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Outdoor Economy

Growing Opportunity in Outdoor Recreation: 6 Key Strategies for Outdoor Entrepreneurs

6 critical strategies for outdoor entrepreneurs to benefit in the growing outdoor economy

When I started kayaking and leading nature tours in South Carolina, I worked for the only outfitter on Shem Creek. We led occasional tours out to the harbor and back without seeing another kayak. Over the first several years, there were a couple new kayak operations that came and went out of business like the tides. In the last 6 years, there has been an explosion of new outdoor businesses on the waterways. Today, that same creek is filled with kayakers and stand-up paddleboards with multiple tours daily. Paddling outfitters have sprung up all around the outlying areas as well. Now, an increasing number of motorboats are offering eco-tours and bird watching adventures.

Whitewater Kayaker sideways

You would think this increased competition would have hurt the outfitters that once ruled the waterways? Think again! Every kayak outfitter that I have spoken to (about 8) has experienced an increase of 15-30% in business in 2013. The business has been able to thrive even through the worst of the recession.

This increase is not untypical. Outdoor recreation often does well when times are tough. Most outdoor businesses have experienced an increase in trips, travel and retail through 2008-2013.

Not every business makes it despite the surge in demand. The margins of the business can be pretty tight when you factor in equipment, guides, insurance, maintenance, rent, and other expenses. In a competitive market, your customer service better be stellar. It is easy to get overwhelmed and over promise. If your reservation system is not organized, you may have clients showing up unexpectedly and not have the time or resources to serve them. It is too easy for them to just go up the street to your competitors.

If you are in a market that is not as competitive, you will still need to forge ahead and set a precedent. Once you get established, competition is likely to follow. It requires excellent organizational skills as well as marketing skills to stay afloat. Your business can live or die by the people answering your phone as well as those leading the trips.

Qualified guides are also an issue. This is usually your main product. The right guide can make a dreary place come alive, while the wrong guide can make a spectacular place dull. This requires training and impeccable social skills.

The outdoor businesses that are able to develop systems that allow them to stay ahead of the game, maintain the morale of their employees, consistently provide a quality product, while maintaining control of their cashflow are the ones that survive. In a seasonal business, it is important to plan ahead.

Here are a few key things that help outfitters survive:

Have a clear idea of who you intend to serve

Knowing what type of client you attend to attract will make a difference in the product you deliver, the people you invest in, and your entire marketing strategy. The adrenalin junkie is very different than the serene wildlife watcher. Are you going to offer easy day-trips or longer multi-day adventures? Having a clear idea of your ideal customer is an important place to start. Ask yourself: Who am I meant to serve? Then spend some time finding out all you can about them and how to attract them.

Clearly define yourself

Why would anyone choose your business over everyone else? What is it that makes your business unique? This is something that most outdoor businesses fail to do. They look at their competitors and offer the same thing. Everyone thinks they have a superior product than their competitors, but very few can define it or prove it. No one wants to hear how great you think you are. Customers want to know how you are going to give them the best experience that meets their needs better than anyone else. It is important to be specialized and focused on what you do well. Too many businesses try to fight it out in copy-cat manner. There is plenty of business for everyone and together everyone achieves more.

Know what you expect from your employees

There was a time when I helped to interview potential new guides for a kayak company. We considered whether we should focus on those with the most kayak experience, naturalist skills, or personal skills. It turned out, the new hires with the best kayaking skills tended to be the most difficult to coach and were increasingly critical of the company constantly comparing it with others they had worked with. The ones with the best personable skills were open to learn and eventually became excellent kayakers and naturalists. Some did not work out either way for one reason or another. It has always been a philosophy of mine to allow someone to show themselves in the first 30-60 days. Some will show themselves right away. Some are slow beginners and eventually become superstars or grand failures. Some come to the table with everything and then break away. One important thing to do is to be upfront for what you expect. Have a written policy. This helps in times of trouble. The more prepared you are the better.

Create a fail safe reservation and scheduling system

The reservation system is the information hub in which the whole business revolves. That is the interface with the customers, the guides, and the marketing team. Everything flows in and flows out through the office. You must put systems in place to be sure you are prepared for who comes through your door and ready to deliver the best service possible to suit their needs. Put safeguards in place to catch errors and double check the schedules for guides and equipment. This is key for your success. The more diversified your business is the more important it is to keep accurate records.

Keep an eye on the cash-flow and plan for the future

In a seasonal business it is important to know how much you are taking in and how much you are paying out. People need to get paid on time if you want to keep up morale. You will need to have the right amount of inventory to provide for your clients A good credit account can help when things get tight, but you need to be careful that you don’t over use it. Cash flow will make or break you. It takes a long time to build a reputation, and an instant to wreck it.

