Business lessons from the trail

by Jennifer Pharr Davis

Recently, I have been getting a lot of e-mails and questions about how to make a living or start a business in the Outdoor Industry. So I thought I’d write a post about my experience and nine lessons I’ve learned as the founder and owner of Blue Ridge Hiking Company.

There are risks and hardships that are involved in backcountry camping and starting your own company.

I started my company as a naïve 24 year-old who wasn’t thinking entrepreneurially, but rather as an idealist who wanted to help other people get outdoors. It sounded fun. What could be better than encouraging folks to get out on the trail, right?

Much like my attitude towards hiking the Appalachian Trail at age 21. I am glad that I started my company before “I knew any better.” If I had been aware of all the 24-7 complexities of self-employment, plus the liability, plus the pressure and lack of security – not to mention horrible health insurance options, then I would probably be working for someone else right now. Which might be more secure, but probably not as fulfilling.

If you don’t know how to backpack or run a business, then you’d better be able to adapt pretty quickly.

I learned pretty quickly that it doesn’t matter what industry you work in, there will still be administrative, accounting, marketing, and management needs. And when you start your own business as a sole-proprietor you will be fulfilling all of those demands. You have to be able to stay on your toes and adapt to your environment or else you will most likely get off the trail and do something different. It’s a fact that most small businesses fail in the first three years and most thru-hikers quit on the first half of the trail.

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