Whether you are just starting a camp, looking for new investors in your operation, or looking for a loan to improve facilities at an existing camp, a well-thought-out business plan can be an extremely helpful tool. At a recent national conference of the American Camp Association®, several new camp owners and directors representing both for-profit and nonprofit, day and resident, private and agency-affiliated camps, participated in a panel discussion on challenges they had faced in starting their programs in the last five years. Diane Tyrrell, writing in Camping Magazine, reported that when these new executives were asked to provide key tips for starting a camp, their first response was to remember that camp is a business — and the second was to take the time before you do anything else to develop a good, workable business plan. (Tyrrell, 2010)
While there are many different to write a business plan, camps should consider including these parts:
- Cover Sheet
- Executive Summary
- Operations, Facilities, and Equipment
- Risk Management
Cover Sheet and Executive Summary
Your cover sheet should be simple. At the top of the page, use the words “Confidential Business Plan,” then your camp name, address, date, and your name. Leave writing the executive summary until last, then limit the summary to one or two pages in length. The executive summary is an overview of your plan and should highlight the most critical components of your camp business plan, including a strong closing summary stating why your camp will be successful or why the improvements you desire will have a positive impact on your business.
In the introduction, explain what your camp is all about. Provide an overview of the program, the location, the mission of your camp, and if you are just starting, the top three to five goals that you have for the first three to five years. If you’ve been in business and are making improvements, note the reason for the improvements. You may want to tie your goals to other sections of your business plan, such as marketing or accreditation.
Also include information about yourself. Along with selling your idea, it is important to sell yourself. Do not be modest, but explain why investors should trust you to use their money wisely. Be honest and do not exaggerate your experience; instead provide an objective description of yourself and your other investors (if you have them) or of your organization, whichever is applicable. Include in the introduction your qualifications to run a camp.
If you’re purchasing an existing camp, review the camp’s history and why you are purchasing it. Explain if you will be transferring the license and/or registration for the camp (if required), or if you will be applying for a new license, any needed business permits, and when.
Also included should be the legal structure of your camp, noting whether it is a sole proprietorship, a partnership, a for-profit corporation, or a nonprofit corporation. If you have partners, list them. If this is a corporation, whether for-profit or nonprofit, identify the board of directors. Your partners or board members can give you credibility, so share their names and the roles they will take in your camp. Share the qualities that will make your camp a good business investment. Consider closing the introduction with a recap of the mission and goals of your camp and why you will be successful.
This is your chance to get your readers excited about your camp, to show what makes it special, and why it is a good investment. Try to connect with your readers in this section, because if you get them hooked on your vision for the camp, the rest of the business plan will be an easier sell.
Be specific about your program goals. If you have photos of your campers, this is a great place to use them (with parental permission — and no names, of course). Imagine that your reader is the parent of a potential camper and then sell your program from that perspective. If you have anecdotes or quotes from campers or parents, include them as appropriate to illustrate what you’re doing. Get permission from parents to use their testimonials. They will probably be happy to assist you and could even know some of your potential lenders.
Your competitive advantage will be one of the most important pieces in this section. Without making any comments about your competitors, explain why a camper would want to come to your camp. Do you have programs that others don’t? Do you have staff that others don’t? If you can’t answer those questions in the affirmative, then look deeper and find the unique value that your camp offers. Is your location outstanding? Is your pricing structure competitive? Do you offer discounts that others don’t?
Share whatever research you have about the need for your program, especially any surveys that support your venture. There is an old marketing axiom that says, “Find out what they want and then give it to them.” If you have not determined that there is a need for your camp, do some research before settling on exactly what your program will offer. If you use general camp research, be sure you attribute it to the author and note that it is general in nature, not specific to your camp.
Explain whether your program is currently in operation or if it is in development. If it’s in development, describe where in the process you are and what you’re doing to bring your program to fruition. If you listed your short-term (three to five years) goals in the beginning of this section, close with what you plan on doing in the long-term and how you anticipate your camp growing and meeting your goals.
In the staffing section, provide details about your key staff, emphasizing their experience and how they can contribute to the success of your new camp. Include photos, if possible, and past camp experience, explaining how these are the right people to be on your management team. If you do not yet have staff, describe the type of person you will recruit for key leadership positions and where you will look to find them. Indicate how your key staff will be compensated.
You’ll also need an organization chart showing reporting responsibilities and other staffing relationships. Your organization chart may include the staff you need at the present (or during your first summer or program), as well as the staff that will need to be added as you expand and when you project that growth to occur.
Reference some of the American Camp Association accreditation standards related to staffing and explain how your staffing plan will meet or surpass the generally accepted standards in the field. You will want to establish staffing ratios by age and any exceptions to the ratios. In addition, reference your state and/or local regulations for staffing and how your operation will meet those.
Staffing should also include a recruitment plan, indicating where you will find your staff, and a training plan outlining the training provided for your employees, including any certification that you will require. Address whether or not you will use volunteers too.
Operations, Facilities, and Equipment
Your operations section will show the details of how your camp will function and is your chance to explain some of the inner workings of your camp, such as registration, maintenance, food service, and any other behind-the-scenes components of your business. If you can, use graphics or diagrams to show how these functions support the program, and showcase any technology or innovative systems you are using.
Whether you lease or own a facility, this is your opportunity to share the details: location, size, type of living units, program facilities, meeting/dining spaces, natural features, and any other areas at your camp that make your facility unique or show how it aligns with the program. If you are seeking funding to purchase or expand your facility, share more details about the features, your master site plan, design considerations, and construction plans.
