Child Care Marketing: It’s Only Hard If You Stop Doing It

20150624_130938We are deep in the throes of potty-training our son, Nicholas. It’s really been a wild ride – sort of a cross between a Pampers commercial and the fountain show at the Bellagio.

We’ve had a lot of laughs, a few tears, and countless sodden Shamwows. (We also had one entire “naked day” – just Nicholas; not the rest of us – much to the amusement of our next-door neighbors.)

Right now it feels like this process is crowding out all of my other thoughts. My life currently revolves around precision potty-related proximity, timing, and aim.

I do feel like we’re making solid progress, however. One of these days, Nicholas will more or less have it down – at which point I can shut down the constantly running “time since last attempt” clock in my head, once and for all. (And then I can start worrying about him asking me for my car keys.)

Believe it or not, getting your marketing program up and running works much the same way. The first few days and weeks, it’s agony. You’re constantly wondering whether you’ve got it right or wrong, it’s taking a ton of time, and you repeatedly consider abandoning the whole enterprise entirely.

But if you keep at it, consistently, you’ll begin to figure out what works and what doesn’t. You’ll get faster and better at it. And, before too long, marketing your program will be just another facet of your everyday life. But this only happens if you keep at it.

I like how our potty-training book quoted the very wise words of Winston Churchill – who unquestionably had a lot on his plate, albeit not in the specific realm of potties and pee-wees in which we operate: “If you’re going through hell…keep going.”

Note: There will be no new post next week due to the July 4th holiday here in the U.S. We’ll see you back here on July 9th!

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

It Ain’t About You

newspapersWe recently decided to stop having our local newspaper delivered every morning. Eric liked the sports pages, and Lorelei liked the comics, but beyond that the quality of the publication had really gone downhill to the point that there was little to recommend it.

Even the comics had become increasingly no-name – Freddy at the Grocery Store and Lint Watchers and the like (I exaggerate…but not by much).

In any event, one of the last deliveries included a real estate advertising supplement. The cover showed a photo of a local senior-living condo development, Black Rocks Village, with the following text underneath:

Do you know what feathers and wedges are? Do you know how they apply to BLACK ROCKS VILLAGE? Stop by the XYZ booth at the NH Home Show on [date] and let us show and tell you…

As it turns out, I do know what feathers and wedges are. (I think it’s safe to say that most of us do.)

Do I know how they apply to Black Rocks Village? Well, no. But here’s the thing – I have almost zero desire to find out.

Given that I know nothing about Black Rocks Village, or what it can do for me, its relationship to feathers and wedges is pretty irrelevant. Here are some alternate headlines that would have been much more effective:

  • Do you know why 95% of Black Rocks Village residents say that moving here was the best decision they ever made? Find out by…
  • Black Rocks Village recently received an honor that has never before been bestowed on a New Hampshire senior living community. Turn to page 6…
  • Pets allowed? Check. Top-notch residential security systems? Check. Free rent? Check. This headline would be extremely effective, assuming it could be backed up. “Free rent” could refer to a substantial referral bonus – equal to or greater than one month’s rent – for bringing in a new tenant. You could do the same sort of thing at your center.
  • Black Rocks Village: Free puppies! (So this one’s a little silly. But you get the idea.)

The “curiosity headline” can be a fantastic way to hook parents – both new and prospective – into your marketing and encourage them to read on. But the key is to get them curious about something they’re actually interested in.

Our local newspaper stopped being good, I believe, when the focus shifted to cost-cutting rather than providing interesting, relevant reporting (and comics). And the Black Rocks Village people were so focused on Black Rocks Village that they forgot to turn outward and look at the needs and desires of the people they were hoping would move there.

It’s an easy mistake to make, but one that can completely derail your marketing. When in doubt, put yourself in the heads of your prospects and ask, in so many words, “What’s in it for me?” If your marketing doesn’t clearly answer this question, it’s time to go back to the drawing board.

Offering free stuff – whether it’s puppies or a week’s tuition – is always a safe bet.

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

How To Avoid the “Mystery Pick-Up” Problem

PA281186Last Saturday, Lorelei and I were returning from a walk when we saw two adorable MINI Coopers parked on our street, one right behind the other.

“Look at those cute little cars!” she said, charmed.

“Yes – those are MINI Coopers,” I said.

