About 10 years ago, I started mountain biking. That addition to my life led me to trail running. Soon I was orienteering, and then found a way to put it all together in a slog fest called adventure racing. All of it was a way for me to interact with the outdoors… again.
You see, I grew up in the Pacific Northwest with a forest, a community park, and a lake as my backyard. It was a magical place to be a kid, spending every waking moment of my Summer playing G.I.Joe, riding BMX bikes, and creating a dozen or so forts: either in the forest thickets or high up in the evergreens.
Mountain biking, trail running, orienteering, canoeing, and adventure racing are a far cry from those days, but they serve me well in my attempt to reconnect to my childhood. They are my path to what it was like when I was 12, back when exploring and running outdoors was simple fun.
I, like other outdoor racers, wanted to bring that same kind of simple fun to others by starting to host my own outdoor events.
It turns out that trying to share the outdoors by hosting a race is the opposite of fun, quickly learning all about the bureaucratic minutia that lurks underneath the fun of a race.
How everything needs to be done super early, how all sorts of parties get a piece of the tiny profit you earn, and how much coordination it takes to get everything to come together, IF it comes together.
I see why so many “race promoters” try their hand at hosting an event, only to walk away from it after a few tries. Let’s face it, outdoor event management is hard!
Not one to back down from a challenge, I went after teaching myself how to create events by paying attention to those hosting the events I raced in.
This transitioned into volunteering for all sorts of racing companies and clubs to see how it was done behind the scenes. It took about three years of observations before I took the leap and promoting my first event in 2010 — a mountain bike orienteering (MTBO) race in Virginia.
I thought the knowledge I gained from watching others build races would provide me with all the mental tools I would need to host my own events.
Unfortunately, I found that each and every race promoter I encountered, did their own thing.
There was no rhyme or reason to certain decisions, no standards applied, and often the event was managed more by pure personality, then any race direction methodology.
Often, I would find that the only repeatable process was on race day. Everything that came before race day — where the actual event was created — was a whirlwind of chaos, mostly shrouded in some Wizard of Oz style mystery formula that only they knew.
When I could pull back the curtain, I discovered that no two race directors planned their events the same way.
Some would wing-it last minute and hope for the best, while others would plan every single moving part in painful detail; all of them turning event management into more performance art then management science. And the only tool they had in their toolbox was a truckload of spreadsheets!
Oh, the spreadsheets!
When I directed my first race, I tried to use my own stack of spreadsheets and make decisions just like those I had observed. But I found myself either doing too much (micro-management), glossing over details until forced to address them (emergency response), or trying to get away with doing technical work on a budget (paper timing).
Each new race would suffer from too much planning in one area, and a lack of planning in another.
My spreadsheets did little to help me manage effectively, and although I was improving my skills with each race, the my best event in five years only profited $100 after all the bills where paid. I made my money back on all the expenses, but to only have $100 to show for 5-years of learning to promote events was very sobering.
What was I doing wrong? Why were these events so hard? And why was I working my backside off with trying to get everything orchestrated?
That’s when I knew their had to be a better way to plan these events.
I needed to get the trail out of my head so I could concentrate on working ON my event, not IN my event.
In June 2015, when I directed the second annual version of my mountain bike race, I decided to try something new.
Success means a lot more than just being technically great at what you do.
You have to market yourself, convince racers that you’re awesome, write proposals, send invoices, chase permits, manage registration, find staff, and so on.
But if you’re like me, you learn quickly that none — and I mean NONE — of the resources out their will prepare for the realities of running a race.
I was hopelessly clueless when I started focusing on becoming a better race promoter.
I thought and acted like a racer. I priced my races based on what everyone else was charging, waited until the last minute to find permits, and ended up sabotaging my events before they even got off the ground.
I had to level-up my race promotion abilities.
I studied everything I could, and volunteered for other race promoters to help myself learn what others already knew. Truthfully, there were plenty of screw-ups. But each time I stumbled, I made it a point to figure out how to avoid the same fate in the future.
As I built my race promotion skills, I learned:
- How to price based on the value of the event I produced.
- How to systematically and proactively find racers, rather than waiting for them to come to me.
- How to put processes in place that ensured I made a profit without cutting corners.
- How to end up with a predictable, reliable, and stable business.
I want you to avoid my mistakes.
But I want you to be a successful race promoter more.
I believe it so much that it is my #1 goal at Reckoneer!
So read everything you can, sign up from my newsletter, like my Facebook page, follow me on Twitter, hit me up on Linkedin — and I will give as much race promotion education as you need to build a racing empire!