Living the Dream and Making a Living in the Surf Industry – PART THREE

By Matt G- 21/02/2016

Many say, “surfing’s far more than a sport, it’s a way of life”. Well, here is an article aimed and helping you to develop a new surf business which can direct you towards the dream life of owning a successful surf business.

Hopefully, you’ve already read part one and two, which cover a number of points to consider while planning your business idea. All the preparation is complete and you can now have real confidence in your surf business start up. You’ve planned for every eventuality you can think of and mitigated as much of the inherent risk as possible. It’s now time to press the big red button and launch this bad boy into the surf industry!

We can compare it to surfing here. So we’ve analysed the break, got in at the right point, taken advise of the locals and have paddled our nuts of to get into the first wave. Now it’s the critical point, because if we don’t pop-up and launch well, we’ll bail before we get the chance to ride the wave.

The Launch phase of starting your surf business is where many start-ups fail. The pressure is now on, and things become real. It’s no longer just a thought in your head, or words on a sheet of paper, you’re now parting with your hard earned money and it’s all on the line. Here are a few pointers to help ensure your launch phase is a success:

Stick to the plan Stan

Time for another reference from Chasing Mavericks I’m afraid. On the big day, Jay gets a reality check and gets a good pounding on his first waves. Most of the other guys are less well prepared and decide to bail, but Jay knows he’s ready for the big one, and regardless of any natural fear, sticks to his game plan.

You spent all that time and effort producing a watertight plan and developing your concept to a level where you’re almost certain it will be commercially viable, don’t let yourself stray from the course now. At first, it’s like a new toy and your super stoked to start playing with it. You’re piecing together the pieces of the jigsaw and it’s all coming together nicely. There may be a point though, when you realise quite how real it all is. You’ll see your money going out, but none coming in yet.

The sleepless nights start and the stress levels increase. You start thinking what boards and wetsuits you could have treated yourself to with that money. It’s natural to start doubting yourself in a situation like this, but don’t give in. Just stick to the initial plan! As the saying goes, “build it and they will come”. You should now know with almost certainty that your business model is viable, so stick to the plan and, as long as your planning was done effectively, the customers will come.

It’s also very important to stick to your core values. These should be created and developed in the business plan, so should certainly already be decided. You’re core values should embody the reason for your business’ existence and should be evident throughout every single aspect of your new surf business. Again, when you were conscientiously planning, you decided on these core values for a reason. They’ve survived through the scrutiny of your friends, family and experts, so they deserve to survive the launch. Don’t let them down now!

In my case I was spending more than I had budgeted and was scared I’d run out of money before I could even start operations. My natural instinct said to shut my wallet and lower the quality a bit, but my core values stated that I would be devoted to providing the very best surf holiday possible. I decided I had to stick to my values and would need to find a way of sourcing additional finance to allow me to make that happen. My method of doing this was Crowd Funding, which will be covered in a later section.

Keep your eye on the big picture

When you’re popping up on a wave, you need to keep an eye on the wave and be aware of your position at all times, this will be the deciding factor as to whether you look for a big bottom turn, or need to get straight into the barrel. You can’t just expect to look at the water directly in front of your board and be able to feel the wave and make the most of it.

It’s easy to get wrapped up in the day-to-day work now that you’re putting your money where your mouth is. The whole thing is new to you and you’re excited, nervous and focussed. Every little detail seems (and is!) like a game changer, but it’s important not to get too bogged down by the day to day work and end up loosing focus of the bigger picture. A simple example is in website development. You could get wrapped up in a set piece of functionality, so much so that you forget the general look and feel that you’re hoping to achieve. By focusing on each element too much, you may end up with a website that appears disjointed and confusing to the reader.

Before I started converting the Wagon for my business, I had a vision of how the finished product would look, which was based on themes I’d seen during my research. I know that one of my weaknesses is being overly focussed on the task at hand, and was worried I’d focus too much on each individual element and forget that I needed it all to come together and look great as a finished product. To help me keep my eye on the big picture, I created a ‘mood board’, which is basically a collage filled with images that depict the mood, feel and theme of what you want to achieve. I kept it by my bed, so that every morning I woke up, I’d remember what the big picture looks like and have that in my mind when I started work.

Speculate to Accumulate

There may well be a point at which you start to think it’s all a bit too much for you to handle on your own. You feel like you need more money and some external help. After all, if you’re doing everything on your own, you’re expected to be the marketing, sales, finance and strategy expert all in one. That’s a lot to ask from the best of us.

You wonder whether it’s worth bringing in someone else for support, but this business is your baby now and the last thing you want to do is give a portion of her away. It’s important to remember though, that you need to speculate to accumulate and this goes beyond the surface meaning of investing money. I’m not suggesting that you should give away half your business to the first person offering to give you a hand, but I’m promoting the idea of considering the potential value of bringing somebody onboard.

