Have you ever took on too much or found it difficult to get your race off the ground due to costs?

Do you use a guide or a process to make something work for you and your racers?

Or do you just wing it?

In the beginning, I was in the “wing it” crowd.

I built every race from scratch and seldom thought about applying project management or business strategy to any of my race promotion efforts.

It wasn’t until I went back and started creating simple, reusable approaches and processes, that I finally got my events under control.

One of these approaches was to develop the principles of a profitable race.

These very, easy-to-remember rules, consist of:

  • Starting small
  • Staying simple
  • Showing value

Said out loud, they seem like obvious concepts to consider.

However, I am continuously surprised by race promoters who still ignore them.

They want to create profitable races, but they always seem to forget at least one of the three principles.

Some spare no expense and build big events that no one comes to.

Others cut corners, create complexity that only frustrates their customers, and never has anyone come back to them again.

But most miss out on the reason people race their events in the first place.

It’s not for the free food, entertainment, or chip timing, but for the enjoyment of friendly competition.

They come for the culture, not the flashing lights.

And when it all falls flat, the struggling race promoter is left scratching their head, wondering what went wrong.

So what did go wrong?

The answer is as simple.

They did not ground themselves with guiding principles to keep them out of trouble.

They ignore the need to check themselves against a boundary that would have prevented them from doing things against their best interests.

Race promoters that refuse to give themselves rules that keep their ambitions under control, have nothing in place to stop you from going overboard.

Going overboard means failing.

The good news is you still have time to get yourself under control.

All you need to do is develop an understanding of how the principles of a profitable race can be applied to any event you are planning.

To help you do this, I’ve created the following exercise:

Step 1. Two Column Drill

One of the three principles is Stay Simple.

To embrace that principle, you are going to put every part of your event into one of two columns.

Column one is your nice-to-have list, while column two is your need-to-have list.

Think of every little part of your race and put it into the column you think it belongs.

Course marking tape?

Probably a need.

You have to keep riders from taking that left at the fork.

Chip timing?

Probably a want.

A stopwatch and clipboard can do the same job for a fraction of the price.

The key is to write down what YOU think are your need-to-haves, and what YOU think are your nice-to-haves.

Take 10 minutes and write down your list.

Step 2. First Draft Evaluation

Now take a look at your list.

What did you discover about your event?

What is in your need-to-have column versus what is in your nice-to-have column?

Were you honest?

Chances are good that you have something on your need-to-have list that you could do without, and it would not impact your race in the slightest.

Do you know what that thing is?

You sure do.

The easy way to tell is to think about your race in its entirety; from the moment racers arrive, the last car leaving the parking lot.

If the thing on your need-to-have list is something that would cause your race to fall apart, then it’s probably in the right place.

But if you could do without it, and your race wouldn’t know the difference, then it probably needs to move.

Take another 10 minutes and see what you might have in one column, that should really be in the other and make some edits.

Step 3. Reality Check

Honesty time.

It’s time to have a “get real with yourself” moment and edit your list a third time.

You have things in your need-to-have column that you know — deep down inside — really belongs on the nice-to-have list.

We also have “only the best for my racers” type versions of things on our need-to-have list too.

We all do.

We think we need something special to make our race stand out.

But our budget, on the other hand, just cannot support the extravagance of best-of-the-best quality, when a cheaper product can do the same thing.

Are there times when the luxury version wins over an economy model?


But if you’re broke, now is not the time to add an extra expense unless it is absolutely vital to your event.

So take a deep breath, think about your budget, and take another 10 minutes to edit your list one more time.

Step 4. Become Realistic

Another of the three principles is Start Small.

Now with a realistic list in your hands, you can start to think about how you would apply this principle to your list.

Fortunately, your list is already addressing your need to start small by getting rid of all the fluff from your need-to-have list.

By moving many of the need-to-haves into the nice-to-have column, you have started to establish what you MUST DO, and come to terms with what you could live without.

This is the essence of the Starting Small principle.

Furthermore, when you know what you must do to make the foundation of your race work — the parts you cannot live without — you begin to build a framework for what will always be needed in every race you promote.


You can have a race with not one single table.

It’s weird, but it can be done.

Having your own tables are nice, but you can work with the hood of your car or a park picnic table if you have to.

However, try having a race with no timing.

No stopwatches, no clipboards, nothing to write down who placed where.

How will you tell racers who won?

Reorder all the things on your need-to-have list from the most needed thing to the least needed thing.

This way, when push comes to shove in your budget, you will know what must be taken care of now, and what can be put off for later.

It will also allow you to understand when you need to purchase something immediately, and when you wait until the day before race day.

Take about 20 minutes to organize your list into the right order.

Step 5. Dream Sheet

The final step in this exercise is to figure out what nice-to-have elements can be worked back in.

What? Wait? Didn’t we just spend all this time taking them out?

Yes, we did!

It was critical that you visualized your list of need- and nice-to-haves.

Without seeing it, it would have been difficult to validate what your priorities truly are.

Having your need-to-haves broken out and separated from everything else is essentially your first challenge in becoming a good race promoter.

The first four steps forced you to create a list, justify all the elements you think need to go into your race and give each item the weight it deserves.

Now, with all the MUST DO and NEEDS identified, we can finally revisit the nice-to-have list, and find out what you would pick first if you could pick anything off it.

Just like with your need-to-have list, you will reorder all the things on it from the most wanted thing to the least wanted thing.

This is where you suddenly discover that you really didn’t want all that nice-to-haves on the list in the first place, you just thought you did.

Take about 20 minutes to organize your list into the right order, but feel free to remove things that you really didn’t want.

That’s it!

Now you have an ordered list of need-to-have priorities and an ordered list of nice-to-have wants.

This list is your tool for making sure you start small and stay simple.

But it also helps you visualize what parts of your race are truly important, and what only provide fringe value.

You may find other principles to add to your process, but you can’t go wrong with using starting small, staying simple, and showing value as your core set of rules.

If you consistently apply these principles when building each of your races, you should always have control of what is needed for each one, and what is just nice to have.

And now you know.

Posted by Kyle Bondo

Kyle started Reckoneer with the simple mission of helping those who want to become race directors and learn the mechanics of outdoor recreation engineering. Kyle demystifies outdoor racing with over 20 years of endurance and outdoor industry business knowledge. Combined with his top-rated podcast Merchants of Dirt, dozens of articles, lessons, and infographics, Kyle has made Reckoneer the premier educator in outdoor event management. Build better races today!