Keeping a business-focused mindset is critical to a child care provider’s success, particularly in times like these.
“We are all businesses, whether you’re an in-home provider, nonprofit or other type of child care organization,” said Lauren Small, owner of Early Education Business Consultants, LLC, during a recent webinar hosted by Early Childhood Investigations. “And because you run a business, it’s important to use the tools and processes necessary to make sound business decisions.”
To run any business successfully, you have to start with a strategic planning process. That entails four key focus areas:
- Establish a goal.
- Gather information, research and discuss your plan.
- Understand the financial implications of each scenario.
- Make informed decisions and determine the best way forward based on the facts you’ve gathered, not what you “think” is best.
It’s also important to keep in mind the best practices that come with operating your business. These can be documented in a variety of ways, including in handbooks, policies and procedures manuals, management binders, operations manuals and bylaws. Having one or more of these on hand ensures you have resources you can use whenever you need to make a business decision – especially business decisions made during emergency situations.
Communication is key in any business setting, but perhaps even more so in an environment where you’re caring for other people’s children. According to Lauren, there are a variety of communication-focused actions to consider as you navigate this new environment:
- Communicate well and often.
- Use confident, consistent and fact-based language.
- Update documented procedures based on new guidance.
- Keep sharing positive things happening at the center – every communication you send doesn’t have to focus on the pandemic.
- Be a trusted resource – let parents and staff know you’re here for them any time they need you.
- Update families on how you’re keeping up with health requirements and conduct staff training on best practices.
- Implement a process to keep communication technology up to date. Make sure your website is updated and leverage tools or software to implement a regular cadence of communication with parents and staff.
“The smaller the organization, the more important the hiring.” – John Maxwell
One of the most important business decisions you’ll make as a child care business is whom you hire. These are the people who are not only entrusted with the care of children, but also, they serve as ambassadors of the values your center represents.
Some of the tools you should have on-hand to support your hiring process include:
- Documentation of your hiring procedures.
- Access to an online job advertising platform, such as Indeed.
- Pre-written job advertisements.
- Pre-written job descriptions.
- Pre-written interview questions.
- A candidate rating tool. This can help interviewers provide more objective feedback on a candidate and make it easier for you to assess whom to hire.
When formulating a job description, you want to make sure to include certain attributes important to child care. These can include:
- Customer service
- Parent interaction
- Child interaction and trust
- Technical knowledge
- Teamwork and collaboration
- Communication (verbal and written)
When you find someone you want to interview, consider the following interview techniques to help the process go smoothly:
- Conduct a pre-interview screening based on attributes you’ve determined to be the minimum required for the position (i.e. must have previous experience, must be at least 18 years of age, etc.). These will help save you time on the front end so you don’t spend valuable time interviewing individuals who don’t meet your basic requirements. Some sites like Indeed automate this for you.
- When you write your interview questions, think about the job description attributes and how you can ask questions to uncover them. These can include behavioral questions, which require the person you’re interviewing to talk about how they reacted/addressed/behaved in a certain situation. For example: “Tell me about a time when you experienced conflict with a parent. How did you handle it?”
- Use the same questions for everyone to eliminate bias.
- Conduct virtual panel interviews to allow for physical distancing.
“Hiring should be an ongoing process,” said Lauren. “You should always have a file of potential hires on hand, because given the nature of the industry, things can change on a dime and you always want to make sure you have people whom you can reach out to quickly.”
Once you’ve hired the right person, you should think about the type of on-boarding experience you want them to have. Having a clear on-boarding process is critical to ensuring your new employee feels prepared, valued and invested in your center’s success. On-boarding tools and processes could look like:
- Clearly defined center orientation procedures
- Policies and procedures manual
- Job description
- Orientation plan and schedule
- Adult learning opportunities
- Mentor opportunities
Now more than ever, centers need to put marketing at the forefront of their business strategy.
“This is the time where child care businesses can use the pandemic as a springboard for change and focus on strengthening areas where the center was weak even before COVID,” Lauren said.
Messaging during this time is critical. Any program changes you make must be communicated, not only via emails, messaging applications and newsletters, but also on your website. Make sure to update information like hours of operation, health and safety practices, class ratios and drop-off/pick-up procedures.
Times like these mean you may want to adopt a PIVOT strategy or assess ways you can make small or large changes to the structure of your business. For example, perhaps you start taking care of school-aged kids or offer part-time care. Or maybe you create a virtual learning environment. Change can be scary, but often, they can make a world of difference in your business’s success.
Marketing your business, including any changes you’re making to accommodate the pandemic, means leveraging a variety of tools and strategies to not only bring awareness to your business, but also drive families to enroll. Marketing elements child care centers can use include:
Branding is the feeling people have when they experience your brand. It’s not just about logos. It includes your website, signage, the way you treat your clients, your core values and more. Make sure the branding you use reflects who you are as an organization, and if it doesn’t, invest in the necessary changes so that it does. Lauren indicated that to refresh a logo, it can cost around $200-$300.
- Website: Make sure your website is optimized for search engines – any web person you hire to create or redesign your website should address search engine optimization (SEO) in their services. Lauren advised to avoid DIY websites and invest in a professional to build your site. it’s typical for her clients to pay between $1,000 – $1,500 for website design.
Learn more about how child care businesses can leverage SEO.
- Business Listings: These include sites like Google My Business and Yelp. Make sure to “claim” your business on these sites, then keep them regularly updated. You should also make it a practice to check your reviews and respond to all of them, if possible.
- Social media: Facebook is the best social media site for child care businesses, followed by Instagram. Lauren advises to post at least once per week and include a variety of center happenings, links to parenting articles, reminders, etc. Include a visual with every post and try to post during the peak times, including 6-7:30 a.m., 12-1 p.m. and 4:30-6 p.m.
- Virtual Tours: Given today’s social distancing guidelines, it’s important to leverage tools to offer an online tour of your facility.
- Imagery: Use clear, captivating imagery on your website and in social media. Include photos that capture the energy of your space, show interaction with children and how they learn/plan, show your commitment to keeping children safe during COVID, and exemplify diversity.
Testimonials are vital to your online presence and to the success of your business. Add them to your website and ask happy parents/families to post five-star reviews on your Google My Business, Yelp and other business pages. If you get a negative review, work to secure additional five-star reviews to help bring up your average star rating.
To learn more about how you can elevate your hiring and marketing practices, click here to watch the webinar.
Looking for more resources to help you succeed in this new environment? Click here.