The work of a Permaculture Designer is very rewarding. Day in and day out you are tasked with designing systems that integrate the natural designs of nature and the constraints of man to create a regenerative ecosystem. In order for a Permaculture Designer to succeed in such a task, their income must be regenerative as well.
The average Permaculture Designer makes anywhere from $40k-$60k per year based upon a poll* taken among a range of professionals in the field. The highest income was just under $100k, with the lowest at a few $1000 per year.
Of course there are a lot of variables involved with the average incomes mentioned above. However,I firmly belive that with the proper tools and education, anyone can create a thriving career as a Permaculture Designer.
Permaculture Designers Need To Stop Working For Free
I first came across Permaculture as a design science in 2001. At first it was a path towards living a regenerative lifestyle for myself and my family. Eventually I began to help others design their own permaculture systems.
Along the way, I have seen numerous people give away their services, mainly because of an adherance to some kind of invisible adversion to money. It’s as if money did not belong in a permaculture system. Which may be true, but in our current system it is needed to play the game.
The problem with giving away your services for free for too long is that you eventually run out of resources to support your lifestyle. Believe me. I was there. For 10 years I gave and volunteered and did what I thought was right over trying to earn money and it left me with almost nothing.
I felt good in my heart, but my bank account was stressing me out.
It wasn’t until I met other permaculture designers who were earning a living with this work did my eyes finally begin to see things differently. By earning a decent income, I can provide for myself and my family, regenerate ecosystems and still take time to volunteer on projects that fit within my mission. All without having to stress over the numbers in the bank,
So how do we get there? You’re lucky you found this article, because I think it’s the first one of its kind on the internet that clearly defines a path towards a career as a permaculture designer.
Basic Steps Towards Becoming a Thriving Permaculture Designer
First, An Intro
Before we begin, I guess it’s only fair that you learn a little bit more about my background. As I mentioned earlier, I first came across permaculture during an internet search into sustainable living in Hawai’i back in 2001.
There I came across the word permaculture. The more I learned, the more I knew this was my life path. Within months I left my life in CA and moved to a farm in Hawai’i where I was involved with implementing tropical permaculture systems.
In 2005 I went to the New College in Sonoma County where I was taught by many leaders in Permaculture such as Penny Livingston of the Regenerative Design Institute and Brock Doleman and Kendall Dunigan of OAEC.
From there I took a Permaculture Design Course in Vermont with Andrew Faust and proceeded to implement my first design on a 200 acre property, incorporating wild fed cattle, regenerative maple sugaring operations, water harvesting systems and a cold climate food forest.
I got too cold and moved back home to Southern Ca in 2008 where I was hired to install a 6 acre food forest on a property in Malibu. Here I was able to do everything I ever dreamed of and learned most of the skills that I still rely on today. It was an amazing project.
In fact, it led me to numerous other design projects around Malibu and the greater LA area for a while. However, the main driver of that success was because of the creation of a community activist group based out of Santa Monica, CA called the Westside Permies.
I began this group with a mission to make REAL change in the places we live. In it, we held HUGE city wide gardening events, held permaculture festivals and hosted speakers. We really built a community and I built a demand for my services.
It was at that point that I was able to command a real wage for my permaculture design work. I did that for a few years, but my heart was always on a beach in Hawai’i. I eventually left that type of work to live off grid on my homestead full time with my family.
I don’t make what I used to now, but I do have a few tips to help others who want to go down that same path, so read on.
Gain Knowledge Where You Are Right Now
Before you can begin to charge, you first have to know your craft. First, to make money as a Permaculture Designer, you should have your Permaculture Design Certificate. This gives you a foundation for which all permaculture designers work from.
The problem for most however after you get out of a PDC is still not having much experience in applying the theories that you just learned about in the PDC. This is where you start where you are.
Whether you live in an apartment or 100 acres, begin to use the permaculture design methodology in your everyday life. Learn observation skills. Organize your apartment in zones. Make a base map of your backyard. And start growing food, either microgreens or a larger garden.
Starting off with your own project is a great way to develop the skills needed to take on projects for other people.
Create A System For Consultations, Designs, & Installations
Before you get your first client, it is best to create a system for how you will be operating your business.
What will consultations look like? How much will you charge? What questions will you ask or better yet, what do you need to know, from both the landscape and the client? What will You deliver to the client after the consultation?
Same goes with design. Which can get a little tricky. A lot of clients like to try and get a landscape without paying for a design, but this step is crucial and not one to be done for free.
