The Postcard Principle

the postcard principle

Last week, we were lucky enough to escape the Hoth-like tundra that has been New England this winter and get down to Florida for a few days. It was a wonderful trip – we got to visit with family, swim in the pool, and have our arms and legs exposed without them instantly freezing solid and falling off.

We also introduced Lorelei to the timeless fun of writing postcards to friends and family back home (Nicholas, as you can see from the photo above, found more personal satisfaction in eating the postcards).

Even with all the electronic amusements and diversions out there these days, there’s still something wonderful about receiving a postcard in the mail, isn’t there? If you’ve ever received an e-postcard in your inbox – and, yes, they do exist – it’s just not the same thing.

Postcards are special because they don’t scale easily; it takes a bit of time and effort (and money) to write, stamp, and mail each one. Each one is a unique creation designed just for a particular recipient.

While there’s certainly an important place in your child care marketing and retention plan for things that do scale, like your Facebook page, your blog, your newsletter, and so on, you should also reserve some of your time and budget for more personal efforts, such as:

  • A handwritten thank-you note to families who tour your center
  • An age-appropriate welcome gift for families when they enroll
  • A thoughtful (not necessarily expensive) birthday gift for each teacher at your center

You may feel like you have no time, energy, or money for this sort of thing…but here’s the deal: Gestures like these give you tremendous bang for the buck precisely because they require a sincere, personal touch. Accordingly, they are remembered and appreciated for a very long time.

Once you get in the habit of doing even just one or two personal touches like this at your center on a regular basis, you’ll quickly see how fun, and effective, they can be.

And if you need something custom-bitten, just say the word. I know a guy.

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

How To Stop Teacher Rants In Their Tracks

whisperingLast weekend, Eric and I took the kids to one of those big-box stores – let’s call it Bullseye – for various and sundry reasons.

We were all desperate for an outing before the next big storm hit, and Lorelei had some allowance money that was burning a hole in her pocket.

Eric and I wanted to pick up a snow rake for the roof (a goal that later proved laughable, as everyone else had had the same idea and there were no snow rakes to be had within a 50-mile radius of Portsmouth).

As for Nicholas, he’s grown fond of an interactive crawling Minnie Mouse doll in the toy section that’s activated when you press a button on her lower back. “I touch Minnie’s bum!” is now the first thing he says whenever he enters the store.

Needless to say, we were all focused on our respective missions. I briefly broke free from the rest of the family to swing through the women’s clothing section – because everyone else found T-shirts and socks less exciting than Minnie’s bum.

I was alone in the section except for two store associates, who were loudly bemoaning the fact that they had to work on Easter, that it was not observed as any kind of store holiday, that there would be no management-provided gifts of cash or ham, etc.

Now, as I’ve mentioned before, I’m not generally the most memorable presence in the room. But they knew I was right there as they were kvetching; they just didn’t care.

As a child care professional, you have undoubtedly witnessed similar behavior: Teachers engrossed in a rant or private discussion, about work or something else, in front of the parents at your center. Sometimes they stop when they notice the parents standing there, and sometimes they don’t. Either way, it creates a very bad impression.

It’s not remotely uncommon. The million-dollar question, of course, is how to make it stop. Unfortunately, there’s no simple answer, but there are some things you can do to create a climate that discourages this sort of thing:

1. Train your staff. Especially if teachers are new to the work world, or to ECE, it just plain may not have occurred to them that some conversations are not appropriate for the public spaces of your center. You need to explain that you are creating an experience for the kids and parents, and that when teachers are at work, they’re onstage.

2. Give them a place to go. Nobody can be onstage all the time, so it’s important that your teachers have a private place to go when they’re not on duty. Especially in small or home-based centers, finding the space for a teacher break area can be a challenge, but it’s worth making the effort.

3. Be consistent about your messaging. It’s hard to effectively convey that you’re trying to create a special presence for your families when there’s a huge pile of trash bags in your entryway and a peeling piece of floor laminate in the preschool area that people keep tripping over.

It’s a child care center – nobody expects it to look like Buckingham Palace – but care and pride in all aspects of your operation sets a good tone for your staff’s interactions with parents (and everything else).