Create a measurable marketing strategy

Where are your customers coming from? How are you reaching them? What is the strategy to get them to your door? What is their impression of your company? Most outdoor companies become advertising victims and base their marketing on what ever salesman calls to offer them the best story. This not a good strategy. A well thought out marketing strategy is one that is run with organized campaigns that can be measured. Often it is a good idea to run two simultaneous campaigns with slightly different strategies or wording to help measure what is working. A lot of time and money can be wasted on marketing that does not produce results.

Manage risk and prepare for the worst

Many a good outfitter has failed suddenly because of one mistake. It is critical to operate with the high regard for safety. Be ready with a clear action plan and a written policy to handle tragedy. In our line of work, there is a lot that can go wrong. Use the off season to conduct drills and training. Make sure you have adequate insurance.

These are just a few of the key strategies that make the difference if an outdoor business will be successful or not.

7 Essential Skills of An Entrepreneur

There are several important skills that entrepreneurs should cultivate to become successful .  Some entrepreneurs may already possess some of these skills. Most  entrepreneurs are good at a few and lacking at others. Savvy entrepreneurs are able to borrow the skills they need from a team.  All entrepreneurs should learn and improve their most important skills.

 

New  Research from the Harvard Business Review and quotes by successful entrepreneurs in Forbes, Inc., Under30CEO, Entrepreneur Magazine, and others have identified the following as essential skills for successful entrepreneurs:

Entrepreneur sunset

 

 

Leadership

Successful entrepreneurs must learn how to lead.  Successful leaders communicate compelling visions, are energetically self-motivated, goal oriented, and able to prioritize. There is so much that must be done in order to run a successful venture that the ability to manage time wisely, delegate and set the example for your team are extremely important. Entrepreneurs who try to do it all will never grow beyond themselves. The ability to build the right team, get everyone doing the right job, and give the team direction to do what is necessary in order to achieve a worthwhile vision is the most important role for the entrepreneur. Although it helps to already have some leadership qualities, many aspects of leadership can be learned. There are different leadership styles. Take time to study them and develop the style that is right for you and your enterprise. Lead by example and be a positive role model.

Persuasion

Entrepreneurs spend a lot of their time persuading others.  It is critical to recruit a team, raise money, and promote a product or service.  An entrepreneur will need to persuade the team, the investors, collaborators, regulators, and clients. An entrepreneur must know how to persuade their people to stay on task.  They must learn to persuade investors and bankers to continuously fund their projects. They must persuade collaborators to work together on a common goal.  They must be able to persuade their governing bodies to write favorable policies and show that they are following them.  They must persuade their clients to love their product and/or services and rave to their friends about it. They must perfect their negotiation skills to persuade vendors, clients, collaborators, landlords, partners, and others to agree to deals that are in the best interest of their company, employees, clients, community, and aligned with their core values.  All entrepreneurs should take time to master other the art of persuasion.

“The quality serial entrepreneurs displayed above others was persuasion, or the ability to convince others to change the way they think, believe or behave,” Bonnstetter, INC. Dec. 11, 2012

Marketing

An entrepreneur must learn how to market their product or service.  The landscape of marketing is constantly evolving but the basic principals still hold true.  An entrepreneur must learn how to market their product to reach their ideal customer and make sure they are aware of why their product or service is ideal. The entrepreneur must include a compelling reason for their clients to choose them over all other similar products and/or services available in the marketplace.  Marketing is incredibly important. Assembling a great sales and marketing team requires some knowledge of what it is you want to accomplish.  The entrepreneur must know what kind of results they are looking for in order to direct their sales and marketing team. The entrepreneur must be able to meticulously measure the results of every marketing campaign and be willing to experiment in order to get it right. This will save countless time and money and prevent one from becoming an advertising victim.  Either the entrepreneur or an excellent adviser will often make the difference on whether the enterprise will succeed. Entrepreneurs who understand and have the ability to effectively market themselves and their company have a distinct advantage over their competition.  Learn how to market and proceed with a clear strategy that is designed for measurable results.

Systematization

An entrepreneur must systematize the processes of their business. This is extremely important for growth.  A written plan, accurate customer records, updated books, technology process, policies and procedures are the foundations of your business. The systems allow new employees to seamlessly take over the jobs of others who have moved on or been promoted. It is the systems that allow a business to duplicate itself in different locations and markets. It is the systems that help a business become profitable and marketable.  Systems are key for dealing with the day to day operations and making sure everything goes smoothly.  Systems improve safety and help avoid fatal mistakes. Communicating those systems clearly and following them religiously is what helps an operation function like a well-oiled machine.  Systems help the operation do things better in less time with fewer resources being wasted.  Create systems, analyze, improve, test, and communicate them on a regular basis.

