Every camp director uses a set of tools to run camp as smoothly as possible. For better or worse, these tools must work together as one body, in unison, to carry your camp’s operations day-in and day-out. When it comes to camp management software, however, we often talk about it as the backbone to everything you do at camp.

And camper registration is a huge component of that backbone. There are tons of solutions that simply register campers; but do they effectively connect with all the other parts of the body to carry your camp forward?

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With registration software as a crucial piece of your infrastructure, you need a solution that fits your needs now and into the future. It should be robust, flexible, and designed with the latest technology (so you can, for example, wow your parents!).

The right camp platform should match your camp’s specific needs. And ultimately, it should leave parents saying things like: “Holy cow! Registration was so easy this year!”

So how can you land on the right software? Start by avoiding these common software buying mistakes, because you can save your camp a lot of time and heartache by doing your due diligence before you buy. Here are 10 mistakes to avoid that will ensure you’re buying a camp registration platform you’ll love.

Saving money at the expense of only getting an 80%-of-the-way-there solution is like buying a new car with a flat tire. You’ll end up back on the road to finding the right software sooner than you know it.

1. Saving Money By Making An Ill-Fitting Software Fit Your Camp

Saving money at the expense of only getting an 80%-of-the-way-there solution is like buying a new car with a flat tire. We see it all the time, and you’ll end up back on the road to finding the right software sooner than you know it.

As a camp, you shouldn’t settle for registration platforms that aren’t built for your unique needs.

There is no shortage of registration software available for camps, and many of them are vaguely positioned as one-size-fits-all platforms. They don’t have the flexibility to be individually tailored to your camp’s needs. Instead, they serve a variety of groups, like conferences, tournaments, schools, tours …AND camps.

A better solution? Choose camp registration software that’s built exclusively for the camp industry. Better yet, choose a platform that’s designed by a company that understands the camp business.

This will ensure you get the features you need including things like flexibility for multiple sessions, promotion and discount options, and easy email communication built right in. Plus, you can count on your database being organized for ongoing camp work, like bunk assignments and healthcare planning.

This tip alone can save you boatloads of time, because you won’t have to make an ill-fitting software fit your camp.

2. Choosing a Platform That Doesn’t Make Your Data Accessible

Here’s a scenario: Registration goes smoothly. Parents are complimenting you how easy your online camp registration is. But once you’ve passed enrollment, all that valuable data is a disorganized mess. What’s next? EXPORT! IMPORT! DO IT ALL AGAIN!

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You’re campers might be vaguely ‘in the system’, but you might be stuck spending the rest of spring sorting it all out.

That’s a problem. Registration data plays an important part in pre-camp planning. It helps you organize sessions and ensure campers are set up for happy and safe summers.

Fortunately, you can avoid this challenge by selecting camp registration tools that tie directly into the backbone that is your camp management platform. At CampMinder, we call this the UPR.

A quick side benefit? Integrated software with user-friendly reporting makes analysis easier; for example you can benchmark this year’s enrollment data against next year’s. And once the data is stored, it should meet the 4 S’s: It should be searchable, segmentable, shareable and secure.

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3. Choosing a Solution That’s Not Flexible

All camps are not the same – not by a long shot. Chances are, you’ll need to customize your registration software to align with your camp’s specific options. Unfortunately, some solutions are just too rigid offering very few customization options, or only allowing you to choose pre-set parameters.

That just won’t work for camp registration. Camps need total control over the enrollment process. Avoid buying inflexible software by considering:

  • Payments: You should have complete control over how you structure payments. Whether you offer a single early-bird discount, or you offer 17 different types of discounts, the software should allow you to select what works for you. Additionally, you’ll also want to be able to offer a variety of payment options for parents, i.e. auto debiting, installments, Visa, Mastercard, Amex, check, eCheck, etc. Your goal is to meet parents where they are and provide a quick, painless experience.
  • Messaging: Parents trust your camp’s brand and voice. And that’s why registration platforms that don’t allow you to customize messaging or even the look and feel of your site just don’t work. The pre-programmed messages are a departure from your brand, and they might throw off that trust you’ve worked hard to earn. Choose a platform that allows you to customize registration, so that it looks and feels like your camp.
  • Custom Forms: Every camp includes different questions in their registration packets. So make sure you have options for building forms that ask for all the right information. A user-friendly form builder is an absolute must!

