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Five Essential Business Lessons I’ve Learned From Caravanning

Thursday, October 2nd, 2014

Business Lessons from Caravanning
We have two boys: Zak, who’s six, and Jude, a rumbustious four-year-old.

They’re typical youngsters, for whom everything different, or new, is an adventure.

Every so often we get to take them to a caravan in a remote part of Scotland. There, they run almost wild till the fresh air does its work and steers them towards a deep sleep. Like most caravan parks, this one has its regulars.

Our favourite is a retired gentleman who spends much of his time walking his dog, round and round the field in which our caravan stands.

We’ve gone to “the van” twice a year for the past five and the guy’s thrice-daily dog walk has become one of the routines we cherish. We say hello, shoot the breeze, and feel part of the community.

In April, we were tucking into our family meal on the decking when we spotted the man, slowly walking round the site. But this time something was different. Where’s Becca, we wondered out loud.

We instantly regretted it as Zak and Jude ran the 30 metres to his caravan.


‘Excuse me,” polite, is Jude. ‘Where’s Becca?’
‘She’s not with us anymore,’ replied the man, bending down.
‘What, has she gone to live in the sky? Is she a star?’
‘Yes,’ said the man, relieved at their quick understanding.

Satisfied, Jude ran back towards us shouting at the top of his voice:

‘Dad, you were right. The bald old man’s dog’s dead!’ – Tweet That

Aside from the obvious, I learned a lesson that day. You can dress the truth up if you like, often for the most admirable of reasons, but people have the ability to extract the facts. Why not tell them the truth in the first place? Establish trust. I know it takes something of a seismic shift from the prevailing business culture of the nineties and noughties, but let’s all get with the programme. We know it makes sense.

Back to Caravanning

There are so many good things about caravanning. But for me it’s about community, friendliness and the outdoors. The more you strip away your possessions and everyday commitments the more you and your family can just be yourselves. You might even find it more glamorous than you expected. Helen Mirren and Phil Mitchell from Eastenders are both caravanners as, indeed, is Margaret Beckett.

Business Lessons from Caravanning.

The classic Airstream trailer, favoured by celebrity caravanners. Photo credit: johnrobertshepherd via photopin cc

Caravanning contributes £1bn to the UK economy, according to the Caravan Club. And in 2012 people living in the UK made around 7.5m static caravan trips.

But even something as innocent and fun as caravanning has its detractors.

Fans of Top Gear are entertained weekly by caravan jokes, though I’m sure Jeremy Clarkson has a glint in his eye when he tells them. They even tried something like this once, such is their deep-rooted antagonism towards caravanners.

So what lessons can all businesses learn from caravanning? It’s something I’ve pondered recently, having established my own startup almost six months ago today, after 17 years in corporate life.

#1: Keep it Simple and Don’t be Afraid to Swim Against the Tide

Caravanning is not fashionable. It has an image problem.

No self-respecting businessman would stay in this caravan.

Not the sort of caravan one would want to stay in. Photo credit: darkday. via photopin cc

The UK has more than a million committed caravanners. But it’s generally something you steer away from in your teens and 20s. Certainly not a hobby to tell your mates about. Only in your 30s – when other people’s opinions are increasingly less of an inhibiting factor on your behaviour – does the caravanning epiphany take place. As someone running a business, fitting in and doing the same as everyone else should not be your primary concern. If it works for you, give it a whirl. What’s the worst that can happen.

#2: The Need for Clear Direction

Businesses, like caravans, will wander off course, or succumb to inertia, without the direction and drive provided by the car to which they are attached.

Badly directed caravan.

A badly directed business will suffer the same fate as a badly directed caravan. Photo credit: JAK SIE MASZ / Foter / CC BY-SA

Similarly, business leaders must provide their teams – their human caravans – with clear, ethical objectives and positive motivation. Having a definite goal is paramount.

#3: Integrity is Key

Caravans are strong and flexible and can operate in different environments. They provide security and comfort where there are no existing facilities. But their success rests on their ability to maintain structural integrity. A caravan that is tested beyond its limits will soon fail.

Business like caravans should maintain their structural integrity.

Make sure your business isn’t tested beyond its limits. You wouldn’t want the rain getting in. Photo credit: ✄♥Ladyfroufrou♥★SparkleSparkle!☆★ / Foter / CC BY-SA

This is a blunt, but accurate, metaphor for ethics in business. We may be tempted to push ourselves and our staff beyond what both they and we know to be acceptable limits. But we must realise that, like a caravan, without their integrity, they are incapable of performing.

#4: Build a Solid Foundation

No two days are ever the same. A caravan holiday is dictated by the weather. There is no escaping it, even indoors, as the rain sounds like gravel bouncing off the roof. The trick is to make the best of what you’ve got. There’s nothing like stormy weather outside to make you feel protected, safe and warm when you’re inside.

Solid foundations are key to any business.

Build a solid foundation for your business to guard against stormy weather. Photo credit: Lee Jordan / Foter / CC BY-SA

Running a business is like this too. You can’t always predict your business environment, you wouldn’t want to. The excitement and profit is in the risk.

But you can make sure that you protect yourself by building a solid foundation and applying common sense in protecting your organisation. The three little pigs would have done just fine in a caravan.

#5: Create a Community

You get to know people when you’re caravanning.

Businesses should develop a commnity.

A joyful lot us caravanners. But it’s the sense of community that appeals to us most. Photo credit: ✄♥Ladyfroufrou♥★SparkleSparkle!☆★ / Foter / CC BY-SA

Its communal nature enables you to interact with other holiday-makers in a way that hotels just don’t provide. Having your own plot means you’re not competing for space at an overcrowded pool or fighting over the leftovers at the breakfast buffet.

Being part of a new business community, as I am with Digital Enterprise Glasgow, provides the opportunity to meet and work with people in similar fields. We share ideas and learn from each other in a way that isn’t normally open to a small Glasgow PR agency.

#: One for the Road

Like my children, my business can be expected to grow and develop in ways that I can’t predict. I can play my part in providing them with the foundations of honesty and integrity. All I can then ask is that they be the best they can be.

It might also be the right time to get the boys a dog!

David Sawyer is director of startup public relations firm Zude PR. Previously, he spent five years as head of global PR consultancy Weber Shandwick’s Glasgow office. He loves caravanning.


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