How to be a one-woman small business

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How do you make your passion project into a profitable small business? Enter the founder of Gutsy Girls, Natalie Bannister.

Nat is an inspiring, creative and outdoors-loving entrepreneur who runs jaw-droppingly gorgeous active retreats for women with the aim of empowering others to get out of their comfort zone, make friends and interact with the natural world.

This article is absolutely jam-packed with small business advice, so let’s get into it…

Bootstrap a passion project to snowball into something bigger

Make sure your messaging is inclusive to reach a wide customer base

Trust your taste and instinct when designing your product

Pricing is always the hardest thing – but here’s what you do

This is when I made my side-gig my main gig

You don’t need to be good at numbers – but you do need an accountant

Tips from someone who has dealt with small business-owner-burnout

Self-compassion is a mindset you must take as a business owner

Problem-solving requires you to be present in the moment

Social media: How to use it for your business – and a word of warning…

Invest in Google AdWords, rather than Instagram ads

The secret to retaining clients

You don’t have to scale your business

Download your free side hustle toolkit, comprising a side hustle guide, business plan template and cash flow forecast template

Bootstrap a passion project to snowball into something bigger

Bex Burn-Callander:

I can’t wait to find out how this business came about.

Because it’s a bit of a leap from missing something, missing a lifestyle, wishing something would happen, to actually thinking not only I’m going to make it happen for myself, but I’m going to make it happen for loads of other people like me.

Do you want to just tell me the origin story?

Nat Bannister:

Ok. So yeah, I was living in Portugal for about three years working in a surf camp and I made the move to London to be with my boyfriend.

And when I moved, I was suddenly really isolated and I found it really hard to find community.

I guess, I worked from home, so all of you now know how it feels to work from home and how isolating that can be.

So it was trying to find out about a way to connect with other people.

I didn’t have the budget to be able to join a co-working space. So it was how do you find people in London?

And what I did was I joined a rowing club and I learned how to row and it was so much fun and I absolutely loved the mornings on the Thames.

But there’s a huge amount of commitment in a rowing club if you really want to get involved. And I was like, what can we do where it combines adventure with that community experience and bring women together.

And so, yeah, it grew from there and it was always just a passion project.

It was always about getting women outdoors and active and now it’s just snowballed into something completely different.

Bex Burn-Callander:

You said that Gutsy Girl started as a passion project.

So does that mean you had a full-time job at the same time? What were you doing?

Nat Bannister:

Yeah, so I was a social media marketer. I learned Facebook advertising while out in Portugal and was consulting for lots of different companies and coming up with digital strategies for people.

So I bootstrapped my whole business and just did it off the back of what I was earning.

And I was in a really fortunate position that Gutsy Girls didn’t have to make any money.

So it was really just about sticking to its core roots and understanding what I wanted it to do and how I wanted it to help people, because I was in that privileged position where I didn’t need it to make money.

So for me, it’s really important to create a space where women feel welcome in nature and the outdoors and adventure.

And so that’s always been the driving force is trying to remove barriers to get women into new sports, to show everyone that everybody is welcome in nature. And everybody’s welcome in adventure.

It doesn’t need to be a really intimidating place and you can give something a try without really putting a huge amount of commitment.

You don’t need to label yourself as adventurous or active. You just need to come and try a new activity or go out for a hike and meet women.

So yeah, that’s always been the driving force behind my business for sure.

Make sure your messaging is inclusive to reach a wide customer base

Bex Burn-Callander:

But how would you do that?

How would you create a retreat where you’re going to have people of extremely differing abilities?

You might do a surfing trip and some people might be amazing surfers and some people might have never even touched a surfboard before.

How do you create an experience around people that as the different?

Nat Bannister:

So for me, it’s the messaging. It’s understanding that we’re really a welcoming space and we’re really a non-intimidating space and it is a place where you can come if you’ve never even seen a surfboard or you’ve never set foot on a paddleboard.

For me, it’s really about creating an experience that shows you don’t need to have any experience.

The messaging in our social media and our branding is all about inclusivity and making sure that you feel welcomed no matter what your size, ability, your shape, your race.

For us, it’s really about creating safe spaces for women in adventure in nature.

Bex Burn-Callander:

And tell me about some of these retreats, some of these experiences.

Can you tell me about, I don’t know, your top two, where were you went, what happened?

Paint a picture.

Nat Bannister:

Oh, it’s so hard. Everyone always asks me what my favourite water one is.

And it’s like choosing your favourite child. I don’t have a child, but I imagine that’s really tough.

My favourite ones are the paddleboarding expeditions that we do.

