Monday, 20 June 2016 10:38

Keeping the momentum going after the flood

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When MyOutdoors started we never imagined that 6 years later we'd have built something it would be impossible to walk away from.

When I say "we", of course, it started as "I" and was initially founded as a way to keep me mentally occupied following a serious, life changing, injury picked up on the slopes of Skiddaw. With a spinal injury that left permanent damage meaning I could no longer climb, walk long distances or hold my balance it was also a way of keeping in touch with the countless friends and contacts built up during over 2 decades of involvement in outdoor adventure. Today, 6 years on,  what started as one person has grown to a team of 5 supplemented by sub-groups of a further 6 members covering test and reviews across cycling, running and climbing and a handful of followers has grown to tens of thousands. With tens of thousands of followers, however, comes a feeling of obligation - an obligation to carry on no matter what obstacles get in the way.

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MyOutdoors started with a series of core principles, including a commitment to remain independent from brands and manufacturers irrespective of any products supplied by them and to publish opinions uninfluenced by financial contributions. 6 years on we are proud to have stuck to our core principles. Taking this position has been difficult at times, particularly as "I" became "we" and the volume and breadth of our service has increased. We've introduced paid-for advertising to help cover costs because while none of our team gets any finacial reward for their hard work (they do get to keep kit and access to press trips) there are still costs involved in building and publishing a website. Press trips and media events are often free, though this can vary from transport, accommodation and food to admission only, but even in the "full expenses" cases there are additional costs including insurance cover for team members attending and in most cases within the UK there are (often) substantial fuel costs.

The latest obstacle to face came late last week when a prolonged downpour resulted in flash floods in Cheshire and 3 inches of water running through my living room/office. Fortunately it was only 3 inches, not a flood of Keswick proportions, and thankfully I'm insured. There's still going to be some inevitable disruption, however, with floors and walls to dry out and everything from floors to computer to furniture to replace downstairs. Even with a fast response from our insurers we're looking at a minimum of 4 - 6 weeks disruption - during which time we also have a commitment to a Tirol press trip that will keep me away for 5 days.

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Financially it would be simple to say "enough is enough" and instead concentrate on the repair and redevelopment of my home, returning to the world of freelancing rather than running a website and social media that has failed to return enough to require me to pay tax in 6 years. In those 6 years, though, we've built relationships not just with literally dozens of top brands but with an audience who notice if we're absent for a single day. Our unique Twitter news service alone has over 16,500 followers, with weeky impressions regularly reaching six figures. Quite simply we owe it to these followers to continue because while there are other outdoor news sites out there we feel that none give as broad a range of outdoor adventure activity news or as comprehensive a coverage of events from an independent point of view.

Due to the way MyOutdoors is set up with climbing, cycling and running sub groups, each headed up by their own dedicated Editor, keeping up a regular stream of content from these sectors for the website can continue unaffected. Insurance will cover the hardware losses and thanks to remote backups almost all our contact databases, images and other data is recoverable. Thanks to James (Running), Davy(Climbing) and Stu (Cycling) disruption can be kept to a minimum over the next few weeks and other than attending OutDoor at Friedrichshafen we should be able to meet all our commitments.

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The effects of last weeks flood, however, has clearly demonstrated our financial fragility. At present every penny we receive from advertising is ploughed back in to cover hosting costs, internet, travel insurance and administrative costs. Last year, for example, Stu produced 2 very well received features on cycling in Gothenburg and while flights and everything in Sweden was covered by the tourist association the cost of train fares from South Wales to Gatwick and insurance accounted for a full month's advertising receipts. When James and I spend 5 days kit testing in Chamonix we paid for our own flights and camping and James took the time off from his day job as holiday.

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Our daily outdoor news service on Twitter brings back little return, despite at times putting brand names in front of 200,000 unique users in a single week, yet just £1 from each of our Twitter followers would more than cover all our costs for a year! On the website event news and reviews are read by thousands with brand exposure covering weeks, but to date we've never taken a single paid-for advert for any festival, talk, race or other event. We bring news of gear releases direct from PRs but with a couple of notable exceptions we're expected to publicise their clients products at our expense.

We're not going to launch a flood appeal but we hope that events of the last week will remind people, and brands/PRs in particular, that what would make a tiny difference in advertising budgets would make a massive difference to not just ourselves but many in outdoor publishing. With just a few exceptions many of the online and print publications survive on a financial knife edge where the events of last week could mean the difference between surviving or not. We'll survive our flood because we don't have paid staff and we have a geographically widespread structure but should survival be the target in an industry that turns over billions of pounds annually? Should what we, and others, do be taken for granted and know that facing a single event like 3 inches of water could prove to be an irrecoverable position?