Starting a business

From surfer solopreneur to successful small business: Meet East Coast Surf School

Behind every small business is a 'big why' – the reason they started their company in the first place and what motivates them to keep going, even when times get tough. Intuit QuickBooks is proud to support Canadian small businesses through every step of their journey and is pleased to celebrate companies doing remarkable things in this “Small Business, Big Why" series.

While surfing is often associated with sandy beaches, palm trees, and warm waters—a unique surfing culture that has none of these features happens to be thriving along Canada's Atlantic coastline. In 2004, professional surfer Nico Manos embarked on a journey to share his love for surfing with others by starting a mobile surf school business based in Lawrencetown, Nova Scotia. Over 18 years later, East Coast Surf School is still going strong.

From pro surfer solopreneur to small business

Nico first began teaching surfing to supplement his income as a lifeguard and support his professional surfing aspirations. While it was initially intended to fund his travels during the rest of the year, his early experience laid the foundation for what would become an enduring venture for decades to come.

With the help of sponsor support, his school soon gained enough credibility to reach more aspiring surfers, allowing him to share his expertise widely within the community. “We've always been a mobile business," he notes. “We still operate out of a van, and we drive all the equipment to the beach, and then meet our clients there."

A person sitting on a wooden bench with a bunch of surfboards.

Surfing with a uniquely Canadian twist

Unlike the typical surf scenes with palm trees in the background, surfing in Canada offers a truly unique experience. As the majority of Canada's coastline remains underdeveloped, Nico's surf school offers access to a unique environment, natural raw beauty, and the opportunity to “surf with pines, not palms," as he likes to say. Nico likens the experience to what it once was decades or even centuries ago in untouched locations.

Redefining success as a small business

As surfing has gained widespread acceptance as an accessible and safe sport, Nico's surf school has attracted an increasing number of families and tourists seeking to experience the thrill of surfing during their vacations. “They are not necessarily committing to a lifelong endeavour—they simply want to enjoy the Atlantic and ride some waves during their vacation," he explains. East Coast Surf School's ability to provide visitors with a memorable experience has earned them a solid reputation in the industry.

And for Nico, that's what success is all about. “We don't have a big 'success story,' we're not changing the world," he continues. “Success for us comes daily in small doses, whether it's making people happy, helping customers cross off bucket list items, seeing them let their guard down or overcome their fear of the ocean. I would consider 18 successful years in business an accomplishment as well."

Nico, alongside his wife and co-owner Jill, has also been able to foster a positive work-life balance along the way—which is the most important part of running any successful business.

Two people in wet suits are surfing on a wave.

Staying on track

“There are so many tasks to get done that I generally have to look at my list and see which ones I'm up for tackling that day," he notes. "At the end of the day, the list is usually longer than it started."

This is where QuickBooks Online and QuickBooks Payments steps in: “It's been great for getting paid quickly because I can access everything from my phone on the QuickBooks mobile app," he explains. “I can write up and send off an invoice while we're still on the beach. If I need to change an invoice from 15 people to 14 people, that's also easy to do. Being on top of all that stuff and knowing the invoices have been sent, the money's coming in, and how many wetsuits and surfboards to add to the inventory—all from the convenience of my phone—is a great option."

A person is checking his cell phone beside a car.

Riding the waves of small business ownership

From handling accounting and IT tasks to equipment repairs, scheduling logistics, and even part-time weather forecasting—Nico wears many hats. He jokingly refers to his job title as "Unforeseeables" since he often finds himself handling unexpected challenges.“Tackling things you don't know how to do is intimidating. Having a good team and a good environment is helpful, and so is chipping away at each task bit by bit," he says.

Despite the intimidation of facing unfamiliar tasks, Nico has embraced the evolution of his business, which has grown to employ 30 staff during the peak season. “Three years ago, we purchased the building we're in now, which operates as a surf shop and houses all of our rental gear. We took a lot of pride in building it and it turned out really well," he notes. "Hopefully it lives on in the community for decades to come."

Are you a Canadian business fuelled by passion and purpose? Share your business's 'big why' on Instagram and TikTok using the #SmallBizBigWhy for a chance to be featured by Intuit QuickBooks.

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