Today entrepreneur and founder of the Eco-Landscape Mastery School, Erik Ohlsen, joins me to talk about starting permaculture based businesses.
The interesting thing about Erik’s story is that he wasn’t always an entrepreneur. He started out as an activist, and an admitted anti-capitalist.
Then he realized he needed to make a change. Not to give up the activist mindset, but move that mindset into a business framework. He did that, and what he discovered, is that by running a successful business he could plant a lot of trees, hire people that believed in the same type of work that he believed in, and pay his rent. The business allowed him to make a lot of forward progress doing work that he believed in and like doing.
His thinking has evolved and he is now what you could call an activist capitalist. Using a business as a way to do work that aligns with his values – mission driven action. Erik is the owner of multiple companies including the landscape design firm Permaculture Artisans. A company that now does over $1M in business.
It’s a model business for anyone looking to permaculture design on a big scale; and Erik is a great model and mentor for someone looking to do this type of work.
In this episode he is going into some of the strategies he has used to grow and market his business, tips for running the day to day operations of the design business, and ways to leverage the experience of others to help your personal journey.
Currently Erik has a special early-bird offer for those of you who want to learn more about starting a design business in his Eco-Landscape Mastery School.
Erik’s Eco-Landscape Mastery School
The Step by Step Program to start and grow your ecological design business. An online school and coaching program designed to fully equip and support you as a professional ecological designer, practitioner, and consultant.
Who This Training is For:
- Anyone who wants to start a business in ecological landscape design and contracting.
- Beginning landscape designers who want to learn best practices and quickly grow a successful landscape design business.
- Experienced designers, landscapers, and contractors ready to grow their business to the next level through having professional mentorship and business development support.
- Permaculture practitioners and designers who want to professionalize their work.
- Consultants who want to establish a successful and professional consultation business.
- Newly Certified Permaculture Designers who want to add to their learning experience with professional tools to create a permaculture based business of their own.
Video Training Modules: 15+ core modules to learn the step-by-step workflow for professional consulting, designing, and project management of ecologic landscaping. Once the course launches, you will have instant and lifetime access to every module. ($3500 value)
- Step by Step Site Assessment Process- including supporting resources and templates
- Portfolio and Credibility Plan- so you can inspire new clients, educate your community, and grow an engaged network.
- Permaculture and Ecological Design Principles- and their practical use in the design and development of your business, projects, and campaigns.
- Consultation Strategy and Implementation- everything you need to know and avoid, to be an effective and professional ecological design consultant.
- Base Map Strategy and Creation- why, when, and how to make sure you have the right base map for your project and easy steps to creating your own.
- Design Process- All you need to know about creating an ecological design, design plans sets, graphics, and more.
- Client Management- best practices for communicating with and supporting your clients, creating lasting relationships, and managing a smooth project. Also, how to identify clients you need to walk (or run) away from before you’re in too deep!
- Presentation Training- all you need to know to give powerful, engaging, educational, and sales converting presentations.
- Landscape Fertility Plans- how to assess, test, and create a soil fertility plan for each specific project.
- Landscape Irrigation Plan- making sure you have everything you need to know to create efficient and water saving irrigation plans and systems.
- Water Harvesting and Management- best practices for assessing and planning appropriate water management and harvesting strategies specific to each project.
- Planting Strategies- how to choose the RIGHT planting palette for each specific project and function and how to present them to your clients. Edible landscapes, native gardens, drought tolerant and so on are all covered.
- Project Management- the glue that keeps a project running smoothly. Avoid costly and stressful mistakes by learning the best project management tools and processes.
- Running a Landscape Company-answers to all those pesky questions about hiring employees, insurance, equipment, business loans, licensing, scaling your business and more.
- Regenerative Landscape Strategies- why ecological and regenerative landscaping is the biggest trend of the industry. How to design truly regenerative landscapes, farms and restoration projects. What you need to include and what you need to avoid.
- And much more!
One-Year free access to a subscription-based private Facebook community, with high-level coaching, monthly live Q&A’s, live expert hangouts, speed mentoring, professional coaching. This is an active and collaborative environment to support you through all of your business and project milestones. ($600 value, $50 per month subscription renewal after one year)
Dozens of downloadable templates for consulting, designing, and assessing landscapes. Including, plant list databases, project management systems, tracking systems, client intake, workflows and more to grow and maintain your business.
Our custom built estimation worksheets, templates, and project tracking integration. With these systems you are ready to start estimating your projects and tracking your budget right away. ($2000 value)
Live expert and recorded hang outs every month with world leading ecological designers, Landscape contractors, Regenerative Agriculturists. Permaculture Experts and more.
