A Journey of Transition: Becoming a Professional Permaculture Designer

by Dan French

Photo © Craig Mackintosh

Like the title suggests, I’m going to write a few articles about my journey to becoming a professional permaculture designer… if you don’t mind? I’m doing this for a few reasons: to help me articulate and formalize what it is I’m doing; to tell others who might be interested in doing the same about my ups and downs; to gain exposure and fast track my development as a designer; and perhaps, on some sadistic level, to just put a bit more pressure on myself. Let me explain to you why.

I grew up in the Adelaide hills, on the top of the ridge where the elements are in full swing, alongside a national park. This ensured there was plenty of animal and wildlife interaction during my upbringing and lots of time spent outdoors. Here I developed my affinity with my environment, which has stayed with me and led me to studying environmental science and taking employment as a fisheries research scientist, environmental consultant in a large engineering company, environmental volunteer manager and now permaculture designer and eventually, educator… I hope.

During my previous professional lives, I spent many moments wondering what it would be like to break the shackles of endless corporate procedures, boring reporting and restriction of action by various legislative approaches. I remembered back to when I first starting working out of school in the landscape and building industries and the satisfaction at the end of the day or week when you could stand back and see the results of your work laid out in front of you. These are the drivers for me to take on being a professional permaculture and environmental designer and because I believe in the urgent need to start rebuilding and repairing our environment, and that the diverse services of permaculture are desperately needed in the professional world.

German philosopher, Arthur Schopenhauer stated, “All truth passes through three stages: First, it is ridiculed; Second, it is violently opposed; and Third, it is accepted as self-evident.” I’m not exactly sure which phase permaculture has reached yet in terms of acceptance, but I believe it belongs in the third. If that’s the aim, the practice of permaculture needs to be rapidly accelerated to be incorporated into not only agricultural and landscaping practices but also in infrastructure, social, development and energy sectors. I know this is already the case, I don’t however believe it is occurring at the rate which is necessary. The three guiding principles of care of the earth, care of people and return of surplus are simple and timeless and seem like sensible considerations for most things we do.

Just like a religion, it seems permaculture is expressed in many forms. I highly doubt becoming a professional in this field is for everyone, but to me it seems a noble pursuit. It’s something I believe in and I aim to practice to the best of my ability. To this end, I am starting to collaborate with others in the fields of permaculture, science, media, business and other industries (i.e. drawing on the skills and knowledge of others and creating a business ecosystem) and am not letting my ‘greenness’ in this new field stop me from setting plenty of personal challenges.

I like working with people and getting the occasional kick up the bum, so I have teamed with Nick Huggins of Permaculture Business World who, I’m glad to say, has really fired up my progress. He has challenged me initially to define both my services and client target groups, formalise promotional gear/branding (i.e. business name, potential clients, capability statements aimed at client groups, etc.) and to start networking with potential clients, previous professional associates and business networks (which are likely to include people who have never heard of permaculture before). I have found this process to be extremely helpful for solidifying my intent of what it is I’m doing and how I’m going to go about it. Furthermore, it forces me to learn how to concisely state these things to those with no knowledge of permaculture. Furthermore, by starting to network I am formally making a commitment to following through.

Another task I have been assigned is to start writing about and promoting permaculture. There are several benefits that I expect will result, the most obvious being that I am increasing awareness of permaculture and its benefits to a wider audience, I am forced to know my subject if I aim to build credibility and I am getting my name out there.

My other major focus at present is to hone down on what I want to get out my business financially, what it’s going to cost me to run and therefore what my rates, terms and conditions will be. This is vitally important information that’s essential for starting, maintaining and growing a business; making it sustainable, so to speak.

Although I’ve been thinking about this for quite some time I have only formally begun pursuing this idea in the last three weeks and at times it can get overwhelming… and I’ve hardly started yet! It feels pretty satisfying though. My life and professional goals of accelerating real ‘on-ground’ environmental remediation in domestic and commercial circumstances is happening. I want to promote permaculture and holistic environmental management as a viable commercial alternative — i.e. to show that re-aligning domestic and commercial practice with being truly socially and environmentally aware can be good for all. Satisfaction also comes from committing to a course of action. It eliminates my internal banter.