So paddleboarding with everything that you possibly could need for five days in the wild and you pack it into a dry bag, put it on the front of your paddleboard. And we go out and explore incredibly remote places, which are really difficult to get to by foot.

What I love about paddleboard expeditions and experiences is that you don’t have to carry anything on your back.

So you have space in your bag for the luxuries, like a really decently little pillow or an extra pair of leggings. Stuff to keep you warm.

When you’re hiking, you have to strip all of that down.

I really like luxury experience of a paddleboarding expedition. But also just accessing these incredible places.

We do one place up in Scotland to Knoydart, which is one of the most remote and wildest places in the whole of the UK.

It has the most remote pub as well, which we have to pop into at the end of the trip.

But yeah, we go there and you don’t see a soul for a few days and you really realise how incredible nature is and how much you can learn from those experiences when you have so little with you, apart from your little extras.

But you really don’t need to have much to experience the world and what it shows us in that is incredible.

But it makes you really consider what you do and don’t need in your life.

And actually what’s more important. Is it actually accessing spaces like this? Or is it the material items.

It just opens your eyes to a different way of thinking and a different way of being.

Scotland is up there as one of my most favourite places.

We’ve been there a lot recently because of the pandemic. But also Norway for me is incredible.

So we do paddleboarding expeditions on the fjords and, for me, Norway is special because my mum and my whole family are from Norway.

So it’s like going home and it’s such an incredible landscape and yeah, it’s just one of those incredible places where you just feel… awe-inspiring landscapes where you feel tiny and insignificant.

And that is a really powerful experience as well, to feel mini in nature because it takes all of your worries away.

You can start to see things in the bigger picture when you’re feeling insignificant in grand spaces.

Download your free side hustle toolkit, comprising a side hustle guide, business plan template and cash flow forecast template

Trust your taste and instinct when designing your product

Bex Burn-Callander:

I’ve been completely transported.

I can see fjords boards and snowy topped mountains. That was an amazing description of what you can expect from a Gutsy Girl trip.

And how do you pick them?

So talk me through your mindset and your thinking processes when you’re putting together a retreat. Are you constantly researching on your laptop or are you constantly flying to places when such things like flying were possible to check stuff out?

How are you creating the packages?

Nat Bannister:

A lot of it is selfishness because I want to see them, and I want to experience them.

So actually the first Gutsy Girl retreat was this one in Norway. And I actually thought that no one would go at it.

I used it as clickbait.

I was like, oh, the fjords of Norway. Paddleboard on the fjords of Norway. No one will really want to do that and camp and all of that.

And it sold out so quickly.

So it was what do I want to experience because I’m really fortunate to be my demographic and my audience. I get to experience it the same way as my clients do.

So I really think about that.

And also, for me, it’s really important to look at sustainable and responsible travel.

So all of the people that we work, we always look to improve and share the wealth between the economies that we visit.

So when we go to Croatia, we stay on a tiny little island, which only has 240 permanent residents, but we made sure that we use all of their accommodation, their food.

We make sure that we’re really experiencing the cultures and the places that we visit with the locals.

And sustainably as well.

So making sure that we leave no trace, we have a real green ethos and we try and encourage you not to fly to us if you don’t have to fly. If we can try and find you alternative routes.

So for us, it’s really, that’s maybe more where we’re shift to in the future.

Once travel starts to really open up is ensuring that everything that we do is sustainable and has a really positive impact on the communities and the areas that we visit.

Pricing is always the hardest thing – but here’s what you do

Bex Burn-Callander:

Well, as someone who is half Croatian, I applaud you giving back to my motherland. Thank you very much.

And when you’re deciding pricing, because it must be a real balancing act trying to make the prices accessible, but you still need to make a bit of profit. It needs to be a sustainable business.

So how do you decide, where do you put the price?

Nat Bannister:

Pricing is always the hardest thing.

And I think when we start businesses, we’re always really nervous about pricing too high, but actually it’s understanding your worth and your value, what you’re actually given.

In the first year, I definitely under-priced everything because I was so nervous and I didn’t really know where the business was going and what my audience would like.

But actually now I feel really comfortable and confident in our pricing because we do use the very best guides and we do always eat at the best restaurants and we do provide the best possible equipment.

So, actually all of those small things actually do add up to become a much more expensive experience.

But also when you come and you experience that and you don’t have to check on TripAdvisor where you’re going to eat that night and all of the stress of… not stress, but all of the admin that goes behind having a great holiday, which you plan yourself.

For me, I’m all about removing that.

