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Blogs: Learn from one surf camp founder's experiences





How to set up a tropical business, surf and practice yoga on a daily basis

Surfersvillage Global Surf News, 25 August, 2016 - It’s all very well leaving everything behind, travelling thew world and having a wonderful time but if you don’t actually get around to doing something new and different and just have a few drinks, some lie-ins and a bit of a laugh you’ll end up going back home to the rut you were stuck in before you left.

It doesn’t really mean anything unless you actually DO something, not just write about it, talk about it and dream about it.


I Can’t Do It

I don’t know what else to do. I don’t know how to do it. I might fall flat on my face.

That’s what everyone thinks every time they try something new, something risky. We are deep in preparations to launch Soul & Surf Sri Lanka, our second full-time location, and even after 5 years of running Soul & Surf India with everything we’ve learned we are still worrying about those 3 sticky problems.

Prepare To Fail

When we drew a line in the sand on our old careers and lives the approach we took too was a bit of a scatter gun approach. There wasn’t one single thing we were 100% sure we wanted to do to earn a living, we knew that we wanted the time and opportunity to  do the things we came up with on our dreaminess – surf, yoga, travel, etc. – but realised there are numerous ways to achieve that and that some of those ways will work and some will fail.

So we built that into our travel, everywhere we went we committed to doing something which would earn us some money, even if it was only a £1… making cakes and selling them in campsites as we drove through Europe, buying hats in Karnataka and sending them back home to sell in England, writing travel articles for newspapers and magazines, learning how to set up and market an online business (or two, both of which fell at the first hurdel) and then whilst we were still on the road, setting up a tiny surf & yoga retreat in Kerala, India.

The key thing here is that we knew that just by trying new things, ideas and projects doesn’t mean they will all work. By allowing failure, to some degree, and not letting it get us down, to look on it as a learning experience and the next step on the path to success allowed us to try a range of different things simultaneously and consecutively over the year we travelled. With the benefit of hindsight Soul & Surf would not be the success it is today if we hadn’t tried and failed at some of our other ideas because the skills we learned along the way have all helped us to create, grow and develop the idea that did work.

How We Did It

I don’t know what else to do. Neither did we, but we looked for opportunities wherever we went and we tried a few ideas out. We did a dreamline to work out how we wanted to spend our time, then we brainstormed ideas and businesses that ticked those boxes. We came up with loads of options but didn’t get paralysed by choice. Start something, start a few things, don’t worry if it’s not ‘exactly’ the right thing, you can always do something else later on or change it as you grow.  These are both good reads if you don’t have a clue what you might do.

I don’t know how to do it. We had never worked in hospitality, had no idea how to market, create or run a guesthouse and had no idea about the surf or yoga industry. We generally didn’t, and still don’t to some degree, know how to do it. By starting really small so the financial and personal risks are small and by offering our ‘product’ really cheap we could test, learn and tweak as we went until we had built something really great. Forget perfection. Forget the business plan. Be OK with not knowing everything.

I might fall flat on my face. Yep, you probably will… a few times. It’s actually quite liberating to try something, to fail at it and realise you kinda enjoyed the process. But you can minimise the risks by starting lean.

Don’t pay for anything you don’t have to or until you actually get a sale, start at home, start by just marketing to friends. Do something that can make money as soon as possible (rather than a complex business plan that turns a profit 3 years down the line).

Do something you enjoy doing, don’t wait for the joy to come once you sell a million X’s – when you do sell a million X’s you won’t find joy there, just the desire to sell another million. The worst that can happen then, if you do fall flat on your face, isn’t really that bad and you’ve learned something along the way and probably had some fun.


Ditch the Business Plan

One of the key things with all of the ideas we pursued is that we didn’t get bogged down with too much planning. If we had sat at home at a desk and drawn up a comprehensive 40 page business plans for each of these ideas we would never have got to the point of even trying one of them.

The beauty of starting small on ideas that require little or no funding is that the planning stage can be as quick as you want them to be. I’m not saying you shouldn’t stop and think about the how, the what, the when, the where and the how much of you ideas. Of course you have to, we did 1 page idea outlines and next steps, a 1 page marketing plan and a 1 page cash-flow projection. But as soon as you possibly can do something, make the first step and put it ‘out there.

Whether that is visiting a factory and buying some sample hats, putting a one-page website up to promote a product or service, contacting editors and offering them stories, or whatever it takes to make the first step.

I guess the thing that holds a lot of people back and the reason their idea never gets beyond the planning stage is the desire to have the full plan in hand before they begin. The task of completing just the plan itself and thinking of every eventuality is such a daunting task that they fail before they begin. Just to re-iterate I’m not advising to just dive in without a thought, but the most important steps to plan are the next steps.

Then whilst you are doing those steps you can plan the next steps whilst reacting to the stuff you learn from actually doing the first steps. Since practicing this dip-your-toes-in-the-water way of getting ideas off the ground I’ve since read a bit about Agile software development and Agile business ideas and realised it wasn’t just me being impatient and slapdash but a bona fide movement. 


