Whale watching is an amazing experience but comes with its own benefits and challenges behind the scenes as a business. Carmen Ellis shares her experience as the owner of one such business.
- Business name: Majestic Whale Encounters
- Industry: Eco-tourism
- Number of employees: 4
- Operating since: 2013
What was your first paid job?
After leaving school, I commenced my career at a small wildlife park, which led to zookeeping and working at one of Australia’s most prestigious zoos: Taronga Western Plains Zoo.
What made you get into your current business?
Growing up on the beautiful beaches of south Sydney, I always had a deep love and connection to the ocean and marine mammals. However, it wasn’t until 2008 that I was given the opportunity to volunteer on-board a whale swim boat in Vava’u, Tonga, that I knew that my life was about to change forever.
After that, my mind was completely made up that this was my life’s purpose. Fast-forward to 2013 and my dream finally became a reality with the launch of Majestic Whale Encounters.
How did you get your very first customer/client?
My very first client had read a piece that was run in the newspaper about this new niche travel adventure to swim with whales in Tonga. It was so exciting to think that maybe I can really do this and get this business off the ground!
What has been your biggest triumph in business?
It’s hard to name one moment that was a standout. Day by day, things start to grow and evolve and without taking a step back to actually enjoy and recognise your triumphs; sometimes they can pass you by and get lost among all the hard work.
There was a time though that I took a step back and thought to myself, “Wow!” This was when we released our first new tours in Norway and Tahiti and they actually sold! We actually sold out our first Tahiti trip overnight, and I thought this is not just a passion project anymore, this is something real.
Conversely, what has been your biggest mistake and what have you learnt from it?
It’s been said before that failure is where you have your biggest growth, so when I make a mistake (which there have been plenty), I try to not dwell on it and take as many lessons from it as I can moving forward.
In business, my biggest mistake has been not having a back-up plan. In travel, so many things can go wrong, and I’ve learnt that I need to think of everything that could possibly go wrong and have a plan in place just in case.
Last year, we had a whole group of guests stranded on the main island because the flights were cancelled and we really had to go into panic mode to get everything sorted.
What is the best thing about owning your own business?
For me, the best thing about owning my own business would be working alongside a team who I call family. Being able to combine work and family allows everyone to work in a collaborative manner and support each other unconditionally.
Being a family team allows me to have a deeper understanding of everyone’s strengths and communicate in a way that I believe contributes significantly to an all-round higher level of job satisfaction.
What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever been given?
Simply: “If you do what you love, you’ll never work a day in your life.” Don’t try and change the world in a day; do things one step at a time and do them consistently.
If you could change one thing to make life easier as a business owner, what would it be and why?
As a small business owner, you will do most things yourself, especially in the beginning, due to budget restraints. You eventually learn that a lot of precious time can be wasted and that real growth will happen when you can focus more time on building your business.
Concentrate your strengths and invest in someone else doing some of the jobs you’re not so great at.
Who do you look up to in business and why?
I really look up to Jane Lu as an inspirational businesswoman: Jane Lu founded ShowPo in 2010. It all started from her parent’s garage. Jane previously worked in accounting and corporate finance, but after returning from a year abroad, she was inspired to ditch the “cubical life”, so she quit her job.
She had so much enthusiasm for entrepreneurship; she started her first business, which actually failed spectacularly. However, Jane didn’t let this stop her, and with belief in both her product and herself and armed with a new and better way of marketing, she got right back on the horse.
What started with a laptop and two shelves of clothing is now an online global fashion empire, shipping to 80 countries. Jane is now a keynote speaker, is heavily involved in Australia’s start-up scene and has been nominated for numerous awards.
What do you do to get away from work?
I like to remove myself from the stresses of a busy workweek by spending time with my family at my parents’ 200-acre property. I love riding horses out in the green rolling hills, with no one around me but the trees and the birds. This gives me time to stop, slow down and appreciate my life and my achievements.
Name a little-known fact about yourself.
Only a handful of people would know that I’m secretly a fan of singing karaoke! If you stepped into my favourite pub back in the day and heard someone singing “Love Shack”, then you could expect to see me killing it up on the stage, ha!
Another little-known funny fact about me is that I can’t wear socks to bed. Every time I have worn socks to bed, I have woken up with nightmares! True story.
What is the funniest thing you have come across in business?
If you’re up for a good laugh, there’s always the time I went to “B Building”, a business-building seminar in Sydney. Turns out B Building doesn’t stand for business building at all: it actually stands for body building! Was still a great night networking with muscly men, haha!
Adam Zuchetti is the editor of My Business, and has steered the publication’s editorial direction since early 2016.