How To Use Email Like A Pro

world-emailGiven how often most of us use email, it’s surprising how truly awful at it so many folks are. This is a problem, as poor email habits can seriously impact both your productivity and your professionalism. Here are 6 tips for email success at your child care center:

1. Check it regularly – but not too regularly. People who work in non-desk-dweller jobs (like child care) often neglect to check their work email on a regular basis. This is disconcerting to both current and prospective parents.

Make it a habit to check email at least once every business day. On the other hand, you don’t want to be living in your inbox, either – so open, check and respond, and set it aside.

2. “BCC” is your friend. If you need to email a list of people, put just your own email address in the “to” field and put everyone else in the “BCC” field. This protects the privacy of the folks you’re emailing (because they can’t see each other’s email addresses) and prevents problematic “reply all”s. It just looks neater, too.

3. Don’t be a spammer. Many people think having someone’s email address is the same as having permission to add them to their email list. This is not the case – while it’s OK to email current parents news and announcements and such, you need affirmative opt-ins for most other kinds of group emails.

Signing up for a service like MailChimp (which I use) or Constant Contact takes care of this automatically, as it double-checks that people want to truly receive your emails. It also provides easy “unsubscribe” links – which are also required by law.

4. Watch your tone. My theory is that emoticons and emjois have become wildly popular because it can be hard to convey the right tone when using written words. A smart, to-the-point friend of mine drafts her emails and then adds a folksy line up top (e.g., “Hope you had a great weekend!”) in order to avoid unintentionally sounding too abrupt.

5. Avoid sensitive topics. For the reason above, as well as for the fact that you don’t want to appear to be cravenly hiding behind your keyboard, avoid discussing sensitive topics via email unless there’s truly no other option. A phone call is better – and meeting in person is better still.

6. Email in haste, repent at leisure. My dad is retired now, but back when he was working he’d often fire off a nasty letter to someone and ask his assistant to mail it. She always deliberately dragged her feet on getting to the mailbox, knowing that he’d come to her in a day or two – with a cooler head – asking her to tear it up.

Hot-headed emails, alas, take even less effort to send than letters and can also be forwarded far and wide by indignant recipients. Sleep on it first – and insert the “send” address as the very last thing you do, to avoid accidentally releasing your poisoned arrow before you’re ready.

Bottom line? Email is a great tool – but also one that can cause great damage (or, at the very least, great annoyance). Wield it with care and caution.

Click here for your free copy of our exclusive report, 64 Terrific Child Care Marketing Ideas.

Use Your Words…Carefully

IMG_7046We’ve been in our new house for almost two months now, but my husband and I still enjoy looking at those free real estate magazines you can pick up at various places around town – maybe even more now that there’s zero pressure to find the right house. (Nicholas, our 3-year-old, enjoys paging through as well, though he’s always baffled that “I no see our new house in here.”)

One listing for a little place near the beach caught my eye: “…property has been empty for many years so presents a great opportunity to gain some sweat equity…”

Now, whoever wrote this listing is clearly not one of those real-estate novelists Billy Joel sang about in Piano Man. This is a person who didn’t quite think his or her words through all the way.

“Empty for many years” brings to mind “deeply entrenched rodent population” more than “endless creative possibilities.” (I actually drove by an unoccupied property yesterday that was overrun with wild turkeys. Undoubtedly, they were looking for a safe house until this whole Thanksgiving thing blows over.)

Similarly, I understand the notion behind “sweat equity,” but something like “ready for you to add the finishing touches!” wouldn’t sound quite so, well, sweaty.

The words you choose at your center, and the resulting pictures you paint for the people who hear them, matter a lot. Do you ever:

  • Answer the phone in a panting, breathless frenzy? Yell over your shoulder for someone to find you a pen?
  • Tell prospective parents that there’s “plenty of room” for their child in a given classroom?
  • Speak sharply (or too frankly) to that problem teacher in front of parents?
  • Confide in prospective teachers about the real reason a past teacher left?
  • Participate in (or simply decline to firmly shut down) juicy gossip at your center?
  • Cheerfully recount a funny-in-hindsight tale about a toddler’s playground injury to a parent of a child in your infant room?

