In 2007, my wife Suze and I came up with a crazy idea to start a day tour company in our hometown of Melbourne, Australia. We didn’t have any experience in tourism or in business nor did we have networks, support, or cash. After a couple of years of sixty-hour weeks, we were taking home around $30,000 a year and were ready to throw in the towel.
Fast forward 7 years, and we had grown that business to over $2 million in annual revenue before selling in 2017 for over $1 million. We achieved this without working ourselves into an early grave – creating a great lifestyle where we stepped out, worked remotely, travelled regularly, enjoyed all the things that we love about life, and empowered others to run our business as it grew. This allowed us to work only on the parts of our business that we loved.
After selling our business last year, Suze and I launched www.thesunshinetribe.com – helping tour and activity operators, travel professionals, and small tourism businesses across the globe build amazing businesses AND create awesome lives for themselves. So what were some of the critical early steps we took to achieve these results?
We put ourselves out there.
When we started out, we asked A LOT of questions. We hit the phone, booked meetings, and got in front of people. As a result, we got a lot of help and a lot of great advice very early in our business journey.
Our experience was that you generally got very little by hiding behind an email. If you wanted advice and to move forward with your tour business, then you had to get people on the phone or get a meeting (even if was a brief ten-minute window to buy them a coffee). In most (if not all) industries, there are governmental bodies or organisations that are there to support you – that have a vested interest in you succeeding.
For us, the two major ones were Visit Victoria(opens in a new tab) and Tourism Australia(opens in a new tab), though numerous regional tourism organisations around our city and state were also pertinent to the process. Suze and I were well known throughout these organisations because we were ‘off the scale’ persistent – we bugged the life out of them. I was on the phone weekly (at least) for years to the domestic marketing team, the international marketers, the product development team, media relations, trade relations, and the familiarisation team. I spoke to dozens and dozens of employees over that first year in all of these organisations, and they all came to know me by name. Suze and I soon become synonymous throughout those two organisations with luxury tours in Melbourne.
We didn’t have the flashiest touring vehicle, the snazziest business cards, or the glossiest, most expensive brochure, but we were young, super keen, articulate, and we made it clear we were there to stay and were going to do what it took to succeed. For all of the time, support, and advice we received, we in turn did everything we could to support these organisations. It’s important that you give something back as well as take. These kind of relationships are a two-way street and you need to find a way to offer something back in return.
We found ourselves a mentor.
This was critical to our success – possibly the best thing we ever did in business. We sought out a business mentor in our second year. It cost us far more than we could afford at the time and was hard to justify early on when we weren’t seeing tangible results for the monthly retainer we were paying, but it gave us and our business a massive kick start. It held us accountable. It helped us work out what it was we really wanted and helped us set clear and precise goals, create a clear vision for the next few years and work out exactly what we had to do to get there.
We started putting systems in place from the very beginning.
A book that had a massive impact on me when I read it back in 2007 was The E-myth. It hammered home the need for systems and documentation of everything. To set your business up so that anyone can walk in the door, take a copy of your operations manual, or your procedures, or your roles and responsibilities document (whatever it is that you call it in your business), and slot in and do your job. This allows you, or other key people in your business, to step out.
From the very start we aimed to get everything out of our heads and onto paper and document it in a system. Sometimes in the early days, the systems were terrible. I look back on some of these systems now and I laugh and think, ‘How the hell did we run a business like that?’
Once the system is established, it can be improved or discarded for a better one when you outgrow it. Every part of every business should be constantly improving and evolving, ESPECIALLY the systems. Creating systems shouldn’t overwhelm you. They just need to make sense to you and your team. There’s no right or wrong format, right or wrong answer. They will continue to improve over time. Basically, if anybody in your business (even if there are only 2 people in your business) needs to ask you how something is done, there needs to be a system written down for that process. Then, the next time that person or someone else has the same question, you should tell them to go and read the documented system.
Keep in mind that a system that works at 2 staff and $150,000 probably won’t work at 4 staff and $500,000 and DEFINITELY won’t work at 8 staff and $2 million. It will need to be refined and improved as you grow.
We thought big and we talked big.
When you keep talking big, it starts to permeate through everything you do in your business. Visualise the type of company you want to be running in 5 years from now with the turnover, resources, staff, equipment, technology, and start talking NOW like that’s what you are. While you are starting out, finding your feet, or scaling your company, with every interaction you have in business, the other party should be walking away thinking you are bigger or better, more professional, more experienced, more resourceful than you actually are.
So, by implementing some of the above steps into your tour or activity business, you’ll be well placed to achieve the kind of results we were able to achieve in our business.
If you enjoyed this article and found it really helpful, please take a moment to download our ‘idea to 7 figure’ blueprint here(opens in a new tab). It’s a look ‘behind the curtain’ at the step-by-step process we took to turn a vague idea into a 7-figure tour business. Enjoy!
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