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How to Start a Summer Camp in 7 Steps

How to Start a Summer Camp in 7 Steps

Summer camps are a popular way to spend time during the summer months to make new friends and find new experiences. Starting one can be a good business idea if you’re the kind of person (or organization) that cares about children and creating educational opportunities for them.

With the variety of activities and new skills you can provide, whether it’s learning how to code, play basketball, paint with watercolors, or just participate in outdoor activities, you can be sure that your audience is out there.

However, a summer camp is a small business, and getting a small business off the ground can be challenging.

That’s why we’ve prepared a guide on how to start your own summer camp with seven helpful tips.

Let’s begin with the first one—creating a business plan.

Create Your Summer Camp Business Plan

Before starting any business, you need a plan, and starting a summer camp is no different.

Furthermore, setting up a summer camp is a complex endeavor with many factors to consider, so it’s important to create a business plan.

Here’s Adam Hayes, an economic sociologist, and an experienced financial writer, explaining what exactly a business plan is:

Illustration: Regpack / Data: Investopedia

Attention to detail is essential in creating a business plan—because when you’re starting a small business, you shouldn’t leave anything to chance.

In other words, if you approach a business plan casually, you might become a part of the grim statistics about failed small businesses.

On the other hand, according to data from Harvard Business Review, if you make a comprehensive and formal business plan, your chances of running a viable business increase.

Illustration: Regpack / Data: HBR

So, how detailed should your business plan be?

A short answer would be “as detailed as possible”.


Because it’s not only a document that serves as a guideline for you but also as a display of your capabilities to establish and run a business like a summer camp, which can be crucial for stakeholders, investors, and others that you will soon look for to help you.

For example, Dave Lavinsky, president of Growthink, proposes that you have nine distinct parts of your business plan:

A business plan like that takes a bit of time and effort, but it can make things easier for you in the long term.

Secure Financing for Your Business

After you’ve created a business plan for your summer camp, it’s time to get the funds necessary to start it.

As we’ve mentioned, a section of your business plan should be devoted to the financial side of your summer camp—how much money you need to start it, how much each element of the summer camp costs, etc.

If you know that, you also know how much money you need to secure to launch your camp.

Depending on the amount, you can choose from the financing options you have available.

Dave Lavinsky, the business planning specialist we mentioned earlier, points out that there are two main sources of financing for summer camps.

Illustration: Regpack / Data: Growthink

There are other options like outside investors, hard money lenders, etc.

However, the most common way to finance your summer camp is using your own money (if you have enough) or turning to banks to loan you the sum you need.

We should mention that the business plan we’ve discussed comes into play here because banks will certainly give you a loan if they see how seriously you’ve approached the business.

So, how much money should you secure for starting a summer camp?

Although the figures vary depending on many factors, like the type of camp, its size, location, etc., there are estimations you can work with.

For instance, Nick Cotter of has a lot of experience working with growing businesses, and he breaks down the operating costs of starting a summer camp into six categories which total $36.000.

Source: Newfoundrz

It goes without saying that this is an estimate, and your expenses might vary.

Regardless of the total sum you need to secure, it is imperative that you do so before moving on to the following essential steps.

Fulfill All of Your Legal Obligations

Starting a summer camp is undoubtedly an exciting and ambitious task that can bring benefits to your business and a lot of joy to campers. However, you shouldn’t forget your legal obligations.

What exact obligations you have depends on the location of your camp, the services you provide, and other elements.

For example, the permits and licenses you need to obtain if you have a swimming pool in your camp differ from such obligations if you don’t have one.

Regardless of the specifics, you should learn about your legal obligations and fulfill them to avoid penalties, lawsuits, or even closing down your camp because of significant oversight.

How to know what your obligations are? For example, if your camp is based somewhere in the U.S., a good starting point is the website of the American Camp Association.

It contains every state’s laws and regulations regarding camps.

Therefore, you can, for instance, learn what the governing body you’ll have to deal with if you want to start a camp in Colorado, what minimum wage you must pay, and other helpful information.

Source: American Camp Association

Of course, to make your business legitimate, you need to register it.

That means you need to decide what type of business entity your summer camp will be.

The most common are:

You can read more about each business type in the links above.

In short, when it comes to summer camps, an LLC is a common choice because it provides a certain level of flexibility in operations and protection for investors and against lawsuits.

Among other important legal obligations, you have to open a bank account for your summer camp, as well as set up your taxes and financing.

Regarding the latter, you can hire an outside accountant firm or tackle the task yourself with the help of the right software solutions.

Additionally, you may require background checks for employees who work with children.

Overall, there are many legal obligations to fulfill when starting a summer camp, just like when starting any other business.

If you get informed and do everything by the book, you can proceed to the following steps.

Buy All of the Necessary Equipment

Now that you’ve taken care of all the paperwork for your summer camp, it’s time to ensure that your campers can enjoy some great activities while they stay in it.

For that, you’ll need to acquire the necessary equipment.

It goes without saying that the equipment you buy depends on the activities you plan to organize at your camp.

However, you should meticulously research and identify the exact type of equipment you need to provide your campers with the best possible experience.

For example, Camp Crossed Arrows offers campers a variety of sports activities, including horseback riding and racing.