It is important to communicate with the client how a well thought out design will increase the efficiency of implementation and cut down on unneeded costs. This more than pays for the price of design which is work worthy of being paid for.
In my consultatations, I will tell the clients my process which begins with a basic design (either hand drawn or computer rendered) with 3 revisions and once that is approved, a schedule for implementation, with ½ paid up front every step of the way.
It can be hard to ask for money, but cients like a well organized Permaculture Designer that is assertive and knows how to communicate the process and cost in a clear manner.
When it comes to actual cost, I have a sliding scale that I impose based on the financial standing of a client. That way I can always continue to do the projects for those who can least afford it, but need it the most.
Start a Community Group or Youtube Channel
Ok, so how do you get clients? Many would be permaculture designers tend to be stopped dead in their tracks at this step. They may have a friend or family member that is happy to have you do a free design for them, but what about the clients who will pay? How do you attract those clients?
In my experience, I have found 2 methods that generate more potential clients than you will ever be able to manage: by starting a community group or YouTube channel.
When I was running a community group in Los Angeles called the Westside Permies, I found myself in the position of being asked constantly to do some consulting work or landscape installations. I had so many offers I was turning down work.
Starting a community group is no easy task, but it does pay off big time in the long run. I started off by putting up flyers and networking with the local Permaculture community to announce the start of weekly gatherings to discuss ways to actively change the neighborhoods we lived in.
Believe it or not, people showed up! About 30 at first and then it grew to almost 200 people per month! I cemented myself as a leader in my local permaculture community and my services became highly sought after.
I had so many offers that I referred them to other permaculture designers, who would then refer work back to me! Finding clients was never difficult during this stage in my career.
Besides the success I was finding in my professional life, I was more excited about the success we were having on the community scale. For 3 years, that group made a lasting impact on the city of LA.
It’s been 10 years since I was involved with that community group in LA. I moved back to my homestead in Hawai’i where I spent my days raising my kids and tending the garden. But just recently it was time to get back into the work world, mainly out of the need for a challenge.
I decided to take my years as a landscape contractor, permaculture designer and off grid homesteader online and start a YouTube channel. All I can say is, I wish I started it sooner.
Youtube has huge growth potential. In just 6 short months, by posting one video a week that takes me 2 – 3 hours to make, I have not only built a following but I earn income from YouTube, thru affiliate sales and have had over a dozen people ask me out of the blue if I offer consulting services!! Imagine if I advertised that service!
I know YouTube is not for everybody, but if you are serious about making a career as a Permaculture Designer, there is no better way to brand yourself to potential clients than YouTube.
Your channel doesn’t have to be huge either, it can just focus in on your local market where local clients will find you easily. By seeing your presence on YouTube, then perhaps on another platform such as Facebook or Instagram, your reputation as an industry thought leader is all but assured.
If YouTube is something you’d like to add to your marketing strategy, I cannot recommend Jim & Ricky from Income School more than enough. When I signed up for their program I had no clue how to make money online, now I bring in a consistent monthly income. Check it out today!!
Charge What You Are Worth
Your clients have found you, you have had your consultation and now it is time to let them know how much you charge. If this is your first time, you may work for free or minimum wage just so you can have a project to put into your portfolio.
But once you have a project or 2 under your belt, when or how do you begin to charge more? First off, it depends on your locality. Designers in LA will make more than Sandusky, Ohio. Secondly, what is your name brand recognition? If you know that you’ve done a solid job getting your name out there in front of your clients, you may be able to command a higher price.
When I made the jump from $20/hr to $45/hr, I was unsure that I’d ever find clients who would pay me at that price. But the groundwork was laid and clients kept a knockin’. In fact, I had a few high profile clients that considered my $45/hr price a deal and would’ve gladly paid more.
A higher price attracted higher end clientele. I used those projects to pay for the lower income projects where my heart has always been set. You see, it is possible to earn REAL money and still perform work that gives back to your community.
Follow The Permaculture Design Method
Once you land your client and are ready to begin the project, always remember to follow the Permaculture Design Method. It is laid out in a specific manner to make it easier for you to create a well thought out design.
Start with observation. Create a base map with zones and sectors. Identify Patterns and Edges. Design for water.
If you read through the Permaculture Design Manual you will see that all of the steps are there, waiting to be followed. If you can do that, you will be on your path to a career as a successful permaculture designer.
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