What Do You Want Them To Do?

call to action Depending on your background and personal quirks, the acronym “CTA” might bring to mind various things:

  • Chicago Transit Authority
  • Coffee To Abigail!
  • Computed Tomography Angiography
  • Commodity Trading Advisor
  • Chinchillas Taking Advantage

Today, however, I’m going to talk about CTA in the marketing context: Call To Action.

It’s a simple yet often-overlooked concept: A call to action simply refers to what you want the person on the other end of your marketing to do.

In those late-night infomercials, for example, the CTA is traditionally something along the lines of “Call now!” Or, more recently, “Order now at thighblaster2016.com!”

Are your CTAs clear, on your website and brochures and other child care marketing materials?

If not, it could be because you’re asking people to do too many things at once – or maybe you’re not asking them to do anything at all. It might be that you’ve never actually thought through what you want them to do.

In the child care context, your ideal CTA is probably one of the following:

  • Call to schedule a tour
  • Fill out an online form
  • Stop by to pick up a packet of information
  • Sign up for a specific event or special program

Child care, of course, is not generally something people will sign up for sight unseen – so “Enroll your child now in full-time care for the next three years – just click here!” is not a viable CTA.

But one of the above is – a first step to start people down the path to enrollment. Figure out what’s right for your program, and focus on just that one thing for now.

Remember, when it comes to CTAs, Clarity Trumps All.

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

Are You Doing as Well in Google as You Think You Are?

keyboardYou may be pleased with how high your center is coming up in the Google rankings when you do a search – but are you getting a false sense of security?

Here are five common mistakes that many child care centers make in this area:

1. Searching by center name. Oftentimes, I’ll talk to a director who says her center always comes up at the top of the search results. But when I dig into how she’s been searching, it turns out she’s been typing the center’s name into the search engine.

Unfortunately, prospective parents aren’t searching for “Busy Kids Child Care Center” by name. They don’t yet know you exist – that’s why they’re online! Their searches probably look more like this:

– Child care in Springfield, MA
– Daycares near Monterey California
– Portsmouth NH preschool

Do you see the difference? Get inside the heads of your prospective parents and run the same type of searches they would – that’s the only way to get a real sense of how you’re doing in the search engine rankings.

Once those parents do know about your center, of course, they may well search for it by name to learn more (which is why having a good website is important), but that part of the process happens later.

2. Searching like a child care professional. If you, a child care professional, were looking for a child care center in your area – say, for your own child – you might search for something like “NAEYC center in Austin” or “high-quality early ed program.”

Most parents don’t think like this. They are going to be searching for “daycare” or “day care” or “preschool” near their home or work. They have probably never heard of “ECE” and have no idea what it means. Again, think like a parent. You can even ask parents at your center tours, if they found you online, if they remember what they searched for – their answers will probably surprise you.

3. Searching while logged in. If you’re logged into your Google account (Gmail, Google+, etc.) while you do your test searches on Google, your center may come up artificially high in your search rankings. That’s because Google knows the pages you’ve looked at in the past and tries to serve up what it thinks you’re looking for. So log out before you play prospective parent to get a truer picture of how your center is doing in the search engine rankings.

To be sure, look at the icons at the top right of your screen after you’ve run your search. If you have a Google account, you’ll see a little head-and-shoulders silhouette, a little earth, and a little gear icon. Click on the earth to “hide private results.” (And note that Google switches things up often, so this may change in the near future!)

4. Forgetting about geography. Those very clever search engines know where your computer is located, whether you’re logged in or not – so “daycares Portland” is going to give very different results if you and your computer are in the Pacific Northwest (Portland, OR) vs. New England (Portland, ME).

For the most accurate results, make sure you’re physically located near where your prospective parents are when you’re doing your test searches.

5. Not being proactive about getting on the Google map. If you have not yet officially listed your center with Google, do that now. It’s totally free, and it will help your web presence immensely. Again, Google changes things up a lot, but right now they’re calling the page Google My Business and it’s available here.

They still can’t tell me where I left my car keys, but I imagine that’s coming soon.

Click here for a sample child care social media policy you can adapt for use at your center.

Whenever I See Your Smiling Face

smile!Here’s a simple, inexpensive way to keep both parents and staff happy: Keep your staff photo wall current.

You do have a staff photo wall, don’t you? It’s the very best way to make parents feel looped in on who’s taking care of their children, and it’s also an important part of making your teachers – especially new teachers – feel valued and included.

I know it may seem like a small thing, especially when there are so many other urgent fires to put out every day, but the photo wall is a key thing for moms and dads (okay, primarily for moms – men just seem to be more OK generally with the ambiguity of not knowing someone’s name).

In any event, speaking as a parent, it can be an icky feeling to see the same cheery person holding your baby every day at pickup and having no idea what her name is. We may or may not have been introduced at some point – I’m a mother of small children; my brain is mush – so I feel bad about asking (especially since my baby is clearly over the moon for her).

Parents often resort to asking their two-year-old in a discreet way if she knows the mystery teacher’s name, a move that is bound to lead them down a path that’s either unreliable (“That’s Elmo!”) or embarrassing (“MOMMY WHY DON’T YOU KNOW KAREN’S NAME IS KAREN?”).

Similarly, from the staff perspective, it makes you feel insignificant to work somewhere for months – or, worse still, years – before someone gets around to putting your picture up on the photo wall. But adding the person promptly (no later than sometime during his or her first week) has just the opposite effect – you’re here, and the center is happy about it, and they are excited to include you as an official member of the team.