4. Walk the talk. Teachers won’t respect your policy on personal conversations in the workplace if, say, you and your assistant director are always having your own personal asides throughout the day. If it’s not something you’d be comfortable having everyone hear – both parents and staff – take it behind closed doors.

5. Encourage open dialogue. This step is the hardest, but the most important of all: Employees often rant to one another (and to their friends and spouses) about their jobs because they don’t feel anyone at work is really listening to them.

If you make it a priority to allow employees to speak with you openly, without getting defensive, there will be less of that “bitching in corners” problem that makes your workplace less professional and less fun. You don’t always have to agree with what they say – but truly hearing them out makes a world of difference.

Even more than providing Easter hams.

Click here to get your copy of our exclusive free report, 17 Secrets to Finding – and Keeping – Great Teachers.

What To Do When It All Goes Pear-Shaped

pearsThe British have so many great turns of phrase. When something goes pear-shaped, it means it’s all gone terribly wrong.

If you run a child care program, no matter how good a job you do, you will have your share of pear-shaped days. How you respond to them is what sets truly great centers apart.

The center I send my own kids to had a big ol’ pear-shaped morning one day last week. The power went out in the entire building right around 7 am, just before the doors were scheduled to open at 7:30. By then, of course, many families were already on their way in.

Here’s how the center responded:

  • Posted an announcement on their Facebook page and the local TV station (where parents can sign up to receive e-mail notifications of school closings and delays) as soon as it happened.
  • Had a strong presence – the executive director, assistant director, and enrollment specialist – standing outside on a bitterly cold morning to greet arriving families and let them know what was going on.
  • Invited all families and kids into the school cafeteria to wait while the problem was being fixed. The school’s food vendor provided free coffee to parents and staff; the school itself bought breakfast for everyone.
  • Posted a second announcement on their Facebook page as soon as the power was back on, around 9:30 am.
  • Wrote a letter to parents with a sincere apology and an explanation of what had happened. The letter was posted on both Facebook and the school website that same day. The letter also featured a detailed explanation of how to sign up for e-notifications with the local TV station mentioned above, for parents who hadn’t yet done so.
  • Printed out hard copies of the letter and distributed them to the parent mailboxes in every classroom that same day, well in time for evening pick-up.

In short, the center pretty much did everything it could to make the best of a bad situation and keep parents in the loop – parents who were already weary from an unprecedented string of snow days. Judging from the feedback on Facebook, people were satisfied.

It’s important to remember that whenever things go wrong, all you really need to focus on are these 3 things:

  1. A sincere apology that doesn’t try to make excuses or minimize the problem.
  2. Your best efforts to fix it and prevent it from happening again.
  3. Excellent communication throughout the entire process.

None of this is easy, of course, but it’s all that matters. So don’t get caught up in extraneous details. Stay focused on the big stuff, as my kids’ school did the other day, and you may come away from your pear-shaped debacle with some brand-new fans.

It could even be, to borrow from one of the most famous Britons in history, your finest hour.

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

What Jam, Snow Tires, and Child Care Have In Common

strawberry jam

Once you hit your 40s, you start to realize that there are things about yourself that will just never change, for good or ill.

My great love of food, for example, is matched only by my utter and complete indifference to cars. I still hesitate when the auto shop asks me for my make and model, ever since that time I confidently told them I drive a Honda Impreza.

So it has been no great surprise that every flat tire I’ve ever had has been pointed out to me by a kindly stranger at a gas station – I have always been blissfully unaware, probably lost in thoughts of what I’m going to eat for dinner that night.

This happened a few weeks back. I had not one, but two, moderately flat tires. As anyone who’s ever lived in a snowy climate knows, late January is not a good time to be playing fast and loose with the integrity of your tires.

When I called my neighborhood auto shop, I got a recorded message telling me that my regular mechanic was out on a brief medical leave, so I wound up taking my car to another place across town.

The guy behind the counter confidently typed – and talked – faster than anyone I’ve ever seen. After taking a look at my car, he confirmed what my usual mechanic had given me a heads-up about at my last inspection: I was in need of four new tires.

