Outdoor adventurer caters for broad spectrum

Small Business Inside Track Q&ABrian Keogh, owner, Total Experience

Brian Keogh has spent nearly 30 years teaching outdoor adventure sports and the last nine years running his own Wicklow-based business, Total Experience.

What is special about your business? We're an outdoor adventure sports company catering for a very broad spectrum of clients, from kids right up to the corporate sector. We offer team-building services to business clients and activities such as kayaking, archery and biking to individuals and groups. We are also involved in organising endurance adventure and multi-sport racing events. What sets your business apart in your sector? I'm very much hands-on and will attend 99.9 per cent of the events we organise. I'm still passionate about getting stuck in to whatever's happening and can do so because I've kept the business to a manageable size. In bigger organisations, owners often end up stuck behind a desk.

What has been your biggest challenge? Staying in business during the recession and remaining focused, positive and enthusiastic.

What has been your biggest success? Being able to combine what I love doing with earning a living. Watching how getting active and involved in sport can transform people's lives. Being able to fulfil another part of "me" (an interest in caring for those with special needs) through the business by working with organisations such as Spinal Injuries Ireland.

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Most recently it was teaming up with Russborough House to provide activities on site there, such as archery and clay pigeon shooting.

What key piece of advice would you give to someone starting a business? Be passionate but also practical and realistic. You need to be sure your product is good enough. Don't get bogged down in other things like acquiring buildings, for example. We have a storage warehouse but otherwise we work the New Zealand "mobile" model where you travel to different locations depending on the activity. Premises are an ongoing overhead you don't need. Whom do you admire most in business and why? Like a lot of other people, Michael O'Leary of Ryanair. Also, Mary and Jamie Young of the Killary Adventure Company, where I started my career. They have faced many challenges but still have a great business and incredible passion for what they do.

What two things could the Government do to help SMEs in the current environment? In the activity/tourism sectors, loosen red tape to facilitate the more rapid development of essential infrastructure. Right now, there is a disconnect between what the Government is promoting, such as the Green Ways, and how other State agencies are playing their part in making them happen.

There also needs to be more flexibility around employing people when you’re a small business. Existing rules make it more difficult than it needs to be.

In your experience, are the banks lending to SMEs currently? I borrowed money to buy a car when I set up the business. I paid it back and never borrowed since.

What is the biggest mistake you have made in business? Not being open enough to new opportunities. When you're doing okay, you can become a bit complacent and that's a mistake. If an opportunity comes along, at least take the time to consider it before you say No.

What is the most frustrating part of running a small business? The usual – not enough hours in the day and trying to get a work-life balance even when work is something you love. Our business is also seasonal, so you have to manage that and have projects to occupy you the rest of the time. My most recent one was getting involved in setting up Tom's Bike Shop in Blessington last winter.

What is your business worth and would you sell it? It is probably only worth the value of the equipment and to be honest, I'd prefer to pass it on to someone who would love it as much as I do rather than sell it. That said, I plan to work well into my seventies if I'm fit enough.

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