And it’s just like, you just turn up with your suitcase packed and we give you your packing list and you just literally just turn up and relax and I will tell you what you’re doing that day.

You don’t need to think about it the day ahead.

And for me, being confident and knowing the value that we add and what we offer, has been part of my present strategy.

And for me, I really want to pay all of our guides a really sustainable wage. Actually the outdoor industry is incredibly underpaid and undervalued.

Qualifications and the training that people go through is significant. And so we should be paying our guides and the people that we share these experiences with a fair wage.

So that all comes into the price.

And for me, the pricing strategy just comes from knowing the value and knowing what I need to have for marketing strategy and also to pay my guides and pay my hosts and yeah, so that everybody has a sustainable business going forward.

Bex Burn-Callander:

Well, I like that as well. Because if anyone pushed back and said, “Oh, this is a bit pricey,” you can say, “Well, I pay all my suppliers a fair wage. We invest in every community that we visit.”

It’s not that these prices are plucked out of thin air. Everything is based on your strategy as a business, which I think is really great advice to anybody.

Just make sure that your pricing is, it’s clear because this is what you’re doing. This is where the money is going. I love that.

Nat Bannister:

Something that I’m working on this winter, is how do we give back and how do we maybe shift towards social enterprise area where we can support other women who can’t financially support themselves to come on these experiences?

Because accessing the outdoors shouldn’t be an exclusive experience and it is unfortunately, and for me, understanding now that the business is in a comfortable position four years in, now I’m looking at how do I actually go back to its core roots and connect all women?

And making sure that’s part of it.

So actually, maybe my prices will go up as well because it will actually be contributing to other people within our community who haven’t got the financial needs to join us at the moment, and so for me, it’s about sharing that experience with as many people as possible.

This is when I made my side-gig my main gig

Bex Burn-Callander:

How long did it take before you thought, right, I can take the jump, I can move to Gutsy Girls full time?

When did you stop doing the social media on… Well, when did that stopped being your side hustle and start being your main role?

Nat Bannister:

So I think around year two, I started to really cut back on my social media marketing freelance roles.

I still take occasional contracts, it’s hard to turn down, hard to turn down income, but I’ve been really lucky, I had several streams of income when I was first setting up Gutsy Girls.

I had a property where I lived in Portugal that I continued to Airbnb out, I was still doing my social media marketing, and I was also running a surf company for students, bringing student groups to Portugal.

So there were loads of different ways that I had a lot of income coming in, and slowly, I had to just really realign and be like, what’s most important? And Gutsy Girls kind of…

Yeah, it is a scary thing to rip off the band aid and be like, OK, I’m going all in on this one idea and one way of going forward.

So yeah, around year two, I started to really cut back and pretty much, I still have a few occasional contracts here and there, but just because sometimes it’s nice to mix it up and to use your brain in a different way, not for your own business.

Download your free side hustle toolkit, comprising a side hustle guide, business plan template and cash flow forecast template

You don’t need to be good at numbers – but you do need an accountant

Bex Burn-Callander:

But the if you had these different income streams, understanding your earnings and your tax must’ve been really complicated.

How did you even tackle that? Did you do it on your own? Eek.

Or did you find an accountant? How did you handle that?

Nat Bannister:

Oh, so don’t ask me about finances, I’m terrible about finances.

But I’m going to be honest, having a great accountant, trusting your accountant and knowing enough about your finances, but also knowing that you won’t know absolutely everything.

And that was one of my hardest thing, I guess with anything, when you start delegating work out and stuff, it’s losing the control, which I found really hard.

Turns out I’m a control freak.

But yeah, just really having a strong understanding of what your numbers are, but also asking for help because I’m not great with numbers.

I learned how to use spreadsheets for the business and I still hate them but also love them.

There’s a love, hate relationship with them, but just asking for a recommendation for a great accountant from friends and family and other business owners, and not being afraid to move accountants I guess is probably one of my top tips on that.

Knowing when actually your accountant maybe hasn’t got as good a grip of your numbers as maybe you thought they did and going with somebody else.

Bex Burn-Callander:

Did that happen to you where you were kind of like, “Hey, why are you not getting this relief?” Or “Why are you not putting these expenses on?”

And you had to be like, that’s it, we need to have someone new?

Nat Bannister:

Yeah. So I think I was really unlucky with one of my accountants who we were using software to monitor our invoices and they duplicated the invoices, so I had double the amount of sales.

And when I was looking at the turnover, I was like, that’s definitely not my turnover.

And then I think the attitude of just like, “Oh yeah, we have doubled it.”

It took them a long time to accept that they had doubled the invoices.