Avoid the temptation to wait for the perfect day, or the perfect moment, or the perfect Annie-Leibovitz-like parent to donate a photo session. This is one of those times when “done” is far better than “perfect.” For extra credit, you can even send out a quick email (with photo) every time someone new is hired, with a bit of biographical info about the teacher.

But that’s an advanced move – don’t sweat the small stuff here. Just get the photo up on the photo wall in timely fashion, and you’re in good shape. Your parents and teachers will appreciate it.

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

A Common Time Management Trap to Avoid

stopwatchI have a confession to make: I’m a little bit of a wimp when it comes to cold weather. This is unfortunate, as I’ve chosen to live in a place that’s frozen solid several months of the year. I adore winter, but primarily as an excuse to hole up inside and drink hot chocolate.

(Our next-door neighbor is much heartier than I am. This morning, when the windchill was 9 degrees Fahrenheit – that’s a brisk -13 Celsius for our international readers – she was out shoveling her driveway in shorts. She was wearing a hat, though my husband and I think that may have been more about fashion than warmth. But I digress.)

In any event, when the mercury drops, I find all kinds of excuses to skip my daily walk around the neighborhood, even though I know it’s a really good idea to get outside and get the blood circulating.

My favorite excuse? “Oh, I’m so busy today – I just don’t have the time.”

Yesterday, I decided to call my own bluff and figure out just how long that walk takes me. I had a rough idea it was somewhere around 30 minutes, but I’d never paid a lot of attention. So I set a stopwatch just as I walked out the front door and checked it as soon as I returned.

The grand total? Nineteen minutes and twenty-six seconds.

Yes, dear readers, that oh-so-time-consuming walk I was bellyaching about took less than 20 minutes from start to finish. I felt a little silly. That’s barely even enough time to get really cold (particularly if, like me, you’re walking at a rapid clip so as to hasten back inside and drink hot chocolate).

I share this story because the “Oh, I just don’t have time to do XYZ!” trap is very common, and compelling – but oftentimes it just isn’t true. We tend to cling to it when there’s something we should be doing but keep putting off; there’s always time for the fun stuff. But once we actually get firm with ourselves and decide to do whatever that dreaded task is, it usually takes much less time (and, often, effort) than we anticipated.

For tasks that require sitting down at a desk – like, say, getting a marketing plan together for your child care center – I have found what I’ve officially termed the “BIS Technique” to be most useful.

BIS = Bum In Seat.

You commit a certain chunk of time – not too much; maybe 20 to 45 minutes, depending on the task and your attention span – to sitting down and working.

During that time, you do not get up for coffee. You do not get up for a bathroom break. You do not even get up for that favorite kids’ bedtime excuse, a glass of water. Unless the building is on fire, you sit there, and you close all of those enticing browser windows, and you work on that one task. Period.

When time’s up, you’re free to go. You may find that you actually want to keep working, now that you’ve gotten rolling. You may decide to set aside the same chunk of BIS time tomorrow and chip away until it’s done. You may even have the pleasant surprise of finishing completely before the buzzer goes off. But, regardless, you’ve made progress – and you’ve dodged that lame excuse.

What if your time is truly very limited? Do it anyway – even 10 solid minutes spent on a task is far better than nothing.

Today, alas, I realize I have no valid excuse for weaseling out of my nineteen-minute-and-twenty-six-second circuit around the neighborhood. But I won’t be wearing shorts.

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

Don’t Get Pigeonholed on Price

file00078047732Happy New Year, everyone!

If anyone has personal finance goals/resolutions they’re looking for help with in 2016, I highly recommend The Simple Dollar blog. I enjoy the writing style and also the way the posts are realistic yet encouraging about hitting financial goals and shaping a truly meaningful life in the process.

Anyway, I mention the blog here today because the author, Trent Hamm, recently wrote a post called An Experienced Frugal Parent’s Guide to Child Care. It’s an interesting read for anyone in our field as it provides an in-depth look at what at least some parents are thinking as they make their child care decisions. Here are Trent’s main points:

  1. He and his wife had, as their top concern, the safety and well-being of their children.
  2. “Most child care options are perfectly fine and there isn’t a whole lot of difference between a good one and a great one in the same class.”
  3. You should talk to people you know personally to get their recommendations (and especially the names of child care providers to avoid at all costs).
  4. Make a list of all reasonable child care options in your area and start looking at the lowest-priced places first. Once you find one that’s good enough, at the right price, lock it in.

I found this piece very interesting, for a few reasons. I think most of us can agree that the safety and well-being of the children at any center is (or should be) the paramount concern for both parents and providers. I would also agree that there are probably several centers in most geographic areas that are “good enough” from this standpoint.

But here’s where Trent and I disagree: The difference between a “good enough” program and a “great” program can be tremendous, particularly when it comes to the education of young children.

Until I started working in this field, I had no idea that the vast majority of our brain development is complete by the age of 5. Most parents of young children, I would guess, don’t know this either (they are too busy trying to figure out where their own brains have gone amidst a sea of sleep deprivation and spit-up!).

As an expert in the education of young children, it’s your job to ensure that parents are aware of facts like this. To explain what makes your program unique and special. To convey that “good enough” may not be anywhere close when it comes to helping their child reach his or her full potential.

Now, there are always going to be parents who are unable or unwilling to pay a premium for child care and early education, even if they know all the facts, and that’s fine. But there are plenty of parents who are – and if they are well-educated on what makes your program truly special, you’ll be amazed at how many of them are willing to cheerfully pay you top dollar and entrust you with their children.

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