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How to Start a Summer Camp

Written by:

Carolyn Young is a business writer who focuses on entrepreneurial concepts and the business formation. She has over 25 years of experience in business roles, and has authored several entrepreneurship textbooks.

Edited by:

David has been writing and learning about business, finance and globalization for a quarter-century, starting with a small New York consulting firm in the 1990s.

How to Start a Summer Camp

Fast Facts

Investment range

$561,300 - $1,603,300

Revenue potential

$360,000 - $480,000 p.a.

Time to build

6 – 12 months

Profit potential

$108,000 - $144,000 p.a.

Industry trend

Growing

Commitment

Flexible

Summer camps come in many shapes and sizes and can be a weeklong sleepaway camp that offers outdoor activities, or a day camp set up for a specific purpose, such as learning the arts. In any case, summer camps can be a great getaway for kids of all ages, and a nice break for parents.

If you’d like to provide a safe and fun environment for kids during the summer, you could start your own summer camp. You’d also be getting in on a $4 billion industry and making some money.

But before you jump in, you’ll need to understand the business. Luckily, this step-by-step guide details all you need to know to start a successful summer camp.

Step 1: Decide if the Business Is Right for You

Pros and cons

Pros

  • Offer kids great experiences
  • Have fun!
  • Good profit potential

Cons

  • Seasonal business
  • High startup costs

Summer camp industry trends

Industry size and growth

Summer Camp industry size and growth

Trends and challenges

Trends

  • Specialty camps, such as surfing camps or cooking camps, are growing in popularity.
  • Get back to nature camps are trending as parents seek to give their kids a break from electronic devices.

Challenges

  • Summer camps are facing staffing shortages, resulting in decreased capacity for campers.
  • Summer camps always have to be vigilant about the safety of campers.
Summer Camp Industry Trends and Challenges

Demand hotspots

Summer Camp demand hotspots

What kind of people work in summer camps?

  • Gender – 58% of camp counselors are female, while 42% are male.((https://www.zippia.com/camp-counselor-jobs/demographics/))
  • Average level of education – The average camp counselor has a bachelor’s degree.
  • Average age The average camp counselor in the US is 42.2 years old.
Summer Camp industry demographics

How much does it cost to start a summer camp business?

Startup costs for a sleep away summer camp range from $500,000 to $1.5 million. The largest expense is the property. Obviously, if you start a day camp, costs will be vastly lower. 

You’ll need a handful of items to successfully launch your summer camp business, including: 

  • Furnishings and bedding
  • Equipment for activities
  • Kitchen equipment
Start-up CostsBallpark RangeAverage
Setting up a business name and corporation$100 - $500$300
Business licenses and permits$100 - $300$200
Insurance$100-$500$300
Website$500 - $1,000$750
Property purchase and facility construction$500,000 - $1,500,000$1,000,000
Furnishings and supplies and equipment for activities$30,000 - $50,000$40,000
Operating budget$30,000 - $50,000$40,000
Sales and marketing budget$500 - $1,000$750
Total$561,300 - $1,603,300$1,082,300

How much can you earn from a summer camp business?

The average cost of a week of summer camp is $3,000. Your profit margin should be about 30%. 

In your first year or two, you could have 15 campers a week for eight weeks, bringing in $360,000 in revenue. This would mean $108,000 in profit, assuming that 30% margin. 

As you gain traction, you might have 20 campers a week for eight weeks. With annual revenue of $480,000, you’d make a tidy profit of $144,000.

Summer Camp earning forecast

What barriers to entry are there?

There are a few barriers to entry for a summer camp. Your biggest challenges will be:

  • Funding the startup costs
  • Getting licenses and permits

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Step 2: Hone Your Idea

develop a business idea

Now that you know what’s involved in starting a summer camp, it’s a good idea to hone your concept in preparation to enter a competitive market. 

Market research could give you the upper hand even if you’ve got the perfect product. Conducting robust market research is crucial, as it will help you better understand your customers, your competitors, and the broader business landscape.

