General — by Dan French March 12, 2013
by Dan French
Photo © Craig Mackintosh
This time, in Part 3 of this series discussing my journey towards becoming a professional permaculture designer, I will be talking about marketing, knock-backs and my progress since the last article. Part 2 of this series focused on two large issues facing many of us trying to build our own business, commitment and confidence. Reflecting on these points, the pressure of these emotions is ongoing. I’m glad to report however, the series of strategies I outlined in Part 2 are helping me in both of these areas. Despite this, I am still finding that my momentum seems to ebb and flow. I found that Christmas in particular, the time most people bar all thoughts of work and concentrate of having some time off, had a significant impact. I gave myself a leave pass to freshen up, which was both good and bad. Good because I spent some quality time with my family — time we all enjoyed as they didn’t have to listen to my constant strategizing and questioning of where I’m headed — and because I didn’t feel the need to unload on them. Bad because the momentum I had gained leading up to Christmas was sadly lost, much like my hopes for a particular present I had long been asking for. All I received was several pairs of very nice socks….
Momentum is your friend in life, particularly when starting a business, as it takes constant effort, and not only in one area. It requires you to spread yourself across many disciplines. You can’t slack off. This is an important lesson I am taking from this whole exercise. You need to manage every area of your operation from your business focus to accounts, marketing, technical support, sales, execution and more. It has given me a whole new level of respect for those who successfully created an enterprise and for those who have given it a go. Planning and execution skills are valued at a premium. I’m slowly getting better as I go.
It’s a long road and it can get both frustrating and disillusioning, especially prior to getting a job through the door. I’m still fishing for my first client. I have however, had several offers from friends to design their place for free. Some of this is good experience, but too much of it is wasted effort and will send you broke before you ever get truly started. In saying that though, each time I run through a consulting procedure with anyone, I get a true perspective of the variability of people’s needs, consulting methods which work and the need for a detailed and planned approach to engagement and design. It has led to me developing a client engagement template (many examples of which exist on the internet), the aim of which is to gather as much information on a client’s needs, characteristics and the site prior to visiting it in person. It means I’m not working purely from scratch when I first hit the site and can therefore save myself and the client time and effort instead of being distracted with irrelevant design features and speculation.
On this point, spending time thinking about how you are going to respond to a phone or email enquiry is highly important as this is where you can impact a potential client’s decision about whether they will proceed with you or look somewhere else. For this reason, I believe you should pack responses to inquiries or promotional documentation with as much value and discussion of benefit as you can. People need to know that any money spent will be a great investment. Providing this type of information shouldn’t be hard. As we all know there are numerous long lasting benefits that accompany permaculture design — make sure you let people know of these and if possible demonstrate this in some way or another. Perhaps give them some free resources and skills information which they can use themselves. The way I see it is if there’s value in this it is more likely there is value in your service.
This is what I am concentrating on at the moment. It’s part of my marketing and skill building efforts. I am currently working on creating some novel projects on which I can demonstrate the value of investing in permaculture design. This will involve collaborating with others and therefore part of this effort requires networking. Not randomized though, targeted at partners and clients with whom I can produce specific results in terms of increasing value, measuring savings (resources) and recording client satisfaction. I want to quantify and qualify these differences so that I can prove what I claim and show that there is an achievable return on investment that results from smart design.
I am still gathering inspiration from where I can by researching others who run successful businesses who have made them well known by benefitting others. Try Joel Salatin, Michael Mobbs, Veta la Palma, etc. I concentrate on how they have become well known and how they reproduce the quality of work which keeps people talking about them. As you will note, most of those we look up to in these areas are excellent self-promoters and collaborators as well as being dedicated and calculated risk takers. Their use of social media, publications and education to remain engaged in their respective fields of expertise is often exceptional. There are many out there who are also equally as successful who fly under the radar, and your approach of course depends on your goals and personality. Personally, I am interested in trying to encourage the use and acceptance of regenerative ecological design so that it is mainstream and common practice, so I’m probably going to be more of the outspoken type.
In summary of where I’m currently at with this whole process, I feel that all my foundations for business have been laid and its time to start heavily promoting my services and learning and refining my skills as I progress. This is an intimidating proposition as I’m putting my reputation on the line. I frequently put this into perspective by staring out to the horizon while floating in the sea or staring at the night sky and realizing how fleeting this moment in time is and how my successes and failures as an individual are actually not that significant in the scheme of things. They are however important to my family (in particular the values I want to impart upon my son) and my mission to leave a positive impact on this planet, so in that regard it’s time to get going and see where I can take all the ambition and skills I’ve taken on board as a result of the teachings and community of permaculture.
One final discussion point before signing off. I was contacted by a designer in Italy after writing my last article about how to determine what you should charge for your services. My opinion is as follows. Your fee depends on what you are offering. I would suggest looking at what similar services such as landscapers, architects, horticulturists, environmental consultants, etc., are charging in your area. You may also want to see if anyone else is conducting permaculture design in your region and take note of their fee structures. It is likely that not many are offering design services in this area, so in that regard you may have to become a price setter rather than a price follower. Nick Huggins took me through a process of first determining what level of income I am targeting over the course of a year and working backwards from this figure. This makes sure you have a target in mind and aren’t simply fishing for anything without considering what you are actually looking to achieve financially. He has tested price points for the market so I took note of this and what others are charging for similar services. I have set my price structure using this approach and have a documented sales process (i.e. the steps that are necessary to complete a paying job starting from a phone or email enquiry and finishing with a final payment from the client). I will therefore be able to gauge whether I have set a fair price for my services by seeing how far along my sales process I progress with each potential client. If I frequently bomb out after sending through a written quote I may have to examine my fees and see whether this is what is causing a lack of sales.
I hope this helps. Until next time, when I intend to discuss the ups and downs of completing real jobs, wish me luck!Comments (11)