I was recently introduced to Pauline Sanderson, a lawyer, outdoor instructor, company director, marketer, and now, a published author and motivational speaker and one of three founders of In Your Hands, a children’s charity in Nepal.
If her extensive career in multiple industries hasn’t piqued your interest, maybe this will: Pauline holds a world record for the world’s longest climb from the Dead Sea to the summit of Mount Everest, covering a total of 8150km. She has definitely given superwoman a run for her money.
Founders if In Your Hands children's charity, Jo and Pauline.
Life before the adventure
Today we’re often bombarded with articles about people who leave their corporate jobs to pursue their passions or something more meaningful. However, Pauline did this way before it became “trendy”.
While away on a training course in Wales, Pauline and her colleagues spent half their time outdoors building rafts, exploring the woods and doing obstacle courses The other half was spent in a classroom, where “lawyers are deemed to be at their most comfortable”.
“I was far happier outside having fun with my team”, Pauline told me. Although she enjoyed learning about theories in the classroom, she realised she gained more "when we were sharing an experience together and having fun, not talking about it.”
“A light bulb went on in my head.”
Pauline realised that being a lawyer didn’t interest her as it did six years ago . In its place, she found something that interested and excited her just as law once did, if not more: the outdoor travel industry.
Life is too short not to follow opportunities that excite you.
After a bit of research, Pauline decided to get her basic qualifications in kayaking, climbing and navigating. To do exactly that, she saved up for two years, left her job, and joined a one year residential course in Wales.
By the end of the year, Pauline realised that her hunger for adventure was simply bubbling over. So she spent her last bit of money on a flight to Nepal, in search of a job that would allow her to do all the outdoor activities she loved.
Pauline found a stint that lasted three months long, and before flying home, she accepted another job for the next season in Nepal: working with Mahendra at Equator Expeditions, and accepting all the challenges that came along with it.
Life in Nepal, “the Mecca of adventure”
“I was living the dream! I was about to live, work and play in the Mecca of adventure with people who lived and breathed it. What wasn't there to like? I was about to live in the classroom of adventure.”
“That first season was brilliant because there were no rules. I was just told to do what I needed to do to sell more and market Equator. I had never done sales or marketing before but it really helped spending three months as a tourist in Nepal. (I) knew exactly what worked for me and (what) didn’t. I took note of what tactics Equator had already been using that worked and what we could do to add to it.”
“It was normal to invite random people off the street to come to a slide show on the rafting trips we did and offer free rum. Once they were at the show, it was easy to get them to book on. The slide shows were always delivered by the raft guides as that was who they were buying. I really enjoyed those nights as I could talk to people (about) the rivers as I had done most of them."
I was honest. Truth works. (It) builds trust and the word spreads.
Pauline made it a point to get more people to attend these slide shows. She would get up at 8am to put out detailed mini information books about the different rivers in cafes. “It gave me the opportunity to talk people into coming as I was ridiculously enthusiastic, even at 8 am! People buy enthusiasm especially as the average client was under 30 years of age.”
“I got most of my ideas on what to do for local and international markets from the team and (our) clients. They are often the best source (for) ideas. I was more about making them happen.”
It was also in this first season that Pauline met Ian Roberts and TrekkSoft’s co-founder and CEO, Jon Fauver.
“They were raft guides and big burly men who looked the part, got on really well with the Nepalese team and had loads of great ideas about how to develop the company. We couldn't do enough fast enough. It was brilliant!”
Growing Equator Expeditions
Her experience as a tour instructor came in handy as an outdoor and adventure company director at Equator Expeditions. “I could help people create an itinerary that involved everything Nepal had to offer with first hand knowledge. It also allowed me to have ideas of how (the) business could expand.”
The company began offering rafting trips and grew their list of tour and activity products to cover mountaineering, trekking, safaris and tours, as well as transport and hotel booking services.
They introduced a 5-day mountaineering school in the Everest Region and a Raft Guide Trainee course. Unlike the typical three to four week tour that trekkers had to join if they wanted to explore the Everest region, Pauline’s team offered a shorter course that allowed individual trekkers to explore the region at their own pace. Guests would meet an instructor from at a tea house and spend 5 days learning how to walk in crampons, tie onto a fixed line and so on before climbing the mountain.
