Opening a surf & paddleboard school - Adam El of Blue Coast

Starting a surf & paddleboard school with Adam El of Blue Coast Surf & Paddle

Welcome to The Adventure Ledger and The Business of Adventure Podcast!

I'm Adam El, your host, and in this blog post and first episode, I want to share with you some valuable insights from my own journey into the adventure activity industry. Before finding success with Blue Coast Surf & Paddle, I faced my fair share of challenges, failed projects, and learned some valuable lessons along the way.

The first was North Sea Surf Shots, a surf photography business based in Aberdeen. Although it started as a passion project, I soon realized that the market in my location was not large enough to support it (this might seem obvious from an outside perspective, but it’s easy to hoodwink yourself when you’re passionate about an idea). Proper market validation and research are key to identifying viable opportunities for your business.

The second was Fuerte Surf Shots, a surf guiding business based in Fuerteventura. This project had great potential in an interesting business landscape full of opportunity and a large year-round market, however I didn't treat it like a business and wasn't in the right place in my life to prioritize it appropriately. The people and environment you have around you will build you up or bring you down.

During this time I also worked freelance for a number of different schools, which provided invaluable experience in different sizes and types of surf school, allowing me to learn the industry and cherry pick the best bits and avoid the pitfalls for Blue Coast.

The Concept of Minimum Viable Product

A crucial lesson I learned is the importance of starting small before investing significant time and resources. With North Sea Surf Shots, I spent excessive time perfecting every detail of the website and expanding the product range without proper validation.

By focusing on creating a minimum viable product, you can gather valuable feedback from actual customers quickly and focus your time & resources on the things that are already proven successes!

Pay Your Dues

My experience working for various schools in Fuerteventura & Scotland was like an apprenticeship in the surf school industry!

By observing successful businesses and understanding factors like cost control, personalized experiences, effective branding, and efficient operational systems, I gained insights that helped me set up my surf school with an unfair advantage. I consider that experience to be like a performance enhancing drug would be for an athlete - it gives me an edge over my competitors.

Time Management & Prioritization

As a small business owner, time management is crucial. There are always more things to do than there is time in the day, and you're doing them around delivering activities in the outdoors!

Time blocking and prioritization have become my go-to strategies for managing multiple tasks and maintaining focus. By allocating specific time slots and dates for tasks and prioritising productive time on deep work that actually moves the needle, I make a little bit of progress every day.

Get 1% better each day for one year, you'll end up 37 times better by the time you're done. -James Clear

As anyone running their own business knows, it can also be difficult to balance your time and have energy outside your work to be present with loved ones and get much-needed downtime. Time blocking helps with this as it stops me from working for an open-ended amount of time on something - there is a defined end when it is either finished or pushed back to another date.

The Power of Systems and Automation

Building efficient systems and leveraging automation tools have been game-changers for Blue Coast. For example, creating an automated system for delivering customer photos has saved me valuable time, improved customer satisfaction and increased word-of-mouth referrals.

Automation and innovation in processes are vital for streamlining operations and allowing business owners to focus on higher-level growth strategy and customer experience. This is how an owner-operator or a small outdoor business can compete with a big established centre!

Financial Planning and Budgeting

One of the most critical elements in running a seasonal adventure business is budgeting. With irregular cash flow, careful financial planning becomes essential.

Tracking expenses, projecting income, and setting realistic budgets enable business owners to navigate through off-seasons and slow years (you can’t force the market), ensuring long-term sustainability.

Building a profitable adventure business requires dedication, resilience, and a strategic approach. For freelance instructors, the activity-specific and people skills are already there in spades, but what can sometimes be lacking is the business acumen.

In The Adventure Ledger & The Business of Adventure Podcast, I aim to equip you with the knowledge and guidance needed to succeed in the adventure activity industry.

By learning from real-life case studies of successful businesses, you can turn your passion for adventure into a thriving business. Subscribe below for insightful conversations with industry experts and business owners in our upcoming episodes.

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