It seems like running a successful summer camp in the 21st century isn’t as simple and straightforward as it was “back in the day”. Competing for your camper’s business has gotten high tech, and making sure you stay competitive as well as create great camp offering takes work! A camp director and professional commented in this NY Times piece on the business of camp says, “Well-managed camps should prosper: “If they are running well, they will survive and thrive.”
Sounds like a plan! But how can you be “a well-managed camp” and also maximize your camper registration and enrollment for your next camp season. Below are 5 things to implement in your own camp business to increase camper registration and enrollment.
1. Improve your website.
I’ve said before how your registration process is like your storefront, and while that is very true, your website where people will land first is the front door! It just makes sense to take care of it right at the start. The first impression a potential camper and parent has with your camp and what you’re all about is your website and then the experience they have moving through your registration process, something I’ll go into more detail about in #4 below.
I will start with a little known rule in the Internet business but it not that known outside of it: you have between 3-6 seconds for a first time visitor to assess what you have to offer and decide if it is for them. That is not a typo, it is 3-6 SECONDS. Not minutes, seconds. Stop for a second and count to 3. Now count to six. That was really fast right? Now remember with everything we are talking about below, that is the amount of time you have to convince the parent that your camp is the right one for their child.
Now what can you convey in 3-6 seconds? Not much. So this is the base of what you want:
- A great picture since the brain processes pictures a lot faster. The picture needs to transfer a feeling to the parent. So think what is the core of your camp offering and convey that feeling. If you are all about fun make sure to have a lot of kids smiling, if you are about adventure make sure to have a kid in mid air or something similar.A word of caution: do not use stock images. They look like stock images and people detect them subconsciously right away. They give people the feeling you and your camp are not real. You do not want that. If you have pictures from your actual camp with real kids that is the best option (just make sure to get approval for using the picture from the parents of the kids before publishing).
- A great headline. You need to find a headline that is short and talks to the parent. Let’s say you are a soccer camp or a sports camp, your headline can be something like: “Kickoff summer at Camp Soccer!”. Notice how the headline is about the parent and their kid and not about you. I wrote a post about how understanding that it is not all about you will make you a lot more successful.
- A sub headline. This is a headline that needs to give them enough information to make them want to know more.
The time it takes to process these three units is about 3-4 seconds if you keep it simple. Your objective is to get them interested. If you did that, you now have a lot of time since people will browse your site in order to decide if the camp is good for their kids. You just need to pass the initial “do I care about this website” stage.
I will state that if your website doesn’t look good, doesn’t provide the right information that parents are looking for when they come to your site (pricing, session schedules, descriptions of different sessions, etc) then even if you pass the initial 3-6 seconds they will move on to another site that gives them great information and is easy to navigate. You need to put yourself in the shoes of a parent and figure out what information they want and need, and then present that easily and clearly.
The most important thing about your website (after the pictures, headline and sub-headline) is to make sure your camp mission and what you stand for is evident immediately when they land on your page. This is normally done through design and not through words. But a designer is only as good as what you tell them you want to convey. Taking the time to brainstorm what your camp is all about, what you strive to achieve, and what you value, beforehand is key to a great camp.
Make sure to include your other staff on this conversation, not just to get great ideas but to make sure that everyone is on the same page when it comes to what you are trying to achieve with your camp. A focused and well thought out vision of who you are will come across to parents looking for what you can provide!
2. Use social media for marketing!
You have a great website but nobody knows about it or about your camp. Having a great offering that is the best kept secret in your area is the sure way to go out of business. So after you have everything together regarding what you offer it is time to make the world know about it! I could write a whole e-Book about camp marketing (which actually is not a bad idea…) but if I would need to give one suggestion it would be to use social media. Most parents have an active Facebook account and are using it constantly. This is the place they will ask their friends questions and will look up (in addition to Google) the camps in their area. So you really need to be there so that when they are in “search mode” they will find you.
- Tell the story of your camp through pictures, short blog posts and videos.
- Connect with your campers.
- Connect with parents during and after camp.
- A great marketing tool.
- A way to leverage the friendships and connections of your current families to reach new target audiences.
3. Create a great user experience by investing in a quality camp registration software.
We have taken care of the two most important parts: making sure people know about you and having a website that does not make them leave. Now to the last part: getting them to register their kids to the camp. This should be your ultimate goal with your marketing and website design today. Later, as camp starts, your social media work and website can be about how much fun everyone is having but at this stage when parents are registering their kids for summer camps your objective with your marketing (aka social media) and website is to get them registered.
