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A Guide to Starting Your Own Surf Business

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The drive to start a surf-related business often stems from a deep-rooted passion for surfing, comparable to a yoga enthusiast starting a yoga studio or a fitness devotee becoming a personal trainer.

While coupling your leisure activity with your livelihood might seem like an idyllic concept, the harsh reality might lead to unexpected resentment towards both your business and the sport of surfing. It is vital to be cautious when your favorite pastime and your business cross paths, as the well-worn saying “Don’t mix business with pleasure” still rings true.

In this article, I will walk you through some important steps to help you plan and execute your surf business, taking it from idea to livelihood — while helping you stay sane.

Identify Your Niche

Starting a business on a hunch or personal preference isn’t the ideal strategy. I have witnessed countless surf businesses rise and fall, often based on someone’s passion. For instance, a surfing enthusiast might launch a bikini brand for surfer girls, or a desk-bound employee might establish a natural suncare brand inspired by their love for surfing. While these initiatives might seem promising on the surface, failure to assess market demand could lead to financial drains and eventual despair.

What’s often missing in these instances is consumer empathy. The entrepreneurs didn’t sufficiently analyze whether they were providing a solution to a unique, pressing problem. Therefore, it is crucial to understand the market needs before diving headlong into a business venture.

Do Your Homework

Before diving headfirst into your surf business venture, it’s important to conduct thorough market research. SEO tools like Ahrefs or Ubersuggest are excellent for this. Enter phrases related to your business concept, such as ‘surfer bikinis’, and scrutinize the level of competition. If the keyword difficulty score is above 50 out of 100, it may be too competitive unless you have substantial funding. If your business concept has a local focus, make sure to apply the geography filter.

Find out what people are genuinely interested in. Instead of just ‘surfer bikinis’, you might discover that people are searching for ‘sustainable surfer bikinis‘. Unearthing these specific consumer desires can help you mold a business that truly meets market demand. It’s always challenging to establish a business, so why not give yourself a head start by discovering what people actually need?

While researching, you might also uncover low-competition, high-search volume opportunities in related fields. For instance, Lycra balaclavas – an idea of mine. Wouldn’t it be neat to simply don a balaclava instead of applying sunscreen? Yes, you may end up with an unusual tan — “Here comes panda eyes” — but it’s far more reef-safe than chemically-laden lotions.

Or, as a surf illustrator, you might discover a niche for illustrations of famous surf spots. If you can create a product that fulfills a very particular need, you may eventually gain the flexibility to explore other products that align more closely with your unique passions.

Treat Your Surf Business Like Any Other Serious Venture

It’s not uncommon for surf enthusiasts to launch a surf business with the aim of surfing more often. The irony is, a successful surf business may actually result in you doing less surfing than you do now.

Running a business is a demanding endeavor that extends beyond fantasizing about being the CEO and founder of your own surf brand. You will spend ample time on administrative tasks, invoicing, accounting, bank reconciliation, distribution, establishing product-market fit, strategizing sales, team management, and more.

This isn’t to discourage you but to underline that it’s essential to take a structured approach. Business plans may not be everyone’s cup of tea, but they can be vital in securing loans or investor funding. Of course, they don’t need to be overly complex. The goal is to develop a clear picture of your business: why you’re starting it, how you’ll run it, and what exactly you’re offering.

You need to consider: Is your business sustainable, realistic, and worthwhile? Are there enough potential customers? What sets you apart? Are you the right person for this venture? Entrepreneurship can be strange; it requires passion, versatility, resilience, and positivity. If you’ll be dealing with people, such as assembling a team or working with freelancers, strong interpersonal skills are crucial. If you’ll be hiring Gen Z workers, you’re going to need a whole lot of patience and empathy.

It may be prudent to treat your business as a passion project or hobby initially. Setting up a website optimized for the search terms you discovered in step two isn’t expensive. Create some prototypes, consider crowdfunding, and collaborate with a videographer to concisely explain your concept. Run some targeted Facebook or Instagram ads to gauge interest.

If the response is positive and you begin generating some publicity or leads, go for it. You’ll likely find yourself balancing your day job and passion project, working late nights and weekends. But remember, this phase is good preparation for your new life as a business owner when you will be working all the time.

The upside is that it gives you the freedom you sought when you decided to start your own business.

Relish the Freedom of Entrepreneurship

Once you’ve chosen a product, drafted your plan, tested the market, and decided to proceed, get ready for the ride of your life. The entrepreneurial journey is thrilling and challenging. Balancing your passion with your business acumen can be complex. Entrepreneurs often struggle to delegate, as they are so personally invested in their businesses.

However, establishing a positive company culture is crucial. All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy, while all play and no work leads to financial problems. An ideal situation is to establish a culture that embraces both high performance and leisure.

Let your people go surfing. And remember, you are a person too.

Your goal is to ensure you remain energetic, positive, and not drained or burnt out. A good leader cultivates future leaders. Teach your team, trust them, and let them handle some of the responsibilities. This way, you can take some guilt-free time off.

Adapt to the Ever-changing World

The world is in a state of constant flux. Your initial business plan may have made perfect sense a few years ago, but now it might need refining. A sustainable surf bikini line’s goal is to provide sustainable active wear to conscious consumers. However, as the world changes, your customers may demand more from your business.

By constantly adapting to changes and trends, your business can stay relevant. The question is, how do you change your business without losing sight of your core values? This can be challenging, but it’s essential to adapt while remaining true to your brand.

Play to your Strengths

A key to successful entrepreneurship lies in recognizing and playing to your unique strengths. It’s important to understand what you’re naturally good at, what you enjoy, and where your expertise lies. These are often the areas where you can offer the most value and make the biggest impact. Equally important, however, is recognizing your weaknesses or areas that drain you.

Rather than struggling to improve in these areas, consider contracting or employing individuals who excel in these fields. For example, if you’re an amazing product developer but get bogged down in the details of finance, it may be wise to hire a skilled CFO or accountant. This approach allows you to focus on the areas where you shine and ensures that every aspect of your business is handled by someone with the appropriate skill set. Leveraging strengths, whether your own or those of others, ultimately creates a more robust, efficient, and effective business.

In the beginning, you’ll need to be a jack of all trades, but as soon as you can afford it, bring the best people you can find on board. A profitable company would expect each employee to generate a positive ROI, meaning they contribute more value (via revenue or cost savings) than their cost (salary, benefits, etc.).

In sales roles, for example, a common rule of thumb is that a salesperson should aim to bring in about 5 to 10 times their salary in revenue. However, never reduce people to numbers because they offer you skill, talent, creativity and loyalty. Nurture them as whole people and they’ll be there for you when you need them.

For inspiration read Let My People Go Surfing: The Education of a Reluctant Businessman by Yvon Chouinard.

Live Your Life to the Fullest

The journey of starting your own surf business will be filled with ups and downs. However, it’s important to remember why you started this venture in the first place. To live your life to the fullest, you need to take risks and be open to change. Starting your own business is a significant risk, but it also offers the potential for immense personal and financial reward.

In conclusion, remember to do your homework, treat your business seriously, embrace the freedom that comes with entrepreneurship, adapt to changes, and live your life to the fullest. Good luck!