Three Mistakes that Keep Nature Schools Broke and Struggling.
So, you've taken lots of wilderness, nature, tracking or craft workshops and intensives, and spent years practicing your skills under a ton of different conditions. You've been an intern or a volunteer, and you've started teaching once you saw the power of these skills and experiences to awaken, heal and grow. You want to offer this to SO MANY PEOPLE, because you want to help them get this juicy, awesome stuff.
You spend some money, build your website, make a brochure, and put your 'programs' together. You dedicate yourself to your vision, and your door has an 'OPEN for Business' sign.
You get some successes, but then, things slow down. Cash flow trickles, and you don't have a clue why SOME programs fill, and others have only one or two people show up.
You start to question your vision. You start to question yourself. Your frustration grows, and well, you can take it from there.
Of course, it's not ALWAYS like this. Sometimes you get a call from someone looking for a big program, and hope grows. This could be your big break! Sadly, they don't call you back when you tell them the price. Or they DO call you back and ask you to do it for free.
You spend time asking the Universe to help you, in offering your gifts to the world but things are still up and down, feast or famine. Still, you believe in your mission and you 'soldier on'.
I have heard many, many phone calls and campfire conversations with instructors and directors over the past 27 years and this is what I've heard. I've also lived it myself at times, too, over my years running Hawk Circle.
And yes, I know that there are some schools that are not struggling, or at the very least, they seem to be doing okay, so, I know that this doesn't apply universally. I get that. But for many, these sentiments and frustrations are all too common.
So, the good news is, it's probably NOT YOUR FAULT if you're struggling.
The fact is, wilderness education and nature education is a pioneering field. It's still in the formation stage, and it takes a while to get a business model that can be sustainable over the long haul.
The bad news is that, until that happens, it's going to be a little rocky.
However, there are some things that you can do to make things A LOT better!
So, here are some of the top mistakes that many schools and programs are making, as well as their solutions.
(Disclaimer: Every school, program and instructor is different or unique, so, my 'solutions' are not meant to be universally applied, but rather, to point out certain concepts that can help you figure out something that will work for you, specifically.)
Mistake Number One: You not only don't understand Marketing, but you actually SHUN anything that even resembles it.
Okay, this is probably pretty obvious, as far as mistakes go, but seriously, this is a HUGE problem for a lot of visionary people, who believe that marketing and business is EVIL or BAD.
Yes, it's true that many businesses are bad in that they harm the environment, pollute, take advantage of people and use money as currency, (the root of all evil?), so I understand that perfectly.
However, if you are going to build a vision and you want to grow this idea, this service, this 'gift', if you will, to your community, you are going to have to follow the rules for a summer camp, or store or vendor or whatever, and you are going to have to find a way for people to find you.
Seriously, that's all Marketing is. Helping you help people to find you. Helping people to understand what it is you do, and how it could benefit them. Helping them 'get it'.
Yes, I know there are lots of sleazy marketing techniques that trick people, like putting 'New and Improved!' on the box of the same old toothpaste, but that's not what I'm talking about. If you think you have to go to that extreme, well, that's not what I'm saying.
Marketing is simply finding your audience, your tribe.
When you don't understand how to communicate with your tribe, you are going to struggle.
Solution: Do some research. Remember when you studied trees, or wild edible plants, or animal tracks? Remember how you read those field guides, and learned about where certain trees grew, or what animals mate in January? Yeah, I know you understand that. Well, you have to apply your study to understanding who you like to work with most, and get a feel for what they are interested in, and how to just connect with them.
Think about how you describe your work, and look at your website or brochure from the perspective of someone who knows NOTHING about what you do. Is it user friendly? Is it beginner friendly?
Ask your friends or former students to give you some feedback on your blog, or your web pages, (privately, of course) to find out what they think about it, and how it can get better.
Get some coaching or marketing advice from people who actually know how to do this for a living. (Note: NOT a graphic designer or a website builder! Most of those people are great at making things visually appealing but often know very little about actually getting your website or brochure to connect with your tribe.)
Study other people who are actually successful (not those who LOOK like they are successful, but the ones who actually ARE), and see what you can learn. Find people who resonate with you and feel like they are in integrity, and reach out and talk to them about how they got started, and see if you can get a conversation going. Sometimes, you can get great advice or ideas that can make a difference for you as you get started and on your way.
Mistake Number Two: You Try to Go TOO DEEP, TOO FAST.
When you offer programs that sound like they are for Advanced students, people generally are reluctant to sign up.
Most people are NOT advanced. Most people want to learn, but they don't want to get into a class with a bunch of strangers and then look bad when they fail at making a grass coil basket, or a pair of moccasins, or an arrowhead. No one wants to fail, and they especially don't want to fail in front of other people on their day off, when they are paying for it.
If they wanted to do that, they could just stay home and try to fix their clogged sink drain in front of their kids.
When you offer programs that YOU think are awesome and detailed and incredible values for your students, you're usually not remembering that most of your students are just starting out, and you need to make sure they learn their letters and alphabet before you start requiring them to read War and Peace.