There are a number of ways to do it. The absolute worst one is to ask them to fill out paper forms and send them in. The second worst is asking them to email you and the third worst is having a registration software that makes them run away screaming. You need to have a great camp registration software, otherwise all your work marketing and building out your offering and website will go to waste. You can check out some of these in depth posts (here, here, and here) about general benefits to online registration but the main reasons include:
- Easy statistics and marketing tools – understand your campers through search and reporting functions in your software.
- Online payments and automated payment plans – never chase a parents for payment again.
- Automated email and communication tools – reduce admin work and redirect admin hours to improving and building your camp! This also lets you streamline email marketing to current campers to help spread the word about your camp and increase camper registration!
- Your registration process is a part of your on-boarding process. If a parent begins the process and it’s easy to use, personalized for them, and allows them to flow quickly and seamlessly, they are more likely to see the process through. This means you get more campers, you get paid early or on time, and you also are continuing to present yourself and your camp as professional and organized. This goes a long way to encourage parents to refer you and to a great service experience for them.
4. Focus on early registration – discounts, incentives for registering early.
Now we are getting into the “good problems to have” section. If you followed until now you should have a great website, a social media plan to make sure that people know what you offer and a great registration software that will make sure that once a family decides to attend your camp, they will be able to register and pay easily. Now you want to make sure that your camp is filled up as fast as possible and that you have the cash flow needed in order to make sure that when camp starts, it will be amazing!
After registering 2.9 million people in 2015 for camps, events, schools and a lot more we have seen that the camps that start registration early and that give incentives to register ahead of time are the ones that get filled up and eventually need to open additional sessions (I said we are in the “good problems to have” section!). So… The earlier you register and fill up your summer sessions, the better. You guarantee a certain number of campers, can plan out your staffing and have a good idea of what to expect. If you have a wait list option (we wrote all about the benefits of this here) then you’re even more golden, in case early registers end up backing out.
A big focus of your marketing should be getting families to enroll as soon as possible, and offering incentives to do so isn’t a bad idea. Don’t go overboard, as many people registering early would do so regardless of a discount, they probably want to ensure their kid has a spot, but it can be helpful to get parents on the fence about committing to commit earlier because of the lure of a discount. Figure out financially what makes sense for your camp. Perhaps you have a $50 deposit that you can waive for registrations before a certain date or a credit to your camp store for a certain amount if registered by a certain date. Consider also referral discounts, a specific amount of camp fees for bringing a friend who registers! Consider how much a new camper is worth to you to make sure the discount you offer to your family makes sense. I’ll talk about this more in #5 below.
Focusing early on in the season on early registration can benefit you in the long run. It will help bring in money earlier, which can help spread out your cash flow over a longer period and help you accomplish tasks before summer that you need money for.
5. Use your current campers and come up with a great referral incentive to get new business.
If you aren’t already doing this, you should be! You have built in potential customers in the friends and family of those who already love you! It may take a few sessions to figure out what kind of referral program makes sense financially for you and is well received by your campers. Usually the best place to start is offering something special to the people that are referring you. A good example is a special session only open to people that make referrals. Another option is taking off a certain dollar amount from their next session for every camper they refer. You can throw in free camp store gear, or even better for your bottom line, camp store credit, if you have a store available. In theory you are profiting from what you sell there, so you still come out ahead by offering free merchandise to campers and they will feel like they got a great deal too!
Just remember referrals are just another form of marketing, so don’t be afraid to offer a reasonable discount for a referral. That referral is netting you more money, and you have to spend money to make money!
I have gone over 5 really amazing ways to increase camper registration and enrollment at your camp for the 2016 season! Essential to any business is a great storefront, a great website and a seamless and intuitive registration process. Business is all about customer service, so presenting a great first impression and creating a process that is easy to use will equal happy families, and fully paid ones too! Take the advice quoted up at the top: if you are running your camp well, you WILL survive and thrive. Don’t be scared by the tech behind a great website and social media plan. It’s simple to use once you get the hang of it and is vital to your camp’s marketing plan.
That plus a great camp management software will allow you to streamline and automate much of the headache work that is admin paperwork, and allow you to really focus on the things that matter: connecting with your community, showcasing your camp and planning an awesome summer!