To be sure, we’re all guilty of these sorts of things from time to time. We’re human, and child care providers are running a joyful yet uniquely boisterous kind of 3-ring-circus of a business.

But over time, being too casual about your language can unfortunately lead to people believing (rightly or wrongly) that you’re too casual about the things that really matter at your center – including professionalism, discretion, and safety.

We all tend to be very careful about the words we use with small children in our care, but it’s easy to let this slide a bit when we’re dealing with grown-ups. It’s something to watch out for.

“Use your words!” we tell the kids, over and over. A good reminder for us big people in business is “Use your words…carefully.”

Click here for your free copy of our exclusive report, 6 Easy Ways To Boost Enrollments and Attract the Very Best Staff.

ECE Parent Survey Questions and Strategies

file0002053556247Last week, we talked a little bit about why it’s so important to solicit feedback from parents (and staff!) on a regular basis. This week, more details on how to go about doing it:

1. Make it a regular thing. You should plan to survey parents once or twice a year – twice is better than once, but once is infinitely better than not doing it at all.

2. Keep it short and sweet. This one is key. We all get very discouraged (and maybe even a little annoyed, no?) when we see one of those endless multi-page surveys.

Here’s a great rule to remember: You should never ask a question if the response won’t change your behavior in some way.

For example, if you have no plans or budget to upgrade your playground equipment, don’t include a question asking parents what they think of the current setup. You will get better response rates, and more meaningful answers, if you ask only a few well-thought-out questions rather than a laundry list of everything under the sun.

3. Provide space for open-ended answers. Whether you use a paper survey or an online tool like SurveyMonkey, give respondents at least one opportunity to write an open-ended response. There are few things more frustrating than being given a list of “scale of 1-10” questions with no way to add or clarify additional info.

If you’re surveying a cast of thousands then, yes, of course it’s easier to tally numeric responses only. But most child care centers do not fall into that category!

4. Make the process easy. If you do paper surveys, have a clearly labeled box in a prominent place where they can be returned. You can even set out a small table with some pencils so that parents can fill out the survey right then and there. If you do online surveys, give people the name of someone at your center they can talk to if they have questions about, or problems with, the technology.

5. Give a deadline. Don’t make it too far out, or the survey will slip from people’s minds. One to two weeks is a good guideline.

6. Provide an incentive. You’ll be amazed at how many responses you receive if you enter all respondents into a drawing for something compelling (a $100 gift certificate to a popular local restaurant, a FitBit, free child care for a week, etc).

A really great incentive that motivates people to take action and fill out your survey will cost you some money – but getting lots of good feedback can quickly pay for itself many times over.

You don’t need to sacrifice anonymity, either. For paper surveys, include a tear-off portion with name and contact information that goes into a separate box from the survey itself. For online surveys, look only at the field with contact info when you pick a name at random.

(This should go without saying, but I’ll say it anyway: Any incentives should be given on the basis of survey participation only, not on the basis of how much you like a respondent’s answers!)

So…what questions should you ask?

If there’s something specific you’re looking to find out, ask about that, of course. Otherwise, there’s nothing wrong with keeping things very general. The below 4-question example, while extremely simple, is actually a very solid survey that will net you a lot of valuable information:

  1. On a scale of 1-10 (1 = extremely unhappy and 10 = extremely happy), how satisfied are you with your family’s experience at KidFun Child Care Center?
  2. What are we doing a good job with?
  3. What could we improve?
  4. Anything else you’d like to add?

In surveys, as with so many things, better done than perfect. You can refine the process as you go along, but the most important thing is to just get started and do it already.

Click here for your free copy of our exclusive report, 6 Easy Ways To Boost Enrollments and Attract the Very Best Staff.

How Are You Doing? Ask.

DSCN7118A little while back, Eric and I had the great good fortune to get away for a weekend by ourselves, sans kids (thank you, Nonnie and Nana!).

Because we grown-ups were alone in the car, I actually had the luxury of gazing out the windows during the drive, rather than pretzeled around fielding back-seat requests for Cheerios, dropped items, and various forms of moral support.

I got a chuckle out of a sign we saw outside a local diner as we drove by:

Honk if you like our new sign!

