Don’t Try To Be Something You’re Not

xraysThe other day, I had a follow-up for a routine medical procedure that involved an ultrasound – which meant a visit from the attending radiologist when I was still on the examining table, all gooped up.

I was pleased when he told me that everything was normal – but less pleased when he started touching my arm in an odd, clumsy way. It kind of felt like we were on a first date that wasn’t going all that well.

I could be wrong, but my guess is that he received feedback at some point to the effect that “patients feel comforted when their doctor touches them.” And if this feels natural for the doctor, then it’s probably a great thing.

The problem was that this sort of touch was so clearly not an authentic move for this particular doctor – he struck me as a very matter-of-fact, by-the-numbers sort of person rather than a touchy-feely type. Because he wasn’t comfortable administering that touch, I wasn’t comfortable receiving it.

(I think we’ve all experienced a similar phenomenon with folks I like to think of as “bad huggers.” They’re probably not bad huggers with everyone, but you know when you’re on the receiving end of a hug that should never have been initiated in the first place. It’s just an icky feeling.)

I bring all this up to emphasize the importance of authenticity in both your marketing and your center’s administration generally.

Child care centers have almost as many varied personalities as the children they serve. When you close your eyes and think of your center, the first word that comes to mind may be nurturing. Or fun. Or cozy. Or any number of other things. (Note that if your word is chaos, you’ve probably got some things to work on!)

In any event, all of your communications – both internal and external – should be consistent with this overall tone of your center. Obviously, even in an artsy place your employment contracts should not be drawn up in crayon, but you get the idea.

You should be proud about what you are, and clear about what you offer, rather than trying to be something you’re not.

When you stray too far from what your center is truly all about – either in an effort to be impressive, or just because you’re not paying close enough attention – you start to confuse, and even alienate, the parents and staff at your center. Over time, they may start to drift away due to this type of identity crisis.

Even if you’re not touching their arms in a weird way.

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Why You Must Educate the Parents, Too

appleThe high school I attended was completed in 1974. Back then, it was at the leading edge of “open concept” education – meaning no interior walls.

The entire upstairs floor of the two-story building was one huge space that was subdivided into multiple fluid classroom spaces by thin partitions on wheels. Student lockers and teacher desks were distributed along the outside walls.

The idea, I’m told, was that students would be forced to develop excellent concentration skills, given all the ambient noise and distractions.

There was even a sense (perhaps the stuff of urban legend) that we would somehow learn extra by osmosis – yes, you may be in geometry class right now, but you’ll learn how to conjugate that French verb by overhearing Madame Sinclair’s class to your left! And the poetry of Walt Whitman from that AP English class to your right!

In actual practice, of course, the open concept utopia was anything but. Kids were forever standing on chairs and popping up, groundhog-like, to survey the landscape and make disruptive comments.

Natural light was in very short supply (one coveted classroom space that had outside windows was officially christened “the beach” – though, alas, it also exited into a stairwell, so mid-class passers-through were very common).

And, unsurprisingly, it was loud, all the time. It may be that I’m able to concentrate well these days because of my open concept experience, but my guess is that it’s just a coincidence; the setup must have been a nightmare for anyone with attention deficit problems. Not long after my time there, the school made the wise decision to change things up and install bona fide walls.

As you well know, educational theory is a constantly moving target – right now, in fact, our school district is considering moving back the morning start time for the older kids (which sounds like a good call to anyone who’s ever tried to get a teenager moving, or even semi-vertical, before noon).

In the early learning space, we’re currently moving away from what I think of as the regressive Baby Einstein era to one in which children are encouraged to learn and develop at their own pace, through creative play. This is a wonderful thing.

Many parents, however, fresh off the highly publicized No Child Left Behind push, still mistakenly believe that their early learners need assessments, drills, and flashcards rather than fresh air, mud, and blocks. It’s your job to teach them otherwise.

Why? Well, for starters, they may wonder why you’re spending so much time “just messing around” at your school. They may not think you’re getting the kids sufficiently ready for kindergarten. They may even start to question the value of your school generally, e.g., “Heck, they can roll around in Nana’s backyard for free – what are we doing here?”

On the flip side, if you (gently) explain your educational philosophy, you demonstrate that you know what you’re doing. You start to look more and more like the expert in early childhood education that you are. And parents, quite rightly, start to see the real value of what you do – which translates to increased enrollments and an ability to command higher tuition rates.

Sounds like a pretty smart plan to me.

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How To Raise Your Tuition Rates – The Right Way

money photoAs a child, I was fascinated by those Hair Club for Men commercials. The best part was always at the end, when the amiable Sy Sperling (sporting a lush head of hair) would hold up a photo of his formerly bald self and announce: “I’m not just the president of the Hair Club for Men – I’m also a client.”

The reason I bring this up is not because I’m yearning for a return to the 1980s, with its more manageable number of television channels and spokespeople. (There’s probably also a Donald Trump hair joke to be made here, but I’m smart enough to leave that one alone.) Rather, today I want to give you a peek behind the curtain at the parental point of view.

You see, I’m not just your friendly child care marketing consultant – I’m also a parent of young children, one of whom is in preschool (my daughter, Lorelei, has since graduated to kindergarten).

We are fortunate to be able to send Nicholas to a wonderful, NAEYC-accredited program right here in town. Today, as we always do in early April, we got a letter from the school:

Dear Parents and Guardians:

Attached is a copy of our calendar of closings and our new rates; both will be effective as of July 1, 2016…

Note the matter-of-fact, non-apologetic, non-alarmist tone. This is very appropriate, given that a) the school raises its rates every year and b) the rate increase is always small. (Nicholas’s tuition is going up by just $3 a week.) It’s also nice that we’ve been given a few months’ notice before the new rates kick in.