How did we dip-our-toes-in-the-water with Soul & Surf?

We decided we would rent a 4 bed house in Kerala for 6 months and set-up Soul & Surf  whilst we were still on the road, living on a beach in Bali.
We designed and published a one-page test website whilst holed up in an awful hotel in Tonga. The weather was bad, the waves were non-existent, the next flight out wasn’t for another week so we launched Soul & Surf.

We took our first booking whilst surfing in Nicaragua. Which made it real and meant we really had to make this happen now. There’s nothing like a sale to spur you into action.
We went from first having the Idea > Web Page > Sales > Opening within 6 months. Not enough time to properly work out that opening India’s first commercial surf & yoga retreat was a mental idea.

And here we are now employing 30-40 people each season and finally beginning to earn a little something ourselves again, whilst living a lifestyle that has ticked off nearly all our dreamline boxes – the yacht Sofie wanted is still a little way off. And now, 5 years in to Soul Surf we’re just about to launch our second location in Sri Lanka this November. Keep reading this post because we’re going to reward your patience with a hefty discount to come and stay with us and see what we’ve been up to.

What Have We Learned Along The Way

Get over your fear of the unknown, ditch your financial security addiction,  given yourself  time and space for inspiration. But that don’t mean a thing if you don’t actually do something. Anything. .
Start Right Away. Give stuff a go, embrace failure as much as success, don’t wait for perfection.

Start now, the rest will follow. Figure out the simplest way to start, and, well,  just start. Don’t worry about taking a bunch of expensive courses or buying a load of expensive equipment or stock— just do it, do it small and learn as you go.

Don’t get bogged down in lengthy plans. Does that mean you don’t need to plan? Well, you should, but don’t overdo it. Never Stop Learning, and Never Stop Failing. Failure is not the end of your business. It’s just the beginning.

I can’t risk it

Change is the only constant we have, we can run in fear from it or embrace it when it comes or better still we can positively chase it. Drastic changes are the things that make us feel alive. This second post in my mini-series looks at why and how we quit our jobs and travelled around the world on a shoestring budget.

Addicted to Security

Most of us are addicted to the financial security we’ve been taught to hold so dearly. The last few years should have taught alot of us that however hard we strive to be financially secure alot of that security is out of our hands. I think the ‘job for life’ security that the baby-boom generation were chasing doesn’t exist any more. Whether we like it or not we’re now pretty likely to have 2, 3 or more careers in our working lives, so why not be active in the choice of those careers instead of waiting for external circumstances to change it for you you.

One way or another I’ve grown up with a sub-conscious fear of poverty. So many of my decisions have been clouded by a back-of-the-mind worry that I might lose everything and it was once I realised this that I also realised that this un-defined money worry was one of the key barriers to me making the life-style and work-style change that had been nagging away at me.

“But I’m working all hours to pay the bills, to pay the mortgage, to live a good life, to buy that flat-white on the way to work, to get that cool Danish lampshade, to do the fun things I like to do (if I get the time when I’m not working). I don’t have time to even think about doing something new, I don’t have enough money saved up to do something new, to change my lifestyle, to set up a new business. Oh Gawd! What if it all goes wrong and I throw it all away? ”

These were the kind of thoughts spinning around my head every time I allowed myself to think of changing direction in life, so I sub-consciously shut those thoughts out pretty quickly and didn’t allow them to grow and develop any further than a background rumble of discontent.

We’re taught from a young age to spend our lives building financial security, to get good jobs, or to build big businesses so that we will be financially secure but we’re never really told why. We spend a huge amount of our time and energy at jobs we don’t love in order to achieve this security.  We’re also taught that making big life changes, leaving jobs, travelling, setting up new businesses and taking risks poses a threat to this safe life that we’ve built.


Living Is Cheap, Time is Precious

So, having got ourselves over the self-perpetuating hurdle that is the ‘fear of the unknown’ how did we overcome our addiction to financial security? For us it, and for so many others, it was through extended periods of travel.

There were so many benefits to getting away from it all and learning to live very cheaply was just one. But the fact that we lived exciting, full & rich lives for about a year on under £10,000 between us – that’s just £5,000 each including our flights, accommodation, food, activities and plenty of treats – was a welcome reminder that whether you choose to, or need to, living can be good and cheap at the same time.

You just have to get over yourself a bit, live simply, drink less, eat locally or make your own food & drinks, wear the same clothes more often, take local transport, rough it a little bit.

We could have lived much cheaper too if we had to, if we hadn’t saved up that £10k pot. I estimate we could have cut out some unnecessary treats stuck to the cheaper accommodation and cut another 30-40% off that budget. Life was costing us 6 or 7 times that back home. So, when we did get back home we took alot of those principals back with us and lived on a fraction of what we used to live on.

By learning to live on a shoe-string budget whilst travelling we overcame our financial security addiction and our fear of having no money so the ideas we had and the decisions we made whilst on that trip were not tainted or weighed down by fear.

