This month, we had the chance to chat with John Hemmerle, owner of Our Land Organics, a Cincinnati-based ecological landscape company and a 2017 graduate of the Regenerative Business Mentorship Program.
I did my undergrad in urban planning; that’s where I first started learning about the idea of green community design and the various techniques employed over the past 50-100 years. After college, I spent a few years working at an educational farm teaching and managing their organic garden before going back to school for a Masters in Landscape Architecture. That was not for me, so after about a year I moved back to Cincinnati, my hometown, and started up Our Land Organics, an ecological landscaping company.
That was in 2014. I returned home after grad school for a few reasons. First is that there are a lot of opportunities in the area for my area of interest. For better or for worse, there are not too many people doing what I do. The second are my connections. My family, friends, and fiancée were all here, so it was important for me to have that support while seeing if I could make a go of this new business.
So that’s my background – a mix of formal education and hands-on learning through organic market gardening and my own ventures. Along the way I came across permaculture and got my PDC through Cincinnati’s permaculture guild. Our Land Organics emerged out of my desire to share my knowledge in organic gardening, soil building, permaculture principles, and traditional landscape design to the general public. The education component is the part I’m always most excited about – working with people in their yard, meeting them where they’re at, understanding what their vision is.”
Usually the clients are the ones who approach me because they’re looking for a specific service, where it’s attracting pollinators or applying permaculture or building rain gardens. We get a steady stream of inquires and I think people in general are growing more sophisticated in their service requests. I’ve gotten more people requesting permaculture-based designs, which is new and nice. It’s tough to say whether it’s due to my marketing talents (I hope!) or if there is more general knowledge out there, but overall the awareness around ecological landscaping seems to be increasing.
The education component is the part I’m always most excited about – working with people in their yard, meeting them where they’re at, understanding what their vision is.”
The Regenerative Business Mentorship Program
I had been tuning into Rob and Javan on Diego Footer’s Permaculture Voices podcast for about a year, listening to them talk about business and design. I really enjoyed how they bring a level of professionalism to permaculture, which is rare, in my opinion. So when I heard that they were going to do a business mentorship program, I was excited to check it out. After learning about the class and the delivery format, it seemed like I could run my business while still being part of the class, so I jumped on board. I took the program the second time Rob and Javan offered it; that ran from September to December of 2017.
Key Takeaways from RBM
A few things stuck out for me. One was the idea of point of view, or POV marketing. It’s basically taking a hard look at how you are inherently different, of understanding what really enlivens you, why you do what you do, and bringing that across in your copy. Rather than trying to play it safe and coming across as generic, POV marketing challenges you to express what you are excited about and what you want to see manifest out there. That made a lot of a sense to me, and I’m still in the process of learning how to make that happen.
Another important takeaway is to take your time. This is more for people just starting out, but I feel it’s relevant anytime you start a new venture. Whether it’s starting a gig on the side, or accepting work to build your reputation and experience, take your time and figure out if it’s something you want to take on. Not just saying yes to any work that comes across your plate is really critical; it allows you to not get stressed out or lose focus in the direction you want to grow towards.
The idea of not subsidizing yourself and always being profitable is another good tip. These pieces of advices would have been nice for me a few years back, but I’m looking to start something new soon, so they were all timely reminders.
What else? We touched quite a bit of the importance of having a smooth client intake process and having benchmarks while working on projects; having repeatable processes and results ensures that your quality level stays consistent. We also talked about not being afraid to go after larger projects whenever possible; in many instances it takes just as much time and bandwidth to coordinate and communicate with clients on smaller projects compared to bigger ones.
Whether it’s starting a gig on the side, or accepting work to build your reputation and experience, take your time and figure out if it’s something you want to take on.”
There’s just a ton packed into the RBM program. I was just mentioning to Javan a few weeks back that even after almost a year out, I’m still trying to digest all the principles and applying them to Our Land Organics. The changes are happening, maybe not as quickly as I would like, but that’s OK because I’m taking my time (ha!)
Going Forward and Next Steps
Short-term, I’m looking to continue to improve as a small design build company. We’re going into our fifth season next year, and I’m still learning so much, both on the business side and the technical side of things. I want to continue to create and implement high-quality design and build projects.
Over the longer term, I would like to fill a niche I see that’s needed in our area. There’s a lack of local ecological design companies, with a handful here in Cincinnati and a few sprinkled across the Midwest, but not enough. I think there needs to be someone to educate for our biome, specifically in the Ohio River Valley, so I’m looking into developing a course or a program. It could be online or in-person, I’m not sure how it’s going to play out yet, but education is definitely my passion and something I want to explore in the coming year. There is so much opportunity out here with our local landscapes; it would be great to see more innovators and entrepreneurs getting enthused about ecological design!
– John Hemmerle
In addition to running his business, John is also in the process of putting together an online course to teach up-and-coming landscapers on starting their own business; you can learn more at his website HERE.