Managing Freelance Outdoor Instructors - A Conversation with Ben Bullen Adventures

Starting a surf & paddleboard school with Adam El of Blue Coast Surf & Paddle
So we'd done up the flat, but all we'd done in the spare room was slap some white paint on the walls. And then one night, I don't think we were even drunk, we just had a thought of, let's go and draw our dreams on the wall in this spare room. So off we went to the spare room. And I drew some tents and some activity things like a climbing wall and all this sort of thing on the wall.

Donning the hat of flexible leadership and thriving in a highly seasonal outdoor business, Ben Bullen, founder of Ben Bullen Adventures, shares valuable insights from his journey. During a conversation with Adam El, host of the Business of Adventure Podcast, Ben speaks about his recruitment strategies, how he found his niche in the industry, and the invaluable lessons he's learned along the way.

Transitioning into the Adventure Business

Ben relates how he transitioned from his youth work with a church and local council to launching his own business. Earning a multitude of activity qualifications while working with a local council, combined with his passion for outdoor adventures, led him to establish Ben Bullen Adventures. He recalls his initial years, taking calculated risks and underlining the importance of seizing opportunities.

The Significance of Distributed Leadership in Team Management

In the conversation, the concept of "Distributed Leadership" is discussed heavily. The model emerged due to the need for flexibility and effective communication among instructors in managing large groups of young people on adventure trips. At Ben Bullen Adventures, this unique leadership style empowers each instructor to fulfill their responsibilities independently and work collectively when necessary.

Ben emphasizes that distributed leadership nurtures the instructors' sense of ownership and promotes a team bonding atmosphere, which reflects positively on the success of their expedition.

Nurturing Relationships with Customers and Employees

Ensuring client satisfaction should be the primary focus of any business. For Ben Bullen Adventures, this means not only providing exceptional leadership and guidance to young adventurers but also catering to the needs of the teachers who accompany them.

In the same vein, nurturing good relationships with employees play a vital role in sustaining business continuity. For instance, Ben has observed that freelancers tend to reduce the number of companies they work with over time. By creating an environment where freelancers feel valued and enjoy working, Ben Bullen Adventures manages to retain key members of its team.

Standing Out in a Competitive Industry

Another vital take-away from the interview with Ben Bullen is the importance of keeping an "80-20" division in terms of services offered. Essentially, 80% of your services should focus on your solid, reliable, and predictable offerings, while the remaining 20% should emphasize your unique or "wow factor" elements.

For Ben Bullen Adventures, their "wow" factor comes in the form of bell boating expeditions. This unique and novel service not only sets them apart from other companies but also acts as a fantastic way to attract attention and potential new clients.

Upholding Client Satisfaction

For Ben, client satisfaction is the most important part of his business. His flexibility and willingness to adjust to the client's needs have earned him many long-standing relationships with schools.

Besides providing high-quality service, the company also emphasizes effective communication with clients. They proactively inform schools of their mode of operation, ensuring the teachers are aware of what to expect on an expedition.


The journey of Ben Bullen Adventures is a valuable case study for anyone wishing to embark on their own expedition in the adventure business world. With lessons grounded in adaptability, clear communication, employee empowerment, client satisfaction, and differentiation, it’s a road map to understanding what it takes to navigate the world of outdoor adventure businesses successfully.

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