How To Stop Getting Sidetracked

Nicholas with book

My son, Nicholas, is a study in the art of getting distracted.

He will be contentedly playing in the living room when, out of nowhere, he’ll scramble up and dash into the kitchen for reasons unknown to the rest of us.

He will be pursuing our aging-yet-good-natured cat when he’s stopped short by an ant on the floor – “What dat, Mommy?”

He will be entirely engrossed in his ice-cream cone until he sees that I’m eating something else – even if it’s a spear of broccoli – and his treat is instantly forgotten.

Nicholas can get away with this sort of thing, because he’s two and highly adorable. It doesn’t work out so well for the rest of us, alas, but my clients consistently get sidetracked when it comes to their child care marketing and business development efforts.

Part of it is the natural human tendency to fall prey to Bright Shiny Object syndrome: “OK, I will get my Facebook page up and rolling and – oh, wait – Pinterest! Let me look and see what that’s all about. Maybe I should be on there, too. And Twitter. And maybe Instagram. I’ll sort it all out later…”

Additionally, the early stages of any project are invariably easier (and more exciting) than the latter stages – witness the difference between a) buying a pair of running shoes and b) actually getting to the gym to run on the treadmill three times a week.

Finally, when you’re desperate to see results, it’s easy to grasp at straws – and the more straws the better, it can feel like, even though that’s not actually how things work.

If you don’t commit to doing, and finishing, one thing at a time, you will never build momentum and get the results you want – it’s just that simple, but rarely easy.

Which is why I love The ONE Thing: The Surprisingly Simple Truth Behind Extraordinary Results, by Gary Keller and Jay Papasan.

As the title implies, the book focuses on drilling you down to the one thing you need to be most focused on right now – not six things, not three things, but the one single thing. You will be astounded at what you can achieve when you train yourself to do this.

I am in no way affiliated with the book or its authors, but I think it’s a fantastic resource – which is why I am excited to give away a free copy of the book to one lucky reader this week!

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 Saturday, October 25 – I’ll choose a winner at random after that time. Good luck!

Smart time and priority management is essential – because only two-year-olds can effectively pull off a life of endless distractions.

What Nobody Tells You About Social Media

social media icons

One of the craziest things about social media, in my opinion, is that you never just fall out of touch with people anymore.

Today, right this very minute, I can tell you what my 9th grade health teacher is up to these days…and if you give me half an hour I can probably find out what she ate for breakfast this morning.

I know what’s new with a guy who moved out of town when we were both six, and I can ID on sight the oft-photographed children (and pets) of friends I haven’t seen in person since before the new Millennium.

I know who’s bought new running shoes, who’s moving next fall, who likes to photograph their lunch, and who’s getting over an embarrassing rash. I also know who’s fiercely unhappy with their building contractor, their grocery store…and their child care provider.

Such are the joys, and pitfalls, of Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and the ever-expanding roster of social media outlets available to us these days.

Social media is a dual-edged sword. On the plus side, you can readily stay in touch with former teachers who have moved away, students who have graduated out of your program, and current and former parents who may be in a position to recommend you to their friends (or return to the fold themselves with the arrival of a new baby).

The downside? That teacher you fired in a snit is Facebook friends with many of your current teachers – and parents. And she’s got a lot to say. Similarly, that mom who was unhappy about how you handled a disciplinary issue with her child probably isn’t going to keep quiet about it.

Now, this is nothing truly new. Just as in the pre-Internet days, if people are happy with you, they may tell a few folks…and if they’re unhappy with you, they’re going to tell everyone.

It’s just that nowadays, everyone’s “everyone” is a much bigger pool of people – not to mention a more enduring pool. For example, even if that unhappy mom moves to the remotest corner of rural Alaska, she’ll remain just a few clicks away from your current and prospective families right down the street.

And even if you have the most draconian of social media policies at your center, a whole lot of this is simply out of your control. It’s a little unnerving, when you get right down to it.

What does all of this mean for you, as a child care professional?

For starters, it means you need to monitor and nurture your online relationships and reputation, even if you don’t particularly want to. The social media train left the station a long time ago, and like it or not, you need to hop aboard.

It also means you need to be proactive about responding to negative comments and reviews on sites like Yelp. (This is actually a good thing, as you can repair many of these relationships, whereas before many people merely stewed in silence.)

Finally, and most importantly, it means you need to run your business every day, and make all of your decisions, just as you would as if the whole world were watching.

Because, in a sense, it kind of is.

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

Follow the Leader

Lorelei leaderThe other day, the kids and I were at the park when Lorelei announced that she wanted us all to go for a walk – and that she would be the leader.

So we three started up the little hill behind the playground, with Lorelei gleefully – and repeatedly – announcing, “I’m the leader!”

But Nicholas was having none of it. While he never overtly challenged Lorelei’s status as leader, or tried to claim the title for himself, he simply had no interest in following her.

He ambled away to check out a fire hydrant. He did an impromptu stomping dance on a huge tree stump. He chased squirrels (which for some reason he kept greeting with a jaunty “Hi, chickens!”).