Analyze your competitors 

Research summer camps to examine their services, price points, and customer reviews.

  • Make a list of summer camps that offer similar services. 
  • Review your competitors’ services – their features, pricing, and quality – and marketing strategies.
  • Check out their online reviews and ratings on Google, Yelp, and Facebook to get an idea of what their customers like and dislike.
  • Identify your competitors’ strengths and weaknesses. 

This should identify areas where you can strengthen your business and gain a competitive edge to make better business decisions.

Why? Identify an opportunity

You’re looking for a market gap to fill. For instance, maybe the market is missing a summer camp with a recreation center, or a specialty camp for the arts. 

You might consider targeting a niche, such as a traditional camp with outdoor activities.

This could jumpstart your word-of-mouth marketing and attract clients right away. 

What? Determine your services

Your camp services will depend on the type of camp that you decide to start. You should offer a variety of activities to keep your campers occupied, as well as meals. 

How much should you charge for summer camp?

Your prices should depend on market prices for similar types of camps, but also on your operating costs.

Once you know your costs, use this Step By Step profit margin calculator to determine your mark-up and final price points. Remember, the prices you use at launch should be subject to change if warranted by the market.

Who? Identify your target market

Your target market will be parents, who you’re most likely to find on Instagram, Facebook, or LinkedIn.

Where? Choose a summer camp location

You’ll need to find a property that’s suitable for the type of camp you plan to open. You should engage with a realtor who can help with your search. The specific needs and preferences of your camp will play a crucial role in your final choice. Here’s what you should consider:

  1. Purpose & Activities: Choose a location that aligns with the camp’s main purpose and planned activities, ensuring that the environment supports your objectives.
  2. Accessibility: Ensure the site is easily accessible for campers, staff, and any needed supply deliveries.
  3. Safety: Evaluate the site for any potential hazards and ensure it has clear access for emergency services.
  4. Facilities & Amenities: Ensure the location has necessary infrastructure, like restrooms, cooking areas, and sleeping accommodations.
  5. Capacity: Ensure the location can comfortably accommodate the expected number of campers and staff.
  6. Weather Considerations: Consider the typical weather conditions during the camp period and choose a location that will be safe and comfortable for attendees.
  7. Environmental Impact: Opt for locations that allow minimal ecological disturbance and where you can practice leave-no-trace principles.
  8. Recreational Areas: If activities like swimming, hiking, or sports are planned, ensure nearby recreational areas or facilities are available.
  9. Legal & Regulations: Check local regulations, permits, or any restrictions that might affect your camp activities.
Summer Camp Business idea rating

Step 3: Brainstorm a Summer Camp Name

Your business name is your business identity, so choose one that encapsulates your objectives, services, and mission in just a few words. You probably want a name that’s short and easy to remember, since much of your business, and your initial business in particular, will come from word-of-mouth referrals.

Here are some ideas for brainstorming your business name:

  • Short, unique, and catchy names tend to stand out
  • Names that are easy to say and spell tend to do better 
  • Name should be relevant to your product or service offerings
  • Ask around — family, friends, colleagues, social media — for suggestions
  • Including keywords, such as “camp” or “summer camp”, boosts SEO
  • Name should allow for expansion, for ex: “Horizon Haven” or “Explore More” over “Code Camp” or “Artistic Adventures”
  • Avoid location-based names that might hinder future expansion
  • Use online tools like the Step by Step Business Name Generator. Just type in a few keywords and hit “generate” and you’ll have dozens of suggestions at your fingertips.

Once you’ve got a list of potential names, visit the website of the US Patent and Trademark Office to make sure they are available for registration and check the availability of related domain names using our Domain Name Search tool. Using “.com” or “.org” sharply increases credibility, so it’s best to focus on these. 

Finally, make your choice among the names that pass this screening and go ahead and reserve your business name with your state, start the trademark registration process, and complete your domain registration and social media account creation. 

