3 Child Care Marketing Mindset Myths

boy with crayonsIf you’re like many child care professionals, the idea of marketing your program – or yourself, for that matter – is not at all appealing. Maybe you’ve found yourself thinking something along the lines of the following:

If people are right for our program, they’ll find us.

I’m just too busy to worry about marketing right now.

I don’t want to bother people.

I am here today to officially bust you on every one of these (but it will be kind of fun, I promise). Let’s get started, shall we?

Unhelpful mindset #1: If people are right for our program, they’ll find us.

This is just plain not true. Parents of young children, in addition to being bombarded with all kinds of stimuli (not to mention airborne Cheerios), are so tired and distracted that you really have to get in their face – which can be done in a good way – to get them to notice much of anything.

I say this as a person with a Wiggles-addled brain who just received a call from the local library because I returned to them a Curious George DVD that actually belongs to our personal collection and not the library’s. Mind of Mush, I tell you.

Look at it this way: If you don’t take pains to get the word out about your great program, that mush-minded mom down the street may well be swayed by a flyer from a far inferior child care program across town – and that’s a shame, both for her family and for you.

Unhelpful mindset #2: I’m just too busy to worry about marketing right now.

No, you’re not. If, in fact, your program is humming along and you are full to capacity, that’s wonderful! And it’s also precisely why you need to be working on your marketing right now so that you stay full and humming when the next lull happens, as it invariably does.

And if your program is not currently full to capacity? Well, then, marketing your program is pretty much the most important work you could be doing.

If you’re overextended doing other stuff that’s not directly related to generating new leads, conducting tours, and securing new enrollments, you need to clear the decks to make some time for these crucial business-builders.

Unhelpful mindset #3: I don’t want to bother people.

As my wonderful business coach, Michael Katz, put it so well in one of his blog posts:

If you found a cure for a deadly disease, you wouldn’t hide it in your basement. You’d be out there telling the world, day and night, until everyone who could benefit knew about it. Not only would people be happy to pay for it, they’d be angry if you didn’t give them the chance.

The same is true of your child care program. People will always want, and need, great child care. If you offer that – and I’m sure you do – then you owe it to your community to tell them about all you offer and give them the chance to enroll.

So get out there and get marketing.

What Are You Really Saying?


I come from a small, bucolic town in central New Hampshire – there’s a village bandstand, community church with white steeple, the works. It’s not quite Grover’s Corners, but close (one thing Thornton Wilder omitted from Our Town is how completely unnerving it is that everyone in town knows – and has an opinion on – your business almost before you do).

Once a year, however, the town is transformed from Clapboard Idyll to Biker Haven with the arrival of Motorcycle Week in the next town over. It used to be just Motorcycle Weekend, but a hog-happy mayor extended the festivities to a full nine days several years back.

Locals generally clear out during this time, which is difficult because one of the weekends always falls on Father’s Day, as well as the graduation weekends of many area high schools. It’s hard telling Grandma that there are no hotel rooms available to her for little Jeffrey’s graduation because the Duluth chapter of the Hell’s Angels beat her to it.

In any event, the area is now a sufficient attraction for bikers that there are year-round businesses catering to that specific market. One of them, which I drive by every time I bring the kids up to see their grandparents, is the Hawg’s Pen Café. I must pass by it at least three dozen times a year, and its name still strikes me as incongruous every time I do.

“Café” evokes refined images of cappuccino and croissants, but the Hawg’s Pen is clearly more of a beer-and-wings type place. Not once have I seen a Harley pulling out of there with a takeout box of brioche strapped to the sidecar.

I bring this up because a lot of child care centers are actually making the same sort of branding mistake as the Hawg’s Pen Café:

  • Highly academic programs with websites full of typos and misspellings
  • Centers with more than one logo and/or tagline (e.g., “We’re all about fun!” and “Learning in two languages!”)
  • Promises of a highly structured curriculum coupled with a shockingly messy director’s office

Once you figure out what makes your program unique and special, it’s important to carry that message consistently throughout your marketing materials and your center itself.

These sorts of discrepancies can be hard to pick up on if you’re too close to them – sort of like your fantastic new glasses that actually make you look like Elton John in the Crocodile Rock years – so have a trusted friend or family member (preferably one who’s not already intimately acquainted with your program) give you an honest assessment.

Until then, see you at Bike Week. I’ll bring the brioche.

Are You Making This Crucial Social Media Mistake?

Social Media apps Many child care centers – and yours may be one of them – have spent a lot of time and effort on their social media efforts lately.

They’re busily posting on Facebook, pinning on Pinterest, and just generally trying to get the word out.

