Time to be honest with myself – The plan for TOAD

April 6, 2017

Hi to all readers of this blog. I’m Matt.

There isn’t a lot of you (just yet), but I hope that will change.

Whilst this website has been running for a few years now, there’s always been a reason why it hasn’t made its mark.

To be honest, that reason has been me.

I’ve never really had a clear plan for where I wanted it to go and the TOAD website has always been a side-project which has mostly been in the build-phase without ever really achieving its potential.

As i’ve got older it’s the itch I need to scratch.

 

So, where did TOAD start? What’s it all about?

After finishing an Outdoor Adventure Management degree at Southampton Solent (great degree with powerboating tuition on a Friday) I started working at a local paintball company near Alton (Camouflage Paintball).

Seeing the workings of a small and independent activity operator, I had the idea for an outdoor activities-based site. The idea simply was to list a range of outdoor activity providers and allow users to search from any location to find one near them.

Before I had any real idea about building websites or marketing, I believed that a site offering a simple way to find new and interesting activities throughout the UK would be popular and provide a useful tool.

The idea stemmed from the fact that a high proportion of paintball bookings came from ‘middle-men’ companies such as Red7, Red Letter Days and other experience day re-sellers. These companies added a premium on the operator’s selling price, hence the customer ended up paying a premium price.

I knew that if people came to us (Camouflage) direct they would pay a better price. But it wasn’t that easy to find us with a limited marketing budget.

Google works fine for those who know exactly what they want to do, the site was designed to allow people to explore new activities, and find new providers who don’t, necessarily, rank well in search engines.

At that point, building a website wasn’t something i’d had experience of. At all.

 

Early attempts

I built an early version of the website with an initial injection of money from family. Essentially an investment and show of trust in me, rather than any basis of experience in what I was doing.

The reasonably complex nature of creating a database of activity providers, serving results based on geo-location (distance from your location) and the design and build of unique pages (no templates exist which do the job), meant I worked with a website development agency.

Whilst working my day job I was working with the UK developers and a team in Thailand to gather a provider database to populate the site. Long story short, it was a bit of a nightmare. I ended up with a mix of providers, middle-men, shops and God knows what else.

The site itself was useful, if basic, yet this lack of accurate data meant that the site was actually pretty pointless. I’d used up the investment building the site with little to invest in any forms of marketing.

In addition the structure of the site was poor. With no experience of search engines and with developers finding the nuances of the site difficult, I ended up with an SEO nightmare!

The same page was used to serve different data in an i-frame which meant that Google thought my site was tiny. All the pages i’d hoped would be created through activity and provider content didn’t exist…so Google couldn’t find them…and neither could anyone else!

 

I had some AdSense ads which brought me a few quid. The scalable web hosting package I was in cost me a lot more each month.

Around this time I started working at TUI Travel in Portsmouth. I’d initially started working for Sunsail in Port Solent, as part of their Corporate Events team, managing yachting events such as Cowes Week and the Round the Island Race. When an opportunity arose within their online marketing team, I felt this was the natural progression for me.

I was responsible for the digital presence of four marine brands (Sunsail, Club Vass, Le Boat and The Moorings) which offered a massive learning curve. I had to learn more about CMS management, PPC, SEO, web development and more; and suffice to say, TOAD took a back seat. I didn’t give up on the site but I couldn’t see how best to take it forward.

New to living in Portsmouth, with things to do, and with no clear plan for the site, I parked it. I paid the hosting and always planned to rebuild and grow the site.

As my career has progressed i’ve spent more and more time in marketing, adventure and travel. I moved to be eCommerce Manager at Explore Worldwide (adventure tours) and Head of Marketing for Alpine Elements and iGO SKI (ski and activity holidays).

A couple of years ago I had a go at working with a friend on an updated version of the TOAD site, but it again flattered to deceive. I picked the wrong partner that time and it cost me a couple of years.

Now, i’ve rebuilt the site (the site you’re on now). I’m using a WordPress platform and working with some great people to get it where it needs to be. It’s not perfect but I like it, and I hope you do too. We’ll continue to develop the site and add more and more information about the people who operate the activities.

 

So, what now?

The problem with working a day job when you’re trying to build a website and a brand is that you can’t communicate with other businesses when they’re open. It’s not an insurmountable obstacle but poses problems when dealing with your customers.’m at the age where I need to give the TOAD site the love and attention it needs.

I’m at a time in my life now where I need to give the TOAD site the love and attention it needs.

And I need to do it for me!

I don’t want to look back thinking what might have been. I’d rather take the chance on something I believe in, rather than always look back and wondering.

Ever since I remember I’ve wanted to travel and try new activities. And I can’t think of anything better than doing that for my job. I also think there’s lots of you out there who enjoy the same things I like.

So, I’ve made a choice.

From this week i’ll be working full time on TOAD and my new digital agency Apollo.

We’ve bought a house recently and it feels like the right time to make a change. I’m really looking forward to it.

I hope that this site becomes not only a place where you can find new activities, but you can learn about them too. It’d be great to share my experiences, and those from within the community to create a place which is fun.

That involves a commitment from me to produce great content. To provide stuff which you want to read.

 

Aims for the website

  • Create good content regularly, writing about adventures, activities, races, watersports, extreme sports, fun…and other things I like to read about.
  • Inspire you to get out there, try new things and have fun.
  • Offer a useful tool to for you learn about all the activities in the UK and beyond.
  • Put you in touch with the people who run activities and offer an unbiased review platform to rate your experiences.
  • Host some great activity deals to make it hard to justify not getting involved.
  • Work with only the best activity providers to ensure you have a fantastic time.

Adventures I’d like to do:

  • Create a website that I love.
  • Try as many new activities as I can.
  • Learn to paraglide and get my pilot’s license.
  • Try wakeboarding again and learn to kitesurf.
  • Get back into climbing…learn to do it properly (I used to just do bouldering…which I loved)
  • Climb some mountains! (not K2…just yet)
  • Do some micro-adventures (check out Alastair Humphreys for some great local ideas near you)

 

I hope that sharing my plans here will give me a promise to keep, and a great way to make me stick to it. To be honest, going on adventures is a great target to have!

To be honest, going on adventures is a great target to have!

So that’s it. A few plans for where I’ve been and where I want to take the site.

Hopefully there’s an exciting journey ahead and I’d love to have you onboard!

Chat to you soon.

Matt

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