So yeah, knowing that you need to know your numbers enough to be able to double-check workings of other people, to that point, and then yeah, it was just a position, it sometimes is painful to move on because you have to do more work and admin involved in that.

But it was like, well, this is obviously a clear sign that I shouldn’t stay with this company anymore. So yeah, cut your losses and move on to the next one.

Bex Burn-Callander:

What a nightmare.

Had they already communicated those numbers to Companies House and stuff or did you catch it in time?

Nat Bannister:

I caught it in time, yeah.

And that was it, I think that’s an important thing is just to know your numbers enough to be able to be like, wait a second, that definitely isn’t right.

Yeah, it was great turnover, just a shame it’s totally fake and it’s definitely not mine, it’s definitely double of whatever.

Bex Burn-Callander:

Is this my business?

Nat Bannister:

Yeah. Where’s my profit, where’s my money?

But yeah, no, so just know when you’re having a grip of your own numbers, but then also not being afraid to also ring your accountant, and finding an accountant who doesn’t make you feel stupid and will happily sit there and talk through it for you.

And for me, I really want to understand as much as I can about it so that I know.

It helps shape decisions for the future, and so just having a really good relationship with your accountant is great.

And if they’re willing to sit down with you and really talk through it, then those are the ones to stick with. But the moment you see massive errors, make sure that you pick them up soon.

Download your free guide, How to find an accountant for Self Assessment support

Tips from someone who has dealt with small business owner burnout

Bex Burn-Callander:

Yeah, that’s the end of that relationship.

But Nat, because you’re someone that clearly is very adept at juggling lots of balls and keeping them all in the air, I want to talk about a subject that we chatted about a little bit when we caught up a couple of days ago, which is burnout.

Because I can imagine when you have so much going on, it would be quite easy to become overloaded and not even really realise it.

Tell me about your experiences. What is burnout, how did it affect you and what did you do about it?

Nat Bannister:

Burnout is something that I didn’t really believe existed, I always thought that you had to just keep going but last year was obviously an incredibly tough year for everybody.

I adapted to the pandemic by just doing more and pushing really, really hard, and finding alternative trips in the UK and finding different events in the UK.

I pushed the business so far forward but didn’t look after myself, and then come September, October last year, I just found it really hard to focus and concentrate, and small tasks that I would normally find really easy were really incredibly difficult, and a huge amount of fatigue and irrational thinking, I guess.

And yeah, my mental health definitely suffered as well.

I had feelings of anxiety and suddenly, I wasn’t loving what I was doing because I was just so tired and it was so much work.

So last year, come the November lockdown, I was like, oh, I can take a week off, one week off.

And then I was like, oh, maybe I could take two weeks off.

And then I started to panic and I was like, maybe you should take a whole month off.

And I ended up taking six months to fully recover and accept that actually, what I’d done was I’d burnt out, I hadn’t looked after myself in the whole process.

And I think that’s a lot of things that I would recommend all business owners, is remember that you’re your most important asset in your business and if you’re not well, then your business is not going to do well.

You need to really look after yourself, and I didn’t do that for probably the three years that I ran my business, because I love my job and it feels like what I do is an incredible thing, so I felt really bad that I would feel tired or stressed out from it or that it was difficult.

It was like, you’re doing your dream job, you should be loving every moment.

And by last year, I realised that actually, I just needed a break and I needed to take some time off for me.

For me, I just learned so much in that process.

Actually, those six months off have probably been in the most important part of the growth for the business, because now I know how to look after myself, which means that the business can continue to grow forward.

But also what I can teach other women from the experience that I’ve had and just to make sure that you do look after yourself, and what I’ve learned now, if the business was to go under, it’s not the biggest deal.

As long as I’m still happy and healthy, then actually, I can put my mind to something else.

So in my process of going through burnout, I learned how to meditate, which as somebody who’s incredibly active and needs to be moving and have energy all of the time, and always must be outdoors and active in that way, it was really hard to sit still for half an hour, sit with my own thoughts.

So now I learned all about self-compassion, which is another word, like self-care, that makes me feel really cringey and like, oh, self-compassion.

But actually understanding what self-compassion is will make you a better business owner, because actually, if I’m kind to myself, I’m less likely to beat myself up if I make mistakes because I’m on my own side.

Self-compassion is a mindset you must take as a business owner

Bex Burn-Callander:

I love that you’re touching on this because I want to know, when you realise you were going to take some time out, how did you handle that as a business owner?

Did you put a post up on Instagram? Did you email your whole customer base and explain what was going on?

