How to get early registration right and increase summer camp enrollment over 100%
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By Asaf Darash, CEO and Founder of Regpack
Camps are fun! But they are a business too, and that means you need to do what all businesses do: take care of finances, make sure to get your sessions full and all the while make sure you have the needed cash flow during your down months. Not easy, believe me. I work with more than 4,000 camps year round and I see the challenges they face. Working with so many different and diverse camps allows me to see what the successful ones are doing and how they are doing it. I think one of the most important methods successful camps implement is the idea of early registration.
The idea of early registration is simple: you give some kind of perk to people that are registering early. Now the question is, what kind of perk? The obvious answer is giving a discount on the application fee or even the session fee. This raises the question of “it is worth losing future income in order to get it faster?” Another method I have seen implemented a lot is to give early access to the most wanted sessions for a limited time. Another really successful method is to give away camp gear (such as shirts, pins or basically anything they can buy at your summer camp store) to people that register before a specific date.
Sadly, I won’t offer a one size fits all solution to your early registration questions, since there is no one answer that makes sense for every camp. However, I will offer up some great things to think about to optimize your early registration and help you achieve your goals: filling your camp sessions, getting the world out early about your camp and locking in families early on to spread out your cash intake! Everything you see below is either based on data gathered from registering more than 2.9 million campers in 2015 or from actual camp directors that have shared their ideas with me and how they do early registration successfully.
6 Things you can do to increase your camp's enrollment and succeed at early registration
1) Go online.
This is the basis for succeeding in camp management, period. Whether you are talking about providing a great customer service experience for your families, managing online payments successfully and hassle-free, and communicating effectively and efficiently with families throughout registration. One client of ours increased their enrollment by 153% just by moving their process online.
A quality camp management software will allow you to easily move families through the registration process, and also helps automate any early registration promotions you put in motion. If you offer a coupon code as part of your early registration marketing, a camp software will automatically apply this code to those who use it, and adjust balances to reflect that. You can set up the system to allow certain prices for some users and another price for others (returning campers with a discount vs. new campers).
It isn’t always enough to have a great online registration system. You need to be able to accept payments online. It’s like having a store with products inside, and then telling a customer when they get to the checkout line, that they have to go across the street to pay. This doesn’t make sense and neither does offering registration, but not payments, online. If a user is trusting you with their personal information and that of their children, they trust you to also hand over payment information (credit card numbers, bank routing numbers, etc).
Don’t lose that trust by sending them to a 3rd party site to pay or by stopping them while they are in the groove of registering and ask them to mail a check, or send you a payment via PayPal or other popular 3rd party online wallets. They can be great and all, but not everyone has an account. Asking for payment this way means someone needs to sign in and pay (extra steps equals less chances of completed payments) or they need to create an account, input their bank or credit information and then confirm payment, again, even more steps and less chance of getting completed payments.
A “little” stat that might really convince you is that 27% of the people will abandon your process if you send them to a 3rd party site to pay. That is not a typo! 27% will not pay you and will leave the process if you do not have an embedded payment option in your registration process. This means that people that decided to go to your camp eventually did not pay you since you sent them to a 3rd party to pay. Just so you understand what we are talking about, let’s say your overall camp brings in $350K (which is about average) - this means you left $94,500 on the table, since you sent people to a 3rd party payment site. Ouch!
3) Offer early bird discounts through social media and other marketing channels!
Alright, here we are. You got the basics in place and now it is time to start optimizing. Early bird registration. How do you do this, what do you offer and what will strike the right balance between getting your sessions filled and making money.
First of all, make it easy. Make sure the way in which you offer the promotion will make it easy to manage in your software. For instance, if you offer a certain amount off a registered session, assign a coupon code to it for parents to enter during registration. Not only will this automatically apply the discount and save you the admin headache of making sure everyone got their deal, you can also assign different codes for different things, so you can track the success, or lack thereof, of certain marketing campaigns. Offering one code for returning campers, one code for new campers, one code for Facebook ads you run and another code you gave out to local schools to use, can help you map where you got the most bang for your buck.