Your business name is one of the key differentiators that sets your business apart. Once you pick a name, reserve it and start with the branding, it’s hard to switch to a new name. So be sure to carefully consider your choice before moving forward. 

Step 4: Create a Summer Camp Business Plan

Every business needs a plan. This will function as a guidebook to take your startup through the launch process and maintain focus on your key goals. A business plan also enables potential partners and investors to better understand your company and its vision:

  • Executive Summary: Provide a concise summary of your summer camp business, highlighting its unique features and the benefits it offers to children and parents.
  • Business Overview: Describe the location, size, and theme of your summer camp, emphasizing the educational and recreational activities it provides for children during the summer months.
  • Product and Services: Detail the types of programs and activities your summer camp offers, including outdoor adventures, arts and crafts, sports, and any specialized programs like STEM or leadership development.
  • Market Analysis: Analyze the demand for summer camps in your target area, including demographics of potential campers and parents, and seasonal trends in the camp industry.
  • Competitive Analysis: Identify other summer camps or child-focused programs in your region and explain how your camp will differentiate itself through unique offerings, experienced staff, and safety measures.
  • Sales and Marketing: Outline your strategies for promoting your summer camp, including advertising, social media campaigns, partnerships with schools or parent organizations, and early bird registration incentives.
  • Management Team: Introduce key staff members responsible for camp operations, emphasizing their qualifications in child care, education, and safety management.
  • Operations Plan: Describe the daily operations of your summer camp, including camp schedules, staff-to-camper ratios, safety protocols, transportation arrangements, and meal plans.
  • Financial Plan: Present financial projections for your summer camp, including startup costs, revenue forecasts based on camper enrollments, budget allocation for activities and supplies, and expected profitability.
  • Appendix: Include supporting materials such as camp schedules, safety guidelines, staff certifications, and any partnerships with local schools or organizations.
what to include in a business plan

If you’ve never created a business plan, it can be an intimidating task. You might consider hiring a business plan specialist to create a top-notch business plan for you.

Step 5: Register Your Business

Registering your business is an absolutely crucial step — it’s the prerequisite to paying taxes, raising capital, opening a bank account, and other guideposts on the road to getting a business up and running.

Plus, registration is exciting because it makes the entire process official. Once it’s complete, you’ll have your own business! 

Choose where to register your company

Your business location is important because it can affect taxes, legal requirements, and revenue. Most people will register their business in the state where they live, but if you are planning to expand, you might consider looking elsewhere, as some states could offer real advantages when it comes to summer camps. 

If you’re willing to move, you could really maximize your business! Keep in mind, it’s relatively easy to transfer your business to another state. 

Choose your business structure

Business entities come in several varieties, each with its pros and cons. The legal structure you choose for your summer camp will shape your taxes, personal liability, and business registration requirements, so choose wisely. 

Here are the main options:

  • Sole Proprietorship – The most common structure for small businesses makes no legal distinction between company and owner. All income goes to the owner, who’s also liable for any debts, losses, or liabilities incurred by the business. The owner pays taxes on business income on his or her personal tax return.
  • General Partnership – Similar to a sole proprietorship, but for two or more people. Again, owners keep the profits and are liable for losses. The partners pay taxes on their share of business income on their personal tax returns.
  • Limited Liability Company (LLC) – Combines the characteristics of corporations with those of sole proprietorships or partnerships. Again, the owners are not personally liable for debts. Here’s how to form an LLC.
  • C Corp – Under this structure, the business is a distinct legal entity and the owner or owners are not personally liable for its debts. Owners take profits through shareholder dividends, rather than directly. The corporation pays taxes, and owners pay taxes on their dividends, which is sometimes referred to as double taxation. Read how to start a corporation here.
  • S Corp – An S-Corporation refers to the tax classification of the business but is not a business entity. An S-Corp can be either a corporation or an LLC, which just need to elect to be an S-Corp for tax status. In an S-Corp, income is passed through directly to shareholders, who pay taxes on their share of business income on their personal tax returns.
types of business structures

We recommend that new business owners choose LLC as it offers liability protection and pass-through taxation while being simpler to form than a corporation. You can form an LLC in as little as five minutes using an online LLC formation service. They will check that your business name is available before filing, submit your articles of organization, and answer any questions you might have. 