And this is a great thing. Much of your target market – Millennial parents born between the early 1980s and the mid-1990s – can hardly remember a time when social media didn’t exist, and they are veritably living in their smartphones and tablets. They fully expect your child care center to have both a website and an active Facebook page, at the very least.

But here’s a dirty little secret about social media: It’s not actually marketing.

Now, don’t get me wrong – social media is “marketing” in the sense that everything you do at your center is marketing, from how you answer the phone to how fresh the paint on your building is. But it’s not “marketing” in the truest sense of the word, which constitutes putting an offer out there that people can choose to accept or reject.

Note the difference, for example, between “Check out our Facebook page!” and “Enroll by May 15th and get one week free!”

It’s an important distinction, because a bona fide offer is designed to make people take action – action that will boost your bottom line, and your enrollment numbers, if people take you up on it.

Granted, people can choose to “like” your Facebook page or not, but this isn’t the sort of action that directly grows your business. You should definitely be on Facebook and other social media channels, but this should not be the only type of marketing you’re doing.

Many child care professionals shy away from actual marketing, for a variety of reasons. You may feel uncomfortably salesy or pushy doing it. You may think that word of mouth should be enough. You may, quite reasonably, feel queasy about opening yourself up for rejection.

But it’s important to overcome these mental hurdles, because there’s nothing wrong with telling people about your great program and encouraging them to actually come in and sign up. It’s how you get fully enrolled, and how you (in turn) help as many kids in your area as possible.

Remember: Facebook “likes” don’t pay the bills or enrich children’s lives.

Whatever You Do, Don’t Do This…

AirplaneI had a nice chat with my parents this morning. They are currently in sunny Florida, enjoying the warm weather (and, most likely, some OJ far fresher than what’s languishing in the carton in our fridge).

As I was hanging up with them, I thought back to our family’s ill-fated Florida vacation a few years back.

We made the mistake of booking tickets on a cut-rate airline.

Red flag #1: Said cut-rate airline offered a $10 discount on checked bag fees if you “declared” (i.e., paid for) the checked bag in advance of your trip.

This itself was not problematic, but the fact that this discount was buried in teeny-tiny print on their policies page was. I mean, who looks at the policies page? (I was there only because I was wondering if I’d have to pay to bring our stroller along.)

Sneaky tactics like this mean you’re hiding the ball from the vast majority of your customers – and penalizing them for it. People don’t appreciate this.

Red flag #2: It was nearly impossible to get through to a real live person on the phone and “declare” our checked bag. They didn’t just put you on hold – they played an automated message that all agents were busy and hung up. When I tried calling at oddball times, I got a message that the office was closed.

I know the value of my time and aggravation is worth far more than $10, but because I’m stubborn (and sensed a blog post coming on), I stuck it out until I finally got through. It took me 24 tries over a two-day period.

Red flag #3: The person I finally reached was about as professional, courteous, and competent as a 3-year-old with a raging double ear infection.

Red flag #4: The official departure time of the flight was delayed a half hour before we even got to the airport. No reason for the delay was ever given.

Red flag #5: The flight sat on the runway for an additional hour after we got on the plane. Again, no reason given. We entertained ourselves by coming up with new taglines for the airline:

It wasn’t us who said that “getting there is half the fun.”

For people who value money over peace of mind.

When getting there…is optional.

Red flag #6: The captain got on the intercom and announced that, given atmospheric conditions and the load the plane was carrying, we’d have to make an unscheduled stop in Myrtle Beach to refuel (I guiltily wondered if the added weight of me – then pregnant with Nicholas – and my equally pregnant sister-in-law was to blame). The plane was still sitting on the runway at this point.

The captain added that he didn’t “like this any more than you do,” which I found hard to believe given that he at least was being paid to lead the journey from hell, while those of us in the passenger section of the plane had paid to take it.

Red flag #7: Actually, there were no more red flags. Just an announcement two days into our trip that the airline had gone under and would not be running any more flights. We came home on a different airline – which, alas, flew into an airport 50 miles from the one where we’d left our car.

The business lesson here? For me, it was a valuable reminder that you get what you pay for. It’s also an (admittedly extreme) example of the proposition that your customers are your greatest asset. And when you’ve lost their goodwill, you’re done for.

It seems obvious that you should never trick them, ignore them, or treat them like an imposition…but it happens every day.

Are You Accountable?


The other day, Lorelei was eagerly threading her way through the tall stacks at our local library (she loves to duck in and out between them – fun for her; heart-stopping for me as she’s so quiet, per library protocol, that I never know exactly where she is).

