“You work in child care because you love your job, but for many, it’s a career that’s all-consuming,” said Monique Reynolds of Quality Care for Children in Atlanta. “I’m here today to tell you that you can still do what you love while also achieving a better work-life balance – it’s about working smarter, not harder.”
Monique joined Louise Stoney and Sharon Easterling, co-founders of Opportunities Exchange, in a recent webinar to discuss how child care businesses can leverage easy-to-use technology to grow while saving time and money.
“I have a guaranteed solution that will not only help you build your business, but also give you time for vacation, help you set up a retirement account, hire additional staff and more, and it’s all about business automation,” Monique said.
As the Director of ECE Business Support Services, Monique works with 40 child care providers in Georgia to help them purchase, set up and get trained to effectively run business automation software at their centers.
Steps to Automate with Child Care Management Software (CCMS)
Monique outlined five steps she uses to help child care businesses set up business automation software at their centers:
- Assess and Analyze: Monique does a business financial health assessment where she looks at budgets, identifies problems and challenges, analyzes issues and helps centers develop a plan of improvement/action.
- Organize: Child care management software is typically built in a modular fashion to allow for maximum customization depending on a child care business’ needs. Monique works with centers to help them figure out which modules are best for their business and gather the materials needed (such as children’s records and employee files) to start setting up. She emphasized that it’s important to make this a priority and often works with centers before or after hours to get it done. She also recommended to take a team approach – make people on your team part of the process so they feel invested in the success of the rollout.
- Conversion to Technology: This is an important step, as it involves the implementation of the software, including trainings and assigning tasks to key staff.
- Reflect: Monique emphasized the importance of reflecting on and celebrating the conversion to business automation.
- Monitoring: What’s great about child care management software is that you can easily monitor business success by weekly, biweekly and monthly metrics. You can ascertain your financial health score through tracking and benchmarking results. And you can easily course-correct/make adjustments where needed because you now have the data at your fingertips.
Benefits of Business Automation
“I’ve had numerous child care business owners tell me they should’ve implemented business automation years ago,” said Monique. “They now feel like they have a mastery over their operation and are better business owners.”
When we take a look at the numbers provided by Opportunities Exchange, the time savings are clear:
According to Monique, the centers she worked with had an average of $52,532 bad debt per program prior to implementation of CCMS. However, after 11 months of using the software, the centers’ average bad debt plummeted to just $877 per program (which is an average – most centers had zero bad debt).
In addition, enrollment grew by 34% and overall program revenue among the centers increased by 24%. In fact, two programs more than doubled their revenue and one almost tripled their revenue – simply by implementing CCMS.
What if You Don’t Have Access to a Program Like Quality Care for Children?
While there are many programs across the country that can help child care centers fund and implement a CCMS, it’s not a requirement to have a program like Monique’s in order to get started.
Sharon Easterling of Opportunities Exchange provided some helpful information on how child care businesses can purchase and implement business automation tools on their own. She said if you’re still unsure if you need child care management software, ask yourself the following questions based on the Iron Triangle, which provides a simple formula for ECE finance planning:
- How much money is owed to you that you haven’t collected?
- How fully enrolled are your classrooms?
- Is your price roughly the same as your cost?
- What % of your personnel costs are going to administrative overhead?
If you can’t answer all of these questions, Sharon says it’s time to look at child care management software.
Researching and Selecting a CCMS
Sharon recommends using Capterra, an online review platform that allows you to compare up to four different products at one time. On the Opportunities Exchange website, you can click on the Shared Services Central tab to find technology tools and resources that could be helpful as you research. She also suggested talking to colleagues as well as getting clear on the areas of your business where you need the most help (i.e., billing, subsidy management, your food program, staff management, etc.). Then reach out to a few vendors and ask for a free demo to see their software in action.
Tips on Setting Up a CCMS
Starting on new software can sometimes seem overwhelming, but Sharon said it’s important to take a systematic approach to it.
“Focus on one component at a time,” said Sharon. “Once you get the key areas taken care of like family and child records, everything else falls into place.”
Sharon advised to start with child and family records, since that data will populate the rest of the system. She recommended to make it easier by creating an online version of your enrollment form that feeds into the software. That way, you won’t have to worry about double-entry.
“By creating an online enrollment form, you accomplish two things: you make transferring data to the system a lot more manageable and you ensure the families are now engaging with the system,” Sharon said.
Once you’ve got everyone’s records into your CCMS, you can start tracking attendance, which, depending on the software, can include signing in/out with a PIN, QR code, signature, fingerprint or even GPS.
Billing becomes a lot easier because you can tell the system when tuition is due and it automates collection; if a family has a past due account, it’s flagged for both you and the family. And you can simplify the effort you put into family engagement by leveraging the CCMS’ ability to share photos, videos, messages and more – often through a mobile app.
Other CCMS components that are relatively easy to set up and can save child care businesses hours of time include:
- Food program management: Often child care businesses choose not to participate in the government’s food program because of all the paperwork and tracking involved. With CCMS, the process is greatly simplified, helping centers better support students/families and need and open up a new revenue stream.
- Marketing, enrollment and waitlist management: Marketing and filling all available spots can be a full-time job, but it doesn’t have to be if you have a CCMS. Paperwork can be completed online, shortening the enrollment process from weeks to days. Plus, a CCMS can help manage part-time slots to ensure maximum enrollment/revenue.
- Staff management: Once staff records are inputted into the system, a CCMS can not only track when staff are coming and going, but also track their tasks, and help manage COVID-19 policies and schedules.
A CCMS Can Help Provide Data for Systemic Change
CCMS can play a critical role in a child care business’ success, but also, it can help address some of the larger issues facing the child care industry as a whole.
“You can change your child care business significantly with CCMS; however, it’s important to look more broadly at the larger, systemic problems, which, when addressed, could create an even bigger impact,” said Louise Stoney of Opportunities Exchange.
According to Louise, there’s a significant lack of child care data out there, which leads to misguided policy and funding efforts. However, there’s a way to fix that, and it has to do with building a system around data sharing and automation, based on data directly from the centers using CCMS. Here’s what that looks like:
“The more child care businesses using CCMS and sharing data, the better,” said Louise. “With this data, we can better inform child care policy and ensure centers are getting the support they need.”
Monique’s organization, Quality Care for Children, offers financial support to help centers implement CCMS, but it’s not the only one. There are organizations like hers across the country; however, it’s evident there aren’t enough to cover demand. Louise recommends child care businesses ask public and private funders to support CCMS with grants for software licenses and hands-on technical assistance to help with onboarding and launch.
Funding for an effort like this can come from a variety of sources, including:
- Quality Rating and Improvement System (QRIS) – as part of incentives and supports
- Quality Grants – under Children’s Defense Fund (CDF), Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act or Preschool Development Grant (PDG)
- Professional Development Systems – linked to training and technical assistance
- Director Credential – college credit for CCMS coaching
“The key goal is to help strengthen child care businesses, and we need correct data to do that,” said Louise. “I encourage you to reach out to your state policy makers to create data trusts and work with CCMS vendors on APIs that support child care subsidies, licensing and QRIS.”
To learn more about using CCMS to not only build or rebuild your child care business, but also leverage it to make larger policy changes, watch the webinar here.