Xtreme Coasteering

Jumping headlong into the unknown is how many small business owners feel when they first start their business. Few do it quite as literally as Sue Allen, owner of Xtreme Coasteering in North Devon. For her, an afternoon on the beach changed her life for ever, and she’s been jumping at opportunities ever since.

12 years ago, Sue was working in the residential childcare sector. Her class were due to go to the beach and a volunteer was needed to accompany them. Having a beach lifeguard qualification, Sue offered to help and, within a few hours, she realised that her future lay in taking people out on to the shore.

She quit her job and started freelancing for local outdoor pursuits businesses offering coasteering experiences. Sue learnt the ropes, and the routes, and spent her first summer familiarising herself with the coast at Baggy Point in North Devon, understanding how it changed with tide and weather. She learnt where to go, when, and which routes suited groups with different experience, be that children, stag and hen parties, corporate clients or the armed forces.

Quickly, she progressed to leading groups and running Xtreme Coasteering’s North Devon offer, which also took in Newquay and Torquay. Over the next two years Sue not only mastered the best coasteering routes in Devon and Cornwall, but became increasingly involved in the running of the business, managing the kit, handling marketing and training of new staff. Then, in 2015, an opportunity arose to take over the business. True to form she jumped in.

That’s when Sue approached Simpkins Edwards. “I wanted a Barnstaple accountant and I’d heard good things about Simpkins Edwards”, she says. “I knew they had strong experience in the tourism sector and that attracted me. I met Jilly Watson, a Partner at the firm, and we instantly hit it off.”

The previous owners of the business had set it up as a partnership. Jilly advised Sue to set up as a Limited company, offering better security, particularly for such a seasonal and weather-dependent business.

“The experience was very smooth’, says Sue. “The team at Simpkins Edwards guided me through the process of keeping records and dealt with Companies House. That gave me the time to set up the business, to focus on the branding, social media and website. To be honest, it was a huge relief to have their team handling the official process so that I could focus on growing my business.”

Being such a seasonal concern, Sue has had to have many strings to her bow. Easter is flat out, but then the business reverts to a weekend operation up until the May half term. After that it’s 5-6 days a week, depending on water and sea conditions.

In the early summer Sue works for businesses delivering a variety of camping and water-sport experiences, which means she’s out twice a day, three times a week up to July, after which she takes tours virtually every day through to the end of September.

To fill the lull in business from October to April, Sue provides cycling coaching to local groups of children and women, and also offers one-to-one and remote cycling training.

For the remainder of the year, Sue focusses on building the Coasteering business, taking bookings, handling enquiries, organising staff, maintaining kit and, of course, dealing with the accounts.

With Simpkins Edwards’ guidance, Sue has been able to include her cycling coaching under the umbrella of Xtreme Coasteering; as an outdoor pursuit, it falls within the scope of the business. She’s also taken on Jilly’s advice about financing a motor vehicle and ensuring the running costs are put through the business.

“It was a great piece of advice,” says Sue. “The van, which is branded, will be paid off in a year-18 months, but it’s also been a fantastic advert, generating plenty of enquiries and bookings too.”

Once the van has been paid off, Sue plans to use the money saved to reinvest in a further full-time member of staff. “Coasteering has become increasingly popular,” she says. “It won’t be long before I need to train a manager or full-time instructor to take on more groups. That’s when I’ll turn to Simpkins Edwards to manage PAYE and staff pensions.”

As for day-to-day management of the books, Simpkins Edwards has trained Sue in QuickBooks. “They made the process so simple,” she says. “We worked through how to upload and create rules, how to record credit card payments, petty cash and so on. It’s made the end-of- year accounts seamless and simple, and it’s put me in to a great position for when I become VAT registered.”

As Sue continues to grow her businesses, Simpkins Edwards will be there by her side, offering ongoing business advice in addition to handling the annual company accounts, tax returns and corporation tax.