Reasons why you wouldn’t travel

“I don’t have the money to travel”. For most of us living in a western society it  would be more accurate to say, “I’ve chosen to spend money on a lot of other things, so now I don’t have money to travel.”

When Sofie and I decided to go on our round the world surf trip we gave ourselves 6 months to save up enough money to do it. We packed our house with lodgers so that our accommodation didn’t cost anything, we didn’t go to any festivals that summer or go out on many ‘big’ nights out – if you think that you could travel for a month for what it costs to go to festival for a weekend, all-in, it’s easy, we re-wore the clothes we had more often rather than buying new stuff, we cooked at home, avoided take-aways, took our own lunch in to work, made our own tea & coffees and generally lived life a little bit simpler.  

To be honest we hardly noticed the difference, we stayed in and had fun, we ate & drank well at home, we went surfing, we did the usual things in a slightly different way and generated enough money to go away for a year and not work.

“I’ll do this kind of stuff when I retire” (or at some other distant point in the future). This is such an out-dated and illogical view-point. Why on earth would you wait until you reach retirement age to have meaningful, exciting, challenging experiences. Why not pepper your life with a series of mini-retirements? Do the things you’ve always wanted to do now, then do them again in a few more years and then again later on.

The reality for most of us these days is that through redundancy or losing your job you may be forced to have these mini-retirements anyway. Why not be the one in charge of how, when and where? I can pretty much guarantee you that you will not look back on your life when you are retired and say “I wished I’d stayed in the office more”.
“I’m a responsible grown-up with a family, it’s not just about me”. 

True, it’s not just about you, but that’s not to say your partner and your kids would not benefit from an amazing family adventure. Ask them, they might say “yes, please!” My friends have 2 sons, aged 8 and 11, and have just decided to go away for a year to Sri Lanka, India, Nepal, Mongolia and beyond to see what might happen next. Maybe they’ll come back to the UK and do the jobs they used to do, maybe not. 

The kids are fizzing with excitement and so are their parents. The boys are at an age where they will benefit so much from an open-minded view of the world and a shared adventure with their parents.

They will go to some schools along the ay and go back to school when they reach their destination, wherever that may be.
“I don’t want to go away, I like it at home”. I like it at home too. Travelling re-affirmed that for me. I love Brighton, I love my family, I love my friends. But going away from all of that for a while only strengthened that love.

Being away for an extended amount of time allows you to properly escape the self imposed barriers to change and realise the shackles of financial commitments are solveable and that doing new and risky stuff is not as scary as you once thought. Working 40-60hrs a week just to pay the bills does not allow you the time or energy to realise this.

Reasons why you should travel.

The financial benefits we experienced

You can live amazingly well on under £10 a day. That was our budget and aside from a few treats when I got paid from the odd freelance writing gig we stuck to it and stayed in amazing locations and ate incredible food and had the most memorable experiences.

It’s cheaper to travel than to stay at home so the risk of trying new things, starting new businesses, learning new skills  is lowered because you have ‘bought’ yourself more time to experiment.
Once you realise that you can live on much less than you thought you could the possibilities of what else you might do with your life really open up.

The risk of starting new ventures is greatly reduced because you know that if it all goes wrong you can live a good life cheaply.

The fringe benefits we experienced from our shoe-string travel

Experience: We ticked off alot of the things on our ‘Dreamline’. Surfed daily, had time for daily yoga, lived a well-balanced healthy lifestyle, learned to meditate, published some travel writing in national newspapers…

Time: With an extra 40-60 hours a week available to us because we weren’t at work we had time for ourselves, time for each other, time to meet new people, time to learn new skills, time to read, to practice, to think.

Perspective: By getting away from our lives back home, away from any social pressures to act or be or do things in a certain way, to be away from small-minded cynicism, to spend time in cultures that value family and friendship above material possessions, to meet and spend time with people who live in ‘so-called’ poverty but smile way more often than our rich neighbours at home do, by stepping outside of our ‘normal’ we learned a lot.

Inspiration: We saw amazing places, we did exciting and scary things and we met loads of interesting people along the road, from around the world and from all age groups. If they were travellers too often they were at different stages of a similar life adventure to the one we were having. We talked about our ideas, about their ideas and came up with loads of new ideas.

Realisation: When any outcome is possible in terms of work, lifestyle and your location you begin to genuinely realise what’s important to you, stuff that we often take for granted. We realised we didn’t want to live somewhere exotic full time, that being close to friends and family is as important to us as spending time away. But extended time away from work and business confirmed that we didn’t miss the jobs we did before which had been a worry prior to leaving.

Fun:  If this is beginning to sound a bit too worthy and serious we shouldn’t forget the primary focus of the trip was to surf in beautiful places around the world. It was kinda fun.

Blogs, Surf camp founder, Experiences, Travel, Tips, Tropical business, Surf, Yoga
Joe Coyne

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