How do you prepare the outside world for when you need to take a step back?

Nat Bannister:

It was quite a vulnerable subject to talk about.

For me I guess, talking about mental health and stuff as a business owner is maybe something that people do need to talk about.

And it’s a weird thing as well because you feel like as the leader of something or the entrepreneur, you should be really strong and resilient. I thought resilience was always about, you can do this, come on. This really kind of strong attitude of, it’s OK.

That kind of keep on going, keep on going.

Actually, that’s not really, for me, what resilience actually looks like anymore.

Resilience is actually knowing when to stop, and that was my breaking point in November was actually, do you know what? You need to just stop and everything will be OK. Once you’re OK, you don’t have to motivate yourself with critical words. You don’t need to be hard on yourself.

Actually. You can just be your own best mate and support yourself. The way that we talk to ourselves is normally, unless you’re compassionate and you’re naturally in that way, we always give ourselves a bit more of a hard time.

And when we think about, actually, would we talk like that outwardly to a friend? Maybe we wouldn’t.

And so for me, really understanding self-compassion actually is a really strong mindset to have because actually, you’re not going to be scared about making mistakes or about failure.

You’re actually just always going to be there, no matter what. And for me, that’s been a really important part of my journey. I just took a break. I took a break from social media. It was really, really good. I highly recommend.

Like that blackout, the most recent one, Instagram and that went down. I was like, oh my God, stay down, stay down.

Bex Burn-Callander:

Hooray.

Nat Bannister:

Yeah, we don’t need it.

And then really, I guess nobody really noticed in a weird way, because I wasn’t out literally making any announcements or anything, it was just an out of office saying, hey, we’re taking a break, and that was kind of it.

And the break just got extended and extended because actually, I thought that I only needed a month off and through taking more time off, actually, I was like, do you know what? Maybe I can.

The world is closed down right now, so there’s actually no reason for me to be pushing and planning for the future because we don’t know what the future looks like.

So actually, if you can just pause for the moment and really look after yourself, what can you learn and grow in this situation? And then how will that shape you going forward?

And it’s so important to take time off as a business owner, and as anyone, any employee. We don’t give ourselves enough time off.

And if you think, if I … I’m really bad for it. I’m still, even though I’ve had six months of learning, this year I’ve still definitely worked 10 days straight or 12 days straight, and worked really long hours. And then I start to feel sick.

So right now I feel a bit run down.

And it’s like, “Actually, if you’d just taken your weekend off, you won’t need five days to recuperate, or you won’t need six months off to kind of get your brain back in action.

“Actually, if you learn to look after yourself through the whole period of running your business, you’re not going to have these big downtimes where you do just need to just turn off or sell or like get out of the business.”

Actually having boundaries and looking after yourself is really important.

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Problem-solving requires you to be present in the moment

Bex Burn-Callander:

It’s really fascinating talking about the pressure that you put on yourself as a small business owner. Because I was thinking about that recently.

My line now, when someone says to me, “Oh, do you want to do this thing, or take this break, or come out for lunch?” I’m like, “My boss won’t let me.”

And they’re like, “Who is this fiend that you work for?” And I was like, “Yeah, it’s me.”

I’m definitely the harshest boss I’ve ever had, who completely will not let me do that thing. So there’s just no point in asking my boss. Just doesn’t let me do anything.

But it’s true for most people who run their own things, you are.

Nat Bannister:

Yeah. I said exactly the same thing to myself, was like, “My boss is a tyrant. She doesn’t ever let me have any time off. She makes me work on weekends.”

And it’s like I’m totally in control of that.

But we put a lot of pressure on ourselves to succeed. And I guess understanding what success looks like to you as well, has been an important part of my journey over the six months that I was off, was that actually: what do I want this business to do? And what’s really important?

And actually, if I’m not strong and I’m not looking after myself, what message does that give to my community as well?

And I really want to be encouraging. I can create all of these incredible experiences for other people and show them so many things. But actually if I’m not learning or looking after myself in that same process, then I’m not living my own ethos or ideas.

Bex Burn-Callander:

And when you have that time off, were you sort of dreaming about the future of Gutsy Girls?

Did it sort of open up any new avenues that were interesting, or tweak the way that you saw the future unfolding in any way?

Nat Bannister:

To be honest, no. I didn’t want to think about Gutsy Girls. It was a real like… Yeah, it was a really interesting experience to be like, “Actually, it’s OK. Think about yourself now.”

And that’s the hardest thing about, I guess, being a business owner, is actually your mind just goes off on to the ideas so easily.

