I’m a Permaculture kind of Entrepreneur.
What’s that, you say? Permawhat? I think some Wikipedia-ing is in order. First of all, the word entrepreneur is derived from the French word entreprendre, which means ‘undertake’. I desired something, but I didn’t quite know how to get it. Now, Permaculture is a design system that strives to create self-maintained systems modeled from natural ecosystems. Usually when you hear the term Permaculture, you hear it in context with Agriculture and Ecology. It is a design system, and therefore it fits on top of any problem and provides valuable guidelines. My ‘problem’ that I wanted to ‘undertake’ was approaching an Ayurvedicly inspired lifestyle on a daily basis. Oh great – another foreign word. Ayurveda, for those who don’t know, is also known as “The Science of Life” as it is literally translated from Sanskrit. It’s the sister science of Yoga and is the oldest medical model on the planet, dating back over 5,000 years. Needless to say, it’s a huge body of knowledge and can be daunting to beginners. I wanted a way to make it more accessible – to myself and to my students, so I fell back on my problem-solving training, Permaculture! There are twelve design principals to employ when facing any problem from a ‘permie’ perspective. I used these principals to create my small product based business, Ayurvedic Apothecary. My product is a series of aromatherapy oil blends made with premium, organic essential oils when available, blended in small batches, and designed to be a catalyst in moving the Doshas back towards balance. Here’s how it went:
1. Observe and interact: By taking time to engage with nature we can design solutions that suit our particular situation.
I observed my desire to begin changing my lifestyle and I knew that Ayurveda was the system that resonated with my heart and spirit. Probably because it resonates with my earthy roots in Permaculture, with it’s focus on the elements found in nature.
2. Catch and store energy: By developing systems that collect resources at peak abundance, we can use them in times of need.
Well, this doesn’t exactly apply in the format it’s written, but let’s replace “energy” with “money”. I pooled my resources, and waited to launch my project until Christmas time, when I could justify the expense because the product was also going to be my gift.
3. Obtain a yield: Ensure that you are getting truly useful rewards as part of the work that you are doing.
I offered my product at cost to many of my Yoga Teacher friends to solicit their feedback on the effectiveness of the product. This had double rewards because they started using it in their classes and gave me more visibility!
4. Apply self-regulation and accept feedback: We need to discourage inappropriate activity to ensure that systems can continue to function well.
I really wanted to expand my product line right away, but I had to reign in my enthusiasm, as that wouldn’t have been sustainable for me financially.
5. Use and value renewable resources and services: Make the best use of nature’s abundance to reduce our consumptive behavior and dependence on non-renewable resources.
I try to source organically whenever possible, and locally as well. I has big dreams of only using organic essential oils and base oils, but the availability has been inconsistent in the quantities that I am ordering.
6. Produce no waste: By valuing and making use of all the resources that are available to us, nothing goes to waste.
I have systems in place to make sure I get every last drop of oil, and recycle and reuse all materials that I can. There is a degree of simplicity once a system has been established – find the rhythm!
7. Design from patterns to details: By stepping back, we can observe patterns in nature and society. These can form the backbone of our designs, with the details filled in as we go.
I saw momentum in the Aromatherapy market, and the Natural Health market (specifically Ayurveda) that I could ride with. I saw people’s interests already piqued. I saw the way that my product idea would fill a niche that no one had conceived of yet. And then I got excited about the details of how the system of Ayurveda, and the understanding of one of the biggest components of it, the Doshas, could be brought to the people in a very appealing way.
8. Integrate rather than segregate: By putting the right things in the right place, relationships develop between those things and they work together to support each other.
I already had a very excited passion for Aromatherapy before I started studying Ayurveda; so when my idea came to me – it came with a blast of intensity I couldn’t ignore. My newfound passion with Ayurveda could dovetail with my passion for Aromatherapy. It still surprises me today as I study and read more, how much sense it makes to use one of the fastest acting Sub-Doshas, Prana Vata, to catalyze the whole system back towards balance quickly. It is responsible for inhalation, and makes possible all of the senses, including the ability to think and have feelings. Almost all diseases have some aspect of disruption of the Prana Vata. Therefore, breathing exercises and Aromatherapy can be an important part of healing any condition!
9. Use small and slow solutions: Small and slow systems are easier to maintain than big ones, making better use of local resources and producing more sustainable outcomes.
I have started very small, with only three products, and began distribution in a small circle of studios and co-ops. Gradual growth allows for mindful growth. This principal is invaluable to a small business owner.
10. Use and value diversity: Diversity reduces vulnerability to a variety of threats and takes advantage of the unique nature of the environment in which it resides.
I am using this principal as I approach my growth. Up until recently, my customers have been mostly my students and acquaintances. This makes for a market that is easily maxed out. My next step will be to grow my product distribution spectrum to include bigger outlets, and will also ramp up my online presence. Also, not relying on only one income source is highly important. My business is multifaceted, and includes other side-projects.
11. Use edges and value the marginal: The interface between things is where the most interesting events take place. These are often the most valuable, diverse and productive elements in the system.
This is all about the networking aspect of business. I played the edges with demos and an info booth at the local Co-op to talk about what my product was all about. I also taught workshops on Ayurveda. These opportunities were amazing, and provided me a platform to connect with people who had little previous knowledge of Ayurveda or Aromatherapy. I also donated my product to many Silent Auctions that I supported the cause of. I made sure to create something visual to accompany the product to explain concisely and clearly. These two out-of-the-norm marketing and networking angles worked out very well for me.
12. Creatively use and respond to change: We can have a positive impact on inevitable change by carefully observing, and then intervening at the right time.
I had been producing my product for a few months when I got am email from another local small business owner and friend. She warned me of the use of the word “Organic”. Apparently, even for non-consumables, the word is kind of off limits. Basically you have to buy your rights to use it from the federal government. This was unfortunate news for me, because I had already put a lot of money into marketing supplies like cards and labels and placards using the word. Had I done a little more research, I could have saved myself some time and money! However, it was a learning experience. The National Organic Program is the regulator of the use of the word “Organic”, and I found their website, like other government websites, to be completely un-user friendly and it was difficult to find what I needed to know. So, I decided to just leave it out pretty much altogether.
I hope you can use these 12 Permaculture Principles to help you design your business model! I am so grateful to my teachers along the way, whether they knew it or not, including the NOP!
Another Permaculture concept that I think keeps us in the moment with our yoga off the mat is this: Design Tight, Run Loose. Have a kick ass plan, but go with the flow and keep your head up because it is all part of the fun!