He was doing his own thing, in other words, and having a grand old time of it. Lorelei, of course, was somewhat less than amused. She was learning, at the tender age of 4, a difficult yet important truth that many of us never fully grasp:

You’re not the leader if nobody is willing to follow you.

It doesn’t matter what your title is, or how old you are, or how many years of tenure you have, or how badly you want it. True leadership is granted from below, not dictated from above.

What makes for great leadership? You must be willing to:

  • Respect your team members as professionals and as individuals
  • Trust their judgment and expect the very best of them (people will predictably rise – or fall – to the level of your expectations)
  • Invest in their training and professional development
  • Actively solicit and implement good ideas from all sources
  • Know when you’re wrong, admit it gracefully, and learn from your mistakes
  • Roll up your sleeves and pitch in as needed – true leaders never assign tasks that they themselves are unwilling to perform
  • Joyfully celebrate personal and professional achievements, both big and small
  • Be generous with sharing credit and praise
  • Resist the temptation to micromanage
  • Create an atmosphere of teamwork, respect, and integrity
  • Do the right thing (which is, alas, rarely the easy thing)

As Lorelei discovered, effective leadership involves a lot more than simply claiming the top perch for yourself.

The good news is that it’s pretty easy to figure out if you’re on the right track: When you look behind you, do you see a cohesive team…or a wandering pack of squirrel chasers?

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

Can’t Keep Up? A Surprising Way to Simplify Your Life.

relaxed cat

In child care, if it’s not one thing, it’s another – and usually all at once. Many owners and directors I work with regularly put in 12- or even 14-hour days at their centers.

Those are loooong days, no matter how you slice it (and even if you love your work). What’s the secret to paring back, so that you can still have a successful business but also a life, too?

While there are many time management tactics and secrets out there, nothing will get you out of the weeds faster than doing this one simple thing:

Reduce your inputs.

What do I mean by this? You are bombarded with information and stimuli all day long from a wide variety of sources:

  • Phone calls, voicemails, and texts
  • Emails
  • Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and other social media channels
  • Newspapers and magazines
  • Blogs, websites, and other online news and content
  • Meetings
  • Gossip
  • In-person interactions (both personal and professional)
  • Books
  • Movies
  • Radio
  • TV
  • Online games, shopping, etc.

You consume some of this information for work, some for pleasure, and some out of mindless habit and/or a compulsion to feel “in the loop.”

But the problem is that all of this consumption sucks up a lot of time and mental energy – not just the actual time you spend on Facebook, responding to emails, and so forth (which is a lot), but also the time it takes to manage, organize, and prioritize your “to do” list. You also experience a lot of stress when you inevitably fail to keep up.

It’s natural to want to try and stay on top of it all, but in today’s world that’s simply impossible. As Leo Babauta put it so well in his terrific book, Focus:

We try to drink the stream, but it’s too voluminous and neverending to take in this way…you can’t read and consume everything. [Y]ou must choose what you’ll do and read and respond to, and let the rest go. Let the rest go. This is unbelievably important. You have to accept this, and be OK with it.

He’s right. The less time you spend consuming, the more time you have for creating – whether it’s a new marketing initiative for your center, that short story you’ve always wanted to write, or a new recipe for dinner.

Creation is where all the fulfilling joys and satisfactions of life reside. It’s also where all the hard work lives, which is precisely why so many of us choose to duck it through overconsumption.

So how do you break the cycle? Babauta and other simplicity experts advise total media fasts, where you essentially live in a hole for a period of time (no TV, no email, no magazines,etc.), but I’ve never found those terribly workable in the real world – for me, anyway; maybe you have more willpower than I do.

What does work, I’ve found, is looking carefully at everything you consume and being honest with yourself about a) what you really get out of it and b) why you want it in your life. You will probably find that certain things truly enrich you, while others merely drain and distract you.

Some things are unavoidable, of course – you can’t simply shut your office door for weeks on end and declare yourself on break from the pressures of staff, students, and parents (though simply fantasizing about this may well provide you with a refreshing mental break!). You can, however:

  • Carve out closed-door blocks of time during the week for quiet work.
  • Check email less frequently (ever notice that the more emails you send, the more you receive? It works in reverse, too).
  • Return phone calls in batches at set times rather than in dribs and drabs throughout the day.
  • Turn off all those notifications that make you reach for your phone a dozen times an hour or more.
  • Unsubscribe from all those email newsletters you keep meaning to read but never do.

With inputs you can’t eliminate, batching reduces their impact on your life and your time.

If you have trouble deciding what stays and what goes, I recommend asking yourself, as Tim Ferriss suggests in The 4-Hour Workweek, “Will I definitely use this information for something immediate and important?” It’s surprising – and freeing – to realize just how few things pass this test.

When in doubt, do as Leo (and Queen Elsa) advise and let it go. You can always pick it back up again later on. But you may well find you neither need nor want to.

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

Sample Child Care Social Media Policy

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

social media apps

There has been some lively discussion on LinkedIn recently regarding social media policies for child care centers, and I wanted to add my input.