Even on the weekend, you’re like, “Oh, this is a great idea. Oh, I’m on my weekend.”

And it would feel almost like your business is robbing you of time even when you’re off. And now it was a really good experience to actually recognise that those ideas are going to come back at some point when I will need them.

I don’t need to write them all down right now. Actually just resting and looking after myself is really important.

The things that I did learn from it, I guess, were: how do I teach other women to be self-compassionate?

I already know that from the work that I do. I’m really lucky that I get to experience nature and do all of the adventures with the people who are my clients, because I go on so many of the trips.

And I can see how easily we get wrapped up in our own ideas of ourselves or self critics.

And it’s always been part of what Gutsy Girls does is kind of self-compassion and helping women challenge themselves.

But really, in that time I guess, I really educated myself on how you could kind of look after yourself and how you could talk to yourself in a better way.

Bex Burn-Callander:

How did the sort of programming change?

Now that your focus is also on helping women to be a bit more, I don’t know if mindful is the right word given all the context with mindfulness, but like more aware of what they need, more aware of that they have a right to downtime?

Did that change some of the retreats that you put on?

How did it change your mix?

Nat Bannister:

I guess. So we didn’t change too much. I didn’t change too much about what we did on our retreats.

But actually it was more about how do we engage in conversation about this, and how do I share my experience?

And I guess slowly it’s about sharing my experience with guests who come with us on our trips, but also being really open on my social media and sharing things that I’m learning and my insights, and kind of my ideas and helping people unpack kind of the self-critic and having those conversations.

Mindfulness has always played a massive part of what we do, but I never really understood what mindfulness was. Because when I first learned about mindfulness I thought it was colouring-in books. Like it was that kind of everyone jumped on the back of it being a mindful activity.

But actually, mindfulness is really just being really present in that moment and in a non-judgemental way as well, of to what you’re experiencing.

It’s definitely bringing, when we’re paddleboarding in an incredible environment, it’s like just a little prompt of like, “Hey, are you here now? Make sure that you’re here now. Feel the feet on your board, look around in nature.”

And that’s what nature does actually, that’s why so many of us find it such a brilliant respite in how much nature can really heal.

It’s such an important part for mental health and wellbeing, is to get out into nature.

And a lot of it is, it does bring us into that present moment because it’s harder to think about what you need to worry about when you’re… For me, I found mindfulness when I first learned how to surf.

You can’t be thinking about your to-do this when there’s a wave coming towards you. You really need to be in that moment and be present.

And all of the sports that I’ve always done, like climbing as well, you’re problem-solving.

You’re not thinking about what’s happening tomorrow or regretting what you said in that meeting, or anything like that. You’re present in that current moment.

And actually nature teaches us mindfulness in a really natural way.

You don’t have to sit on a cushion to be mindful. I do highly recommend it though. It’s definitely a great way to improve that kind of moments in nature.

But yeah, for me, I guess we prompt is what we talk about on our trips a little bit more, and like creating that safe space.

And how do I do that as well on our social media? And how do I create space so that even if you can’t join us on a trip and have those experiences, how can we transform that into a community online?

So that’s something that we’ve kind of started on in the last year.

Social media: How to use it for your business – and a word of warning…

Bex Burn-Callander:

Cool. And tell me about social media then and how you connect to people? Because obviously this is your profession. You know this stuff.

And that must’ve been so useful when you were building Gutsy Girls, because it’s the easiest way to reach new customers because you’re plugging into these enormous platforms.

But I’d love to know how you reach people. What works when you’re trying to build a business on social media?

Talk to me about what you’ve learned.

Nat Bannister:

Social media is evil.

That is the thing that I’ve learned the most.

So I had a really difficult experience at the beginning of the year. So once I closed my business down for the six months, when I came back to starting the business again in kind of April, May and wanted to turn my adverts back on for Facebook and Instagram, I was banned, permanently banned from the platform.

It was probably more stressful than the whole pandemic altogether.

So basically I hadn’t done a verification process, which came through, and my account was like blocked. I think it was something to do with what was happening in the US, like the Trump or the elections or the Capitol Hill riot.

But because I hadn’t accessed my account and verified something by uploading a passport, I hadn’t done it within 30 days because my business was closed.

They permanently restricted my account, and I couldn’t unlock it in any way.

So it meant that I was unable to advertise on Facebook or Instagram, which was where a lot of my advertising budget went into. So it was an incredibly stressful experience.

I tried to put through so many appeals. And actually, the really sad thing in the end was that I had to contact somebody who I know who works at Facebook to help me unlock it.