Finance

An entrepreneur must know how to manage the life blood of their business.  The entrepreneur must be capable of generating revenue, managing cash flow, keeping accurate books, controlling profit and loss, and creating protection.  Cash flow is key for buying inventory, paying for services, marketing, and repairing or replacing equipment.  Poor money management is one of the most common reasons businesses fail.  An excellent, trustworthy accountant as well as a competent attorney are invaluable.  Your reputation depends on getting people paid in a timely manner and having the resources to do so.  You must be able recognize where to direct the money to the highest priorities in order to keep your business in operation.  You must also create a series of checks and balances to ensure you are able to make adjustments before things get out of control. Learn to understand finance, create a solid cash-flow management system, and build a team of  trustworthy professionals.

Ability to learn and adapt

It is not the fastest, strongest, or best company but the one that is able to adapt quickly to meet the demands and changes of the landscape that will survive in the long-term.  An entrepreneur must be an avid learner.  They must be constantly willing to educate themselves and their team about changes in their industry and their marketplace.  Entrepreneurs spend their time educating themselves while others spend their time entertaining themselves. Read marketing books, magazines, reports, journals, newsletters, websites, and  industry publications and apply what you learn. Network and emulate successful entrepreneurs.  Join associations and build mastermind groups. Take small steps, learn, improve, and then take another step.  Repeat that until you are successful.

Self awareness

An entrepreneur must be in control of themselves.  They must be clear thinkers. They must make goal oriented, results-based decisions regardless of the emotional influences of their personal and professional circumstances.  They must know where their strengths and weaknesses lie and be able to ask for help when needed. They must have a clear vision and relentless work ethic.

Be persistent and unstoppable but know when to take a break and recharge.  Above all, have fun and build something great that is good for the world!

These are just a few of the essential skills that an entrepreneur must have to be successful.

 

Here are some more related articles:

http://outdooreconomy.com/resource-guide-entrepreneurs-entrepreneurship/

http://under30ceo.com/5-critical-skills-for-entrepreneurs/

http://blogs.hbr.org/cs/2012/12/new_research_the_skills_that_m.html

http://www.inc.com/jessica-stillman/5-essential-skills-of-an-entrepreneur.html

http://www.forbes.com/sites/theyec/2013/06/14/how-to-raise-an-entrepreneur/

http://www.forbes.com/sites/actiontrumpseverything/

http://www.entrepreneur.com/article/207488

 

 

 

 

 

Top Scientists, Engineers, and Entrepreneurs look to Nature for Inspiration and Guidance

 

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Who is the most influential educator in the world?

There is no one who has taught more people or created more things that we often take for granted. She has taught every one of the greatest scientist from Aryabhata to Albert Einstien. She showed André-Jacques Garnerin how to make a parachute and taught the Wright Brothers how to fly. She showed Ben Franklin electricity, taught Alessandro Volta how to harness it, and showed Nikola Tesla how to transport it. She has been responsible for the first sparks of fire to the modern match. She is the mother of all inventions from every industry from agriculture to drinking water.

 

Yet she has often been ignored, taken advantage of, and abused.

Now, top scientists, engineers, and entrepreneurs are once again looking to her for guidance.

Even billionaire, Sir Richard Branson looks to her for advice on how to direct the many companies of the Virgin Brand. He calls her the “Original Entrepreneur” and insists that it is crucial we learn from her if we are to continue to enjoy the wealth that we have derived from her for hundreds of centuries.

Companies like Boeing, have sent their top engineers to Costa Rica’s Pacific coast to study her in order to come up with solutions for better aviation design. Nike and General Electric have also looked to her to create more effective products and systems.

She is teaching scientists and engineers from the Sahara desert project how to harness energy from the sun and grow food using saltwater in one of the world’s most hostile climates. Projects like these could lead to reforestation of deserts and new ways of sustaining struggling communities.

Mother Nature has had over 3.8 billion years for research and development to come up with innovative systems and designs that are extremely efficient and create zero waste. She is open to teach anyone who is willing to take the time to study with her.

Are we taking time to study?

As people in developed countries spend more time in front of electronic screens, it becomes more important to find opportunities to help them learn from the great educator that lies right outside in the natural world. That is why it so important to create opportunities for young people to learn from her.

More companies are recognizing the value of studying nature as a means for developing systems and design even though it is often counter intuitive for their workforce. Not only can new products and services be developed, but also systems of building a more harmonious relationship between nature and business. As Branson puts it, “…we must recognize the value of the natural assets on our balance sheets” .

In addition to traditional education, we should encourage students to re-learn how to ask questions and look to the great educator of nature for answers. They can then use what they learn to develop new technologies and systems, learn how to profit from her abundance and at the same time find ways to take care of her as she ages.

These are the critical thinking skills that innovative companies will be searching for.  How we use what we learn from the lessons of mother nature will determine our future.

Pay attention because class is in session!

 

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 Richard Branson:  Mother Nature, the Original Entrepreneur

http://www.popularmechanics.com/science/4282197

http://saharaforestproject.com/projects/qatar.html

http://www.edinformatics.com/inventions_inventors/

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