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Step 6: Register for Taxes

The final step before you’re able to pay taxes is getting an Employer Identification Number, or EIN. You can file for your EIN online or by mail or fax: visit the IRS website to learn more. Keep in mind, if you’ve chosen to be a sole proprietorship you can simply use your social security number as your EIN. 

Once you have your EIN, you’ll need to choose your tax year. Financially speaking, your business will operate in a calendar year (January–December) or a fiscal year, a 12-month period that can start in any month. This will determine your tax cycle, while your business structure will determine which taxes you’ll pay.

The IRS website also offers a tax-payers checklist, and taxes can be filed online.

It is important to consult an accountant or other professional to help you with your taxes to ensure you are completing them correctly.

Step 7: Fund your Business

Securing financing is your next step and there are plenty of ways to raise capital:

  • Bank loans: This is the most common method but getting approved requires a rock-solid business plan and strong credit history.
  • SBA-guaranteed loans: The Small Business Administration can act as guarantor, helping gain that elusive bank approval via an SBA-guaranteed loan.
  • Government grants: A handful of financial assistance programs help fund entrepreneurs. Visit Grants.gov to learn which might work for you.
  • Friends and Family: Reach out to friends and family to provide a business loan or investment in your concept. It’s a good idea to have legal advice when doing so because SEC regulations apply.
  • Crowdfunding: Websites like Kickstarter and Indiegogo offer an increasingly popular low-risk option, in which donors fund your vision. Entrepreneurial crowdfunding sites like Fundable and WeFunder enable multiple investors to fund your business.
  • Personal: Self-fund your business via your savings or the sale of property or other assets.

Bank and SBA loans are probably the best option, other than friends and family, for funding a summer camp business. You might also try crowdfunding if you have an innovative concept.  

types of business financing

Step 8: Apply for Summer Camp Licenses and Permits

Business Licenses and Permits

Starting a summer camp business requires obtaining a number of licenses and permits from local, state, and federal governments.

Each state has its own requirements for summer camp licensing. Some require that you be accredited by the American Camp Association (ACA)

Federal regulations, licenses, and permits associated with starting your business include doing business as (DBA), health licenses and permits from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), trademarks, copyrights, patents, and other intellectual properties, as well as industry-specific licenses and permits. 

You may also need state-level and local county or city-based licenses and permits. The license requirements and how to obtain them vary, so check the websites of your state, city, and county governments or contact the appropriate person to learn more. 

You could also check this SBA guide for your state’s requirements, but we recommend using MyCorporation’s Business License Compliance Package. They will research the exact forms you need for your business and state and provide them to ensure you’re fully compliant.

This is not a step to be taken lightly, as failing to comply with legal requirements can result in hefty penalties.

If you feel overwhelmed by this step or don’t know how to begin, it might be a good idea to hire a professional to help you check all the legal boxes.

Step 9: Open a Business Bank Account

Before you start making money, you’ll need a place to keep it, and that requires opening a bank account.

Keeping your business finances separate from your personal account makes it easy to file taxes and track your company’s income, so it’s worth doing even if you’re running your summer camp business as a sole proprietorship. Opening a business bank account is quite simple, and similar to opening a personal one. Most major banks offer accounts tailored for businesses — just inquire at your preferred bank to learn about their rates and features.

Banks vary in terms of offerings, so it’s a good idea to examine your options and select the best plan for you. Once you choose your bank, bring in your EIN (or Social Security Number if you decide on a sole proprietorship), articles of incorporation, and other legal documents and open your new account. 