Student showcases, every month students will get showcased on the expert hangouts to share successes, failures, promote their work and build their networks and support systems.
Discounted access to our professional one on one coaching program. Sign up for the mastery level versionof this course to receive six one on one coaching calls with one of our professional mentors. Mastery level students will receive 10% off the standalone coaching package if they purchase the master level program. ($250 value)
Notes from the conversation with Erik Ohlsen
- On getting clients… First, you must have a social engagement plan. Possibly you can be a volunteer and share a huge amount of your time by organizing the community, school project or community gardening. You can initiate this relationship by making an investment. In almost every case, yields huge opportunity to work with a municipality or school in RCD because you initiate this relationship by first making an investment. You can meet different type of people wherein you can attract the crowd of public servant. It is really all about relationship in the end and investing in this relationship will have huge return on that investment later on. The clearest path into this project is to respond the requested proposal. You need to have a good administrative team to manage this project. Some of this project; you have to pay the prevailing wages. You have to match the payment of your team as mandated for government workers doing the similar activity and that can be an administrative nightmare. By making that system, you can go ahead on the requested proposal and possibly get a project. Putting the RFP proposal is not just enough if you don’t have the relationship first. We also brought education and volunteer organizing in one package because of the unique package to facilitate volunteer which we provide professional design.
- On getting private landowner clients… It has different strategy when it comes to private landowners, one thing to keep in mind is that a lot of the community project often have a team of community volunteers to come out. I have grown my business by doing educational tour to the public; free tour either of my own educational gardens. In 2008, 90% of my clients came from a tour that they had taken at one of my demonstration gardens. In 2009, I had been audited because 50% of my house expenses as a right off of my business. I wasn’t coach correctly by my accountant, so I had to bring a new accountant. My demonstration garden at my house, I had tour it a thousand of people for 2007 and 2008 and since I was able to track back the 90% of my clientele that came from my showcase garden. I had to get in touch half of them and ask them to write letters for me explaining if they hadn’t gone to my showcase garden. That strategy along with my new brilliant accountant, we were able to get the eye arrest to the audit process to give us 30% right off of everything at our home showcase garden. Since they need to have consistency; they told us we had to do that it every year from then on.
- On taking time to do marketing when you are already busy… It’s worth it, it a little risky at first and a little scary at first but then you think on how can you condition yourself on the market, how can you gain authority where people look at you and say “ that’s where I go from my permaculture education, that’s where I go from my ecological landscape design”. If did not build up a reputation and integrity, then people are placing you as “the people they don’t know”. The ones that are most successful, they’re going to farmer’s guild meetings, they will act as a volunteer in some events for the public garden. They show up to the community party out there building relationship, making connections and offering support. One thing is to leave one another naturally because as a business owner and launch a lot of the amazing educational product and services to the community. As a business owner, when start something from scratch, when you’re starting something new. You have to put yourself out there otherwise no one is there to find you. In many ways it’s just logical business and the beautiful thing about the work we do is if we complement a logical prime tested business approaches to launching new businesses with the ecological education, design and installation services that we have. Then we have that amazing recipe were we doing this work to the community and so many people are benefiting from it but were growing a business at the same time.
- Can I start a business alone? It depends on what your goals are and what stage in your journey. A simple entry into this work professionally is to only provide consultation in design services. You can build an amazing business just on consultation and design because when it comes to installation, you can engage sub-contractors that you build relationships and provide the layer of that work. That model has a very little overhead and probably could manage a business like that. As soon as you start building things and as soon as you start hiring people, there’s a whole next level of administrative task, organizational need, a tax implication, insurance implication that came in. Then you need to have everything done right to avoid liability, to avoid being sued and audited. It will also depend on the structure of your business. I propose this skilled to my business to a level where there is quite a bit of overhead, a lot of organizational need. That is the vision and you need to have a team. You also need to think about “what’s the future you are going to hope”. If you did start at small design consultation business, it will open naturally into doing install because you meet these great clients. I think that a team type approach, it so beneficial because nobody is really a master in all aspects of this kind of business. There is so many variables, so many facets and out of integrity I thought that could do the entire task for me. I found is building a team is vital to success but that’s come with its own issues and takes time to find the right team members and takes courage to bring people and train them up to the right match.
