Jolene Swiffen set up Mynydd Sleddog Adventures in Conwy, North Wales, to offer husky rides and sled dog adventures. Jolene received help and advice from the Welsh Government’s Business Wales service, enabling her to start the business in December 2019.
Launched by Jolene Swiffen in December 2019, Mynydd Sleddog Adventures is Wales’ first and only outdoor attraction, offering husky rides and sled dog adventures to people of all ages.
Set up within the beautiful forest trails of Bwlch Hafod Einion, the business has its own team of 16 racing sled dogs.
Why did you decide to set up your own business?
From a young age, I had a passion for animals, nature, the great outdoors, mountains, snow and adventure. All I ever wanted was to work outdoors with dogs or horses, but due to my home situation, this was not an option when I left school at the age of 16.
My professional career saw me working within the public sector for many years. I started in the Careers Service working with young people struggling to engage with education and later specialised in working with offenders, supporting them into education, employment or training. I qualified as a Careers Guidance Practitioner and my last position was with a North West housing provider setting up and managing employability projects and programmes for residents, communities and young people who had struggled with education. My career has been challenging, but highly rewarding.
My sled dog career started in 2001 and my dogs have been my passion and driving force ever since. I came up with my business idea around 2009, after a lot of research into canine and human interactions and seeing how this bond improves lives, raises engagement levels and aspirations, increases confidence and improves mental wellbeing. Sadly, 2009 was not the year for me to be setting up a business, so I saved the idea until the time was right.
In January 2019, we moved to North Wales. We particularly wanted a property that would enable us to train the dogs on our own land as well as at our usual training ground (South Alwen Forest).
I started to rethink my career and wondered whether this would be the right time to revisit my original business idea. After long discussions with my husband, considering figures and lifestyle changes, I quit employment in January 2019 and embarked on a completely new journey. I set up my dream business – a sled dog adventure centre that offers people of all ages the opportunity to meet working sled dogs, interact with them and experience the excitement of sled dog sport, right here in North Wales.
What challenges did you face?
The challenges have been immense. Friends and onlookers say: “you’re living the dream” and yes, it would appear that way, but “living the dream” is extremely hard work and requires determination and tenacity! I have never felt as physically and mentally shattered as I do now. At times, when the world seems against you, it can be hard to keep driving forward and remain focused on your goal.
Finances are a big challenge, too. My husband and I were clearly deluded, thinking I could get my business off the ground in 3 months! He agreed to support me with savings, alongside me working part-time for his company. 3 months turned into 6 and then almost 12 – and my business was still in its infancy and our savings dwindled.
There were other challenges to overcome, including my planning application, which caused huge amounts of stress. The Covid-19 pandemic delayed things even further.
Business Wales support
Luckily, Business Wales have been a huge support throughout and I have to thank them for all the help I have received. My Business Adviser, Sian E Jones, has always been supportive of my business idea. She assisted me with my business plan and cash flow forecast. Sian was always on the end of the phone ready to listen if I needed to run ideas past her or have a rant about something that was not working out as I had anticipated.
Business Wales also referred me to a business mentor, which has proven invaluable! My mentor, Morag Davies, and I would meet once a month to run through ideas and processes, go over my business plan, cash flow, planning application and discuss overcoming challenges. She has been a great help and a boost of motivation.
She even put me in touch with another local business owner, who had been through similar challenges to me, for some motivational support. Again, this has proven priceless.
Sian also recommended that I attend workshops offered by Business Wales, including Branding and Marketing, Social Media Marketing and Search Engine Optimisation. The workshops have been fantastic, I have learned so much, developed my brand and fine-tuned my product offer. I have also met some amazing new people through networking with others on the courses; this in itself has not only boosted my confidence, but has enabled me to integrate with my local community, too.
Business Wales also assisted me with a successful start-up loan application, which has enabled me to fund a new professional website, promotional show reels and much needed equipment.
Mynydd Sleddog Adventures Ltd started trading in December 2019. However, due to the Covid-19 pandemic, we had to close for the time being. This has been a difficult and worrying time, but Sian has been on hand with support and information throughout. Business Wales provided regular updates from Welsh Government about support available for start-up businesses.
- successfully started
- 1 new job created
- a £10,000 start-up loan investment secured
I absolutely cannot thank Business Wales enough for everything. The support and encouragement I have received is second to none! I would most definitely recommend Business Wales to other new business start-ups.
Future plans and ambitions
As soon as lockdown restrictions are eased, I will plough full steam ahead with promoting and marketing my business in the hope that I can build it up again. I will continue working with Natural Resources Wales who kindly gave me permission to operate my business from South Alwen Forest and will continue to offer and support work experience placements to Animal Management students from Coleg Cambria.
The ultimate goal would be to grow my business enough to be able to: firstly, take on an apprentice, who can learn about driving sled dogs and manage Mynydd Sleddog Adventures when I get older; and secondly, develop aspirational programmes with the dogs. These will aim to engage and inspire young people, showing them that they can achieve whatever they want to if they work hard and put their mind into it.
If you want to read more success stories of how Business Wales has helped other people like you to start or grow their businesses, visit https://businesswales.gov.wales/case-studies or follow @_businesswales / @_busnescymru on Twitter.