In Career & Business

I’ve been running Verge Permaculture for five years now, and before that worked as an engineer in the oil and gas industry. Starting a business was the hardest thing I’ve ever had to do. I didn’t know if Verge was going to work out, if anyone would hire me or take my courses, or if I could really make a difference. Keeping these experiences in mind, I recently reached out to some of the best in the field to get their advice for those just starting out in permaculture, particularly around untapped opportunities and common barriers. We got responses from the following amazing people:

The Trick of Starting Out

“The hardest thing about getting started is getting started.” – Guy Kawasaki, The Art of the Start

It’s easy to become obsessed with the logistics of setting up websites, social media and business plans. But that’s not the real work. All of those activities are important, but we tend to overemphasize them when we are first starting out. Business plans help you choose your strategy, and social media plus websites help you define your niche. But those things only become important when you evolve your business and your opportunities begin to multiply. When you are first starting out, there are three areas you should focus your energy on: 

Start Small, Assess – I started with public speaking and writing blogs. It was cheap, easy to do (once I got over my fear of public speaking) and I was quickly able to get a pulse on whether Calgary was going to be able to support a permaculture designer and educator. There are many easy and tangible ways to get started that don’t cost a lot; they can build a lot of confidence necessary to make the next step into a full-time enterprise.

Ask for AdviceAsk the people who are doing the work, even if you have to pay them to talk to you. Their advice is worth tons and it will save you time and money in the long run by helping you avoid big mistakes. 

Get the Basics – Take a few courses, but don’t get trapped in the course vortex. You can only put so much information to productive use.

“When the line between work, learning and satisfaction becomes obscured then something is going well, the potential for growth and development is huge.”Richard Perkins

One of the best ways to find your first niche is to focus on your passion. What you need to assess is: Is there a need in the marketplace for the passion I wish to share with the world? I have seen and encountered a lot of opportunity and barriers over the years, so I would like to share my own thoughts alongside the insight provided from some of the industry’s best.

Stay tuned for the following:

Part 2: On Permaculture Business Opportunities
Part 3: On Barriers and Challenges
Part 4: On the Importance of Mentorship

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Showing 8 comments
  • Joe MOore

    Lovely post Rob. Thanks for the insight.

  • Paul Smith

    I want to add that Your passion has to be in anything You do. You will be sorely disappointed if all You are looking for is the money.
    Reading and research is so important. I think it is a good thing if You don’t have the resources to spend on anything at first. This forces You to really look at whether You are passionate enough to continue beyond the hobby stage.
    Start small and learn as You go. What I initially thought was a Great Idea, didn’t work as well in real life. By starting small I am able to modify and change things.
    My Wish for You,,, A Fantastic Future, Paul.

  • Mark Angelini

    Thrice agreed, Rob. I started out with very little experience, but tons of enthusiasm, just went for it, and bootstrapped it all the way. That’s a big one for me: how can you start a business with minimal financial capital? What services/products are bankable now, which will be bankable as time goes on and the economic landscape heads further into uncharted territory?

    Being successfully self-employed, in my experience, is about being able to turn the word “mistake” into “feedback” and build a system that allows that feedback to improve the work at all levels. A serial-entrepreneur mentor of mine also makes the key-point that not everyone is fit for self-employment. Be easy on yourself.

  • William


    Thanks for this blog series. It’s a much needed as many people want to make a living by starting something in the field of permaculture.

    But to do that one should approach it just as any type of business startup, have a clear goal and fulfill a need someone has in exchange for money.

    I look forward to your posts!

  • Douglas Barnes

    Douglas over here at EcoEdge Design in Ontario. With permaculture as nebulous as it is, it’s hard to present to the public. I love and will reiterate your second point, which is asking for help. My county has an excellent enterprise fascilitation coordinator and board. Becoming a board member has been very instructive to me, allowing me to gain ideas for myself by helping other businesses that come to the coordinator for ideas. If readers have one in their area, I highly recommend it.

    • Rob Avis

      Thanks for the comment Douglas, I have heard a ton about you from Geoff. Thanks for making contact.

  • Jessica Robertson

    This is great Rob. I’m looking forward to hearing everyone’s advice. It’s too bad there are no women on your panel though…

    • Rob Avis

      Jessica, thanks for the comment. Good point! We have another project in the works which features some female leaders.


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Permaculture Business Niches and Opportunities