4. Buying Camp Software Based On A List of Features

As you shop for software, you’ll probably be comparing features. This is where the old adage comes in: Talk is cheap.

On the surface, Platform A might seem to offer bells, whistles, and a bottle of wine. But…dig a little deeper. Come up with a challenging scenario from your camp, and ask how the feature you need addresses that scenario. You’ll quickly find that there’a a major difference between saying you do online registration, for example, and setting up a situation where you need to register 19 specific campers at a 20% discounted rate but only on Tuesdays before 5:00 PM while the full moon is out.

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Save yourself headache in the long-run by looking beyond what registration software providers say they do, and dig into how the features actually meet your specific needs.

Once you’ve figured out whether a feature meets your needs, consider – is it easy to use? Furthermore, will it help your camp reach your enrollment goals? When talking with a potential provider, be sure to consider:

  • Customization: Choose a platform that allows you to tailor registration to fit your camp. As mentioned above, you should be able to build custom forms, offer a range of payment options, and wrap the layout in the camp’s branding.
  • Flexibility: Flexible software can grow with your camp. It can be scaled up to accommodate more campers and registrations. Remember, you’re buying a solution that fits your needs now and into the future.
  • User-Friendliness: How easy are the features to use? For you – and for parents. Avoid frustrations by choosing features that your camp staff will be able to use effectively.
  • A Rich Feature Set: You want features that offer appropriate depth, but also aren’t overly complicated. Features that are aligned with your goals and offer great functionality. As you demo solutions, test key scenarios to assess how they’ll work and if they’ll fit into your registration process.

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5. Asking the Wrong Questions When Buying Registration Software

Darn it, Jim, you’re a camp professional, not a doctor! 

You might not know the finer details of data security, or how online payments are processed, but it’s important that you’re asking the right questions about each aspect of a new software platform. What should you ask? Here’s a few thoughts to get started:

  • Ask about data security.
  • Ask about online payments and the options associated with them.
  • Ask about pricing and fees, as well as discounts.
  • Ask about the length of the contract, and what the penalty is for breaking it. Think twice before signing anything with a period of longer than 12 months. We often run into folks who are waiting for their 3-year long contracts to expire.

When it comes to software shopping, there are no foolish questions!

When you ask the right questions, you become an expert on what to look for, you can compare options more knowledgeably, and can set more accurate expectations. What more should you be asking? Stay tuned for an upcoming post with 20 Questions You Should Ask Before Buying Summer Camp Software.

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6. Buying Software Without Considering the Company

The goal of registration software, and of camp management software as a whole, is to grow your camp. Thus, your provider should be a partner, in it for the long-haul to help you grow – not a vendor looking to sign net new business and get your ink on the dotted line. We don’t toot our horn often, but sometimes we can’t help it: On average, CampMinder clients have grown their revenue by 45.6% during their time with us. When you have a partner – not a vendor – who’s in it to help you improve everything you do, you get that kind of growth.

Besides looking for a partner, what else do you look for? Start by taking a look at their About Us page online. Aside from affirming there are humans actually running the company, take a look at whether there are enough people on staff to field your support calls the night before registration. When you talk with their sales team, you should feel at ease. Are you being pressured to sign on the dotted line? Feel like you’re being put through an assembly line? The company should take time to discover your actual needs and address them, one by one.

Sometimes great looking software can make it easy to set aside any apprehensions you have about the company, but avoid this mistake. Your software provider should be there on the day you purchase, and any day you might need them from that day forward (you know, kind of like a marriage. But with hundreds of kids running around instead of two, and no dropping down on one knee to kick it off). They should truly care about your long-term success. Maybe even make you breakfast now and then.

