I continue my series of interviews with independent business owners this week by interviewing my husband, Michael who runs RockRiver Expeditions. I’ve worked with him in the business for the last eighteen months so it was interesting to have a conversation about the broader aspects of running the business. We also touched on how he feels about his very own Adventure three years in.
He loves introducing people to new adventurous activities and seeing their sense of achievement when they overcome a challenge. Taking the business to the next stage with the launch of overseas expeditions means exciting adventures are ahead…
How do you describe your business to your friends?
There are two strands. I’m a small business owner and I’m a freelancer. As a small business owner I offer expedition services and outdoor adventure skills training around the UK and overseas. As a freelancer I work for other outdoor adventure activity providers.
Where are you located?
In the East Riding of Yorkshire – but my work takes me all over the UK and beyond…
How long have you had your business and what inspired you to start it?
I started the business in August 2015. I’ve always enjoyed being outside – walking, climbing, water sports and skiing – and I wanted to pass those skills on to others. That led me into a full time teaching position for ten years, then redundancy triggered the change to working for myself.
What problem do you solve for your customers?
Clients come to me with three needs;
First of all there are the people who want to get into the outdoors and have an adventure but don’t know where to start. They can join our guided walks, our canoe expeditions or our learn to climb days where we will provide full tuition and support as well as the technical kit.
Secondly, there are people who love the outdoors and want to learn more. Perhaps they want to improve their skill sets or explore higher or further. We can help them take their climbing to the next level, we offer advanced navigation training, overseas high altitude trekking and so on.
And finally, RockRiver Expedition’s Adventurous Activities Licence allows me to provide adventurous activities to children and young people. We are an approved provider of expeditions to young people who are undertaking their Duke of Edinburgh Award. So it’s not just about the grown ups.
What is the most rewarding part of your job?
The people that are with me. Seeing their enjoyment and sense of achievement. Above all, seeing them want to go on to do more.
What’s the biggest frustration with working for yourself?
There are not enough hours in the day. An outdoor adventure business isn’t just about being in the hills or on the rivers. I’ve got heaps of new ideas, I want to work on the website, there’s marketing, admin and customer emails and phone calls to deal with. I think about it while I’m out walking but when I get back I can’t get online, or I’m tired, or travelling so I can’t action any of it. That’s why I asked Paula (Wild Roots Marketing) to jump on board to look after the marketing and operations side for me. I know then that it can all run smoothly while I’m away.
And it can be a frustrating industry! Because of the nature of the job I ensure that I have as much training as possible for each activity we run. Plus there are first aid requirements, coaching skills needed and there is a lot of responsibility on the head of each leader. But it’s not seen as a professional job and there is no overall governing body, which means that sometimes it can be a race to the bottom when it comes to prices. Balancing increasing costs of diesel, insurance premiums and other costs against the price people will pay, while also making a living can be difficult.
What are you working on right now?
We have just launched our overseas expeditions for 2019 and 2020. We have treks to Everest Base Camp in Nepal and a Summit Climb of Toubkal in Morocco – and I’m really excited about them both. All of our overseas groups are accompanied by a UK qualified mountain leader and we also use local guides, sherpas and cooks. As a result the local economy benefits from our visits. I’ve been out to meet the overseas teams and can’t wait for our clients to experience the wonderful hospitality for themselves.
What advice would you give to someone looking to start their own business?
Give yourself time to shape your ideas and plan your business. I had just five days to decide if I wanted to take redundancy and start my business, so I jumped in a bit feet first. As a result, the start of the business was slower than I’d hoped for. If I’d taken the time to research things like travel and package holiday regulations, insurance regulations and so on first, I could have launched the overseas trips much earlier. Once you’re ‘in’ your business it’s hard to take the time out to work on the bigger projects.
What is your favourite product that you sell?
I’m sure that the big overseas treks will be my favourite product because they’ll be the ones that people will get the most out of. Taking people to places they’ve never been and giving them a great experience while they’re there will be fantastic.
But at the moment the UK trips are a big adventure for some clients. We can put together bespoke days and weekends for clients. They choose the destination and we suggest hiking routes for their group, and guide them for the duration. They are great fun to deliver and some of those clients have now become friends which is an added bonus!
Have you learnt anything new about yourself since you started running your own business?
I have learnt to be more flexible in my outlook. I can work in so many locations all over the UK in the space of one month, I have to be prepared not just for the travel time but the overnight stops (not always in the most glamorous of locations!) and not necessarily knowing when I’ll next be at home.
And I have to be flexible in the way I deliver skills instruction – one week I can be working with 6 year olds, the next it could be soldiers from the British Army.
What is your favourite brand and why?
Mountain Equipment – it’s good kit, it fits well, and it lasts well.
Do you have any pet hates?
Poor driving on the motorways – I see a lot of that now.
What is your favourite song?
Africa by Toto
Ice cream – mint choc chip – no sauce or sprinkles, in a tub not a cone.
What was your first ever job?
My Dad had a steel fabrication business and my first job (unpaid!) was working for him. I was a general dogsbody cutting steel, cleaning metal that had been cut and so on.
I learnt that if you want to get anywhere in life you have to work hard for it.
What do you want to be when you grow up?
A high altitude mountaineer.
Who would play you in a movie about your life?
If I gave you an extra day in the week, what would you do with it?
I’d save them all up and go on a big expedition – is that allowed?
If a celebrity was going to buy from you, who would you like it to be and why?
Kylie Minogue – because she’s hot!
Finally, what else should I know about you?
Apparently I have a really happy smiley face, and I’m very patient!
As Michael has learnt, taking time out to focus on long term planning is key to keeping your business heading in the right direction and at the pace you want. But freeing up the time once your business is up and running can be difficult. So outsourcing those areas that you don’t have to work in can be a solution.
As a result of outsourcing the marketing and operations side of his business he’s been able to develop the overseas expeditions – something he’d have liked to have done a year or two ago. Who knows, if they take off, he might never come home again!
As ever, let me know if you need support in marketing your business. You can pick and mix the areas that I work on for you, from building a full marketing strategy, to developing your communication plan or managing your social media. Get in touch and let’s have a chat.