“MINI Poopers?” she asked, perplexed.

I straightened her out but we continued to have a good laugh about it for the rest of the day. As you know, preschoolers + potty humor = endless hilarity.

Poor communication at your center, of course, is much less amusing. In this vein, I’m delighted to have another great question from a reader to talk about this week:

My staff has been struggling to see the importance of communication between coworkers and to the parents concerning their child’s day. Our center is open from 5:30a-10:30p so we have lots of staff working different shifts. The morning teachers leaving while the afternoon teachers are coming in.

So much information is getting lost through out the day and the closing teachers who deal with most of the parents during pick up time are unsure of how their child’s day went.

We do have daily reports that are filled out and have had trainings about how verbally telling the other teacher as the first teacher leaves for the day, but there is lots of room for improvement. I was wondering if you had any advice or other experiences concerning this. Thank you!!

This particular center has an unusually long work day (5:30 am to 10:30 pm; wow!), but this is a common problem at many other child care centers, too.

I like to think of this as the mystery pick-up: The parent comes to your center to collect his or her child – often pre-verbal or incapable of reliable reporting – after 8+ hours of care. The child is obviously alive and well, but beyond that the entire day is a black box. Did Janie eat well? Sleep well? Have a good day? A bad day? Seem just a little off? Nobody really knows – but we’ll see you tomorrow!

For a parent – especially a nervous first-time parent – this is extremely disconcerting. Most parents of young children miss their kiddos a lot during the work day and think about them often. They hate missing out on all the moments and milestones. Hearing even minor details about the child’s day is vital to their peace of mind and sense of connectedness.

Even worse, some parents start to question the quality of care your center is providing if your staff is unable to answer basic questions about the child’s day at pick-up time. (Now, you and I know that this is completely unfair and unreasonable, but many parents think like this. They may even leave your center if this is a regular occurrence.)

So what can you do about it? Here are a few ideas:

1. Train, train, train. Train your staff not only on what kind of updates parents want to receive, but on why these updates are so important. Particularly for younger teachers who aren’t yet parents themselves, it’s crucial to explain the parent mindset, and why these little news tidbits are so important.

2. Hit the highlights. Rather than expecting staff to construct a richly detailed narrative about each child’s day (improbable), make sure they have just three things to mention about each child by pick-up time (doable). These can be pretty basic: “Janie had a great day! She finished all her peas at lunch, and shared the blocks with Luke, and gave us a big raspberry when we tickled her belly.”

3. Don’t wait for the perfect system. There are many great tools (both online and paper) for noting daily milestones, and it’s a good idea to spend a bit of time finding one that works well for your center. In the meantime, however, it’s vital to ensure you have some system in place for getting parents the end-of-day info they want. Repeat after me: Better done than perfect.

4. Divide and conquer. Each day, on a rotating basis, assign a few specific children to each teacher for the purpose of these updates. Your care arrangements don’t change, but now each teacher needs to record/remember daily milestones for just, say, three kids rather than the whole class – a situation that practically begs for ball-dropping.

Do this for each shift of employees you have on duty, and provide some fixed method for info transfer from one shift to another – something as basic as a dedicated notebook in each classroom where teachers can leave notes for one another (and reminders for themselves, for that matter) is just fine, as long as everyone knows the game plan.

5. Keep your A-team around. At many centers, the lead teachers are there in the morning but head home before most children are picked up. If possible, stagger your scheduling so that you have some of your best teachers around both at the beginning of the day and at the end of the day.

6. Treat this like the important issue it is. Communicating well with parents is an essential part of your teachers’ jobs. If you have staff who are unable or unwilling to cultivate this skill, this should be treated as a performance problem just like any other – including discipline, if needed.

Once again, thanks for the great question – keep them coming!

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

Pinterest for Preschools (and Child Care Centers)

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I love getting questions and comments from readers! Here’s one from this week’s mailbag:

Our center just opened last Tuesday and we have a Facebook page, but I was wanting to put together a Pinterest account as well so that we can share ideas with parents. Do you have any tips on what kind of boards to create that would be most intriguing to parents?

Great question! I’m guessing many of you are wondering the same thing, so I wanted to answer the question here.

