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.
Solution: Make at least a third of your programs ENTRY LEVEL or Introductory type programs, and keep them short to start. Keeping the price on the lower side to begin with is good too, because you want to get a LOT of people signing up and taking your programs, and giving them a chance to get to know YOU and for them to see how awesome these skills are, and get a sense of your passion and your excitement to be teaching them all this cool stuff.
If they stay past the two or three hour deadline and don't just leave right away, that's a great sign that they are into it!
Remember how long it took you to learn these skills, (years, right?) and take your time. Let them go at their own pace. Don't rush the process. Get to know your students by name and enjoy this part of the process.
If you do this correctly, you will start filling up more advanced programs within a year or so, because all the people you are meeting and connecting with will be asking for them!
Mistake Number Three: You put out Course Information, (Dates, Prices, Description) but don't actually ENGAGE with anyone.
This is a bad habit and everyone does it. I'm guilty as charged! Why? Well, for lots of reasons. One is that it takes time to engage with people, and interact, and connect. The other is you just get kind of stuck creatively, and freeze up, so nothing comes to mind to type in that Facebook post or Blog post. Other times you just think "Everyone is just so short on time, I don't want to share anything too deep or meaningful, so I'll just leave this description here, and hope it does the trick."
That is a mistake that will cost you.
There is an old marketing saying that goes like this: "Facts Tell, and Stories Sell."
I paid dearly for that information, by the way, when I was a young lad learning about selling water filters back in 1990, when I tried to supplement my income with a sales job. Needless to say, I was a much better carpenter and landscaper than a salesperson at that time of my life, but still, it was worth it to get that one quote. It's helped me for years and years.
Quite simply, it's ALL about the stories you tell, that make a connection between you and your tribe.
I'm not talking about made up stories, because that takes you out of integrity. I'm not talking about magical, unbelievable, or legendary stories either, because let's face it: Most of us don't have those yet.
What really works are stories about you, how you started learning your craft or skills, what happened last weekend when you went for a walk, or what it was like making a new wild edible. Your tribe wants to connect with you, and understand and get to know you. They want to know what inspires you, and what makes you do what you do, and take the risks that they are too afraid to do themselves (yet!).
Solution: You have to engage people. If you're offering a tracking workshop, well, for two weeks before the course, offer a daily tracking quiz on Facebook that you can share with others, pointing out cool features of trackes and praise all of the people guessing. Give them an experience with you so they can see that it would be fun to go out in the woods with you and learn more.
Take a short video of you out tracking, and talk about one thing that will help them be better trackers.
Write a blog post about your favorite tracking story, either with your own teacher, or something that blew you away.
Give a conference call with some of your friends who can talk about tracking and answer questions to anyone calling in.
Write a review of your current Tracking field guide, what you like about it, what would make it better, or whatever, and give it five stars......
Okay, you get it, right?
Please say you get it.
It's all about engaging with people. Caring about them. Laughing at their jokes, and sharing some of your own. Having fun, sharing stuff, being serious when necessary, and above all else, sharing WHY you think TRACKING would benefit their lives, in very profound and positive ways.
(Note: Again, please substitute 'Herbal Studies' or 'Basketmaking' or 'Forest Pre-school' instead of 'Tracking' and get creative here. These are just suggestions that are off the top of my head, honestly.)
Okay, I could keep writing and writing here, but I sincerely hope that this has been helpful to you, and that you can see a little glimpse as to how you can fill your programs a little more, teach more people, change the world for the better for all of the animals and the Earth and our unborn Seven Generations to come.
Please ask questions below, or write to me directly, or ask me on Facebook. I am happy to answer your questions, and feel free to contact me for a free strategy call if you need help getting your vision out there in the world and happening in a good way. Just click Contact at the bottom of this web page, and select 'Free Strategy Call' along with a couple of different choices for our call. It's super easy and it would be great to connect with you and find out more about what you are working on.
Good luck, everyone, and keep doing what you do. Our world needs what we can offer now, more than ever before, in the history of the human race, and the planet. Thank you for your dedication, passion and vision.