If the business goes well and grows sufficiently, at some point you’ll need to bring in additional support, so why not make that move early and give the launch an added boost, after-all the second opinion could be very valuable at times. It’s absolutely crucial that if you decide to do this, you choose the right person and take them on the right terms.

You’re unlikely to have the budget to pay them a salary, so your bargaining chip will be a share of the business ownership. This will of course provide your crew with additional motivation to work hard, develop the business and this of the long term, since by increasing the value of the business, they increase the value of their shares.

Manage your Motivation

You’ll have good and bad days in the beginning, that’s the nature of being an entrepreneur and is a part of the inherent insecurity that you have when being self employed. On bad days, you’ll wonder what the hell you’re doing. We’ve all had days when we’ve been super pumped for a great surf, paddle out, only to stack it on the first wave and ding your board. It’s infuriating and you feel like packing up the game, but you need to keep your cool.

If you let the stress mounts up you’ll have less clarity of thought, causing your decision making to suffer, and this isn’t the time to make dumb decisions. To maintain motivation and avoid stress build up, try to think of the expected outcome from your hard work and envision the image of how the business will look when it’s a success. Think of the amount of surfing you’ll be able to do and the fun you’ll have while working once you make it all a work smoothly.

When I first started to draw up the architecture plans for the Wagon, I was so excited to start the conversion and desperate for the materials to arrive, so I could get cracking. I expected it to be heaps of fun and super rewarding work. How wrong… It was brutally long days, plaining pieces of wood, bashing my fingers with hammers and driving back and forth to the builder’s merchants. Some days I’d work a 16 hour shift and could barely see any real results at the end of it, while other days I’d feel like I’d damn nearly finished it in a matter of hours, simply because the work was more visible. Every so often I had to drop the tools and go for a surf, just to remind myself of the kind of lifestyle I was building and to warrant all the gruelling work I was putting myself through. Hey, if it were easy everyone would be doing it.

Monitor Your Money

Money is unfortunately the lifeline of your business and you need it to survive. It’s like energy in surfing. If you paddle too hard and too far without having a break before you take a wave, you’ll feel like jelly on the wave and won’t have the power to shred.

During the launch, the money traffic is only going one way. I got to the point where I would purposefully avoid looking at my bank balance, because I knew it would make me feel sick. I’d bury my head in the sand and just keep working. I figured that there were items I simply HAD to spend money on, so checking my bank balance the whole time would only serve to increase my blood pressure and reduce my hours of sleep. I did this part wrong! It’s certainly wise to stay absolutely on top of your financial status, so you can be well prepared if things start to slip and you notice yourself going over budget on certain elements.

Crowd Funding has completely changed the way in which businesses can gain start-up capital these days. You can pre-sell products, sell a portion of the business or simply ask for charitable donations. There are a number of very popular sites, and each of them has their merits and will provide a great platform for you to generate additional funding. Of course, you can’t expect to just set up the campaign and people will pay. Just as with a website, you need to get the message out there, and this is where your marketing skills come to play and you’ll be thankful that you make a conscious effort to develop those skills before the launch.

Endorsing Outsourcing

As mentioned before, getting help from other people and spreading the workload a bit could be a good move, especially if you don’t think you’ve got the required level of expertise in a specific area online. If you want to get into big wave surfing, it can be a wise move to get a tow in to your first big ones. This way, an experienced tower can help put you in at the right speed and place and you don’t use up all your energy paddling.

These days getting paid help for a low value is very easy, with the help of online freelancer websites. You can post an advert in a matter of minutes and within 24hours you’ll have dozens of experts, from all over the world, pitching for your business. This can be great for outsourcing tasks such as SEM or setting up your Google Adwords PPC campaigns. It’s amazing what prices some of the guys offer and the level of service you can get. There will be a bunch of naff applications too, but you need to sift through them to find the gems. You can view their results on independent tests, which indicate their skill levels in different areas and compare this with their hourly rate to find the best value guys. It can be worth reading their customer reviews to and checking one of them to be sure they’re legit.

If you haven’t got enough money to hire one of these guys then here is a cheeky trick, but beware of karma coming back to bite if you opt for it. If you post an advert for a task such as SEM and request that applicants send you a detailed plan of exactly what they will do for you, they will often analyse the market and provide findings in this report. You can then pretty much use their plan as a ‘how to’ guide and just do the work yourself, now that they’ve laid out the important things.

Once the business is launched, the game has only really just begun. The next step is to keep the business running, keep it competitive and continue developments. In Part Three I’ll give some tips on how to keep the developments going and try to keep progressing.