Case study: From pro-athlete to business owner – Christine is ‘made to do more’

Growing up an hour from the South Coast, Christine Johnston excelled at sports and wanted to be a professional athlete. Her dad got her into windsurfing, and she quickly got hooked – pestering him to drive her to competitions across the South Coast. During an impressive pro career, Christine won eight national titles, represented Great Britain at the Sydney Olympics in 2000 and most impressively, won the World Windsurfing Championships in 2003.  

Spotting a business opportunity

When she finished her professional windsurfing career in 2008, she worked in an office for five years but it didn’t satisfy her adventurous and ambitious nature. She saw kitesurfing develop as a sport and decided she wanted to get involved, so she took lessons and then an instructors course with British Kitesports, the national governing body for kitesurfing and taught for several seasons in Brighton, Australia and South Africa – gaining experience in a variety of different conditions. With many hours of teaching under her belt, Christine spotted a business opportunity; “I’m quite an ambitious person so the next logical step for me was to be able to put my stamp on teaching by opening my own school”.

In February 2014, she opened The KiTE, SURF & SUP Co in Worthing, West Sussex.

Growth & expansion

The school went from strength to strength under Christine’s leadership, and after two years of steady growth she was ready to expand. “One of the biggest costs in kitesurfing is the equipment;  it’s important to have up-to-date equipment so you have the best equipment for a range of wind conditions, for your pupil’s body weight and their experience levels.”

A business loan enabled Christine to fund more equipment and instructors, and she now offers kitesurfing lessons, ‘Stand Up Paddle’ lessons and a range of kites, kitesurfing, and stand up paddle equipment in her online store.

“ If I hadn’t had a loan from Funding Circle I would have struggled with stock levels and equipment for the school.”  Christine Johnston, founder The KiTE SURF & SUP Co.

Developing a new passion

Christine still loves to kitesurf, but she has developed a new passion – teaching others. As the reviews from satisfied pupils testify, Christine is an excellent teacher while keeping an all-important focus on safety – but she admits that when your business is growing, it is all too easy to lose sight of the thing you loved in the first place. For Christine, her new passion is teaching and a big learning for her in expanding the business has been the need to continue to find time to do what she loves and not get tied up with the day-to-day of running the school. “When you’re running a business it can be difficult to maintain a work/life balance but the quality of your work suffers if you’re on call 24/7 and always responding,” she says.

Christine tries to take one day a week where she switches off from the business by doing yoga or playing touch rugby, but she admits it isn’t easy when you are the only person responsible for your business. Her trick is to prioritize the tasks that need a fast response – “the gold dust” as she calls them – such as booking requests, which really impact her business. She responds to these immediately, fitting other tasks in around responding to customers.

The power of visualization

With a degree and a Masters in Sports Psychology, Christine sees parallels between the mental resilience that an athlete needs to win, and the drive necessary for a small business owner to succeed. Her top tip for business owners struggling with confidence is a psychology technique used by athletes called ‘acting as if’. “You act as if you’re already where you want to be” she says. “When I was windsurfing, I used to imagine I was already a top 10 competitor and this trained my muscles and my brain to get me there.” In business, she imagines the bigger business she aspires to run and behaves as if she’s already there. This technique has helped her take on roles that aren’t her natural strong suit; “when you’re running a business alone, you suddenly have to become the Recruitment Director, the Marketing Manager – things you’ve never had experience in before”. For anyone struggling with Imposter Syndrome, this technique can be a game changer.

Time spent planning can have a big impact on your bottom line

One of the biggest leaps forward for Christine’s business has been going through a ‘Profit Improvement Plan’ which is forecast to improve net profitability an impressive 600% by year end. So how did she do it? Together with her dad who is a management consultant, she looked at the profitability of every part of her business and was able to make a series of small changes which have all added up. From focusing on the brands which give her the best profit margins, to negotiating better prices with suppliers, the impact of these small changes has really impacted her profits.

For example, this exercise showed Christine that the most profitable part of her business is giving lessons, so she has developed alternative teaching plans for when wind conditions aren’t favourable on her normal beach and she’s much more focused with her own time – so now she’s able to teach 20% more lessons, directly improving her bottom line. “It’s all simple stuff”, she says, “but looking at it in black and white was essential to help me see how I could improve my profits”.

Taking the time to think strategically about your business this way is essential to achieve growth, she says.

“It’s easy to firefight all day – you get straight into answering emails, taking bookings – but it’s critical to give yourself permission to plan for your business. Time spent thinking about strategy is not time wasted.”

What’s next for The KiTE SURF & SUP Co?

Christine has just invested in new equipment which she hopes will open up a new revenue stream for her, and she’s focused on finding premises to enable her to expand the business and offer more lessons. “I was always brought up to believe I could achieve anything” she says, and with such a winning mindset, we don’t doubt for a minute that she’ll succeed.

Challenges:

  • Maintaining a work/life balance – Christine tries to take one day a week where she takes a break from the business and does yoga or plays rugby to switch off
  • In a seasonal business, it can be particularly hard to find good people who care about your business when they’re only working for you for part of the year
  • Finding a path to growth – Christine has identified finding premises as the next big step forward for her company, but finding the right location is not easy

Highlights:

  • In July 2016 The KiTE SURF & SUP Co was awarded British Kitesports Recognised School status, the highest level a kite school can reach.
  • Increasing net profits by 600% from last year, after working on a Profit Improvement Plan which has helped her increase turnover too

Find out more about how an affordable business loan can help your business fly at fundingcircle.com/business

 

 

 

Jo Casley