Many say “surfing’s far more than a sport, it’s a way of life.” Well, my goal here is to help you develop a new business that can direct you towards the dream life of paying the bills thanks to your passion for surfing .
My first piece of advice for anyone hoping to start their own surf related business is to come up with a plan. Here are some more steps to capitalize on your game changing idea:
1. Plan, plan and plan again.
In the surf, planning is important in order to nab the best waves. When you’re new to a break you don’t just jump in. First you need to analyze all the different elements. You consider the currents and how to best use them for paddling out, locations of different peaks and the position of other surfers. If you just jump in and try to figure all this stuff out from the water, you’re likely to end up putting in way more effort to make the most of your session. You might get a few small waves, but you won’t take any of those gems you spotted as you drove up to the beach.
The same applies in business. Rather than analyzing from the beach you’re writing a full detail business plan. It takes a lot of time and hard work, but it’s worth its weight in gold. If completed in full, you will have analyzed the market and your competition, documented your exact product/service provision and produced a number of very important detailed financial reports for up to four years.
This sounds daunting at first but there are heaps of templates and guides you can find online that will walk you through exactly what to be include and how to produce all the financial sheets. If you’re idea isn’t a completely new concept you might even get lucky and find a completed plan by a similar company. Lucky you, now you have a guide to refer to.
The business plan will unearth some unexpected results so you’ll almost certainly develop your business model through the process. It’s important to budget for the unexpected overheads and allow yourself room for error if you spend more than anticipated. You may even realize your idea isn’t commercially viable, in which case you’ll save yourself a load of money and heartache by realizing you shouldn’t launch it in the first place.
Having studied business at university and specializing in entrepreneurial modules, I had already produced a number of business plans and knew how important they are when I started my own. When I first started my business plan for Wagon Surf Adventures the idea was to just buy a big van, put some removable bunks in the back and simply offer cheap accommodations for surfers. There were no added services, just a bed to sleep on at night. As I delved into the financials it quickly became apparent that I wouldn’t break even under that model. The cost of business taxes and insurance would cripple me financially and if I increased prices accordingly I wouldn’t feel like I was giving good value to customers. I didn’t want karma to kick my ass for that. The answer was to increase the value of service that I offer by providing everything I felt surfers would love. That included a set-up for night surf sessions, professional photography, surf forecasting tuition, video debriefing right there at the break and more. This snowballed my thoughts and I ended up with the vision of how Wagon Surf Adventures is now.
I can’t stress enough how important it is to write your business plan and keep fine tuning it. If you need a bank loan or want to secure any investment you will be asked to show your plan without fail. No matter how much thought you’ve already put into your idea, and how much you can visualize it working, you NEED to construct a full business plan before you start spending money.
2.Set achievable goals.
Dream small. That isn’t something most inspirational speakers will say. But hey, I’ve never claimed to be an inspirational speaker.
If you dream too big you’ll set yourself up for a life of struggle and stress. By the time you finally reach your dream you’ll be too damn old to appreciate it. Remember, the reason you’re planning this business is to work in an industry you love and avoid the conventional rat race. If you start out with the goal of taking over the entire surf industry you’re likely setting yourself up for a life of stress and a little more potential for failure.
Again, it’s exactly the same as surfing. If you go in desperate to get barreled and shred it you’ll put too much stress on yourself and end up not enjoying the session. It’s always best to just go in and enjoy yourself. When you’re smiling and having fun, you’ll surf better and that barrel will come.
This is your dream, so I’d suggest the best way to make it a reality is to take baby steps and avoid slipping up.
3.Seek professional advice
I’m going to make the bold move of referencing Chasing Mavericks here. Much of the movie revolves around Frosty constantly bringing Jay back down to Earth. Even though Jay was an amazing surfer he wasn’t ready for Mavericks when their journey started. Frosty makes him do the whole four minute breath hold and super long paddle first and in the end, that’s what enables him to survive a beating and get the best wave.
So you’ve read a load of stuff online and managed to write a decent business plan, which further justifies the idea for yourself. That doesn’t necessarily mean you’re right. Don’t get too big for your booties quite yet, Mr Gates. If you know any wise business bods, industry veterans, or failing that anyone with common sense and some intelligence, get them to read through your plan and play the devil’s advocate. Ask them to pick holes in your plan wherever they can and be as brutal as possible. Challenge them to find faults and errors that could mean the difference between your business succeeding and failing.
The next step is to take it all to an independent professional source and have them look over everything. Most countries have government backed organizations that provide free business advice for start-ups. These guys aren’t likely to know the surf industry anywhere near as well as you do, but they will have a better understanding of unexpected overheads and can go over you financial plans with a fine toothed comb.
If this kind of service isn’t accessible for free then a cheeky option is to apply for a bank loan even if you don’t actually need one. The bank will only provide loans to businesses that are low risk and likely to make enough money to pay them back, so they’ll drill into your business plan and let you know the areas that they think are exposed and might lead to failure. Their advice could be pretty useful and if they end up offering you a loan you don’t have to accept it. But now you have the benefit of knowing financial support is available. Of course I would strongly recommend avoiding a bank loan as they’re money sucking thieves and will have you bent over a barrel before you’ve finished signing on the dotted line.
I got family and friends to read over my business plan, then sent it to a good friend who has successfully worked in the surf industry for over 20 years. Finally, I applied for a bank loan to get their scrutiny too. It’s not nice to hear some of the negative feedback and be told about the things you’ve forgotten or didn’t know about, but what doesn’t kill you will only make you stronger.
4. Embrace the might of marketing
No matter how good your business is, or how unique and superior your product or services are, if people don’t know it exists they can’t support it. For this reason marketing is possibly the most important success factor for new businesses.
Once you’re in the launch phase of your business development it’s too late to start learning about marketing. You’ll be wrapped up with other work but desperate to spread the word of your new surf business. For this reason it’s critical to read up on marketing techniques and get confident in delivering your marketing during the planning phase.
Of course, this should be included in the business plan where you will create a marketing plan and identify the different elements of your marketing mix. Commercially, theses are known as the 4 P’s: Product, Price, Place and Promotion. If your business requires online sales then you’ll need to build a strong online presence, and digital marketing methods are the backbone to this. Google Adwords, Analytics, Search Engine Marketing (SEM) and Facebook advertising will likely be fundamental aspects of your business. These days you can learn most of what you need to know through YouTube How To videos and free downloadable guides.
I made the mistake here by thinking I could learn it on the go. My previous business experience had been solely reliant on Facebook advertizing, which was perfectly effective and absolutely fine for that business model. Wagon Surf Adventures was a larger business which would need to be supplemented by other online marketing techniques. I didn’t find the time (in hindsight I just hadn’t prioritized correctly) to really get my head around how the Google advertizing methods worked. This was a costly mistake, which resulted in spending money inefficiently in my first few weeks of being live. During those weeks I spent hours and hours each day trying to get my head around it all, so I could set my digital marketing up to operate efficiently. It’s well worth doing the reading and watching the tutorials before you launch the surf business, so you can hit the ground running and avoid chucking away your precious budget on inefficient advertising.
Editor’s Note: To learn about the author of this article and his own surf business, check out Wagon Surf Adventures here.