During the pursuit, I caught a glimpse of Daniel Pink’s most recent book, To Sell Is Human, and checked it out along with our usual roster of Pinkalicious titles.

If you’re not familiar with Pink’s work, he specializes in really interesting, readable nonfiction about the quirks of human nature, and how a fuller understanding of them can make our lives – and businesses – better.

In a chapter called “Serve,” he included the story of a local restaurant he and his family go to, Il Canale, whose lobby boasts a framed sign with a photograph of the restaurant’s owner, Giuseppe Farruggio. Underneath Farruggio’s smiling face is the following message:

I need your help! If you had anything less than a great experience at Il Canale please call my cell. 703-XXX-XXXX. 

Yes, the owner actually lists his cellphone number and invites customers to reach out – not if they’ve been pleased with their dining experience, mind you (though hopefully he gets some of those calls, too), but if they’re dissatisfied.

That’s gutsy. And very effective. You know this guy isn’t just giving lip service to great customer service. And you also know his restaurant must be pretty darn good if he’s willing to put himself out there like that.

Are you?

As the owner or director of a child care center, you certainly aren’t expected to broadcast your cellphone number to the families you serve, inviting their complaints into your direct line…but think how reassured (and, frankly, impressed) they’d be if you did. Only someone with a very good program – or one of those prepaid disposable cellphones favored by criminals – would be willing to do that.

You can also achieve a similar effect with a rock-solid guarantee, e.g.:

Try us out for a month. If you and your child are not 100% thrilled, we’ll refund every penny of your tuition.

I do something similar in my business, offering my clients not 100%, but 110%, of their money back – everything they’ve paid plus an extra 10% for their time and trouble – if they’re not completely thrilled with my work for them.

And you know what? I’m comfortable doing that because I’m good at what I do (just as you are, I’m sure). Someday, someone may take me up on it, but so far no one has.

How can you put yourself out on a limb – in a good way – for your customers today?

BONUS: As a special thank-you for reading today’s installment, as well as an offering to the Spring Karma Gods (here in New Hampshire, March came in like a lion and is looking to go out like, well, a really ticked-off lion), I’m offering a free copy of Daniel Pink’s book, To Sell Is Human, to one lucky reader. Willing to ship it anywhere in the world. (Yep – Putting. Myself. Out. There.)

To enter the giveaway, just leave a comment on this post letting me know why you’d like to win the book. For one additional bonus entry, mention this giveaway on Facebook, Twitter, and/or your own blog, and leave a separate comment here letting me know that you’ve done so.

All entries must be in by 6 p.m. Eastern time on Friday, March 28 – I’ll choose a winner at random after that time; check back here at this post to find out if it was you. Good luck!

Required legal disclaimer: I have not received any compensation for this post/giveaway and am in no way affiliated with the book’s author. Just looking to shake things up a bit.

UPDATE: Kim and Mary Ann, I’m delighted to be sending a copy to each of you – congrats!

It’s The Little Things That Matter

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERADo you remember those General Foods international coffees from the 1980s? They were powdered, pre-sweetened, flavored coffee-type beverages (it would be a stretch to call them “coffee”) that came in little tins, with exotic-sounding flavors like Café Vienna and Suisse Mocha.

They were, as I recall, uniformly awful – my mom always had a few tins kicking around – and I don’t think it’s just because I was still too little to be drinking a whole lot of coffee-type beverages back then.

They did, however, have highly entertaining commercials (my brother and I still get a chuckle every time we think about Jean Luc, for example). And the tagline was pretty great, too: Celebrate the moments of your life.

While a scoop of powdered Café Vienna wouldn’t rank high on my list of ways to celebrate much of anything, the sentiment is sound. The older I get, the more I realize that life is all about the little moments. If you’re very lucky, you get enough of the good ones to string together into something pretty amazing.

I bring this all up not because I’m feeling nostalgic for the 1980s – there isn’t enough hairspray and neon in the world to make that happen – but because celebrating the little moments is a surprisingly huge factor in whether your child care center will succeed or fail.

The image above is of a poster our child care center made for us when Nicholas was born – it was posted up on the bulletin board by the front door of the center for a while, and then given to us to take home. The center does this every time one of the current students gets a new younger sibling.

The poster was (and is) so special to us, for several reasons:

1. When you have a baby, you’re incredibly proud and excited. Seeing visible evidence that others are excited, too, is just so much fun.

2. It made us feel like Nicholas was already a part of the child care center, long before he was even old enough to enroll there.

3. Someone at the center (I’m embarrassed to say I still don’t know exactly who is in charge of these) took the time and effort to make something really special for us as a family that we will always treasure.