He smiled reassuringly. “Let me get something written up and I’ll be right back.”

When he returned, he said he’d drawn up a mid-range estimate for me. “I figure you probably don’t want the cheapest tires we’ve got” (undoubtedly spying the children’s car seats in the back seat) “or the top-of-the-line ones, either” (the tired mom with the dinged-up Impreza is not taking a lot of high-performance drives these days).

He also told me that the current brand of tires on my car was prone to small cracks that led to slow leaks, so he recommended a different brand. He told me to the penny what it would cost to replace the tires, how long it would take, and that I would need to come back a day or two later for a final check and adjustment.

All of this made me feel like I was in very good hands. I know tires come in radial, and steel-belted, and stacked with cute babies in them in the TV commercials, but that’s about the extent of my knowledge (because, as you know, I’d much rather be thinking about cake).

By taking control of the transaction and giving me firm recommendations, the mechanic both came across as an expert in his field and took all the uncertainty out of the process for me, for which I was immensely grateful.

It’s easy to think that our customers want lots of choices and autonomy, but oftentimes that’s actually very far from the case. In one well-known marketing experiment, customers given a choice of 24 gourmet jams to sample wound up buying far less often than customers who were given a choice of just 6. Too many choices can paralyze us when it comes to decision-making.

If the mechanic had offered me a wide array of tire options, leaving the decision entirely in my hands, I still would have made a purchase – leaving the shop with two flats wasn’t a viable option – but I wouldn’t have been happy about it.

Similarly, when prospective parents express interest in your child care center, telling them something like, “Give us a call if you decide to enroll” is oftentimes not at all what they want to hear. Having a set process for converting prospective parents into current ones – from the initial phone call through the tour through a final closing conversation – generates trust and reassurance.

Too many child care centers are afraid of “hard selling,” but dealing with someone who clearly knows what they’re doing and is confident about what they are offering is, frankly, a rare treat. These parents need excellent child care, and you provide excellent child care. It’s a win-win. Leading them down the path to realizing that is doing them a favor.

And, if for some reason it’s not a good fit, telling them so and giving them some other more suitable options will generate unbelievable levels of trust and goodwill – not to mention positive word-of-mouth that will probably send even more prospective parents your way.

So if you have just the thing a particular family needs – whether it’s jam or snow tires or child care – don’t be afraid to speak up.

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

Why A Policy Is Never Just A Policy

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I’ve been thinking a lot about snow lately, perhaps because it’s all around me and seems to never stop falling from the sky these days.

Seriously – on Monday we got another foot on top of the 2+ feet that fell last week. I tried to take the kids outside to play in it, but Lorelei got overwhelmed (and stuck). I was also concerned that Nicholas – who himself is barely 3 feet tall – would sift down to the bottom and not be seen again until spring.

In any event, it’s gotten me to thinking about the wide variety of snow day closure policies I’ve seen at the centers I work with. They’re all over the map, ranging from owner’s discretion to “we follow what the local school district does” to “we ain’t closing until the governor orders us off the roads.”

Whether you realize it or not, your choice of policy in discretionary matters like these says a lot about your center and its priorities:

  • A “we’re open no matter what” policy is parent-friendly but may be extremely hard on staff who live far away from your center.
  • Charging parents the standard tuition rate for snow days, no matter how many of them you have in a given season, can breed resentment.
  • Following the local school district takes the decision off your plate (whew!) but doesn’t take into account the fact that your center is a very different animal in many ways than a K-12 school system in terms of who you serve, how people get to and from your center, your hours, and why you exist.

None of these policies is right or wrong, but it’s important to remember that what you decide to do matters for reasons well beyond logistics. It’s also important to remember that how you present your policy makes all the difference.

For example, parents who are upset about paying for multiple snow days – days in which their small children are home bouncing off the walls and the parents are missing work – will be more sympathetic if you explain that the policy is in place so you can adequately compensate the teachers they like and appreciate so much.

So whether it’s snow days or something else, whenever you’re establishing policy at your center, don’t just figure out what you’ll do – figure out the larger message you’re sending as well.

And when life hands you snow, make snow ice cream.

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