I see a lot of opportunities for change and improvement in the way people live and use space and resources around me. So I've been toying with the ideas of offering advice professionally.
So my question is : what are the requirements to get started as a professional designer ? Do I have to complete a PDC first ? How do I find clients ?
I understand it's a pretty broad question, but I haven't found anything on the web that explains the jump from growing the three sisters in your back-yard to making people pay for your advice.
Thanks in advance :)
"Plan for the worst, hope for the best." David Holmgren
Most people that consult internationally seem to have 15+ years of experience across multiple biomes and people generally go to them. With your experience, I would try and focus on your local community and surrounding biomes at first and contact individuals or organizations that might be interested. (cold call / email)
An important part of being doing anything professionally is building your client base and gaining brand recognition. Most people don't know the word permaculture so creating a website such as <your location> forest gardens may make it more accessible. You will need to be sure that potential clients have a good way to book a consultation whether that is in person or via something like zoom or skype. See my website as an example: permapromoters.com
Some ways of gaining clients organically could be creating your own PDC, starting a YouTube channel, blog, or podcast. If you can show people that you know what you are talking about they will come to you. You could also pay for advertising, post on craigslist, hand out business cards at your local farmers market/club/meeting/whatever any way you can pay to get your service in front of potential clients. Over time you will get more organic traffic & clients as people hear about you from others. You could also try creating a profile on freelance services such as fiverr or upwork although I doubt those services are as effective as having your own channels even though there is low competition there.
Alternatively, you can try and get on board with an existing landscaping company as a designer and they could help with implementing designs you create. You should also familiarise yourself with all your local nurseries, farms, & other designers, and what they offer.
Personally, I like to diversify what I offer quite a bit. Are you just doing online consulting or are you willing to drive out to a site, are you going to do soil testing, lidar scanning, surveying? Are you going to create hand-drawn or digital designs, are you going to print them out? Are you going to order plants for customers or just create lists of where they can get them?
Really it is all about getting your name out there but I would defiantly chat with established designers/consultants, look at their websites and get a feel for what others in the industry are doing. And if there is something you don't have the equipment or ability to do (i.e. digital art) then outsource it to another designer or if you need to collaborate with another designer that is more familiar with an exotic biome. Many consultants collab to provide a better service.
As for getting your first client, you will need a good portfolio, perhaps start with friends and family or offer 50% off for your first customer. I don't know if anyone gets by from just offering advice, you need some kind of reference point, review, or image that shows what you teach works at that is something that takes time. (because plants grow) lol
There is a lot more to it, but I hope something in what I wrote here helps you get started.
Wow, thanks a lot for this long answer !
I've already started two parallel businesses, one in graphic design (specifically data-visualization) and one selling organic olive oil. Neither has been a commercial success, I've barely managed to make a living (which could be seen as a success in itself, though). So finding clients and selling my ideas and talent is really something I struggle with. I guess it'll be wise to get some general salesman's skills before I start yet another venture.
"Plan for the worst, hope for the best." David Holmgren
From my experience in my past businesses where I am both the person developing a product and doing the marketing, the quality of one of the two would suffer.
The current solution I am trying out is starting an advertising agency to sell other people's products and services. This way I'm not developing a product but instead offer my marketing as the product so my focus is solely on that.
In selling other people's products I have created 4 streams of income:
My biggest concern is that the permaculture niche is too small, that there are not enough permaculture businesses that can afford or see the value in advertising. My goal is to help bring it into the mainstream and help startup businesses so theoretically I could solve the problem.
But what if it doesn't and I end up with a failure? Well, then I will assume the problem is me, spreading myself too thin. Obviously in that case you should just hire some help, but if your business is not in a position to do that yet then you are on your own. So what should you do? Narrow your focus and be consistent, chances are one of my 4 income streams is making a profit so I will focus on that. If my eCommerce store isn't profitable in 3 months I'll drop it or if I am making a killing in affiliate marketing and have yet to get a client in traditional advertising I will reduce the services I offer in that area and focus more on affiliate stuff.
In your case let's say you start a business and offer:
You go buy surveying equipment but after 3 months your clients are only interested in graphic design & consulting, well then you are out of the cost of the equipment. The #1 rule when selling physical goods is always to have a buyer first. This is because you don't want to be stuck with the cost of the goods but not be able to sell them. With online goods and services, it is a little different because you rarely have a buyer lined up and you have to attract them. Most of the time you have to make an educated guess of what sells well based on what other people are doing and hope it's not too competitive.
Sam Walton the creator of Walmart spent most of his time in other stores. This is what made Walmart so successful, he took the best aspects of all his competitors and merged them into one store. So in the case of my business model, I know there are people making money on affiliate marketing and eCommerce in this niche. Now I may be the only person offering traditional advertising (although platforms like permies and Permaculture Magazine allow you to place ads). I have little evidence to go off of that my service will be in demand, but I have other things to fall back on. I can't stress it enough, look at what other people are doing and copy them. Success is repeatable.
My point is when introducing something new to an area, maybe something that isn't offered yet, you won't have any point of reference. It will always be risky so you should have something you know is stable to fall back on. But when you find that one thing that works then double down on it and be consistent. Then maybe when your top client asks specifically about surveying then go out and buy the equipment, but maybe surveying would be your best seller so you should invest early on; that's the gamble.
In this case, you have your other business to fall back on so I would say listing a few new services is low risk, if you don't get clients then you don't do the work so you are not out the time. The most you have to lose is the cost of a website, which really you don't need when starting out, you could start by offering your service on craigslist.
For anyone reading this I would like to note that when selling physical/digital products that you make yourself don't offer a whole bunch all at once, just focus on one and build up a brand then introduce new products. With services, I like to go the other way around and offer multiple then narrow it down. Don't try and apply my advice for services to anything handcrafted.
Snakes? You mean danger noodles?
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