If you raise your rates, like clockwork, every single year, parents will come to expect it. This will also enable you to avoid the sticker shock of a huge increase because you waited too long to do it.

Also in the packet was a letter from the president of the school’s board of directors, which mentioned that “Our goal is to keep any tuition increases as reasonable as possible. We carefully balance the financial demands on our families with the goal of providing an exceptional quality education for your children.”

The letter went on to say that the latest tuition increases were voted in specifically to continue to support “our valuable teaching staff…the heart and soul of [the school],” and that they had been able to raise teacher salaries this past February and implement a longevity bonus program. The letter concludes, “Your support as parents and guardians is always greatly appreciated.”

Presenting the rate increase in this manner makes it very hard for a parent to feel bitter or begrudging about it – rather, we’ve been made to feel like we’re playing an integral part in supporting the great teachers we love and value so much. We’re all part of the same tribe, working together towards a common goal.

And that, folks, is how you do it. Well-played, Nicholas’s school. If you don’t yet have annual tuition increases at your program, well, there’s no time like the present to start.

We now return you to your regularly scheduled programming.

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Cultivate a Group of Insiders at Your Center

mailbox photoMaybe I’m just old-fashioned, but I still find it really exciting to receive an unexpected package in the mail.

I had this happy experience the other day, as I was taking a break from sweeping up the constellation of Rice Krispies Nicholas had happily strewn all over our kitchen floor.

The package contained an advance copy of a book from one of my favorite authors/business coaches. I have taken a few of his online classes, and he sent the book to me and some other folks to help drum up interest and buzz before the book’s official launch date.

This was a very smart move on his part, for several reasons.

1. People like getting stuff in the mail (see above).

2. People like being asked their opinion on things.

3. The author had hand-picked a group of folks who were already big fans of his. It made sense to expect that they would enjoy his latest book and be eager to help him spread the word.

4. Giving certain people select “insider” status makes them feel valued and appreciated.

5. Feeling like you have a special connection with a person or a business makes you like them even more.

I had the fun of receiving a great book in the mail – free of charge – and the author got the advance publicity (from me and the other pre-release readers) he was hoping for, plus some heightened loyalty and enthusiasm towards his work generally. If that’s not a win-win, I don’t know what is.

Most child care centers don’t leverage this idea of creating special “insiders,” but they should.

You probably have some families and/or teachers who have been with your center a long time and think it’s pretty great. They are probably eager to help you out, if they can. So get them involved! Ask their opinions, seek their advice, and just generally get their take on things as appropriate.

Note that I’m not talking about things that are incredibly time-consuming or burdensome (“Hey, would you mind cleaning out three decades’ worth of junk from our basement this coming Saturday?”) – or just plain inappropriate (“I’m thinking of firing that new teacher in the preschool room; do you like her?”). Rather, you’re just getting some additional insights from people you know and trust.

Your inner circle might have some great ideas for new fundraisers, for example. They can tell you how important (or not) they think new playground equipment is. They can help you get the word out about your fantastic new summer camp program.

They might even have some thoughts on keeping those explosive Rice Krispies properly contained, once and for all.

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

Treat the Problem, Not the Symptom

at the dentistOne of the things I most disliked about being a lawyer was the fact that clients came to me only when something had gone terribly amiss in their lives.

In general, when things are going swimmingly, your lawyer isn’t the one you’ve got on speed-dial (unless you’ve just won the lottery and want to set up some kind of benevolent, generous trust – in which case, more power to you. For everyone else, not so much).

Now, don’t get me wrong – it’s nice to be able to help out when the chips are down – but it’s also kind of a bummer.

I was reminded of this recently as I was sitting in the endodontist’s waiting room.

Endodontists and lawyers have a lot in common, as it turns out. This is someone you never see unless something has gone terribly amiss in your mouth. In my case, it was a years-old root canal that suddenly turned on me (which, yes, is about as much fun as it sounds).

As I finished up my new-patient paperwork and got ready to peruse the well-thumbed collection of People magazines in the waiting area, I noticed a sign posted at the reception desk:

The nature of our practice is to give our patients the utmost in care and service. PLEASE EXCUSE ANY DELAYS. We will give you the same careful attention as soon as possible.

Uh-oh. I realized that my People magazines and I would be cooling our heels for quite a while. And we were – I was called in about 40 minutes after my stated appointment time.

As she was settling me into the chair, the endodontist’s assistant apologized for the delay and told me that the entire day was thrown off kilter because an early-morning surgery patient had arrived late. While I have no reason to doubt that this was true, long waits are clearly a regular occurrence there; otherwise, they wouldn’t have posted that sign.

Everyone likes “careful attention,” of course – but nobody likes lengthy waits before a potentially painful and nerve-wracking visit with the endodontist. If patients are regularly kept waiting, scheduling a longer block of time for each appointment is a far better solution than simply providing a heads-up.

Does this sort of thing happen at your child care center?

  • “I’m sorry the line was busy when you tried to get through; that happens a lot.” [Solution: Additional phone lines.]
  • “I’m actually not sure whether or not Serena napped today. We have a shift change at 3.” [Solution: Daily sheets, better info transfer between teachers, and/or schedule changes to make sure a lead teacher is there at pick-up time.]
  • “That pothole in the parking lot is huge, isn’t it? Now you’ll know for next time.” [Solution: Fix the pothole!]

Obviously, there are times when the only thing you can do is to ask folks to please bear with you – like during a major renovation of your center, for example. But these are exceptions.

If you find yourself trying to explain away or rationalize a problem on a regular basis, it’s a problem that needs to be dealt with head-on. You should always be looking to minimize disruptions and inconveniences rather than simply asking your customers to suck it up.

Signs are OK – but solutions are infinitely better.

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