Written by Nicholas Burtner
Published by PermacultureNews.org
Over the last few years I have spent a good amount of time working on a variety of different permaculture designs and consultations in different parts of the US and abroad. Even though some techniques and strategies are similar, which mostly remain the same (chicken tractoring, cattle grazing, swales, contour plowing, sheet mulched gardens, water storage etc…), every consultation has presented their own set of challenges and restrictions that have produced a unique set of experiences for each one.
After a somewhat rocky start, a bit of winging it, and using my past entrepreneurial experience in business and marketing – I started documenting the details of each consultation, both on the landscape and the actual process of consultation itself. There has not been a lot written on how to install a permaculture design and after much documentation, evaluation, and hindsight this process has turned itself into a new “permaculture how to book” currently entitled: “How to Plan and Develop a Permaculture Site” (Fingers crossed for this year’s release). The aim being to serve both permaculture consultants and those wanting to know the steps, procedures, and thought processes of how to install permaculture on their site with or without consulting for others.
Some of the questions that quickly arise when given the certification of permaculture designer are:
- Should I charge by the hour, day, project?
- Should I charge differently for urban, suburban, farm, or broad acre jobs?
- How do I get my first clients?
- Does every client need a design?
- How do I market?
- What kind of business structure should I start?
Let me be the first to tell you – I am not in this for the money, matter of fact, if I was I would be miserable. Not that there is not enough work, but the idea of doing something today just for money and not helping people is just plain unfulfilling to me. Here is the kicker – I have traveled the globe, taken multiple internships for permaculture, some serious off grid building construction internships, and have taken (if I am not mistaken) Bill Mollison’s last permaculture design course co-taught with my mentor Geoff Lawton. I now have a nice body of work and potfolio behind me, which I can show clients, and today I charge $150 USD per hour. Some jobs are only half an hour over the phone and others are months at a time. However, the majority of jobs that are just permaculture landscapes usually take 3-4 days/part on site (not all at once) and 3-6 hours per day.
Before I proceed, I do think it is worthy to mention that if you feel intimidated about breaking into the permaculture line of work or you are not sure where to start then I would I highly recommend reading this very helpful article!
Let ‘s break this pricing down a bit further:
Day/Part 1: Consulting
Not only the site, but the client is consulted and interviewed. An in depth on site walk through and tour is made, some education, and a detailed sit down with a back and forth dialog of possibilities are worked through. This day usually lasts 3-6 hours.
Day/Part 2: Earthworking
This day/s is a double whammy for the customer as they are paying you and the earthmovers, so the need to stack functions and work diligently to help the client save money are mandatory. This day too, depending on size of property, is 3-6 hours and is used as both a pegging/marking of earthworks day as well as earth mover supervision (especially if you have not worked with the earth mover before). This day may branch out into multiple days and you will have to make a decision as to weather you need to be on site subsequent days.
Day/Part 3: Planting
It comes as a shock to some folks but being on site for the initial plantings, especially the long term perennial plantings, is crucial. This day too can branch out into multiple days and you will need to make a decision as to whether you need to be on site for the subsequent days.
Rounding it out and getting a generalization
If we average a day at 4 hours and are only on site for 3 days of consultation, then that averages out to $1,800 USD to the consultant which included a consultation, design, earthworks, and rudimentary site installation. Not counted are other billable hours for component installation and features such as water storage, black or gray water systems, greenhouse construction, etc… which are almost always needed and in demand.
A point of interest to think about (and a position many of us still have) is that in my area/region there were not many permaculture consultants at work when I started. This allowed me to set the standard for what a permaculture consultant charges and what is expected. I had the opportunity to set the highest rates for permaculture design consultants in my area. I started by charging per day and went from $850 per day to $1,500 per day within a year. Other than being an economically good decision, by doing this I created a market value for permaculture design consultants and raised the bar from something no one had heard of to something that was valuable and worthy of doing on your property. Since then, I have changed from a daily rate to a hourly rate. And by running School of Permaculture, we created a niche so that our students could easily make $500 per day working as a design consultant. True, that I did not get as many jobs when I was charging that high, but by doing so it did create the market value in the area, which was/is totally worth doing.
Before I went into business for myself I could never imagine making $500 per day doing anything working for someone else!
There is still a lot of area to cover on this side of a permaculture design course (one of the reasons for writing the book) and I cannot give you an exact figure as to what to charge to your clientele. But this information should provide a place of reference to set your own prices and expectations. There is a lot of permaculture work out there to do and a lot of landscapes and people to help. Do make sure, that by hiring you, the client saves money on the overall design and installation of their site. Now get out there and go do!
Nicholas Burtner is the managing director of School of Permaculture based in Plano, Texas, USA.
(zone 1 of a 5 acre egg, tree, and nut farm)
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