You can use your software to your advantage as well by adding automatic discounts when a person registers early and then have those automatic discounts go away when the date you choose passes. This can eliminate the need for coupon codes are offering a blanket early registration to everyone. You can advertise, and automatically set up in your software, a discount for siblings, which is automatic and equal across the board.
4) Create a referral program for registration discounts.
Below are some different ideas from real camp directors on the types of referrals you can offer:
Idea #1: Dollar amount off balance due for every referral. Depending on how much your camp costs, this can be anywhere from $20-200.
Idea #2: Sibling discounts. $35-$75 off per week / session of camp.
Idea #3: Group discounts. Groups from church, school, sports teams, etc who register as a ‘group’ get a discount. For example, $50 for the session.
Idea #4: Camp store credits for referrals. One camp offers different levels depending on how many people you refer. 1 referral = 1 free item from the camp store, 2 referrals gives you a free item plus $20 credit to the store, 3 referrals is 1 free item, $20 store credit, and $60 off a camp session, etc. This type of marketing is great to encourage more than 1 referral and offering a discount or free items from your camp store is ‘cheaper’ for you (assuming you mark up your merchandise) than offering a dollar amount of session fees.
5) Strategize the date your registration goes live to encourage early registration, earlier!
Again, below are real strategies camp directors have used to encourage early registration and fill their camps!
Idea #1: Some camps go live for the following year, on the first day of camp THIS year. Or the last day of camp THIS year, while campers are on a camp high and can’t wait to come back next year.
Idea #2: Other camps open in early December so camp can be a Christmas gift.
Idea #3: Others go even earlier, with Black Friday, to cash in on everyone excited for and looking for good deals.
Idea #4: One camp client of ours has opened registration earlier and earlier each year and seen higher enrollment numbers every early they started registration earlier than the last. Demand increases when parents feel that rush to get their children registered for the sessions they want. Capitalize on this!
Idea #5: Allow for early registration without picking specific sessions. This might entice parents who don’t know their plans yet but want to reserve a spot. You get their commitment and payments ASAP and can schedule them later.
Idea #6: Offer an earlier registration date for returning families and a slightly later one for new families. Market this as VIP sign-up to honor your returning families and ensure your returning clients get preferred date selection. This special feeling can entice families to register earlier than they planned to ensure they get a spot!
Idea #7: Instead of offering early bird registration discounts, offer other incentives for registering early so you don’t make families who didn’t register early feel like they are paying ‘more’ for camp than others did. You can have a raffle or camp gear instead of say $100 session for early registration.
6) Create a sense of urgency by presenting when a session is nearly full.
A tried and true technique for increasing camper enrollment is to advertise that your session has almost reached the limit.
You can do this a number of ways. If you are advertising early registration, market that there are a limited number of spots available to take advantage of early registration, or create a countdown for when early registration ends to create a sense of urgency about a looming deadline.
You can achieve this at any time, early or not, through your registration process. As parents go in to register their children, encourage enrolling in more sessions or to complete the process and make payments, by showing the session or sessions they want as almost full.
Creating a waitlist option is great in general, as you can get parents to register and set up payments in advance, and automatically add them when a spot opens. You can play on this if you’d like, and show them as waitlisted briefly before making it into their preferred sessions, or just advertise that waitlists are available as sessions are filling up fast!
Deciding what kind of early registration deals to offer, that make sense for the families that attend your camp and for your camp’s finances, is up to you. This article is chock full of ideas on new things to try this year to hopefully boost your early registration numbers, and also your early cash flow but also achieve your goals of filling your sessions and providing a great and quality camp experience year after year.
Don’t forget, the tools to success are having a great software that will automate much of this process for you, so you can spend your time on outreach and getting the world out, and letting all the great ideas that got those families in in the first place, play out correctly and with a great level of service, in the background.
Happy early registration and have a great 2016 summer!