Step 10: Get Business Insurance

Business insurance is an area that often gets overlooked yet it can be vital to your success as an entrepreneur. Insurance protects you from unexpected events that can have a devastating impact on your business.

Here are some types of insurance to consider:

  • General liability: The most comprehensive type of insurance, acting as a catch-all for many business elements that require coverage. If you get just one kind of insurance, this is it. It even protects against bodily injury and property damage.
  • Business Property: Provides coverage for your equipment and supplies.
  • Equipment Breakdown Insurance: Covers the cost of replacing or repairing equipment that has broken due to mechanical issues.
  • Worker’s compensation: Provides compensation to employees injured on the job.
  • Property: Covers your physical space, whether it is a cart, storefront, or office.
  • Commercial auto: Protection for your company-owned vehicle.
  • Professional liability: Protects against claims from a client who says they suffered a loss due to an error or omission in your work.
  • Business owner’s policy (BOP): This is an insurance plan that acts as an all-in-one insurance policy, a combination of the above insurance types.
types of business insurance

Step 11: Prepare to Launch

Launching a Business

As opening day nears, prepare for launch by reviewing and improving some key elements of your business. 

Essential software and tools

Being an entrepreneur often means wearing many hats, from marketing to sales to accounting, which can be overwhelming. Fortunately, many websites and digital tools are available to help simplify many business tasks.  

You may want to use industry-specific software, such as campminder, or amilia, to manage your registrations, payments, staff scheduling, and facility management.

Accounting

  • Popular web-based accounting programs for smaller businesses include Quickbooks, Freshbooks, and Xero
  • If you’re unfamiliar with basic accounting, you may want to hire a professional, especially as you begin. The consequences for filing incorrect tax documents can be harsh, so accuracy is crucial.

Create a website

Website development is crucial because your site is your online presence and needs to convince prospective clients of your expertise and professionalism. You can create your own website using services like WordPress, Wix, or Squarespace. This route is very affordable, but figuring out how to build a website can be time-consuming. If you lack tech-savvy, you can hire a web designer or developer to create a custom website for your business.

Your customers are unlikely to find your website, however, unless you follow Search Engine Optimization (SEO) practices. SEO will help your website appear closer to the top in relevant search results, a crucial element for increasing sales. 

Make sure that you optimize calls to action on your website. Experiment with text, color, size, and position of calls to action such as “Book Now”. This can sharply increase purchases. 

Marketing

Here are some powerful marketing strategies for your future business:

  1. Engage with Local Schools and Community Centers: Collaborate with schools and community centers to distribute flyers, host information sessions, and tap into existing networks to reach potential campers.
  2. Offer Early Bird Discounts and Referral Incentives: Encourage early sign-ups by providing discounts and create a referral program that rewards existing participants for bringing in new campers.
  3. Utilize Social Media Challenges: Leverage the power of social media by creating fun and shareable challenges related to your camp activities, fostering engagement and organic promotion.
  4. Host a Pre-Camp Open House: Give parents and campers a taste of what to expect by organizing an open house where they can tour the facilities, meet the staff, and participate in sample camp activities.
  5. Collaborate with Local Businesses for Sponsorships: Seek partnerships with local businesses willing to sponsor the camp in exchange for visibility, such as having their logos on camp materials or sponsoring specific activities.
  6. Create Compelling Video Content: Produce engaging videos showcasing the camp’s unique activities, testimonials from previous campers, and behind-the-scenes glimpses to share on social media platforms.
  7. Implement Strategic Email Marketing: Develop a targeted email campaign, highlighting the benefits of your camp, special promotions, and key dates to keep prospective and enrolled families informed.
  8. Offer Parent Information Sessions: Host informational sessions for parents to address any concerns, discuss the camp’s educational aspects, and build trust in your program.
  9. Tap into Local Events and Fairs: Set up booths or participate in local events and fairs to promote your camp directly to families who are actively seeking summer activities for their children.
  10. Create a Fun and Shareable Hashtag: Invent a unique and catchy camp-specific hashtag for social media, encouraging campers and their families to share their experiences and create a sense of community.