Source: Camp Crossed Arrows on Facebook

To ensure campers’ safety, the camp organizers have to provide them with equipment like riding helmets, riding boots, etc.

If you decide to offer horseback riding, you should follow that example.

That way, the campers stay safe while enjoying horseback riding, and you protect yourself from the trouble the injuries can cause to the reputation and success of your camp.

Think about it—how long would your summer camp survive if you didn’t provide the necessary equipment, skimp on it, or take other shortcuts? Most likely, not very long.

While purchasing the equipment might represent a substantial initial cost, it will pay off in the long run.

Hire the Right Staff and Train Them

Regardless of how capable you are at your job, you can’t run a summer camp by yourself.

Staff members with specific skills, experience, and training are non-negotiable in making your summer camp successful.

How many staff members you will hire depends on the number of campers that participate in your camp, the variety and type of activities, etc.

However, according to data from the American Camp Association, you should prepare to hire a greater number of staff members.

For instance, depending on the type of camp (day camps or overnight camps), between 22 and 28% of summer camps needed to hire 100 or more staff members in 2022.

Source: American Camp Association

In addition to that, only 19% of camps retained all of their staff before the end of the season.

In other words, you should prepare that the hiring process might continue throughout the summer.

Also, you should hire the right staff for the job, whether you need cooks, animators, camp counselors, tennis coaches, or swimming instructors, because the whole camp experience will be better if you have skilled staff.

For example, Rally Camps are looking for a lifeguard.

Source: Frontend.LA on Twitter

A lifeguard is a position that comes with lots of responsibilities. Whether the lifeguard knows what they’re doing can literally mean the difference between life and death.

That’s why Rally Camps also require a certification from their applicants.

Source: Frontend.LA

In short, the team from Rally Camps knows the importance of hiring the right staff for the job.

Furthermore, you should also provide additional training for your staff to maximize safety and improve the overall experience in your camp.

That doesn’t mean that every member needs to know how to perform every fun activity, or play every sport or instrument.

However, there are some skills that they should know or be trained in, like CPR.

Source: Frontline Health

Why? Because you never know when there can be an emergency and which staff member will be present at the time.

So, once you’ve hired trained and skilled staff, it’s time to bring the campers in by creating a registration process.

Set up a Streamlined Registration Process

To increase the chance of families choosing your summer camp, you should make the registration process as simple as possible.

Making the registration process unnecessarily complicated can only drive the parents away.

Today, it should be a given that you don’t flood the applicants with physical paperwork. Likewise, you shouldn’t ask them to fill out too detailed online forms, either.

The more streamlined the registration process is, the more time you’ll save your customers but also yourself in processing the data they provide.

Using summer camp registration system like Regpack can make a significant difference in the whole registration process.

For example, you can create simple online registration forms by choosing which form fields you want to include and dragging them on the form.

Source: Regpack

A drag-and-drop system like that is fast, convenient, and doesn’t require any third-party applications or coding knowledge.

Once you design your registration form, it will provide a customized experience for parents, thanks to the conditional logic.

In short, that means the answers the parents fill in determine how the registration process proceeds. And, you get all the necessary information you need from allergies, to contact information, and more!

Source: Regpack

Using conditional logic saves time while providing the customers an experience like you’re guiding them through the process yourself.

Also, an important part of the streamlined registration process is payment options.

Regpack allows you to create different payment plans, gives you control over every customer’s payment situation, and even automatically reminds customers when the payment is due.

Source: Regpack

With powerful yet simple camp registration software like Regpack, creating a streamlined registration process is guaranteed.

Start Marketing Your Summer Camp

The last step in the process of starting a summer program is to let people know that there is a summer camp to enroll in.

In other words, you should advertise your camp and attract campers so all your time and effort don’t go to waste.

The first thing you can do is define your target audience to make it easier to market your summer camp.

Then, you should build an informative website that speaks to that audience.

Let’s look at the example of Alexa Café. When you visit their website, you immediately know their target audience.

Source: Alexa Café

As you can see in the highlighted part, there is no doubt who the camp is for.

Furthermore, stating the purpose of your camp is crucial for marketing. You want your audience to know what you want to achieve with your camp.

That helps in spreading your message while, at the same time, your audience can get a sense of what they can expect from your camp.

The team from Alexa Café states the camp programs purpose right on the homepage.

Source: Alexa Café

You can also ensure that the best parts of your summer camp experience get clearly across by highlighting them.

Below, you can see how Alexa Café does that.

Source: Alexa Café

In addition to a well-designed website, you can utilize the power of social media for marketing.

That way, the potential campers and their families don’t need to come directly to your website; they can notice the photos, videos, posters, and other content on various social media channels.

For instance, this Twitter post concerning the Freeburg Basketball Summer Camp provides all the necessary information and includes a link to a registration form.

Source: Freeburg Girls BBall on Twitter

Overall, by knowing your target audience and catering to them, stating the goals and purpose of your camp, and using the power of a great website and social media, you won’t have trouble filling your summer camp.


Running your own camp can be a profitable business and a dynamic way to spend your summer if done right.

If you want to successfully get your summer camp off the ground, following the steps from this article can make that easier for you.

From forming a business plan to marketing your camp, every step counts. Don’t skip any of them, and your youth camp will be a success.

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