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You should always be marketing and advertising your business, even when you're full. You should take information about every perspective family and keep a waiting list for tougher times. Start with your most recent families when a slot opens, but there are times you may have to go back months or even years making families aware you have a slot. (Contact several families and let them know you will be interviewing anyone interested and make a decision based on the best fit for your program. So far, I haven't had to turn a family away because if I just have one or two slots open, I would only interview the 1-2 best candidates and then set up with others if those didn't work out. I prefer not having to tell too many they aren't a good fit.)
Marketing/Advertising that has worked for me, both in center and home care for many years:
*Active professional business Facebook page - post at least a few times a week either what's going on within your child care or articles, sayings, or information about child development or other things you offer in your program or that you believe is important in the field. Join other Facebook pages around these topics so you can easily share from them. For instance, I strongly believe in being play-based and I have a more natural playground, so I've joined other Facebook pages revolving around these topics. Articles, pictures, or sayings come through all the time that I will share on my Facebook page. I also joined several local city pages and mom groups and I share local events that come through related to children or families on my page.
*Professional Website - I have prior experience with building webpages, but I think most people will find Wix as a fairly easy option for building a website, as well as many other options out there. It is important to me to put everything about my business on my page to help weed out families that aren't really interested and may not be a good fit before they even contact me. However, I have found that more parents contact me because I have put myself out there and they don't even have to contact me to know all about me. I have spent the extra money to purchase my domain, but it's not required. This is a yearly expense for taxes though and helps to decrease your taxable income.
*Professional Logo - This was not something I could do myself, but I had an idea of what I wanted. I found someone who did logos, sent pictures of my ideas, such as the picture of my home, the kind of children I wanted, and the dove to represent that I would have a Christian environment. I also sent the pictures of some things I had planned to do on my playground, like the playhouse and stepping stones and of course the art and blocks, so I could have extra art to use for the website. Make sure the logo represents what you really want and who you are because it's easier to have it right and not have to correct it later. I used MatildaLaneStudio. There are packages ready to purchase already or they can do custom orders.
*Ads/Flyers - Make them all look the same. Make sure the colors you use and the logo all match. A prospective parent should be able to look at it and immediately know who it is for. They shouldn't have to read it to know it's your business! Make it short and sweet! Let your Facebook and Website tell your whole story. I prefer to use the LiveCollage app for small ads to share on Facebook pages and to boost on my page. Join local groups such as mom groups, local city or community pages, and yard sale/garage sale pages. Post as often as allowed. Make sure to know when you can advertise. For instance, a mom group I'm on allows advertising small businesses each Wednesday. A city page allows on the 15th of each month. Join as many local yard sale, garage sale, and free groups as you can find. Post under the discussion tab rather than directly on the page if it's not allowed. I had an admin deny my post, but so many other companies, like construction, were approved the same day. I nicely asked why and what I needed to do differently and it was approved. Set reminders to be sure you are doing this each month that you need to fill slots.
*Goody bags/baskets - Put together simple, inexpensive goody bags/baskets for 10-20 local businesses. Choose businesses that deal with children such as the advocacy program, WIC, subsidy program, ECI (therapies for special needs), pediatricians, dentists, etc. Also choose ones that deal with families such as doctors, veterinarians, workforce solutions, etc. You could also include businesses that have a lot of employees such as hospitals, grocery stores, and other large businesses. Make sure to put at least 5-6 business cards. I've also included magnetic business cards and pens with my logo. I purchased cheap bowls/baskets from Dollar Tree or Walmart and a cheap package of napkins (originally planned to use tissue paper, but couldn't find it when I made the very first one and the napkin was so much easier). I go into the business, and say something like, "Thank you for what you do for the children (families) in our community!" I make sure I'm chipper and smiling, and dressed nice of course, to sell myself. Usually they are surprised and almost always say, "Thank you!". Occasionally they will stop me and ask who I am and about my home. As for larger businesses, I remind them how important it is for their employees to have reliable child care and ask if they can put a card (or flyer) in their new employee packets or if it can be posted in the break room. I take a personal day any month that doesn't have a holiday and I use these days for appointments and advertising (if needed). I made the Halloween basket first and it simply just has Halloween candy in it. I can't find pictures, but I also participated in a local trunk-or-treat. I printed small labels with my logo & info and put them on larger pieces of candy. I made sure each child got a large piece and a few small pieces. Then before Christmas I delivered a hot chocolate basket (cocoa packets, peppermints, candy kisses, marshmallows) & of course, business cards. (The Easter one is just an idea I found that I thought would be cute.)
*Google business page - According to the parents who have filled out my prospective child form, almost all have found me on Google! It's FREE and easy to set up! I just add a few new pictures every so often and double check wording, etc. You want to be sure and setup up child care related words in the settings so when prospective parents search, you will show up. Use terms common in your area!!! "Daycare" is still a huge word in my area and although I am not a daycare and I can't even stand the word, it's in there so I pop up when they search.
*Magnetic vehicle signs and yard signs - These can be another inexpensive option for advertising. I did mine through Vista Print and only used them in the very beginning. I would probably use the magnetic signs now, but I share a vehicle with my husband and I stay pretty full. I've put the yard signs out at major roads around my home a few times since opening and before I started a wait list. Now I just pull from my waitlist, but I still have them if I ever needed them.