4. The poster served as an announcement to the center community as a whole that our tribe had a brand-new member. I love seeing the posters of other new siblings for this very reason.

5. We have tangible proof that our children voluntarily held hands at least once – an event that will, sadly, surely become rarer as time goes on.

The more you can incorporate a feeling of genuine caring and community at your child center, the more loyalty and pride will organically develop. And, in turn, you will develop some highly satisfied families.

Note that it’s not just your families you should make a big deal over, it’s your staff, too. Who’s got a new baby? A new puppy? A new degree? Get proactive about sharing everyone’s news and triumphs, both large and small, with your child care center community.

It’s a simple yet woefully underutilized truth of human nature: When something is important to someone else, and you make it genuinely important and special to you, too, that person will follow you anywhere. This doesn’t take a lot of money or effort – just some time and caring.

Now go celebrate the moments of your life today (Jean Luc optional).

How To Write A Great Press Release For Your Child Care Center

Newspapers B&W (4)Press releases can seem intimidating, the sort of thing that only people who carry “Press” badges deal with (and/or wear felt hats and call themselves “Scoop,” à  la Peter Brady – please tell me I’m not the only one old enough to get this reference!).

But the truth is that press releases are a simple, yet vital, tool in your marketing arsenal. And they’re really not that scary at all.

Here are 8 tips for writing – and distributing – effective press releases for your child care center. I’ve even provided a sample press release for you at the end of this post.

1. Write with “WIIFM” in mind. Meaning, What’s In It For Me? Contrast these two headlines:

HappyKids Opens in Anytown, USA!

HappyKids Opens in Anytown, USA – Grand Opening Party on [DATE] With Balloon Animals and Carnival Rides!

The average parent of small children probably doesn’t care too much about the opening of your new business (sorry, but it’s true) unless he or she is actively looking for care. But a fun-sounding party I can bring my kids to? That’s a whole different ballgame.

Similarly, the editors of your local news websites and newspapers (yes, Virginia, they still exist) are looking for stories of interest to their readers. The more you can emphasize the benefit to them – rather than simply standing on a stool and shouting “Me! Me! Me!” – the more likely it is that your press release will actually run.

2. Don’t bury the lead. (Or, if you want to get all official and journalism-y, the “lede.”) All this means is that you should put the most important details first, the assumption being that your press release may be cut for length – so you want it to make sense even if it does.

This happens less frequently in the online world, where column length isn’t an issue like it is on the printed page, but it’s still a good practice to follow.

3. Make it timely. Newspapers and other media outlets prefer to run, well, news. So try to tie your press releases to a timely hook, whether it’s a center event or National Pet Health Month or something like that. Don’t submit something that would be equally applicable next week or next year.

4. Include a quote or two. Quotes from real people (even if it’s just you) make your press release more lively and readable.

5. Provide your contact information. In the happy event that an editor decides to run your press release, he or she may want additional details – so you should make it easy for this person to know who to get in touch with.

6. Add a general “About Us” paragraph at the end. The good news is that you only have to write it once – after that, you can reuse it, with minor tweaks as needed, in every future press release you write. (In the sample, it’s the paragraph immediately above the ### hashtags.)

7. Submit your press release to local outlets. Think more along the lines of The Podunk Press rather than The New York Times (though no harm in trying).

Smaller, local publications are the ones most likely to need content, and also the ones for whom local news is most relevant and interesting to their readership. Look on the website or call if you’re not sure who to direct your press release to – these days, you can do it online the vast majority of the time.

8. Submit your press release to an online distribution service. Every time you write a press release, you should submit it to an online distribution service – I like PRLog (which, as a bonus, is free). Once you get your account set up, it’s basically a simple cut-and-paste every time you write a new release.

These services distribute your press release to various media outlets for you – some of which may pick up the story – and also provide high-quality backlinks to your site, which helps with your search engine rankings.

Click here, as promised, for a sample child care press release. Let me know in the comments if you have questions, and I’ll do my best to answer them!

Why Parent Engagement Is So Important In Your ECE Program

parent engagementIf you’re like most child care center owners and directors, you have a million fires to put out every day – and that’s a conservative estimate. Urgent calls from (and to) parents, discipline issues (both kids and teachers!), fire drills (literal and figurative)…the list goes on and on.

So why, with the precious few free minutes you have in the workday – if you’re lucky – should you spend even a second worrying about how engaged your parents are with your program? Here are 6 excellent reasons:

1. You create a bank of goodwill. At some point, you are going to let parents down – it’s inevitable in even the best programs.

A field trip gets cancelled on short notice for reasons out of your control. You blow a snow day call and wind up closing for approximately 18 fluffy flakes. Half the center gets a barfing stomach bug due to a batch of meat you couldn’t have known would be recalled mere hours after you served it for lunch.

