Any business person will tell you how true the saying ‘Business Becomes You’ really is. We thought we’d share some thoughts on our Peak Mountaineering journey and how the saying relates to us. We hope you find them useful and interesting...
I suppose all businesses start the same way. Maybe it’s a seed of an idea in your head or a shared conversation. Maybe someone takes over a family business from their parents or falls into running a business because they excel in a certain type of expertise. For Peak Mountaineering it was a slow growing idea.
I am from a family of entrepreneurs and I guess that’s something which gets passed down in your blood even though it may lay dormant for a while. I had grown up seeing my parents work very hard in various businesses. It wasn’t all plain sailing, but I could sense the buzz of satisfaction at growing something from a fledgling concept.
It was many years later when my seed germinated. My partner Cal and I discussed starting a guiding business during a climbing trip in Australia and I vividly remember scribbling some initial ideas as we sat around a campfire at Arapiles. Even then it was a number of years later when we officially set up Peak Mountaineering. Now, with an established business under our belts, it is easier to reflect on the journey. It also makes it easier to objectively offer some advice for anyone planning a similar adventure.
There is always stuff to do
I love running a business, but my first love is still instructing. I would never want to be glued to a desk all the time. In the early days this meant a day in the mountains was followed by every evening answering emails. I now get plenty of help with admin but there are still enquiries that need my personal attention. They need me to answer them whether I’m in a Nepalese Tea House or on a family holiday. It’s not always easy, but I know that if I don’t answer a person’s enquiry they are likely to go elsewhere.
That’s only the start of it. There are always people to call, publicity to manage, blog posts or reviews to write and equipment to organise. There are always a million other things that need attention. Running a business can easily be a 24/7 job. Then again, every enquiry that turns to a booking is someone new to inspire. Another potential member to join the Peak client family. Of course, every new client is also a revenue stream which is the life blood of any business. So I may be wearily typing out an email at a ridiculous hour of the day but I don’t mind one bit. I will only mind if there stops being emails to answer!
You become the brand
We’ve always known the importance of a strong brand image and I’m proud to see how the Peak Mountaineering brand has grown in recognition. At the inception of the business we contracted a designer to create our logo (please do have a read about how our logo was created here). Okay, so we aren’t BP or Apple, but it’s surprising how often I mention the company name and people know of us. Similarly, people often recognise the logo. The brand is strong and I’m extremely proud of that.
Of course, this takes work and I’ve always got a stock of publicity leaflets in the vehicles ready to stick on a cafe notice board or leave on a shop counter. All our vehicles have Peak Mountaineering plastered on the side. I’m invariably wearing a logoed T-shirt or fleece. We spend time getting our logo on other websites or displayed in shops and information centres. Brand exposure is always a work in progress, but every time I speak to someone who has seen it somewhere or tells me they recognise the swirly sun and jagged mountain symbol it certainly feels great.
Of course a brand is more than just a logo. We try and push the brand in the way we do business. That takes time too. Whether it’s sending a follow up thank you email to a course participant or chatting through course options with someone who’s unsure. Everything helps to define our brand and every bit is important.
Having a business takes over your head
I used to read far more than I do now. I used to take a stack of books on expeditions but nowadays I tend to just take my iPad. Why? Because reading has fallen by the wayside in favour of writing. Writing blog entries, proposals, new course content and a thousand other things. There are always ideas floating around in my head that need recording.
Similarly, I think a lot about business while I’m cycling, running, driving, washing or just about any other time I have a free minute. Climbing is one of the few things that distracts me and I love that about our sport. When you are 100% focussed on a climb there is no thought space left for anything else. At least, until you are on the journey home!
Having a business can take over family life
Cal manages our office and her hours are 9-5 on weekdays. This only tells half the story though. She will still be dropping climbing equipment to groups on Saturday morning or checking there are enough biscuits for a first aid course during her evening shopping trip. Other times she’ll be delivering a course participant who has arrived by train to a venue or one of a million other errands. Office hours are flexible.
Just the same, my children may be dragged along to some business meeting or be sent on errands to post certificates at the post office. The business also affects them in so many other ways when I’m away for weekends or on longer trips. Having a business is a family affair.
Of course, I try to inspire them with my work and my skills get used on lots of family adventures. I also believe there is a lot to be gained from children seeing parents who work hard. There is also a dream nestled in the back of my mind that maybe one day they might choose to follow my instructor career or take over our business. Who knows about that though? I do know I learnt a lot from seeing my parents run their businesses and I hope my children do too.
Make sure you leave time for personal playtime
If you work as a Mountaineering Instructor it is certain you started on that chosen career path from a background as a leisure climber and mountaineer. Hopefully, even though you then climb for work, you’ll also still have that personal passion for it too. There is always a risk, however, that running a business and being out instructing won’t leave any time for the personal stuff. Surely this defeats the whole point though.
You need to get skilled at fitting the personal stuff in around work. Maybe staying out after a day’s instruction or adding some time on to overseas trips. Perhaps blocking out some days when you aren’t going to book in other work. It all helps keep the personal fire burning. Setting climbing goals and having ongoing projects keeps you focussed too. It’s not impossible to combine business and personal – it just takes good management.
Running a business lacks stability
It gets easier over time but every outdoors business can be categorised as a slow grower. Money can be ploughed into advertising and a shiny website, but most of your clients will still come from word of mouth or personal contacts. Building up this network takes time.
Outdoor businesses also inevitably have peaks and troughs to their business year. It takes time to start to see when these will happen and be able to plan for them and balance the finances. For anyone coming from regular paid employment that will be a shock. Sitting back confidently at those times when the phone quieter needs an understanding of when people book their activities. Keep the faith. It takes time but you will work it out.
Love what you do
There’s that quote that if you love the work you do you’ll never have to work another day in your life. In my case it’s absolutely true. My business enriches me, inspires me and I am constantly driven to make it better. It is a great feeling that I can’t imagine coming close to in any other job. Business is a powerful drug. If you want a fix my advice would be to go for it, but don’t expect it not to impact on every single aspect of your life.