*T-shirts (cups, bags, pens, etc) - Have t-shirts made with your logo for you, staff, and children in your care. When I did center care, we gave t-shirts to staff for free and had parents pay just the cost and pre-ordered. We made Fridays t-shirt day and everyone wore one of their shirts that day. You could also use it as a small fundraiser, but I always saw it as an inexpensive way to advertise! Now that I'm doing home care, I give all my new children free shirts and a new size if needed as they get older. If I did field trips, which I did in center care, they would wear them on those days.
*Parent reviews - Ask parents to give a review on any social media for a $10 credit on their account. I would give them a limit of how many because they are going to say similar things on each one and it's not going to sound as genuine to those parents who are purposefully looking at reviews. If you've been around for a little while, you're listed in quite a few places. I give my families the links to several in an email or text. Here are some I suggested: Google, Business Facebook Page, Business Website (if that's an option), Winnie.com, ChildcareCenter.us, Daycare.com, Zaubee.com. You should also ask families who are leaving on good terms to leave you a review if they haven't already. Always respond professionally and positively to the reviews (even negative ones)! This shows you cared enough to take the time to read them and reply, and for negative reviews it gives you the opportunity to show your character so others will look past the negative comment. (Respond as you should, not what you want to -LOL!)
*Parent referral credit - I have a parent referral credit mentioned in my family handbook. "Parents/Guardians will receive a $100 referral credit for each family they refer who enrolls in Helena's Early Learning Playhouse AND pays first months tuition AND attends care. Be sure they let me know you referred them." I have two moms who refer me all the time on Facebook posts so I make sure to give them credit if I enroll that family. It hasn't happened but just a few times because I stay full, but as soon as the new family is here for a full month, I credit the parents account and send out a post to all families thanking the particular family for the referral and remind all the other families they can find out information about the referral credit on page 13 of my handbook.
*Others who refer - I don't advertise this in any way, but anyone other than a parent who refers me and the parent tells me they did, I put together a little basket or a card and gift card for them to say, "Thank you!" I have a grandmother that refers me often, several other providers and directors, and I just learned that a parent from a previous center referred one of my recent families.
*Comment on Facebook posts about needing care - When you're full and a parent posts about needing care, comment letting them know you're full and refer another provider. I have a handful of home providers and center directors that I stay in contact with. I'll contact them first to see if they have slots if I haven't talked to them the last few days so I'm not sending them unneeded traffic. I comment something like, "Helena's Early Learning Playhouse is currently full, but I just spoke with Amy from ABC Child Care and Jamie from 123 Child Care and they both have slots available." I tag them if possible and they are on the group or I will add their phone number or website/Facebook. I also make sure my child care name is blue so they can click on it or I add either my website or Facebook. This way I'm still advertising for myself, but also for others. I also have a resource page that has information for a child care checklist, subsidy, etc. so I will often lead them to this page depending on what they've said in their post.
*Keep track of slot availability at all times so you can easily know at least 3-6 months out what slots you need to fill. I've used a color coded spreadsheet for many years. In center care, it was split up by classrooms. I knew every child that was coming, going, transitioning, etc. and I shared this with the staff so they also knew. My spreadsheet for my home is much more simplified and after two years I think I have it where I want it. When I know a big change is coming or a parent lets me know they will be leaving care soon, I make a copy of the last spreadsheet and make changes on the new one. I can look back for years at a time to see anything I need to see. I also keep track of what parents pay on the spreadsheet so I can also project my income. Since I do part-time care, the spreadsheet also helps me make sure I can stay within ratio each day of the week. If I have a prospective family contact me wanting part-time, I can let them know what days I have available to see if it works for them before we even interview. I currently have preschoolers who come after school and/or drop-in during breaks, so I've had to add this section to this months spreadsheet. Now I know what children I have during the day and how many after school and on breaks. I have 3 preschoolers come in at 4:30 each day, but then have 2 of these preschoolers and 2 other preschoolers who come every other Friday they are off school and 3 of them during holiday breaks. That's a lot to keep up with, so I also made a spreadsheet with every day they are out of school, when they will each be here and the days I'm closed. I made sure I had the parents let me know the specific days they would need for the rest of the school year. Now I know when I enroll part-timers, they need to leave by 4:15 (at this moment anyway) and can't be enrolled on Fridays. I also have two school teachers moms that I've worked out for them to keep their children home during breaks if there is every a problem with ratio and I've messed something up - LOL! (It's just a fear of mine from many, many years ago of accidentally over scheduling!)
Examples of spreadsheet is coming!
*Keep track of prospective families and how they found out about you. Make up a paper or google form and use it as your waiting list. I started with a paper copy here on my website they had to print and email to me. I only got a few. I finally made a google form and I now have over 60! I know many have already found other care, but that information is there for me to access at any time. You not only can easily see what advertising is working and where to put your time and/or money, but you also have a huge list of families to contact when you are struggling to fill slots. Even if they have already found care, they may not be happy or their circumstances or even location might have changed. (You can find my prospective parent form on the enrollment tab above.)
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