As any provider can tell you, being a child care provider is largely an on the job learning experience. You learn so much over time that you could never have known going into the field. I know that is surely true for me. Once upon a time about eleven, years ago I was green, to say the least. Even though I had a corporate background, was a mother of three almost grown children and had been educated in the field of child development – I had so much to learn about running a child care business. There was definitely a learning curve. So today I thought I would share with you some things I did wrong when I got into child care, what I learned from my experiences and how I fixed it.
What I got wrong when starting a Child Care
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Last updated: 4/10/2017
1. Basic contract
I actually have to give myself credit here for at least having a contract, so many providers don’t realize how
important crucial it is. Anyway, I think mine was not as comprehensive as it should, or could have been. Over time I rewrote, amended and revised my contract to what it is now; a 9-page mega document that crosses its “t’s” and dots its “i’s”. In other words, I’ve covered my businesses butt. If you are new or just don’t have a well-rounded contract, do yourself a favor and get this book by Redleaf press and use theirs. This book just addresses Contracts & Policies. It is definitely better than what I had at first and would be a great head start for a newbie.
2. Set hours
When I started, I was starry-eyed and innocent. I never would have believed that parents would ever take advantage of me. Why would they? I was caring for their child. Surely they realized the long hours I put in and would come and pick up their child as early as they could. Right? WRONG! Fast forward and I have experienced parents going home cooking dinner, taking showers, going shopping and then picking up well after I closed.
So how did I fix it?
Well, I made a 9-hour cap on what the base tuition covered. Meaning, if care extends past 9 hours, it is considered an Extended Day which carries an additional fee. I inform prospective parents of this at the tour and have it highlighted in bold in my contract and handbook. After all, overtime is overtime.
3. Vacation policy
Years ago I didn’t realize that I needed to have a very detailed policy when it came to vacation time, both mine and clients. I soon found out that parents expected not to have to pay tuition during their vacation period. This was driving me crazy because someone was always taking off and I was unable to maintain a consistent income not knowing who was going to be attending.
So the fix was on!
I actually dabbled with many versions of my vacation policy, now settling on my current policy. Currently, there is no period of time when the weekly tuition is not paid. Well, actually the only time they don’t have to pay is if the child care is closed for more than 24 hours. I guess you can tell I haven’t taken a vacation in awhile. That being said, I will probably be revisiting this policy and revising it again in the future.
4. It’s a business!
So I would venture to say that I am not the only provider who as a newbie didn’t really understand that child care is a business. Like parents, we too are guilty of believing that just because our business is home based it’s not a real business. The sooner you cast that notion aside the better off you and your business will be.
How can a business succeed that doesn’t even think its a business?
So shift your mindset and start seeing your business as just that a “business”. Just remember, how can a business succeed that doesn’t even think its a business? This one should probably be the easiest thing to do because it just involves a change in perspective. In actuality, it might be the most difficult. But to be sure also the most necessary to your future success.
5. Get a Deposit
This is another policy that grew out of an experience. I used to have clients who would just disappear. No notice, nothing. I even had one that never came back from a vacation.
Can you say RUDE!!!
Anyway, this was an easy fix. I think I read it or found it somewhere, but I decided to require an enrollment deposit that was equal to two weeks tuition. That way I always got a two-week notice. Either formal notice was given or the deposit was forfeited in-lieu of withdrawal notice. Believe me, not too many people will want to leave real $$ behind. Needless to say, I usually get formal notice nowadays.
6. Touring process
Initially, I kinda did what everyone probably does at the tour. I would show a perspective family around the child care mentioning a little about our daily routine here and there and that was it. Until one day I realized that I was missing an opportunity to make a connection with a potential client.
So what did I do?
Well, first I changed the tour to an orientation. I created a bunch of marketing material in the form of flyers, brochures and intake forms to go along with my business card. I got a clipboard and attached a notepad to it. No longer where parents guiding the meeting with their questions, I now had questions of my own. I led the orientation talking about myself, my experience and the child care program. Then I took the time to ask questions like, “what is your child like”, “do they eat well” and “how do they nap.”
No longer where parents guiding the meeting with their questions, I now had questions of my own.
This change was really helpful in cementing that business mind-shift I spoke of earlier. I can tell you that it really established my position as a professional as well. So many parents, whether they enrolled with me or not, would comment on how professional my orientation was and how they were impressed. By the way, this really helped with word-of-mouth marketing within the community.
7. Planning for next year
A new providers mind is understandably preoccupied with filling open spots at their child care. Once I get these many kids, we will be set. The only thing is, and then what.