I’m lucky enough to have another part-time contract in the field of community fisheries that can provide a buffer for my family and I while things get up and running. I would still be doing this regardless, but having this extra work for me makes it all possible now. My intent is to become a skilled designer/rebuilder of ecosystems and to carry these skills over into the world of fisheries and aquaculture, as whole systems management approaches and a decentralization of these industries is sorely needed.

Ok, enough gas-bagging. Hopefully this is helpful to someone somewhere or stimulates some discussion. I will write more about how its all going with details of the methods behind my development a little further down the track.


  1. Hi Dan, good on ya!

    “I’m doing this on some sadistic level, to just put a bit more pressure on myself.”

    I know the feeling. Necessity and tight deadlines can be the essential push to get the initiative out the door. It was the same way when I started Bliss Permaculture (

    Sometimes jumping right in the deep end is a lot more effective the the slow transition, which may or may never happen.

    Best of luck to ya!


  2. Cheers for the informative post Fraser. It’s always very interesting to see how people are able to transfer their knowledge to a wider forum. I look forward to reading more about your permaculture designs here in the future :)

  3. Thanks for the positive comments Fraser, if that’s what you did to get to where you are, I’m happy to be following in your foot steps. Pressure makes diamonds they say! Interesting to see you named your business your family name, I was thinking of doing the same for ease of recognition.
    And thanks narf if that comments was meant for me…keep posted more to come….cheers

  4. I am also looking to start my own permaculture consultation business, however, i have recently moved to Taos, NM from Orlando, FL and I am still learning about the difference between ecosystems in Florida and in New Mexico. I feel like I have so much to learn and I never start. How did you get started on the “formal business process”?

  5. Mr. French I would like to interview you for my podcast about your transition to a permaculture career. Could you please contact me about this possiblity?

    show (at) thepermaculturepodcast (dot) com

    Thank you.

  6. Hi Alexandro,
    Good question, one which I can relate to. Like you, I also sat for ages contemplating whether or not I could take the plunge and wondering if I have the skills necessary at this stage or whether extra study is required. As an antidote, I took advice from other successful business friends and associates who told me that the fastest way to progress your skills is to commit and then be prepared to make mistakes. I also know this from experience, especially as an environmental consultant where I was regularly asked to perform tasks that required some serious and rapid uptake of new knowledge and skills. In this scenario I was never shy about asking those who had more experience and knowledge than me to help. I would often identify experts and people I admire in the field of interest and call them. I always offered something in return where I could, I was prepared to accept knock-backs and start again and basically got cracking immediately. For me, the number one rule is to try not to let the self doubt and resultant procrastination take precedence over action. It’s amazing the type of momentum one simple task can build if you have a desire and goal firmly in mind. Also, taking on Nick has made me accountable, gives me a partner to work with and helps clarify a path which has previously been trodden successfully. If I was you, specifically I would go and start talking to some successful people in your field of interest and ask them how they got started and maybe visit a small business support network to obtain a template of procedures recommended for a start-up business. Part of my aim with these posts is to give people some idea of a possible path to take to start-up a business so I will do my best to be a specific as possible along the way….good luck mate!
    Hi Scott, will be in contact shortly, Cheers

  7. Hi Dan — Thanks for putting yourself out there like this. I’m where you were before making the plunge into becoming a F/T designer. For me one of the biggest issues is letting go financially. I’m fortunate to have a job for which I get paid pretty well, and it affords us the opportunity to really take on our mortgage debt and eliminate it within a relatively short time frame. At the same time, I abhor my daily commute (currently 3 hours R/T), hate dealing with the corporate/government bureaucratic leviathan, and generally just want to do work I find meaninful and gain more control over my time. I’ll be listening to your interview with Scott Mann on the way home today and also checking out Nick Huggins in order to see if I can really give a kick to accelerate my life in the direction I really want it to go — living a life more aligned with the ethics of permaculture.

  8. Hi Chris,
    I’m glad you could relate. I’m using a part-time contract to help me bridge the finacial gap which gives me a lot of peace of mind. I love that permaculture offers so many ways to create a livelihood and I see no reason why a career in permaculture can’t provide a good financial return. Good luck in your mission!

  9. Hello Dan! Are you still in the Adelaide Hills? I live in Lobethal, SA and I’ve just completed Geoff Lawton’s Online PDC (and am awaiting certification) so have been avidly reading Nick’s Permaculture Business World website, etc. Really like what you’ve written. Please let me know if you’re still in the Adelaide Hills. Rasili

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