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How is your "Programming Crystal Ball"?

This season always feels like the busiest time of my year.

There's summer camp planning, school group planning, the usual accounting and organizational meetings, lots of final farm chores before the snow flies, as well as moving firewood, protecting our raspberries and blueberries and gathering all kinds of materials for next year's wilderness programs.

That's a mouthful! Plus, we've got to get everything updated into a calendar and detail a marketing plan, to help communicate what we're offering to our community, both online and locally. (That's especially hard when we have satellite internet, believe me!)

The hardest thing about planning a year out in advance is that we have to peer into the 'Programming Crystal Ball' and try to figure out what courses are going to be desired or popular for the coming seasons.

Which camps will fill this coming summer, over 9 months away?

Which workshops are people asking about, that they will actually ATTEND?

Which projects are weather dependant, or staff-specific dependant, or resource dependant, that I always forget to plan for? I'm talking about getting the garden planted in May, or timber frame raising days, or farm work days, or festival booth events, or ?????

Being a program director means there are always decisions to be made, and to do that, we have to tune in, if you get my meaning.

We have to also factor in what WE want to offer, as far as what we are excited about learning and doing, too.

It sounds like a lot, doesn't it?

Well, it's intense. Even as we plan, then adjust and micro-adjust, we're hoping it translates into both programmatic and business success. We're hoping to have a good year, for ourselves, for our community and for our families, right?

That's exactly the plan, and we make it, even though we know that life is going to get in the way and shift it around.

So, if you're a wilderness educator, or naturalist, or youth skills instructor, how is your crystal ball doing? Have you been able to predict what your ideal clients want to learn from you and your programs? Have you had a fairly good success rate as far as your experiences offered and delivered, and good numbers of attendees?

If you're in good shape, that's awesome! If your clairvoyance is operating at a high level, that's fantastic! More power to you! Keep doing what you're doing! Sometimes, a good recipe just works, and man, you gotta ride that horse as long as you can.

If, on the other hand, your programming crystal ball is a bit murky, or your successes have been a little 'hit and miss', these tips might help you as you start planning for 2016.

Number One: Survey Your Ideal Clients.

Ask your community, your ideal clients, your constituents, or your students what they want to learn in the upcoming year. Ask them. You can use to get a free account and it's easy to learn in about an hour, if you use their tutorials or have a knack for figuring out online tools. It's fairly straightforward, and intuitive.

Then, once you make that survey, send it out to all of you students, your past attendees or your community. Ask them if they plan on attending this year. Ask them what format works best for them, out of the options you currently offer. Ask them what subjects or topics they are most excited about doing or learning. Ask them for their feedback and for their suggestions.

Then, go over them with a detailed, fine toothed comb, and assemble a short summary that you can use with your staff, your team or just for yourself, and see how these suggestions land with you all, with your vision and mission.

Note: I am not suggesting that you take and actually do all of their suggestions. That would be crazy. What I mean is, take that feedback and see which things feel right and go from there.

Number Two: Do a 2015 Program Assessment and Summary.

Go over each program and workshop or free demo or event, and rate it according to various factors like, Outreach and Marketing, Relationship Building, Fundraising, Program Delivery, Financial and Resource Dependent. Look for both obvious benefits and also the more subtle, hidden benefits that were gained by each program. Look at their overall impact on your mission, both positive and negative, and really be as honest as you can be. Sometimes, it can be great to do this with an objective mentor or experienced coach, to help you stay on track.

Remember, this is not about finding a scapegoat or figuring out what when wrong in some cases (although that could be part of your process) but it's about getting very real so you can have a BETTER year in 2016. It's all about the positive, and it's about helping you avoid making the same mistakes that you have already made.

Number Three: Look To Achieve Balance.

This is a great exercise where you assess where your work is strong and where it has gaps that you'd like to close. Do you have a ton of entry level, beginners type programs, but lack the advanced programs to take those graduates to the next level? Do you offer advanced classes but lack the time and resources to do more outreach and new client mingling and relationship building?

The Balance part is more tricky because this is very personal. What I mean by this is, what programs are very emotionally, physically or logistically intense or draining to run, and what can you do next year to make it easier for you? What programs just take a ton of your time and energy and give back very little in terms of real value? The 80/20 rule comes into play here, which simply means, in most businesses or ventures, we get 80% of our income from 20% of our students. Understanding that fact means that you want to keep that in mind as well when making your decisions on what to run, what to cut and what to consider when planning your upcoming year.

Remember that you are going to live your life, too, at the same time as you do your mission or business, so, that is also a factor. When is your vacation planned? Are you thinking of having a baby or growing your family in other ways? What other reasons will you be occupied in your daily life beyond just your business or vision?

Number Four: Be Deliberate and Patient.

Don't rush into this? Don't be swayed by a parent who calls up and frantically needs to know the dates of next year's camps! Their crisis isn't your crisis, and their fear shouldn't become your fear, where you are afraid of losing a camper because you didn't have the next summer's schedule done by the end of August!

(Of course, if you actually know that your next year is easy to plan and you've just been procrastinating, put that stuff together so people can sign up!)

Being patient, and making up some draft schedules is a great way to move forward, but not necessarily be rash and emotional. Sleep on it. Mull it over. Try on different various options, just to see how that might look.

Get feedback from a trusted advisor, and make sure to check your calendars so you don't plan your big event on the same day as the Boston Marathon, or some other local event that will possibly mean you could have lower than desired participation.

Give yourself and your team some time, but by all means, pick a date by which the decisions have to be made, so you can then move forward in implementing them into your website, your marketing schedule and communications and so forth. Make sure anyone who needs to be in the loop is invited to your important meetings, and take time to really listen to everyone's concerns, too.

Then, make some decisions, and get ready to rock the upcoming New Year!

We've already started here at Hawk Circle, and it's even more complicated because we have a number of big new launches happening, seemingly all at once!

We have Eagle House, our new workshop building, going up and moving towards completion. Once it is complete, we are going to be offering a ton of new programming, retreats, intensives, trainings, cultural and community gatherings and much more.

We also are rebranding Hawk Circle so more people can easily 'GET' what we do and who we are, and connect with our work and mission. That's a long, intense process, and we're going to be trying to really do due diligence and make it rock. Watch for that in the coming months!

Lastly, I'm wrapping up my new book, The Natural Advantage, and shopping for a publisher, so that is also another big new thing that will serve to put some new experiences on the table for me and my group here in Cherry Valley.

It's going to be an epic year, and we still have two months of 2015 too!

Happy Halloween, everyone! And good luck with your crystal ball!


(Photo Credit to Thank you for the great image!)

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