17 November 2009

Thank You

I was recently asked to give a presentation by Failte Ireland about myself and Outdoors Ireland, which I set up four years ago. I thought I'd post it on our blog also, in case anyone was interested.

I suppose the outdoors has always been my passion. I remember saving pocket money to go kayaking at a water sport centre near Kenmare, eventually buying my own kayak when I was 12 or 13. At the age of 14 I was working my summer holidays for the same water sport centre, washing wetsuits and taking people kayaking.

I left school early, signed up for an instructor training course at Kinsale, and it was there, really, that I decided to make a career in the outdoors. After finishing in Kinsale I worked throughout Ireland, including Cappanalea Outdoor Education Centre and also in the highlands of Scotland, near Aviemore. After working with public outdoor centres here, it was a great experience in Scotland to see how private companies operated, what they expected from their staff and what they delivered to their customers.

Back in Ireland I then worked as a freelance instructor for a couple of years. I was very lucky that I got to work with some great companies like Tiglin, Go Ireland and Pat Falvey.

I set Outdoors Ireland up at the start of ‘06. I didn’t really sit down and devise business plans and financial projections. My freelance work had slowly been overtaken by private work, so I began running more of my own courses, buying more kayaks and equipment and printing business cards. Then I just woke up one day and realised I had all this equipment and customer expectations. Once I realised I had an adventure business around me I decided to take it pretty seriously.

‘07 was a quick learning curve; going from teaching kayaking and guiding groups on Carrauntoohil to things like keeping databases and making expensive mistakes with advertising!

‘08 was a year of looking at more formal structures, looking at how to give our customers the best adventure experience they could possibly have and inspiring them to give us repeat business.
For the last couple of years I've been involved with Failte Ireland, through their Adventure Hub Project and I've found them absolutely brilliant for their advice and innovation.

‘09 then has been a hectic year, dealing with the level of admin and current work, staying on top of our current marketing, constantly looking at new ways to develop.

For the first three years customer numbers increased each year by 100%, This year customer numbers are only up by 15% - 30% depending on the activity, so although it's not as ideal as the first three years 2009 has been a positive year.

My vision is to provide the best training courses and most unique adventure breaks in Ireland. I want customers to have an amazing experience with us, from their initial enquiry, to their outdoor experience, to our follow-up with them afterwards. I want customers to return to us again and again, and to be our ambassadors, using their word of mouth to generate more business. Word of mouth and repeat business would account for a large part of our work.

I went into 2009 very much focused on people. Making our customers feel special and appreciated. Also getting the best team of staff around me I could possibly get. People skills and professionalism are the most important things with my team, coupled with their knowledge and qualifications.

With the corporate team building we run, generally if a company is having problems it’s because of a lack of proper face to face communication, so I took the mistakes the corporate companies have made and tried to apply them to ourselves. Making sure there’s clear communication between us and that my team understand the reasons for the small things around the edges.

This year harder than ever we've looked at giving added value for money for all of our training courses, adventure trips and corporate team building.

Failte Ireland’s Adventure Hub project I’ve found invaluable. Mainly for meeting and getting to know the marketing managers and people behind the hotels and guesthouses in Killarney and West Cork. I’ve found the accommodation providers involved with the Adventure Hub to be a great bunch of people, really pro-active and willing to give anything a try.

My plan for 2010 is to take my vision of offering the best training courses, most unique adventure breaks and exceeding customer expectations and break them all down. It’s easy to say these things, but to continue to implement them will take a lot of hard work. I’m going to sit down with some of my team over the next month and work out how we’re physically going to achieve these things and set targets for ourselves.

Things have gone well over the past four years; but apart from some hard work on my part it's mainly down to our brilliant repeat customers, my fantastic team of guides and instructors and advice from the likes of Vanessa & Roisin from Outsider Magazine and Josephine, Eithna & Siobhan from Failte Ireland. To all of them and everyone else who has contributed to Outdoors Ireland or listened to my ideas I'd like to say a huge thank you!

It wouldn't have been possible without you guys.

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