Powering Forward with Kane Ford
Weekend hikes were a way for Kane Ford to mentally prepare for a stressful corporate job, but he eventually realised just how unhealthy this habit was.
Rather than put up with a demanding workplace, Ford established boutique hiking experience Get Outside Melbourne as a way to share the immense benefits of hiking with likeminded people – and he hasn’t looked back.
“What I found really the biggest success around Get Outside Melbourne is just hearing some of the feedback about what it does for people's mental health,” said Ford.
"I run a hiking business, but what we offer is much deeper than that. It's definitely around making people feel the mental and physical health benefits of hiking and getting outside."
Despite Get Outside finding huge success in the first 12 months, heavy restrictions imposed by COVID-19 made outdoor activities – such as hiking – far from the simple proposition they once were.
Luckily for Kane, Get Outside Melbourne isn’t his primary source of income, and so he’s managed to pivot his business model towards online engagement. This way, he keeps his audience primed for the moment normal activity can resume.
Ford’s key considerations for adapting to rapid industry change:
- Factor in worst case scenarios – no matter how impossible they may seem, planning for trouble can be a lifesaver
- Backup plans are crucial – consider ways to supplement or temporarily replace your core product or service in the event disaster strikes
- Focus on innovation and growth – research different ways to help your core offering reach a larger – and even unexpected – audience
Reconsidering old approaches to business
COVID-19 has thrown reliable business practices and methods out the window, forcing scrambling business owners to approach business in entirely new ways. Although this scenario can be seen as problematic for many, Ford marks this as a time for innovation for savvy business owners.
“I think COVID has really impacted everyone's business, and it's really made people re-evaluate what they're bringing to market,” said Ford.
“How do you continue in an uncertain world where one day everything's operating as normal, the next day everything's shut down, things then reopen again?
“Having that adaptability to continue to be flexible in this environment is key.”
Though Ford’s need to adapt came at a time when his business was already changing organically, the uncertainty COVID brought allowed him to approach his business in a way that would be considered risky under normal circumstances.
“COVID actually helped me scale my business quickly – it was a real working through what was the right group size for the hikes, because you don't want to have too many people and then it becomes hard to facilitate a safe experience.”
The inconsistent COVID-19 landscape forced Ford to consider his business from a variety of unusual angles, helping him to realise that unexpected approaches can build better businesses.
“No business has the answers, no business has the foresight of what could happen in the future. I think what we're going to see is a real change and a rise of entrepreneurs who are thinking creatively about what they do and how they do it.”
For Ford, this meant sitting down and working through options he would otherwise have never considered.
“I've spent the last couple of months looking at what the associated services and products are that I can provide people to really still reinforce the key core product offering, which is around mental health.”
After careful research and consideration of his audience, Ford had a lightbulb moment – he could apply his knowledge of mental health through corporate keynote speaking.
The new service allowed him to effectively pivot – but still retain the core message of – his primary offering, while also helping his business reach a brand new audience.
“Talking to teams who are going through their own mental health journey through this period, leveraging the experience that I've had, which again is still about helping people with mental health.
“The hiking is just one component of that.”
The benefits to studying the business landscape
When it comes to success, the past few months have been a good reminder that a bottom line doesn’t necessarily make a business. Instead, it’s a good opportunity to keep in mind that customers are still out there, and Ford believes that interacting with them can help businesses survive.
“My customers are the people that I talk to. They're the best people to provide you with feedback on what's working well, what they'd like to see you evolve into. And that's where I get a lot of my inspiration of where I want to take the business.”
Reaching out also provides Ford the opportunity to reassure and remind his audience of community, personal health and the great outdoors with the Get Outside Travel Postcard series.
“When I looked at what I could do while I can't hike, it was giving people the tools and equipment to help themselves through this really uncertain time.”
“By continuing to engage through my social media, they can still see you can still get all the benefits of getting outside, whether it's just going for a walk in your neighbourhood, green space, like we are today, there's still so many things you can do to really achieve that mental balance.”
“You don't have to be out in the top of the mountains to do that.”
While a lot of value can similarly be created by keeping an eye on players in the industry, Ford points out that doing so isn’t necessarily about staying on top of competitors. Instead, it provides an opportunity to learn and adapt.
“The key thing that I look towards is other small entrepreneurial start-ups, because I think that's where you find the great ideas, the innovation, because they're often borne out of really limited resources and they've got really creative people behind them.
“I think a lot of the larger corporates are going to find it hard to adapt and move quickly, whereas small businesses have the ability to pivot really quickly, and that's where you'll see the most innovation.”
Your mental health matters
While it’s often hard for business owners to focus on anything but their finances right now, Ford offers a timely reminder that there are some things you shouldn’t leave by the wayside.
“The thing that really is one thing that I'm focused on is staying balanced and keeping my mental health in the right place during this period.”
It’s a good piece of advice, as while being a small business owner during a pandemic is far from easy, Ford believes that the simple act of reaching out every now and then to your support network can lift a huge load – even if it’s just an update of where you’re at.
“It's really tough when you're wearing all of the different hats as a small business owner – It can be really stressful and it can feel like you're the only person in the world that's dealing with those problems.
“Everyone is going through their own journey. Talk to your friends, check in on your mates, and check in on yourself to make sure that you're doing okay as well.”
Small business owners juggling a lot of responsibilities know the importance of driving success, but as another key takeaway Ford reveals that being too harsh on yourself can have the opposite effect.
“Wearing all of the different hats that a sole trader or a start-up has to wear, you've got a lot of pressure on yourself to make sure you get through this period. So be kind to yourself and know that we'll get through it together.”
Business should be about community
COVID-19 has affected a wide variety of Australian industries, and many small business owners across the country are uncertain as to whether they’ll ever recover.
Ford stresses that many small businesses are leaning heavily on community support to get through the pandemic, and helping out where possible can make all the difference.
“Whether it be collaborating with a tailor to make face masks through some sort of joint partnership, or even just highlighting the local cafe that does my catering and promoting the fact that they're still operating, that they're still doing takeaway food – that's to me, I think, is how small businesses can support each other.”
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