And I found that really incredible. It was a real eye-opener to the power that Facebook and Instagram actually have.

Please don’t ban my accounts. Please don’t do it again.

But it’s a real eye-opener, because as a small business I wasn’t even able to transfer that to an agency to advertise. I was just no longer allowed to advertise on the platform at all as a person.

So I couldn’t advertise on social media even if Gutsy Girls didn’t continue. I couldn’t go back into my old profession as a social media marketer, because it was connected to my personal account.

And as a person you’re not allowed to have two accounts, so there was literally no way that I could get around that loophole.

I tried for a whole month without asking somebody that I knew to fix it for me, because I was like, “I think that this, I’m in a privileged position that I know somebody who works for Facebook and who can put in an appeal through their systems, but I don’t want to use that.

“I want to be the same as everybody else, any other small business owner who was suffering in the same way.”

And apparently there were hundreds of people who suffered in the same way and their advertising accounts got banned.

And yeah, the only way I could find a way to do it was through a connection.

And yeah, it was an eye-opener to be like, “Wow, if I can’t advertise on Facebook and Instagram, what does that mean for my business?”

And that was a scary, scary moment.

It meant that I do need to… and I still haven’t, I guess… I managed to open it up, so I haven’t really thought about how do I diversify where I’m putting my money into advertising, mainly because I don’t want to go on TikTok or anything like that, because I haven’t got the time to go on to another social media platform.

But just really understanding how much power those places hold, the social media companies hold, and how the appeal system doesn’t necessarily work for the users.

Because there’s millions, billions of users, and they can’t control anything like that.

But it’s just, when you’re a tiny, tiny business and you rely so heavily on your remarketing strategy through Facebook and Instagram, and your content isn’t getting seen, it’s so incredibly frustrating and stressful.

And I was just desperate not to go on to like the whole, don’t want to be a influencer and do reels. And it was really not about what I was doing. So yeah, that was an eye-opener for me.

Bex Burn-Callander:

And also, you’d just recovered from burnout, and you were just coming back, and then you’re landed with the most stressful thing.

That must have felt like such a slap in the face.

Nat Bannister:

Yeah. Oh, my personal Instagram account has definitely got a couple of hilarious reels of me losing the plot about being so angry about social media.

But yeah, it was definitely the biggest slap in the face to kind of come back and have to deal with that.

But I guess it was my first challenge, and it was like, “Actually, how do you ride through this? OK, you’ve done this step. OK. You don’t need to think about it until the next step.”

It was a real good chance for me to practice how everything that I’ve learned over the time off, that yeah, it’s resilience, I guess. The resilience, it’s just like going, “Well, you’ll work it out.”

Invest in Google AdWords, rather than Instagram ads

Bex Burn-Callander:

Did you try other stuff? I mean, I presume it was just soaking up all your time trying to fix that particular issue.

But I mean, did you try doing leaflets, or did you do some email marketing, or was there just not time really?

Nat Bannister:

There wasn’t much time. Luckily, it was still in the early stages of restarting the business.

I wasn’t ready to turn the adverts on straight away, but I just went into… So, there was a bit of time lead up. But it was frustrating.

I had to cancel a couple of events, because we didn’t get the traction, because the social media had been down for six months and suddenly I was open, and nobody knew about it because if you don’t really pay for it, nothing gets seen on Facebook or Instagram.

So, it was a really frustrating situation and a bit of an eye-opener there.

Bex Burn-Callander:

Yeah.

Nat Bannister:

So, luckily I have a really engaged mailing list. I can always fall back on Google adverts, AdWords, which I actually highly recommend to any business owner, invest more money into AdWords.

Well, this is from my old days of social media marketing.

It’s harder to find new clients on Instagram and Facebook in my opinion, because they’re just looking for things.

You’re just planting a seed with Instagram or Facebook, but actually if somebody’s typing in ‘adventure retreat’ into Google, they’re going to be looking to book something, they’re in a much more active position to buy.

So, actually invest more money into your active buyers, and then just use social media for remarketing and getting your content out there.

But also, just don’t rely too heavily on it, I guess, is my biggest lesson learned, and trying to work out how do I diversify where my budgets go and market and spend go in the future.

Bex Burn-Callander:

Do you know, can you reveal where you might be putting money in the future to try and circumvent just the behemoth that is Facebook and Instagram?

Nat Bannister:

Not so much at the moment. I think it’s something I will have to have a think about in my winter strategies.

I mean, I say that, and I don’t have a winter strategy.

Bex Burn-Callander:

That does sound really grand. My winter strategy.