The Raft Guide Trainee course that allowed students to learn from experienced guides and become qualified raft guides after 12 weeks. Jon Fauver was the first full times instructor whose experience in the Himalayas and the USA was invaluable to the programme. Pauline considered the programme to be successful only if they found the right instructor. “You can be an amazing guide but a terrible instructor. So when the right instructor was not available we could not run the course.”
I asked Pauline more about what it was like to work in Nepal and manage such a diverse team since staff consisted of both locals and internationals.
“It was a learning curve dealing with business in Asia. As for the cultural differences in the people I worked with, it was pretty easy. The Nepalese love to please. They are hard working, smile lots but can be too subservient. My only criticism is that they hate to say 'no'.”
“The Nepalese character is superb for a tour (and activity) industry as they are there to make sure you are having a good time, whether they are or not. So on the river or in the mountain, I never worried about customer service.”
Business advice from 15 years of experience
When I asked about some advice she’d like to share with others in the industry, her first reply was that “social media at every level is a necessary evil so let's take that as a given.” I was delighted to hear someone other than Colm or Lucy place as much emphasis on this platform for marketing their products and services.
For smaller businesses, Pauline’s advise would be to partner with companies who are already selling in the industry. She stressed on giving them the commission they deserve and helping them to build up their sales portfolio. “Everybody is a winner. It doesn't mean you can't sell and market but it will help to spread the burden and share ideas.”
For larger companies, modern cyber marketing tools are a must. Another great tip is to enter industry awards to motivate you and your company, as well as raise your profile in the industry.
Respect and good rapport with your competitors is helpful, not negative.
"Who knows when you can help each other out. If you can afford exhibitions, they are a great way to network and make partners that can potentially show a mutual benefit.”
Her most important piece of advice is to this, “Only employ people in sales or marketing who genuinely love the product. It is a vocational industry.”
And just like every other industry, “The most important and reliable sales and marketing agents for any company in the tour and activity industry are their customers. Keep them on your database for as long as possible and treat their time and opinions with respect. Your repeat customers are your best references to new customers.”
Pauline’s take on failure
Finally, I rather brutally asked Pauline about her biggest failure in her career. She answered my question from both a personal perspective and from a marketer’s.
I am very good at failure because my biggest fear is not giving things a go. As long as I enjoy something, I do not need to be good at it. So I wouldn't say I have failed at lots of things, but I am not good at lots of things.
She talked about her experience as a teacher at a training college. Despite not being very good at it, Pauline was glad she gave it a go because "otherwise, I would have had a life long curiosity as to whether I would have been a good teacher. I was right to leave when I did because I could recognise I would not have enjoyed the job. You should never stick at something just for the money or the status if it makes you unhappy."
It is your life and if you don't enjoy it, nobody else can. Make good decisions for the stage in life you are at. Base that decision on logic, passion and a strong dose of gut instinct.
“(When it comes to) failure in marketing and sales then that has to be selling 'me'. I am very good at selling other people but when I went out as a motivational speaker, I lacked any hunger (although) the money potential was excellent. I realise now that it is because I am the kind of person who belongs in a team.”
She learnt to recognise what worked for her, whether it was working in a team or on her own. “Neither is wrong, but it can make a huge difference to your productivity. Recognise how to enjoy work and you are 90% of the way there.”
Mahendra, (second from right) the third founder of In Your Hands with his family and Pauline.
Trek in Nepal
Nowadays, Pauline spends half a year travelling the world and the other half as a motivational speaker, sharing about her experiences from the world’s longest climb. She currently organising and will be leading a Trek in Nepal to fundraise for Nepalese building projects spearheaded by In Your Hands.
The trek will take place in February 2016 in the foothills of Mt Everest where the group will visit he famous Tengboche Monastery and Namche Bazaar, stay at the Sukete Resort along the banks of the Bhoti Kosi River and visit Mandala projects.
Feel free to check out this webpage for more details.
Throughout the course of writing this article, I have fallen for Pauline’s genuine and honest nature. I’ve gushed about her quite a few times in the office. I think that she has definitely found her place in this great big world and I am so thankful that she took some time to answer my pesky questions and let me share her story on our TrekkSoft blog.
Would you like to learn more about how to grow your tour or activity business?