Mark Rolle’s saw how creating a business plan meant having a goal to work towards, good advice picked up during his undertaking of the NT Government’s Business Upskill Workshop.
It’s every fisherman’s (or woman’s) dream: standing on a deserted beach in the shadow of red ochre cliffs that lie far beyond the road’s end, casting a line into the water and catching the Territory’s iconic barramundi, each bigger than the last. It’s a place where every cast provides an experience that is etched into the angler’s memory forever.
But this angler’s midnight apparition is no dream. It is a place only an hour’s flight from Darwin by helicopter, that’s all yours if you’ve got the cash. It is a trip made possible by Helifish, a company operating from the outskirts of the city, featuring a fleet of Robinson R44 choppers that are ready to deliver fishermen to selected, isolated Territory beaches and creeks.
Operating for the past four years, Helifish is the brainchild of pilot Mark Rolle, a keen fisherman who started the business as a weekend getaway in a mate’s helicopter. But within four weeks he was operating full time. Other operators had offered helicopter fishing but had not created a professional tailored product. “We designed our tours to access better fishing spots, supply quality fishing gear and showcase the Territory’s brilliant landscapes and wildlife,” recalls Mark. “It provides clients with an experience that’s more than just a joy flight.”
And they catch fish. Frequenting the creeks that feed into the sea, a catch of 15 or more barramundi is the usual for the tour, varying with the seasons. As a result Helifish has grown by 300 per cent in four years, now operating 365 days a year and expanding their reach to show clients more wildlife, landscapes and local waterfalls. “We’ve focused on exceeding the client’s expectations,” says Mark. “We don’t over-sell the product. It sells itself and elicits a nice surprise.” But for Mark, the experience has been built upon a steep learning curve. “I really didn’t have any business skills when I started,” Mark admits. “It started off as a weekend hobby type thing that evolved. My first business plan projected me doing 12 trips a year that covered my costs. Now we do closer to 350.”
There was a lot to learn so Mark turned to the NT Government’s Business Upskill Workshop for guidance. It is a free program that sees a professional consultant review every aspect of your business. Held around the Territory throughout the year, Business Upskills workshops provide operators with advice on marketing, pricing, costing and quoting, as well as staff responsibilities, and planning for growth with a business plan.
Business Upskills worked for Helifish. Mark saw how creating a business plan meant having a goal to work towards. “I took the advice of the consultant who said: “Take one thing on at a time, and see if you can gauge the result.” So we did advertising on radio and TV. We got the website looking better, and I designed all our advertising around driving people to our website. That told people everything they wanted to know about our tours – including the price. So if they rang up, conversion rate from inquiries to sales is over 90 percent.”
Managing his added costs of insurance cover, fees to Aboriginal land owners, Fisheries and Parks licensing proved to be manageable when worked into an overall plan. Upskills is a workshop that has paid dividends over time. Mark Rolle states: “If people don’t have much business experience, or they need to have a mentor to advise them, rather than going to see a financial consultant and paying him big money - utilise Business Upskills. How you use it is up to you.”