Nat Bannister:

I know. Winter strategy. When I sit down and pretend that I know what I’m talking about.

No. I’m actually in a really fortunate position at the stage that I’m in at the moment, that our trips sell out in two minutes, less than two minutes.

So, yeah. I remember the first time I did it, and I was like, oh my God, I’m like Glastonbury. Like, people want go on our stuff.

Bex Burn-Callander:

It’s amazing.

Nat Bannister:

But it’s absolutely nuts.

And because we don’t have a huge amount of space, it’s not a massive business, we only have six to 12 spots on trips, and we only run… I don’t know how many we run a year on a normal non pandemic year but, yeah. I’m in a really fortunate position actually, not to need a huge amount of advertising anymore.

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The secret to retaining clients

Bex Burn-Callander:

But this is the clever thing about your model, is that people who come, they come back again and again.

And when I read the testimonials on your website, it’s like, that’s it. I’m a Gutsy Girl now, I’m going to book again and again.

So, is that the secret to the model almost, is that once you’ve perfected these beautiful adventures, people not only want to come back, they’ll talk about it to all their other friends who are interested in the same stuff, and it becomes like a virtuous circle?

Nat Bannister:

Yeah. I wish I had the figures, because I don’t have the time to sit down and look at my figures, or returning guests.

But I would say probably around 60%, 70% actually return, or they will be referring a friend. Probably more than that to be honest.

Some Gutsy Girls who’ve joined us, have been on all of our big trips. They’ve been to Croatia, Sardinia, Norway, which means that I do have to grow the business to find new adventures for the people who’ve done all the big three that we do.

So, yeah. It’s about, I guess, once you create incredible experiences that people value and love, then actually look after your community and look after your customers, because they’re going to come back, and they’re the ones who are going to spread the word.

And when things go wrong and people do have a negative experience, it does, it spreads out.

So, it’s making sure that you really care, and really invest in your guest experiences. And that’s really important to me, is making sure that people have the best possible time.

Bex Burn-Callander:

But has anything ever actually gone wrong?

Because I mean, I know when you are doing something like a retreat, there are so many variables. And all you need is for everyone to get food poisoning, or for a tour guide to turn up drunk on the mountain.

Does anything like that actually happen?

Nat Bannister:

I guess we’re really lucky.

This summer we had paddleboards bursting, but luckily not in a really remote location.

I guess with any adventure holiday or experience, you have to have backup plans, and you have to be really flexible and have to have a real adaptable idea. And that’s working with great guides, and we always have a backup plan, no matter what.

Bex Burn-Callander:

Because the weather, the weather might completely send everyone off track. You can’t paddleboard if it’s howling gales.

Nat Bannister:

Yeah, definitely. It’s always knowing your safety.

So, yeah. We’ve had experiences where our paddleboarders have been rescued by boats. Rescued makes it a sound like they were in danger, they weren’t in danger in any way.

But we have to have a backup plan, and that comes into our planning stages, which goes back to how much planning and how much preparation goes into every experience, is because we need to know all of the variables that could happen.

If a board bursts and we are in Scotland, what are we going to do?

Oh, well we’re going to have to make sure that we have a repair kit, we’re going to have to have an easy access out of water. There’s always got to be lots of different backup things.

So, actually adventure planning and working with the best possible guides alleviates anything going severely wrong.

You don’t have to scale your business

Bex Burn-Callander:

And then, Nat, I guess I’d just love to know what your dreams are for this business.

Would you like to keep it as it is for the years to come? Would you like to start bringing other people in?

Would you like to… I mean, this is all supposition. What would you like to happen to Gutsy Girls?

Nat Bannister:

It doesn’t need to be a massive business.

When I first started it everybody tells you, “Oh, this has got a huge potential. You could scale, you could franchise, you could do this, you could do that.”

And actually, for me, it’s not about that.

It’s about ensuring that everybody has a space that they feel safe, and that they can experience things, and everything that we learn in nature, how do I ensure that everyone gets that opportunity?

And shifting more towards being a social enterprise seems the right way forward.

Working towards getting grants, and maybe working with other charities and ensuring that everybody has the same experience. And whatever we can do to do that, that’s really important to me.

And not being pushed forward to drive my profits up and grow, grow, grow.

Actually, it’s OK to be small and make a really big impact in a small amount of people’s lives, than be massive and make no impact at all.

Bex Burn-Callander:

Well, I think that’s such a powerful message and probably a really great place to stop, because, honestly, that’s just a nice note to finish on, and a nice feeling to leave our listeners with.

Nat Bannister:

Oh, thank you so much. I’ve loved being on it.

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