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If you love the outdoors and have a passion for teaching others to experience nature and improve their life skills, the survival school business might be right for you. Your students might be children, families, or friends out for an interesting weekend experience. You may even attract people who are active adventurers seeking to learn practical survival skills for their next big trip. Your school might focus on barebones survival, or bushcraft, which places an emphasis on thriving over longer periods in the wilderness, or perhaps a mix of both.
Who is this business right for?
Your first and most immediate skill must be a love for and depth of knowledge in outdoorsmanship. You should also have an innate ability to teach and to encourage students to share your passion for nature and wilderness survival. Depending on the specific direction you take your business and the ecosystems of your area, you might also require knowledge of first aid techniques, survival trapping, plant and animal identification, harsh weather survival, or other kinds of outdoor survival skills.
What happens during a typical day at a survival school?
You’ll likely find yourself spending about one-third of your time on marketing and promotion, one third on typical business-related endeavors and one-third actually out in the field with students. Typical responsibilities can include the following.
- Communicating on social media and creating and implementing other means of getting your message out to prospective students
- Contacting property owners or public lands officials to schedule courses
- Booking classes and answering questions from prospective students
- Presenting seminars and workshops at coffee houses, libraries, civic centers, and other locations to inspire camp sign-ups
- Conducting on-site training programs that could last from one to five days or longer
What is the target market?
Your audience could range from serious outdoors enthusiasts to groups merely looking for a unique form of weekend recreation. But all will want to spend time outdoors and learn more about nature and their relationship with the outdoors. Be sure to adequately describe courses and expectations to avoid disappointing attendees.
How does a survival school make money?
You’ll charge participants either a per-day fee for workshops and weekend training, or a predetermined course fee for classes that are ongoing over a period of time.
What is the growth potential for a survival school?
Survival training has become a big business since about 2012. This level of acceptance from the community means that more prospective students will know about it and seek classes, but it might also mean that you’ll find stiffer competition in the field and constrained revenue.
What are some skills and experiences that will help you build a successful survival school?
It’s critical that you have ample outdoor and wilderness survival experience before you can teach it. If this is a skill set that’s in your background, consider earning certification as an instructor from a credible program, such as this one from Sigma 3 Survival School.
What are the costs involved in opening a survival school?
- Location -- Zero to $100 a day for camp or more. This cost will be dependent on where your sessions take place. If you use property you already own, there’s no out-of-pocket cost in this area, but you might otherwise have to deal with private property owners or public lands.
- Transportation -- A few hundred dollars or less to $1,000 or more. This expense depends on where you conduct your classes. If they’re held on your own or neighboring property this cost is minimal and might only involve expenses to get you to and from areas where you’ll conduct free intro programs or otherwise solicit business.
- Certification training -- Zero to several thousand dollars. Certification as a wilderness survival instructor is a good way of gaining credibility in your field. But you might not see it to be necessary if you have significant experience in wildlife survival.
- Gear -- Several hundred dollars to $2,500 or more. This can include such camping basics as tent, backpack, mess kit, knife, axe, and first aid kit. Additional gear will depend on your location and the type of training you’ll provide.
- Logo, website and other marketing communications tools -- $200 or more. Websites and social media accounts can he had for free or very little cost, but invest in a logo and site design that supports your image of professionalism.
- Legal, licensure and insurance -- Several thousand dollars. Liability insurance is critical, especially if there’s a distinct possibility of calamity. For instance, if your camp takes place during harsh weather (Canadian winters or desert training), or if there’s the threat of bears, poisonous snakes, fast-moving water, sudden storms, etc. Be sure to discuss this with a lawyer too. Also, ask your lawyer about licensing needs. For instance, will you need a food license if wilderness trapping or hunting and food preparation are part of your curriculum?
What are the steps to start a survival school?
Once you're ready to start your survival school, follow these steps to ensure that your business is legally compliant and avoid wasting time and money as your business grows:
- Plan your business. A clear plan is essential for success as an entrepreneur. A few important topics to consider are your initial costs, your target market, and how long it will take you to break even.