Pinterest is a fantastic tool for reaching women online – especially the young, web-savvy women who are currently (or imminently) the moms of young children you’re looking to attract to your center. Plus, Pinterest recently released Pinterest for Business, which makes this marketing channel even more attractive (and easier to use).

My take on Pinterest is that the most successful content a) is highly visual and b) falls into one or more of three main categories:

  1. Food
  2. Crafts
  3. Cute

What does this mean in terms of the best things to pin to your center’s boards?

  • Kid-friendly recipes, crafts, and activity ideas
  • News about local events, performances, and festivals
  • Infographics about child development
  • Kids’ birthday party ideas
  • Memes and quotes about parenting and young children – the cute, the funny, and the tear-jerking
  • Seasonal news (such as a mention of June being “Great Outdoors Month,” along with relevant activity ideas)
  • Age-appropriate activity sheets parents can print out
  • Helpful tips on the issues parents of young children grapple with (potty training, naps, sharing, discipline, and so forth)
  • Fun facts about animals
  • Kid photography ideas and tips
  • Tie-ins relating to current themes/units at your center
  • Book and board book ideas

You’ll notice there’s not much on this list about your center specifically, and that’s deliberate. Pinterest is a fun, craft-centric, highly visual channel. People go there for entertainment and ideas, not for researching child care centers.

But if you have well-populated boards that resonate with parents, they’ll start to think of you as a local authority on all things little-kid, which is precisely what you want.

Additionally, if you have any graphic design background (or ready access to someone who does), you can even create your own original branded memes and infographics to post on Pinterest. These are great because, if you do them well, they will get shared far and wide – further cementing you in parents’ minds as the child care provider of choice in your area.

As with any marketing channel, it’s important not to bite off more than you can chew with Pinterest. Play around with it and see if it’s right for you before you start publicizing your center’s account to parents and staff.

Happy pinning!

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

Are Your Employees Miscast?

IMG_0891At a party a few weeks back, I had the chance to catch up with a friend I’ve known since elementary school; he happens to be married to another friend I’ve known nearly as long.

To give you some background, my friend is a master puppeteer who is the son of a dance teacher and a professional magician/artist/caricaturist.

One of his sisters is a photographer/flight attendant; the other is a morning radio personality and former cruise ship entertainer. Together, the whole family had a successful – and entertaining – run on Family Feud a few years back.

In short, this is a person cut from unusually outgoing, creative cloth.

Over the years, he has managed to parlay his unique blend of strengths into a successful career at an international financial services corporation.

He’s been happy there for the most part – until recently, when he realized his job had somehow shifted away from employee training to spreadsheet analysis. And you can’t park a born people-person behind a computer screen and expect him to stay happy for very long.

He spoke with his boss, who quickly moved him back to the hands-on training work he loves – and at which he excels. He and his team have subsequently won several company awards.

When you put people in the right roles, it’s amazing how well they flourish. Conversely, the most talented, enthusiastic workers in the world can quickly get discouraged and beaten down when they’re placed in the wrong jobs. Unfortunately, many of them won’t speak up like my friend did – they’ll just quit instead.

Could this be happening at your child care center?

Are your best teachers working with the right teams, the right ages, and in the right roles? Someone who loves infants won’t be at her best, or happiest, in your preschool room (and vice versa). And someone who doesn’t even have a computer at home probably isn’t the best person to be managing your center’s social media efforts.

Ironically, your highly talented employees are the most at risk for these sorts of mismatches because they tend to be good at a lot of different things – and they are generally happy to pitch in as needed.

But all of us have just a few specific sweet spots where our passions truly mesh with our skills. The farther away we get from this magical intersection, the less productive and happy we are.

You’re not going to be able to put everyone in the perfect job all the time – no employer can. But the very best employers work constantly to ensure the best possible fits, especially for the star employees they don’t want to lose:

  • They keep the lines of communication open
  • They ask, in so many words, if people are happy with their jobs – and they truly listen to the answers
  • They create brand-new opportunities for the right people
  • They focus on the nature of the work being done rather than the constraints of a given job title
  • They look at employees as individuals, with unique strengths, skills, and preferences
  • They notice if people seem to lose their sparkle and start dragging through their days
  • They look at an employee’s personal career path and goals rather than simply looking at what the employee can bring to the center

Bottom line? Don’t bury the puppeteer beneath a pile of spreadsheets.

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