- On hiring… Hiring is a challenge but first and most I create a job post and inside that job post, I basically frame kind of culture fit that works for my company. It was stated there “how do you deal with critic”, “how do you communicate with team members” and this might be the question and framing that I have in my initial job post. We post our job posts in Indeed and social media. Then we will send everybody a questionnaire, in this questionnaire we set up a series of scenarios. These does for a three things to ask, 1. The folks that you have on work ethics; 2. Gives us a sense of that work commitment; 3. Persons strengths and weaknesses. This process has work amazingly well; as soon as I implemented it, I started getting high quality hires. Important thing as an employer is the expectation of employers-employee relationship about each other. I am making sure that when I hire folks, they need to be in a good fit. They need to understand the communications are, what are the decision making process because the worst thing is when you hire somebody that is not in a good fit for your culture, then you’re spending lots of time in processing how unhappy they are. When in reality, they are great but it’s just that we are not fit with each other is not totally fine. For the new hires, I have a three month review period. I start a new hire at a low end, we have an agreement that after that first three months we are in review period. Then after three months, we are going to set down and have a heart to heart conversation about are we a good match for each other. Then if they are fit in the job, we will give them a higher rate. This is not just about meeting the employer setting but also gives the new hire an opportunity to decide. Like in three months, if you are not happy then this work is not for you.
- What if you are new to this business? If you don’t have experience, you are going to enter the company at the bottom because you are not just giving a job at that point, you are giving an education. We have the value of creating powerful business with a very high quality of service or product and a well fit team. We want everybody in the team to help us get to that integrity that we work towards now. We don’t want to lower the quality of our work because we hire folks that don’t have any experience and then we give them jobs that they can’t do well. When you are entering a job like that, you have to think of it as an education because you are most likely going to get paid. Attitude and work ethic is the thing that is to make or break to those people. If they’re willing to listen, if they’re willing to do the work and do the best that they can. If they have that attitude and work ethic, they are going to grow very quickly in the business. They are going to learn very quickly. It is really about how much you are willing to put into that person to gain that knowledge and experience. Then grow yourself inside that company. When you learn on a job, you learn by doing, you learn by listening not by stopping in 5 minutes to ask questions.
- Eco-Landscape Master School… The online course “The Eco-Landscape Mastery School” is more than the education; it’s a mentoring and coaching system. Our goal is to help people to start their businesses. Goal number one is to support people in creating careers in the regenerative economy. We teach all the business staff to run ecological landscape company. We teach all the design layers, we talk a lot about important installation facets and then we have monthly coaching. With these coaching, we can help people answer some of these questions. It depends a lot on what exactly niche they’re getting into. One of my strategies when I started out is getting paid to be trained by masters. You get this on the ground training, from highly experience professional but you are maintaining the project. Going and working with somebody else to learn a skill, it is one of the best ways to learn a skill. I always tell my student to “start your company now, so that you start provisioning yourself, start creating your demo garden as you can use as a portfolio project and build your reputation with”. Initiate your social engagement plan where you’re out on the community, volunteering. But if you don’t have hands on experience and at the same time you’re doing those things, go ahead and work for somebody. In a work of an ecological landscape company there so many facets to the work. The essential part to start your business now, even if you don’t get clients on the first year then you gets the benefits of building a reputation.
- Should I specialize in something? It is not important to specialization, if it is you passion to do water harvest system, permaculture and ecological landscaping then follow that passion. But don’t box yourself in the corner, which comes up people change their mind about what they want to do. What people came in, people wanted to learn, what they are focused on are totally different when they leave because they get introduce to new concepts, new techniques, new people. It’s very powerful to have and to know enough on different thing especially you’re running your own eco-landscape company.
- Can I start a business like this on the side? It is realistic to do landscaping and consulting while on full time job. Not necessarily taking on to big project, if you have a full time job then you can do a consultation and design. Project management could be your main service. In the long run, you will know it when you are ready to quit your full time job and be in 100% in your business. My goal is to get many people as possible and skilled up with the mentorship and the support to become professional in this field.
- On celebrating the small… In year 1, you can do between $20k-50k sales and this is not enough for somebody to live off. Every project that was completed is a moment to celebrate. If you go in the process of meeting clients, doing a consultation, design, installation and at end of that project the client is happy then you fell good on what you did, that is a success. You just need to accomplish one project at a time. It is just one step at a time and you have to sustain yourself. Most of the people that seem like they are so good on their field and have so much experience, they are in the same thought.
- What to do when you get stuck? Sometimes when I am producing something new, I get discouraged. My number one tactic is the smallest and easiest step I could take right now to make the project forward. If you’re experience stumbling down is to slow down and make the easiest smallest thing you can do. It is just little by little and you are growing learn while building confidence.
Connect with Erik Ohlsen