- Form a legal entity. Establishing a legal business entity prevents you from being personally liable if your survival school is sued.
- Register for taxes. You will need to register for a variety of state and federal taxes before you can open for business.
- Open a business bank account. A dedicated checking account for your survival school keeps your finances organized and makes your business appear more professional to your customers.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- Establish a 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. Save 15% when you create a business website with Weebly.
Select your state below for an in-depth guide on completing each of these steps in your home state.
Where can I 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.
What are some insider tips for jump starting a survival school?
The business can go into so many different directions that it’s imperative to start by writing a business plan. This will help you not only refine your idea and figure out exactly what (and where) you’re going to teach, but also to identify your audience. It’s a very different experience to operate a summer day camp for grade-school children than it is to run a week-long stringent session in harsh climates for safety forces or military.
Once you’ve found your specific audience, run a few “soft opening” courses for family or friends to safely map out your concept. From this you'll be able to identify unexpected challenges or obstacles and find areas of training that have the greatest impact, whether positive or negative.
How to promote & market a survival school
Use all available digital tools to attract new students. This will include a website and quite possibly such added properties as a Facebook Group, blog, and social media presence on Instagram, Twitter, LinkedIn and others. Take a good digital camera along to your outings and be sure to post photos of happy and engaged students on your website and social media. (Just be sure to get the students' permission first).
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How to keep customers coming back
You’ll figure out how to draw an audience based on the demographics of your market. For instance, sell the concept to school boards or Boy Scout/Girl Scout groups if you’re seeking young people.
How and when to build a team
As you meet avid wilderness survivalists, consider recruiting them for your business to either go along and help you run individual classes or to lead classes alone as you expand your curriculum. You also need to have more assistance if you’re leading groups of kids.
State & Local Business Licensing Requirements
Certain state permits and licenses may be needed to operate a survival school business. Learn more about licensing requirements in your state by visiting SBA’s reference to state licenses and permits.
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.
For information about local licenses and permits:
- Check with your town, city or county clerk’s office
- Get assistance from one of the local associations listed in US Small Business Associations directory of local business resources.
Maintain Personal Asset Protection
Don’t think that just forming an LLC, or any other type of business, will save your personal assets in case of a lawsuit or other matter by itself.
When your personal and business accounts are mixed, your personal assets (your home, car, and other valuables) are at risk in the event your LLC is sued. In business law, this is referred to as piercing your corporate veil.
Two of the simplest steps that will protect your business, and yourself, are to:
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.
Informed Consent Agreement
It is recommended to provide clients with informed consent agreements to decrease legal liability and encourage transparency. Here is an example of one such form.
Recommended: Rocket Lawyer makes it easy to create a professional Informed Consent/Release of Liability form for your survival school when you sign up for their premium membership. For $39.95 per month, members receive access to hundreds of legal agreements and on call attorneys to get complimentary legal advice.
How much can you charge customers?
Your audience expects to pay at least $100 a day in most parts of the country. This fee is in addition to students’ responsibility for transportation to and from the site and, usually, food (unless trapping or eating off the land will be part of the curriculum).
What are the ongoing expenses for a survival school?
Your largest and most consistent costs will likely be expenses related to your survival curriculum. This might include transporting students to and from select locations, supplying them with gear or specific kinds of equipment, or hiring assistant teachers or other guest speakers to cover all of the material planned out for that day's class.
How much profit can a survival school make?
That’s highly variable, depending on the number of classes you run and the amount of students you have enrolled. Some school owners run their enterprise on a full-time basis while others combine it with work as farmers, guides or other outdoor pursuits.
How can you make your business more profitable?
The longer you’re in the business the more credibility you’ll have as a wilderness expert. If you have a knack for writing, consider authoring books on the subject. Offer your titles for sale on your website or take them along on your courses.
Also consider hiring yourself out as a guest teacher with larger survival schools, such as Sigma 3.