Updated: Feb 2
If you’ve worked in the outdoor industry for any length of time, you’ll have seen plenty of instructors come and go. There’s probably good reasons for that, starting out as an instructor is flippin’ hard work! The hours are long, the pay is pretty poor and the work is often seasonal, we all know people who have worked hard all summer and then have to take shop work, become a temp postie or even sell Christmas trees.
I started out working for Acorn Adventures earning about £40 per week, living in a tent, working 6 days a week including evening sessions like campfires, murder mystery’s or even bingo. This was very far from my dream of being a climbing instructor superstar, but to be fair looking back I cringe at how bad an instructor I was, 18, inexperienced and overconfident! I had such a good time though.
As the years went by I worked in various centres, gradually earning more cash and working less hours, my centre work career culminated with working as a Senior Instructor at a centre in Swanage. I got offered two jobs at the same time and Swanage seemed like an ace place to live so after somehow blagging a better wage offer I took the job in Swanage and loved my time there. It’s not very British, but wage wise I was earning around £20k with year round employment, this seemed like shed loads to me! At this point in my career I started making loads of good contacts and was actually a half decent instructor after learning loads from so many quality people at all the places I’d worked.
Two top tips at this point.. Be a people person and make as many contacts as possible (I can hardly go to a crag now without meeting someone I know whether that’s in Wales, Spain or anywhere – maybe I’m just getting old), and milk everyone for all their skills and knowledge.
My work got loads more interesting at this point in my career and I finally got around to doing my MIA, my work was now 5 days a week with only the very occasional evening so I had loads of time to climb and Swanage is an ace place to get on adventurous trad and smash out loads of sport too.
I could have stayed in this job for a long time but new challenges were needed and N Wales was calling, it was always the aim. It was the MIA qualification that opened up loads of exciting work and a decent daily rate. Moving to N Wales meant leaving full time employment for a mix of running my own company and taking on freelance work. This was a tough move. There’s probably nowhere more competitive for work, and it felt like everyone here had their MIA or higher, I had to work really hard to get work and to be honest there were times when I doubted whether I could make it work or not.
Gradually though the work started to flow more easily and the work became more and more interesting, less of the D of E work (this paid a lot of my bills for a few years and was top fun, but it was never the end goal) and more teaching lead climbing, working on NGB courses and so on, as well as the really random stuff like the mountaineering oil work or working for a Russian billionaire on a super yacht.
2016 was an ace year and 2017 is turning out to be an absolutely awesome year! I finally seem to be finding the right balance of quality work and time for climbing. I absolutely love the work I’m doing! Becoming an ML & RCI provider has been a big boost and I’ve reached a point in my career where I don’t have to chase the freelance work and my own private work makes up the majority which is ace. It’s still hard work mind, although everyday at work is a pleasure, I have to keep on top of admin and social media sucks a lot of my time – especially as I’m on the AMI committee and look after their social media too! Again, I’m going to mention the wages,
I think it’s important in this kind of blog, my average daily rate (for “normal” MIA stuff) is around £150, sometimes a bit more, sometimes a bit less and when I’m working for myself it’s between £150 – £300 depending on what’s going on. These days I occasionally employ other people and I try and pay a fair rate depending on the work, between £150 – £180.
More important than the money though, for me, is the lifestyle it affords me. I genuinely don’t ever want a full diary! That would be awful! As long as I can afford to fund my climbing trips, pay the bills and buy kit from ethically responsible companies then I’m happy. It’s no coincidence that my climbing grades have gone up over the last year, I have the time to train and the money to go cool places, and because the mix is right, I’m always super psyched to be working with all my brilliant clients that I get, whether that’s an ML training for a local provider or a climbing development course for myself.
There was a moral to this story, that probably got lost somewhere along the ramblings, I think it was to stick with it! To get from those entry level type instructing jobs takes a shed load of time and effort, you’ve got to want it, love it and work hard at it.
Think about why someone should employ you over the hundreds of other people, do your clients leave super psyched, are you able to enthuse them, teach them loads by drawing on your own experiences, do you look the part or do your clothes have holes in them (we don’t need to look like a Cotswold catalogue but be semi smart), are you any good at what you do, could you be any better (hint, we all can!). You get the idea.
A brief 2020 edit. Life is good. Work is ace. The tax man is happy. I'm mad busy with work doing all things climbing and mountaineering. From keeping Bear Grylls safe to coaching sport climbing and being super busy with RCI, RCDI and ML courses. And wintering in Spain sport climbinhg of course!
Enough waffling, I’m off to the wall to get some training in.