Focus on USPs

Unique selling propositions, or USPs, are the characteristics of a product or service that sets it apart from the competition. Customers today are inundated with buying options, so you’ll have a real advantage if they are able to quickly grasp how your summer camp meets their needs or wishes. It’s wise to do all you can to ensure your USPs stand out on your website and in your marketing and promotional materials, stimulating buyer desire. 

Global pizza chain Domino’s is renowned for its USP: “Hot pizza in 30 minutes or less, guaranteed.” Signature USPs for your summer camp business could be:

  • Our camp provides a screen-free sanctuary where kids can embrace nature, build friendships, and develop essential life skills
  • Our camp empowers campers with leadership opportunities, teamwork exercises, and character-building activities for personal growth
  • Our camp sparks imagination through arts and crafts, performing arts, and innovative workshops, nurturing each child’s unique talents
unique selling proposition

Networking

You may not like to network or use personal connections for business gain. But your personal and professional networks likely offer considerable untapped business potential. Maybe that Facebook friend you met in college is now running a summer camp business, or a LinkedIn contact of yours is connected to dozens of potential clients. Maybe your cousin or neighbor has been working in summer camps for years and can offer invaluable insight and industry connections. 

The possibilities are endless, so it’s a good idea to review your personal and professional networks and reach out to those with possible links to or interest in summer camps. You’ll probably generate new customers or find companies with which you could establish a partnership. 

Step 12: Build Your Team

Building a Team for a New Business

You will need workers to fill various roles. Potential positions for a summer camp business include:

  • Camp Counselors – care for children, lead activities
  • Cook – prepare meals for campers
  • Marketing Lead – create and implement marketing strategies
  • Camp Manager – scheduling, accounting

At some point, you may need to hire all of these positions or simply a few, depending on the size and needs of your business. You might also hire multiple workers for a single role or a single worker for multiple roles, again depending on need. 

Free-of-charge methods to recruit employees include posting ads on popular platforms such as LinkedIn, Facebook, or Jobs.com. You might also consider a premium recruitment option, such as advertising on Indeed, Glassdoor, or ZipRecruiter. Further, if you have the resources, you could consider hiring a recruitment agency to help you find talent. 

Step 13: Run a Summer Camp – Start Making Money!

Running a Business

Summer camps make lasting memories that campers will share with their own children someday. Running your own summer camp could be an incredibly rewarding experience that will create memories for you too. It can also be a profitable business in a $4 billion industry.

You’ve got the business part down now, so you’re ready to find the perfect property and get your summer camp ready for fun!

Summer Camp Business FAQs

Is a summer camp profitable?

The profitability of a summer camp can vary depending on factors such as location, camp size, duration, program offerings, pricing, operational costs, and marketing effectiveness. Well-managed and popular summer camps that attract a sufficient number of campers can generate profitable returns.

What happens during a typical day at a summer camp?

A typical day at a summer camp involves a diverse range of activities designed to engage and entertain campers. This may include morning exercises, skill-building sessions, outdoor adventures, group games and challenges, creative workshops, rest and relaxation breaks, evening activities, and bedtime routines.

What is the growth potential of a summer camp?

The growth potential of a summer camp depends on factors such as market demand, camp reputation, program uniqueness, location, marketing efforts, and scalability. Successful summer camps often experience growth through positive word-of-mouth, repeat customers, expanding program offerings, and attracting new campers from wider geographic areas.

What type of business is a summer camp?

A summer camp typically operates as a seasonal service-based business. It falls within the recreational and educational industries, providing structured programs for children (and sometimes adults) during the summer months. Summer camps can be run as for-profit ventures by individuals, organizations, or companies, or they may operate as non-profit organizations or part of educational institutions.

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How to Start a Summer Camp