What do I mean?
Well, after a year or so in business most providers experience departures. It’s pretty standard for clients to come and go throughout the year. Some leave and new clients (hopefully) come. The point here is that we always need to be marketing and recruiting new clients.
I can remember one year, I had about five 2-year-olds. It was great, they were out of the baby phase, for the most part, and we were having a great time getting into some curriculum themes. Then one by one they started to leave. One moved out of state, another enrolled in preschool, etc.
NOOOO! (fist in the air).
It was just getting great, what happened? Well, the only thing that happened was I hadn’t planned for anyone leaving. Crazy huh? It just didn’t occur to me that clients would ever leave.
So after the mass exodus, I realized I needed to better plan for the future. I started placing my ads up every day, even if I didn’t currently have a spot to fill. I made a waiting list for clients looking for future spots and eventually developed my Pre-Enrollment Program. The point is, just like those crazy Apple people, I needed to constantly be thinking of what was next.
8. Recognizing problem clients
It’s funny, now that I think of it most of my policies have come out of an issue I had with a client. I say it’s funny, NOW, but it usually was not a pleasant interaction I can assure you. I remember thinking, “I’ll never go through that again.” Often times, however, I probably could have avoided some of the situations had I stopped to recognize the red flags waving in my face.
Better to let them go than to wish you had.
Most providers experience “problem clients” every now and then. I say problem, but actually, it could be that it’s simply not a good fit for your business. Parents ignoring your hours, payment procedures, policies are all indications that perhaps this is not the place for them. That being said, it can be really hard to turn away or terminate a client that we probably have worked so hard to get, especially if your enrollment is low. It is at these times when it is really important to realize that as someone once said: “not all money is good money”. Better to let them go than to wish you had.
So here is what I did; I made it a habit of requiring myself to write a detailed file note every time I had an issue with a certain client. If I found myself writing note after note about the same client, the red flag started slapping me in the face and was even more apparent. Sometimes, I was able to adjust my communication with a parent and get to a workable relationship. Other times, a termination was the better decision. Throughout the process, there was room to grow and learn. Even though it was unpleasant at the time, the process was probably very helpful in growing my business.
9. Separate phone number
Ever notice how when people know you work from home, they think you are always available? I was getting phone calls interested in child care at all hours and all week. I couldn’t tell which calls were family and friends and which ones were for the business. Well, after too many phone calls during Sunday church services, I knew I had to make a change. I needed a business number.
Ok, so this one was easy. Well, sort of. I first thought I might get another cell phone with a new number. No. Too expensive and impractical.
Then I found a free service that recorded messages and referred them to my email. That sounded great, but after awhile I realized that I was missing a lot of the calls.
Then I heard of Google Voice and thought it might be just what I was looking for. My Google Voice number sends transcribed messages to my email and to my cell so I never miss a call. I can also listen to the call from either within my email or from my cell phone. I recently realized that I am also able to make calls from the Google number without exposing my cell phone number. Oh, and did I say its FREE! YAY team me!
10. How do you Rate?
So I think one of the hardest things to do as a provider, especially a newbie, is to figure out what to charge. Sure you could be the cheapest rates in town, but often times that’s not really the clientele you want to attract to your business. Or you could be on the opposite end of the spectrum and be the most expensive. There are a lot of considerations that go into setting your rates when starting a child care.
So what if you are at a stalemate and just don’t know how to set your rates? Well, ask yourself some key questions:
- Do you have specialized services? Do you just offer infant care? Maybe you have experience with special needs children?
- How much experience do you have? Have you worked in early education before? Do you have child development education?
- What are your competitor’s rates? Often you can turn to your local CCR to inquire about your competitor’s rates in your target area.
- Will you offer longer hours, weekends or off hours? Certain professions require other than standard work hours, which creates a need for non-standard child care needs.
- Do you exceed industry standards? Do you intend to keep your ratios lower than what your state mandates? Will you employ assistants with prior experience working with young children?
Any of these might warrant your rates to be above standard. Evaluating your business and services based on these criteria over time, not just when you start, will be key in you building a sustainable business.
Keep Growing & Learning
I am sure there are quite a few other things I learned from early on and adjusted to. Hey, I am still learning. Your child care business is a living, growing business and you should grow and adjust right along with it.
What did you get wrong (or right) when you started your child care? What changes did you make? Leave me a comment below and tell me how and what you have learned.
- Setting your Child Care Hours
- Daycare Discounts
- Why you should never give a parent tour
- Business Books & Guides
Photos courtesy of Flickr