So how can you ensure you’re getting the right partner? Ask around. Look at testimonials.Ask your sales rep for client references whom you can pick up the phone and talk with. If they’re excited to share details, and only have great things to say about the relationship, chances are you’re making a wise choice.

7. Forgetting to Consider Customer Support

It’s probably happened to every camp at some point: You open online registration and something’s just not working right. Refresh, refresh, refresh, submit, do it again, did it go through? Here come the support calls…

Parents are having issues; they can’t submit registration forms. What’s your plan of action?

Times like these, your software provider should be your best friend – just a phone call away. They should offer friendly, convenient customer support, and be available when you need them. If you’ve done your research, chances are your provider will remedy the problem before it disrupts your registration.

That’s why you can’t overlook customer support. The best camp software providers make it easy to get help when you need it. They’re available via phone, email, and perhaps even online messaging. And they have a plan in place to resolve issues quickly.

So how can you make sure customer support is on-point?

Apart from asking your sales rep and existing clients, as you demo products reach out to their customer support. This will give you an idea of how quickly they respond to calls – and how friendly and helpful the support staff is.

For what it’s worth, at CampMinder, I’m not one bit ashamed to say that our support is world class.

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8. Buying Software That’s Too New, or Too Old

Have you ever received a message that your smartphone’s operating system is out of date? Then, when you update, the software is glitchy, and you wish you would’ve waited?

Or maybe you avoided the update for too long, and next thing you know, your favorite apps won’t work because your software is so out of date.

This can be a metaphor for camp software.

Newer web-based software might offer key pieces of functionality, but it may still be buggy under the hood and you’ll be along for the ride as these quirks are worked out. On the flip side, software that’s aging-out might be slow, clunky and perhaps even insecure online. That means you might not have the latest features at your fingertips, or your data could be compromised.

You can avoid this by choosing an established software platform that’s up-to-date. Additionally, many online camp software platforms are continually updated and delivered via the cloud; that means you’ll always be running the latest version, and new features will be available as they’re developed.

All software platforms experience issues, but take a minute to check and see if your provider has an uptime or status monitor. Page through to see how often there are serious issues and if they were resolved in a timely manner.

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9. Purchasing A Platform Without Gaining Buy-In From Your Team

You spent a lot of time assembling a great team. So remember, the success of an online registration system depends on them. You might think one software is the cat’s pajamas, but if a platform doesn’t fit their needs and skill level, you might end up with a new platform that goes under-utilized.

So be sure to bring all your stakeholders on board from the first conversations you have with a provider. Two heads are better than one, 6 eyes are better than two heads, and a room full of camp people is like having 16 heads, 43 eyes, and one llama all giving feedback on what they need to do their jobs.

You heard it here first.

10. Buying Software to “Fix” Your Camp’s Registration

Software isn’t a magic bullet. Rather, it’s a tool that can help you stay organized and save you time by automating tasks you would have done manually.

That’s important to remember.

Some camps shop for software because they think it will help them add order to an already chaotic or unorganized process.  This can be true, but only to a certain extent. Try to get major organizational issues resolved before you roll out new software. If not, you might not get maximum performance out of your online enrollment platform.

On that note, our Client Success team members work with hundreds of the top camps in the country, and are ninjas at helping you reign in chaotic processes, whipping your camp into shape. If you’re already on the unorganized side, ensure your talk with potential providers about how they can not only serve you software, but also help turn your camp into a well-oiled machine.

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Bottom Line: Choose a Camp Registration Software Partner That You, Your Team (And Your Llama) Will Love

Every camp director uses a myriad set of tools to run camp as smoothly as possible, and finding a quality registration tool that seamlessly connects with the rest of your tool set is paramount. Camp management software is the backbone to everything you do at camp, and camp registration must be part of that backbone.

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