How to Start a Summer Camp

Successful summer camp business owners respond to the needs of their customers and communities by developing curriculum and activities that focus on their specific interests, goals and objectives. Traditional summer camps offer outdoor activities such as hiking, building campfires, and canoeing. Sleep-away camps offer food and lodging as well as trained supervision during physical and educational activities. Day camps do not include lodging and offer more specialized learning activities such as computer science, performing arts and music. Today, there are summer camp programs available for nearly every imaginable purpose, interest and need.

Learn how to start your own Summer Camp and whether it is the right fit for you.

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Start a summer camp by following these 9 steps:

You have found the perfect business idea, and now you are ready to take the next step. There is more to starting a business than just registering it with the state. We have put together this simple step guide to starting your summer camp. These steps will ensure that your new business is well planned out, registered properly and legally compliant.

STEP 1: Plan your Business

A clear plan is essential for success as an entrepreneur. It will help you map out the specifics of your business and discover some unknowns. A few important topics to consider are:

  • What are the startup and ongoing costs?
  • Who is your target market?
  • How long it will take you to break even?
  • What will you name your business?

Luckily we have done a lot of this research for you.

What are the costs involved in opening a summer camp?

One of the first and most important costs associated with opening a summer camp business is ensuring that the camp is licensed and adheres to all federal, state, and local regulations. For example, any staff member who works directly with children must undergo a thorough background check. Another substantial startup cost for any type of summer camp business is purchasing the required liability and medical insurance.

The initial costs of opening a sleepaway camp are much higher than opening a day camp due to the cost of the purchase or rental of overnight accommodations. If you don’t own property, there are camp rentals available. Rental costs vary according to the size of the property, the number of amenities it offers, and the number of people it can accommodate.

Costs for any summer camp include staff salaries, utilities, and transportation. Depending upon the type of activities your camp offers, other costs could include sporting equipment, arts and crafts materials, or even veterinary care. Since summer camps provide such a valuable community service, your business may be eligible for government grants or low-income loans that could help reduce your startup costs.

What are the ongoing expenses for a summer camp?

Ongoing expenses include either rent or grounds maintenance, staff salaries, medical and liability insurance, and promotional advertising. For sleep-away camps, the cost of food and overnight staff are also ongoing expenses.

Who is the target market?

Preferred customers of summer camp businesses are people who recognize the value of enriching life experiences. In the past, the most common type of clients were parents who wanted to provide their children with structured and well-supervised physical, educational and social activities during the summer months. Today, summer camps are becoming increasingly popular with adults as well.

How does a summer camp make money?

A summer camp business charges a fee for services that include providing trained supervision, educational instruction, and emotional support. The pricing structure is designed to cover operating costs as well as generate a profit. Often summer camps charge a fixed cost per camp session - which is typically between 2 weeks and 2 months.

How much can you charge customers?

The average cost for a week of summer camp is $1,500. Some exclusive sleep-away camps with established reputations charge as much as $12,750 for a 7-week summer session.

How much profit can a summer camp make?

A summer camp business can be very lucrative. Well-managed camps usually enjoy a profit margin of between 25 to 40 percent.

How can you make your business more profitable?

Whatever type of summer camp business you have, to ensure a steady source of income throughout the year, you can offer specialized day camps on weekends for both children and adults. From arts and crafts to computer programming to learning the newest dances, there are hundreds of enjoyable activities that can attract new customers. The longer you are in business, the more people you will meet who will welcome the opportunity to earn a little extra cash for contributing their talents by presenting a class or seminar.

What will you name your business?

Choosing the right name is very important. We recommend checking if the business name you choose is available as a web domain and securing it early so no one else can take it.

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STEP 2: Form a legal entity

Establishing a legal business entity such as an LLC prevents you from being personally liable if your summer camp is sued. There are many business structures to choose from including: Corporations, LLC's, and DBA's.

You should also consider using a registered agent service to help protect your privacy and stay compliant.

A cube with LLC printed on its sides

For most small businesses forming an LLC is a great option, and it's easy enough to form by yourself, or check out the top business formation services.

STEP 3: Register for taxes

You will need to register for a variety of state and federal taxes before you can open for business.

In order to register for taxes you will need to apply for an EIN. It's really easy and free!

A cube with LLC printed on its sides

You can acquire your EIN for free through the IRS website, via fax, or by mail. If you would like to learn more about EINs and how they can benefit your LLC, read our article, What is an EIN?.

STEP 4: Open a business bank account & credit card

Using dedicated business banking and credit accounts is essential for personal asset protection.

When your personal and business accounts are mixed, your personal assets (your home, car, and other valuables) are at risk in the event your business is sued. In business law, this is referred to as piercing your corporate veil.

Open a business bank account

  • This separates your personal assets from your company's assets, which is necessary for personal asset protection.
  • It also makes accounting and tax filing easier.

