Ahh, the mass exodus! I know it well. What is that? Well you know when you finally get most of your spots filled and you are running your program, then a parent says “oh we need to give notice”. Then almost immediately another parent says they are giving notice too. NOOO! (fist-pumping in the air).
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.
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 eventually, children would leave my program. I guess I expected them to stay till at least college.
So after the mass exodus, I realized I needed to better plan for the future. Today I want to talk to you about preventing a mass exodus or at least planning for it.
How to prevent a Mass Exodus in your program
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Even now, I currently have two parents who just got laid off, one boy enrolling in preschool next month, two to three other 3-year-olds who will soon age out and a parent just informed me yesterday that her family might be moving. Oh vey! Here we go again.
So what is a provider to do?
First of all, you have to know that this happens. Enrollment at my childcare has been like a rollercoaster ride, sometimes we are up and sometimes we are down.
Filling enrollment spots is not just a challenge for new providers. We all have the need to recruit clients on an ongoing basis. So a provider should anticipate the need to advertise for new clients. Speaking of which …
Ads Always Up!
Its 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.
When this started to happen to me one of the first things I did was to start placing my ads up every day. Yes, every day! even if I didn’t have a spot to fill.
If you get inquires that you can’t accommodate, you could always show some goodwill and pass along the business to a colleague of yours or refer the parent to your local CCR to find another provider.
Next up: PLAN
A new providers mind is understandably preoccupied with filling spots at their childcare. “Once I get this many kids, we will be set” we say to ourselves. The only thing is, and then what.
What do I mean?
Well, after a year or so in business most providers notice that they start to experience departures.
When I started my childcare it was pretty standard for the children to typically remain in my program until they were about 3 to 3.5 years old.
Not so anymore!
Nowadays I will get notice even as early as age two. I attribute this to the fact that many of the preschool programs are now accepting children younger and younger. Some even allowing enrollment before the child is potty trained, which is something that was not the case years ago.
Forecast for Next Year
So I have learned from the lessons of the past and realize that I should always plan ahead for the coming year.
Every year I look at the current enrollment and forecast when spots will open up for infants. This gives me a HEADS UP for when I should start offering Pre-Enrollment spots.
For me, those are the spots I have to watch. If I don’t stay on top of when those spots will open up, there is a possibility that I could experience a vacancy when an older child ages up to a toddler spot.
At the same time, I try to anticipate when certain children will age out of my program.
As far as marketing for toddler spots, I would say that I am pretty much always looking for that age group. Since the preschools are accepting the younger ages more now, we usually have room for at least one or two toddlers in my program.
More is More!
I’ve written before about how important I feel it is to offer as many services as you can. The more you offer the more people you can attract to your business.
Think outside the box.
Is there a service that no one else is offering? Can you offer it? Would it bring more clients your way?
For instance, is there a service that you currently do not offer that might be well received by your community. Have you ever thought of offering a 24-hour service?
Wait! Hear me out!
There is a certain segment of the community that typically has work schedules other than 9-5. Like, say hospital workers.
So if your childcare happens to be conveniently located near a medical facility you might think about adjusting your hours to accommodate schedules other than the usual 9-5 crowd.
By the way, you can always make the decision to stop offering a certain service once it doesn’t work for you anymore.
Play Nice With Others
Unfortunately, many providers think of their colleagues as just competitors. In fact, I can state without a doubt that a good number of referrals I have gotten have often come from other childcare providers.
Instead of seeing other childcare businesses as competing for the same clients as your business, try reaching out to those providers. Offer to refer business that you are unable to take for one reason or another if they would be willing to do the same for you.
You can also collaborate with preschools, daycare centers as well as family child care homes to network among one another.
Look for businesses that provide services slightly different than yours and see if you can fill in a gap that they do not serve.
Here’s another example: Years ago I worked at a preschool that only provided temporary childcare services. It was an employer-sponsored program that offered childcare for parents that where either in-between providers or only had a temporary need for childcare. A child could not attend the program indefinitely.
Wouldn’t it be a great idea to establish a collaboration with a center like this for parents who would eventually be looking for long-term care?
I’ll answer for you, YES IT WOULD! It pays to play nice with others!
Create a Waiting List
Another thing I did was to create a waiting list for clients looking for future spots.
Even though in all likelihood most of the families who go on your waiting list will have found other childcare arrangements before you are able to offer it to them, you never know. A family may be willing to wait for a spot in your program.
So if you are anticipating losing a few older kids after the Summer months, start NOW to develop a strategy for bringing in new enrollments to fill those upcoming vacant spots.
Just like the kids want to know what’s next, providers need to be looking forward and plan for what’s next too.
Unless you are planning to expand to a college curriculum, I have found that most of the kids will probably leave at some point.
Have you lost any clients recently? Do you anticipate a few spots being vacant come the Fall? Leave me a comment below and share how are you planning for eventual spots you will need to fill.