I had never noticed their old sign, so I had nothing to compare it to, but I found myself wondering if, in fact, people were honking as they drove past.

Admittedly, this could get very old for the neighbors living within earshot of the diner, but the underlying premise was sound: How are we doing?

At least twice a year, you should be asking the parents and staff at your center the exact same question. The temptation is always to assume that if people really like something, or really hate something, they’ll tell you, but it just doesn’t always work this way.

For starters, people are busy and forgetful – especially people who raise and/or teach small, demanding children.

Another problem is that many folks are pathologically nonconfrontational – they would rather leave your center without saying a word than speak up and risk upsetting you. And this is a real shame, as you can lose a lot of great families (and great teaching talent) this way.

So you need to explicitly ask for feedback on a regular basis, using either paper surveys or an online tool like SurveyMonkey (plans start at free and it’s super-easy to use. I have no affiliation with the company; just a fan). And then you need to do the following:

1. Thank people for providing feedback. Truly and sincerely. Even if someone is very unhappy, he or she has done you a favor by filling you in; you can’t fix problems you don’t know about.

2. Avoid getting defensive. This does no good, and will shut down the lines of communication faster than an 18-month-old can flick a half-chewed strawberry across the room.

3. Be open to new ideas. Great ideas are great ideas, regardless of the source – even that super-annoying parent may have some brilliance simmering under the surface, if you’re open to hearing it.

4. Watch for patterns. If one parent is unhappy about something, it’s worth noting. Two parents? Could just be a coincidence. But three or more? There’s most likely a problem you need to fix. It’s also important to remember that for every person who speaks up, there are usually at least a few more silent folks who feel the exact same way.

5. Share the results. You need to maintain confidentiality, of course, but sharing feedback with your center’s community as a whole is a great way to reassure people that they are actually being listened to, and to encourage further dialogue.

Next week, I’ll give you some sample questions you can use in your surveys. Now please honk if you like this post.

Click here for your free copy of our exclusive report, 6 Easy Ways To Boost Enrollments and Attract the Very Best Staff.

What’s Your Thing?

file0001201629405When the Chicago Cubs clinched their National League Division Series earlier this week, the first thing I did was text my friend Lee. To say that Lee is a Cubs fan would be a massive understatement – Lee is the Chicago Cubs. He lives, breathes, and bleeds Cubbie blue.

(Note to our friends outside the U.S.: The Chicago Cubs are an American baseball team that has experienced much heartbreak – and many losses – over the past century. To be a Cubs fan is to live on an emotional rollercoaster that is perpetually threatening to jump the rails entirely.)

I have no doubt that Lee got many similar calls and texts from other friends that night. When you think Cubs, you think Lee. And he’s not the only person I know with an instant association like this.

Rich, a family friend, is known far and wide for his extreme devotion to bacon (made even more fervent, perhaps, by the fact that he’s not allowed to cook it in the house except for special occasions). He lives for the summertime, when the opportunities for al fresco cooking, scant during a typical New England winter, abound.

Talibah, a former teacher of Lorelei’s, rarely steps out in public without something purple on. She is our very own Purplicious.

You get the idea – when you’re strongly associated with something, you come to people’s minds very readily. Word-of-mouth is always working in your favor when you’re the such-and-such guy (or gal).

What is your center’s thing? Maybe you’re the eco-friendly place for people to send their kids in your town…or the place with the amazing, developmentally appropriate playground…or the place known for its fully bilingual curriculum.

In the marketing world, whatever special something you’re known for is called your Unique Selling Proposition (or Unique Value Proposition, if you’d rather). It’s the thing that sets you apart from the other centers in your area and makes you top of mind for one particular thing. And that’s a good thing for both current and prospective parents.

Assuming your center isn’t known for something like being “the one that keeps losing track of its toddlers,” standing out is what you want to be doing.

What’s your center known for? If nothing particular comes to mind (or, at least, nothing that all the other centers in your area can’t equally claim, too), it’s time to figure out the answer – and start highlighting it in your marketing and your center tours.

Let’s go Cubbies!

Click here for your free copy of our exclusive report, 64 Terrific Child Care Marketing Ideas.