You’re not perfect – none of us is. But here’s the thing: The more engaged your parents are with your program, the more likely they are to take a “we’re all in this together” attitude rather than blaming you. And that’s huge. You get the benefit of the doubt and then some.

2. You build trust. You are in one of the most trust-based industries there is – parents entrust you with the single most precious thing in their lives, multiple times a week, for long stretches of the day. The more engaged they are with your program, the more they’ll trust you. Which naturally leads to…

3. You get more referrals. Parents who truly love your program – rather than think it’s just okay – are the most likely to rave about you to their friends and acquaintances (who also tend to have small children who would be a perfect fit for your program; birds of a feather flock together).

4. You get better-quality parents. If your parents think of your program as nothing more than a glorified babysitting service, they’re not likely to go above and beyond for you – you’ll be lucky, in fact, if they bother to pay you even somewhat on time.

But if your parents are fully informed and engaged in all of the wonderful ways you’re helping their kids develop into terrific people, that’s an entirely different story.

Those parents will walk through fire for you – they will fundraise, volunteer, generously offer up their skills and ideas, and basically do anything they can to make your already-great program even better.

5. It makes your life more pleasant. Assuming a child is at your program 5 days a week, and the same parent is in charge of pickup and dropoff, you will see that parent approximately 500 times over the course of the year (a little scary to think of it like that, isn’t it?).

Fully engaged, raving-fan parents are infinitely more fun to see that often than parents who are just too lazy to go out and find a new place to drop off their kids every day – or, even worse, the chronic complainers who are constantly griping about one thing or another.

6. It creates a better experience for the kids at your center. There have been more academic studies than you can shake a stick at, by qualified people with many letters after their names – and the findings in this area all boil down to the same conclusion: increased parent engagement leads to better outcomes for the children, period.

It’s Time To Get Specific

Ken and Barbie marry.JPGWhen you were a little girl (guys, bear with me for a moment), did you ever play the game with your girlfriends where you envisioned your ideal grown-up life?

…and I would marry a tall man named Bradley with light brown hair and dark blue eyes, and we’d have three kids – twin boys, Max and Michael, and a girl named Emma – and we’d all live in a big white house on the ocean and go play outside on the beach every day with our golden retriever, Sandy.

I certainly remember playing it from time to time, though I confess my dreamy fantasies (both past and current) tend to run more along the lines of discovering the perfect fudgy-yet-cakey brownie and living happily ever after.

Life has a way of turning out differently than we expect, to say the least – did anyone out there actually marry Bradley and move to the big white house on the beach? If so, do tell! – but you should never underestimate the importance of getting specific when there’s something you want.

Here are a few examples to illustrate my point:

Example A: Enrollments

  • Okay: I’d like some more nice families in my program…
  • Better: I’d like to enroll three new families by the end of the year – each of which has an annual household income of over $80,000, is pleasant to deal with, stays very involved with our program, pays on time, and is well-connected in our community to help bring in even more similar families.

Example B: Hiring

  • Okay: We need a new teacher in the preschool room…
  • Better: I’m looking to hire a preschool teacher who has a real passion for working with 4- and 5-year-olds, has at least three years of classroom experience, and is looking for a long-term professional home.

Example C: Staff Performance Issues

  • Okay: I wish Donna were more on top of things… 
  • Better: Donna, I need you to get here at least 15 minutes before you’re expected to be in the classroom, have your room and materials all set up when the first kids arrive, and give every family a cheerful, personal greeting when they enter.

Do you see the difference? In all three examples, the first statement is nothing more than a vague wish, while the second is a crystal-clear vision of your ideal outcome.

You may not always get your ideal outcome – but you’re much, much likelier to get it if you know exactly what you want.

When you do this exercise, don’t get all hung up on all the reasons it simply couldn’t work (“But a teacher like that would never want to work here!” “But all of the really good families in our area have been snapped up by the center across town!”). Just get clear on your own ideal scenario – what you’d truly want, in your perfect world – and go from there.

You will be shocked at how much this helps you both clarify, and achieve, your biggest goals. You can’t hit a target you can’t see, whether that target is a spouse who’s perfect for you or your dream of a fully enrolled, wildly successful program.

(Case in point: In addition to a great husband, I’m happy to report that I did find what I think is the nearly perfect brownie recipe – just add half a teaspoon of kosher salt. Brilliant.)

How Are You Doing? Ask.

Customer Comments ChalkboardA few weeks 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 Survey Monkey (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 my 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.

Now please honk if you like this post.