Get a business credit card

  • This helps you separate personal and business expenses by putting your business' expenses all in one place.
  • It also builds your company's credit history, which can be useful to raise money and investment later on.

STEP 5: Set up business accounting

Recording your various expenses and sources of income is critical to understanding the financial performance of your business. Keeping accurate and detailed accounts also greatly simplifies your annual tax filing.

STEP 6: Obtain necessary permits and licenses

Failure to acquire necessary permits and licenses can result in hefty fines, or even cause your business to be shut down.

State & Local Business Licensing Requirements

Certain state permits and licenses may be needed to open a summer camp business. In particular, altering a campground may require a campground operating license. Learn more about licensing requirements in your state by visiting SBA’s reference to state licenses and permits.

In addition, certain local licensing or regulatory requirements may apply. For more information:

Most businesses are required to collect sales tax on the goods or services they provide. To learn more about how sales tax will affect your business, read our article, Sales Tax for Small Businesses.

State Regulations

Laws regulating summer camps vary from state to state. For example, in many states, all camp employees are required to submit to criminal background checks.

STEP 7: Get Business Insurance

Insurance is highly recommended for all business owners. If you hire employees, workers compensation insurance may be a legal requirement in your state.

STEP 8: Define your brand

Your brand is what your company stands for, as well as how your business is perceived by the public. A strong brand will help your business stand out from competitors.

How to promote & market a summer camp

Creating a website is the best way to provide positive images and detailed information about your camp, as well as collect contact information from potential customers. Brochures that include photos of the various activities your camp offers are also an effective promotional tool. Schools, recreation centers, churches and other locations where families gather are good places to distribute them. Social media is a great way to keep in touch with former campers throughout the year, post information about upcoming activities and offer special sales promotions for new and returning customers.

Recommended: Get started with local advertising for your business with a $300 credit from Yelp.

How to keep customers coming back

The success of a summer camp business depends on building a reputation that inspires a high level of trust. Parents require assurance that the physical and emotional safety and well-being of their children while in your care is your utmost priority. While the internet may provide information about your staff and services, nothing can replace face-to-face interaction. One good way to personally introduce yourself and your new business to the community is by contacting schools in the surrounding area and requesting permission to give a short presentation. Despite the far-reaching marketing magic of internet technology, the most effective form of advertising is still word of mouth from parents of happy campers.

STEP 9: Establish your Web Presence

A business website allows customers to learn more about your company and the products or services you offer. You can also use social media to attract new clients or customers.

Start A Summer Camp In Your State

A cube with LLC printed on its sides

Select your state below for an in-depth guide on completing each of these steps in your home state.

Is this Business Right For You?

This business is a good choice for people who love teaching, but prefer a beautiful natural setting to a formal classroom. High-energy individuals thrive on the combination of physical and mental activity this type of business provides. Creative people welcome the challenge of providing fun, interesting, and engaging songs, games, and educational activities for campers. Those who enjoy working with and enriching the lives of children and families experience a high level of job satisfaction within this industry.

What happens during a typical day at a summer camp?

Day-to-day activities of a summer camp business include:

  • Communicating with past customers about their experiences and potential future customers about how summer camp programs can meet their needs
  • Providing training, leadership and guidance for staff members
  • Ensuring that the grounds and premises are safe and properly maintained
  • Developing educational curriculum and promotional materials
  • Participating in physical and educational activities with staff and clients

What are some skills and experiences that will help you build a successful summer camp?

  • Communication and relationship-building skills are essential. Statistics show that summer camp staff commonly return each year. Achieving that consistency reduces training costs, increases successful teamwork and builds community trust.
  • Market research skills are helpful for keeping abreast of popular trends and developing unique camp curriculums not offered by competitors.
  • Management skills are required for hiring and supervising qualified staff.

What is the growth potential for a summer camp?

Many summer camp businesses are third and fourth generation family businesses. However, the industry has expanded to the extent that franchise opportunities are now available.

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Take the Next Step

Find a business mentor

One of the greatest resources an entrepreneur can have is quality mentorship. As you start planning your business, connect with a free business resource near you to get the help you need.

Having a support network in place to turn to during tough times is a major factor of success for new business owners.

Resources to Help Women in Business

There are many resources out there specifically for women entrepreneurs. We’ve gathered necessary and useful information to help you succeed both professionally and personally:

  • Funding
  • Events
  • Guides
  • Support

If you’re a woman looking for some guidance in entrepreneurship, check out this great new series Women in Business created by the women of our partner Startup Savant.

How and when to build a team

Unlike other types of businesses, a summer camp business requires owners to have a team in place before opening the business. Depending on the type of camp, team members may include instructors, camp counselors, nurses, and cooks. There are several governmental programs you can utilize to help build your team. For example, one program offers tax incentives for camps that hire veterans.

Next Steps

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