Similarly, if you have or need equipment to accomplish your goals, describe how you will use it and your plans for maintaining or procuring the equipment. If the equipment plays a key role in your program or operations, explain why and include graphics of the equipment in use, especially if it is unusual.
Your marketing strategy can make or break your business plan; no matter how good the program is, you have to have campers and families who will buy the experience at your camp to be successful. Your marketing plan should include at least these parts:
- Product — exactly what are you selling?
- People — a definition of who your customers are, which should include gender, age, interests, geographic location, and any other distinguishing factors. How large is your target market?
- Pricing strategy — the tactics you will employ, such as a standard fee, discounts, sliding scale, or different levels of programming.
- Promotion — which tools you will use, whether personal visits, advertising, social media, or direct marketing, and which will be the most critical to secure new campers.
- Competition — identification of who your competitors are and what differentiates your camp from theirs. If available, include statistics on your competitors’ successes; are they full?
- Budget — how much will you spend on marketing?
- Repeat business strategy — specific marketing efforts to existing campers.
- Key messages — what will be your key messages in promoting your camp?
Your potential investors will be most interested in your financial story — what your financial model is, how and when you will reach a breakeven point, and how and when you will meet your financial goals. Several standard financial statements should be included:
- Current and projected income statements for at least two years
- Current and projected balance sheets for at least two years
- Cash flow projection, by month, for at least two years
- Your personal balance sheet and how you will be compensated
Similar financial information for your secondary business, if you have one (for example, your off-season use of camp and how that will affect your camp business)
In addition, describe your key financial assumptions:
- The size of your potential customer base
- The rate at which you project to grow over time
- The pricing structure and how it may change over time
- Your fixed and variable costs and how they will change over time
- Research or data on which you base your projections
- Adjustments that must occur should your assumptions change
This is also your opportunity to present your need for start-up money and working capital, explaining how you derive these projected needs. If you have already secured some funding, disclose that, as well as any other plans to seek funding. Keep in mind that this business plan is confidential and that your potential investors need reliable information to carefully consider your request to invest in you and your camp.
Camp administrators are used to dealing with risks — whether activities that could cause injuries, weather or other natural occurrences, or financial risks due to low enrollment. Plans to deal with all types of risks should be addressed here, noting whether you are retaining risk (and what you’re doing to manage the risk retention), reducing risk by specific plans, or transferring risk to others through insurance. Some items you may include here are:
- Activity risk management plans, including listing high-risk activities, with an example of your detailed plans as an appendix
- Natural occurrences and how you will respond
- Financial risk identification and plans
- Insurance policies — type and limits of liability
- Risk management analysis conducted in conjunction with your insurance carrier. Most carriers are willing to do an assessment and provide written suggestions for mitigating potential risk situations on your property.
Any reference material or expanded plans can be attached, should the reader desire more information.
A business plan will take time, but the investment is well worth it. The discipline required to develop a thorough plan will allow you to look closely at all the pieces and parts of your camp — especially your financial roadmap — adjusting as needed and learning the minute details of the business in which you will put not only a substantial amount of money, but also your heart and soul.
Presentation and Graphics
- Throughout your business plan, consider including photos, graphics, and charts to illustrate your goals and the other information you are presenting — but not an excessive number.
- Look at your plan as if it were being presented to you: Is it interesting? Does it keep your attention? Are the illustrations relevant to the topic being presented?
- Consistency in the presentation is important. Select a font that is easy to read; then keep the same font throughout your document. Use italics and bold fonts sparingly. The main text should be in a font no smaller than 10-point and no larger than 12-point, depending on the font you choose.
- This is a business document not a social media post. Do not use emoticons and think twice before using exclamation points.
- Number your pages for easy reference.
- If you can print in color, do so, but do not overwhelm the reader with font color changes. Photos will generally look better in color, as will charts and graphs.
- Bind the document so no one will lose any pages.
- If you are not skilled at developing a professional-looking document, get someone who is to help you format your business plan. Substance is absolutely the most important thing, but substantive plans that look unprofessional don’t get very far.
- Ask the lender or potential investor if he or she prefers a printed copy or an electronic copy of your business plan. If they ask for an electronic copy, do not send a word-processing document; instead, save your document as a PDF file, which will take up much less space.
- Take advantage of the spell-check function in your word processing software. Do not have any misspelled words.
Presenting Your Business Plan in a PowerPoint® Show
- If you are asked to make a presentation and can show PowerPoint slides, remember the rule of fives: no more than five lines per slide, and no more than five words per line.
- Find out how many people will be in the room for your presentation so you can arrange to project the slides if there are more than two people who will be watching. Confirm ahead of time that it is permissible to use an LCD and that there is a screen or wall on which to show your presentation. If that is not possible, then make color copies of your slides, one per page, and have enough for everyone in the room.
- Ask how long you have to make your presentation and stay within the allotted time.
- Be prepared to answer questions about everything in your business plan, including your financials. Although your accountant may have had considerable input in the financial section, potential lenders will expect to hear the detailed finances from you, the owner.
Sheets, A. & Thoensen, D. (2014, February 5). The business of camp. Healthy Learning.
Ann Sheets is senior vice president at Camp Fire First Texas in Fort Worth and a past national president of the American Camp Association.
Photo courtesy of Appel Farm Arts Camp, Elmer, New Jersey