Sustainable Landscaping business w/ Erik Ohlsen of Permaculture Artisans

Permaculture Artisans - Logo

Landscape Contracting: Case Study of Permaculture Artisans w/ Erik Ohlsen

The Vitals:

  • Located in:  Sebastopol, California
  • Years in Operation: 10
  • Annual Sales: $1 Million





Show Notes:

Local Business Podcast Episode #1 (to be released April ’15)


 The Customers

Customer #1 – Private Residences  -> Waldorf Families

Their Values:

  • Close to the earth
  • Being Artistic and Crafty
  • Family Oriented

Customer #2 – Rancher/Vineyard (broadacre)

These projects generally last for years

No master planning

Ex. Focus on the 3 acres around the homestead

Ex. Focus on the 80 acres of pastures

Aren’t touching the vineyards themselves.

Vineyards who want to produce their own food

Consult the vineyards in climate, soil, access

Customer #3 –  Sustainable Forestry Projects

Mitigating Sudden Oak death (live, black, and tan oak)

Provide Sustainable forestry and erosion control

Ranges from: Small tiny hillside property to couple hundred acres forests

Customer #4 –  Government Projects

City Halls (city hall library landscape)

Potential Opportunity – California funding for plight of the salmon, roofwater catchment to alleviate water consumption of homesteads that draw from salmon stream habitats.

 The Products and Services

Service Offering#1 – Conceptual Design

Base Model  – Conceptual map that incorporates everything in one place. Overlaid on a base map. With plant zone mapping.

Average design = $3500

Extra: Detailed planting plan.

The clients want to get a sense of the vision, and the details can get sorted out when it comes time to install.

Add’l Service – Product: Base maps for people – Digital Mapping Service.  We get the LIDAR maps from the county. You can get 1’ contour lines for any property in Sonoma County by using GIS software and converting it over.

Don’t do architectural level design. Makes it too expensive bc of the details. Lots of the details are worked out on the building side of things.

Extra Services: Key line Design Planning services – survey the site, plan ponds. More appropriate for large acreage.

– Marketing Plan, Crop Plan for new production Ag clients

Service Offering#2 – Installation

Full Service

Can do everything. Operate own equipment. Have an excavator/back loader. Have a key line plow. Have great operators. Have great masons.

Soil Fertility systems

Build ponds

Build chicken coops


All levels of planting. All levels of soil fertility.

Have a certified arborist.

Portable milling. Lucasmill and Woodmizer.



Water harvesting (every landscape) – tanks, filtration, swales, terraces, rain gardens,

Main pests:

Deer ->  Double low  – two 5 feet fences, five feet apart. Run chickens in between.

Service Offering #3 –  Maintenance 

Lots of overhead and very little financial stability.

The Flow of new business:

1. 4-5  design consultations/month

2. 75% of the consultations become design contracts

3. 75% of the designs become installation contracts

The Brand + Marketing

How you’ve named yourself

Conscious decision to use the word permaculture in the name.

#1 Marketing Method: Tours of existing sites and Permaculture Skills Center

“By the end of the tour, they’re not looking anywhere else for the design.”

People want to feel like they’re part of a community.

Develop the relationship with them.

Competitor’s method:

“Get into the project, get the work done, and get to the next project as fast as possible!”

Erik’s method:

Get in, deepen the relationships, stay, and never leave. Always be coming back for maintenance or management..

How do new customers find you?

Permaculture Skills Center.  Word of mouth. Work with a big professional network of people. (Engineers, architects, general contractors).


Getting Started

Tip #1 – Make sure to charge what the service is worth. I’ll give you a hint. $25/hour is not enough :)

Tip #2 – Create a plan. Don’t just think 1 month, 6 months, or even 1 year ahead.

Look at 1, 5, and 10 year plans for myself.

Write out your vision.  Do 10 year planning.

Create a roadmap to your own success.



The Team

Design Division (3-4 people)

  • Designer #1 – Landscape Architect
  • Designer #2 – Digital Mapping expert
  • Designer #3 – 40 years experience in bio-dynamics and permaculture

Installation Division

  • Crew – 12 people
  • Project Managers – 2-3 people

 Definition of Success: The Key Metrics

Create a 1, 5, and 10 year goal for yourself, and check in to it frequently.


About Erik Ohlsen

Erik Ohlsen is a licensed contractor, Founder and owner of Permaculture Artisans (Ecological farm and landscape company).

Erik is a renowned Certified Permaculture designer, and Certified Permaculture teacher and has been practicing permaculture and ecological design since 1998 when he co-founded his first non-profit called Planting Earth Activation, PEA. This charitable organization designed and installed community gardens in northern California for public and private use from 1998-2001.

In the field of ecological land development and management Erik has extensive experience with projects that range from small urban lots to 100+ broad acre design and implementation. His many years of experience, observation and listening of landscape patterns, managing installation crews and design teams, and his understanding of ecology make Erik a leader in the field of ecological landscape development.



Erik’s Landscaping Program that will teach you how to start your own permaculture landscaping/contracting business. Offered through the Permaculture Skills Center in Sebastopol, CA. Lasts for 1 year, two days per week. Starts June 2015. Highly recommended.

Ecological Landscaper Immersion Program

Permaculture Artisans



Posted in Business Plans, Case Studies, Land Tagged with: , , , , , ,