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

By Matt G- 15/02/2016

mirleft surf

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 read Part One to this article already and are now reading on with a business concept in mind. So, let’s continue with the remainder of the planning phase tips…

Plan, Plan and Plan Again

In the surf, planning is always important if you want to take the best waves. If you’re new to a break, you don’t just jump in, first you need to analyse 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 paddle to the right spot, be in the wrong position for priority and either won’t get any waves, or you’ll find yourself dropping in on the wrong local. You might get a few small waves, but you won’t take any of the gems you could spot as you drove up to the break.

Well, it’s just the same in business, but in a different context. Rather than analysing the break from the beach, your writing a full detail Business Plan. It takes a lot of time and hard work, but it’s worth it’s weight in gold. If completed in full, you will have fully analysed the market and competition, documented your exact product/service provision and produced a number of very important detailed financial reports for up to four years.

Of course, this sounds very daunting at first, but there are heaps of templates and guides you can find online, that will walk you through exactly what needs to be included and how to produce all the financial sheets. If you’re idea isn’t a completely new concept, you might even strike lucky and find a completed plan by a similar company, that you can refer to as a guide.

The business plan will certainly unearth some unexpended 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. It may be that you actually realise your idea isn’t commercially viable, in which case you’ll save yourself a load of money and heartache by realising that you shouldn’t launch it in the first place.

Having studied business at university and specialised in entrepreneurial modules, I had already produced a number of business plans and knew how important they are. When I first started my business plan for Wagon Surf Adventures, my idea was to just buy a big van, put some removable bunks in the back and simply offer cheap accommodation to people. No added services, just a bed to sleep on at night. As I delved into the financials, it soon became apparent that I wouldn’t even break even. 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, and karma would eventually kick my ass for that. The answer was to increase the value of service that I offer my customers, by providing everything I thought surfer would actually value, like a set-up for night surf session, professional photography, surf forecasting tuition, video debriefing right there at the break etc etc. 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 coming back and fine tuning it. If you need a bank loan or want to secure any investment, they will ask to see your plan without fail. There’s a reason why they do this – The plan will separate the wheat from the chaff! No matter how much thought you’ve already put into your idea, and how much you can visualise it working, you NEED to construct a full business plan before you start spending your money.

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, and by the time you finally reach your dream you’ll be too damn old to appreciate it. Remember, the reason you’re panning this business is to work in an industry you love and avoid the conventional rat race. If you set yourself the aim of taking over the entire surf industry, I’m not saying you won’t achieve that goal one day, but you’re more likely setting yourself up for a life of stress and potential failure.

Again, it’s exactly the same as surfing. If you go in desperate to get barrelled 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 the barrel will come.

This is your dream, so I’d suggest the best way to make it a reality is to play it safe and take baby steps to avoid slipping up.

Seek Professional Advise

I’m going to make the bold move of referencing ‘Chasing Mavericks’ here. Frosty had to bring Jay back down to earth, because even though he was a super good surfer, he wasn’t ready for Mavericks yet. 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 now 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 devils advocate. Ask them to pick holes in it 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 then to take it to an independent professional source to look over it. Most countries have government backed organisations which provide free business advise for business start-ups. These guys aren’t likely to know the surf industry anywhere near as well as you do, but will have a better understanding of unexpected overheads and will go over you financial plans with a fine tooth comb.

If this kind of service isn’t accessible for free, then a cheeky option can always be to apply for a bank loan, even if you don’t actually need one. The bank will only provide a 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 you’re exposed and might lead to failure. Their advise could be pretty useful and if they end up offering you a loan, you don’t have to accept it, but have the benefit of knowing that financial support is available. Of course, I would strongly recommend avoiding taking a bank loan, 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 hey.

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 buy it. For this reason, marketing is possibly the most important success factor for new business launches.

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 really 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 known as the 4 P’s: Product, Price, Place and Promotion. If you’re business requires online sales, then you’ll need to build a strong online presence and digital marketing methods are the backbone to this. For sure, 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 on YouTube ‘How To’ videos and from 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 advertising, 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 prioritised correctly, so didn’t ‘make’ the time) to really get my head around how the Google advertising 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.

Well, that’s pretty much it for the planning phase. Next up, it’s time to launch the business and make your theory in to practical experience. In Part Three I’ll explain points I think are worth considering while launching your business.