Many child care centers have a policy of banning staff from “friending” current parents (or vice versa) on social media channels, and/or discussing anything work-related on social media. As I’ve mentioned before, I disagree with this approach, for a number of reasons:

1. In many states, there are laws that limit employers’ ability to restrict employees’ legal off-duty conduct. These laws are often referenced in the context of moonlighting or cigarette smoking but apply to personal social media use as well.

2. Certain work-related discussions on social media are considered legally protected activity by the National Labor Relations Board, even if you have no unions at your child care center. (I personally think this is ridiculous, but it’s the current state of the law.)

3. You should never have a policy at your center that you are unable or unwilling to enforce. Unless you are planning on regularly monitoring your employees’ Facebook accounts and so forth, combing through them for verboten “friends” or inappropriate mentions of your center, highly restrictive policies are unworkable.

4. Depending on users’ privacy settings, many social media posts can be seen by “friends of friends” or the general public – meaning that your employees’ comments are often still viewable by current parents.

5. You want to do everything possible to encourage a sense of community at your center between staff and parents, and outright social media bans discourage this.

6. Last, but certainly not least: Restrictive social media policies do not teach employees (particularly young employees) how to communicate appropriately in a world that encompasses both work and social media. Training does.

Training is harder and more time-consuming than simply imposing rigid social media bans, but it’s better for both your center and for your teachers’ professional development. It shows that you respect their judgment and their common sense. It also allows for discussion when tricky issues come up.

As I mentioned last week, if you have employees you don’t trust, those people should not be working at your center.

Want a sample child care social media policy you can adapt for use at your center? Click here and I’ll email you one, along with my complete collection of free special reports.

Should You Ban Personal Cell Phones at Your Child Care Center?

Lorelei, Nicholas, and sidewalk chalk

The other day, my kids and I were playing outside when I made the mistake of taking a call on my cell phone. Everyone seemed under control, at least momentarily.

Well, you know how that goes. At least chalk washes out.

But at your center, when you have teachers in charge of watching multiple kids over a large area, things can get dangerous very quickly if a teacher is diverted – even momentarily – by a phone call or text.

If someone gets hurt, your center can be held legally responsible for negligence. You may even be considered out of ratio during the time that teacher’s attention is focused elsewhere. Privacy issues can arise relating to photos and videos. And last but certainly not least, kids learn and thrive best when adults are fully present and interactive.

For all of these reasons, many child care centers have made the decision to ban employees’ use of personal cell phones during work time. And this is a sound policy, from both a legal perspective and a quality-of-care perspective. But there are right and wrong ways to go about it. Here are some dos and don’ts:

DON’T confiscate teachers’ cell phones. By all means, you should have – and enforce – a policy that personal cell phones may not be used during the work day, except during breaks.

But don’t confiscate the phones or require teachers to leave them in their cars. These are grown-ups, not children, and they should be treated as such. If you can’t trust a teacher to follow this policy (or any other policy you have in place, for that matter), then this is not someone who should be employed at your center.

DO enforce your policy. Teachers who violate your cell phone usage policy should be disciplined consistently and appropriately, up to and including termination. And don’t pick and choose – you need to enforce it for everyone (i.e., even the teachers you really like) in order to make it stick.

DON’T forget about field trips. You need to have some kind of plan in place for when teachers and kids are out and about. Ideally, you’ll have a few dedicated school cell phones for this purpose. If not, you may wish to allow one or two teachers to bring their personal cell phones on the trip and make clear they are to be used only in the event of an emergency.

DO train your teachers on the policy. For many younger teachers, being constantly plugged in to a smartphone feels as natural as breathing. Training on why the policy exists (child safety and engagement, legal considerations, and so on) can increase buy-in and compliance.

It may feel silly or unnecessary to explain your rationale, but some teachers will assume you are simply keeping them on a short leash for no good reason unless you explicitly spell things out.

DON’T leave teachers hanging. If you expect teachers to abide by a no-cell-phone policy, they need to be reassured that their loved ones have a way of getting in touch with them during the school day in the event of an emergency. This is especially true of teachers who are also parents.

In most cases, directing people to call the center’s office is sufficient. If there are chunks of the day when that phone is not manned, however – such as lunchtime – or if callers often get a busy signal, you should make a backup number available for emergencies. This could be the director’s or assistant director’s cell phone (assuming those folks are not watching the kids).

(As an aside, from a marketing perspective, you should get that busy-signal problem fixed ASAP!)

DO include parents in the policy. Many parents, too, are so joined at the hip to their cell phones that they forget to put them away when they’re picking up and dropping off their kids. Gently remind phone-centric parents that your “no cell phone” policy extends to them, too – not so much for safety reasons but so they can give their littles the full attention they deserve at the beginning and end of each school day.

Need assistance with your cell phone policy, or any other staff policy at your center? Contact me with the details and we’ll see if I can help you out.

Remember the “Friendly” In “Friendly Competition”

handshake

In February 2013, I took the bar exam for the second time – some 14 years after originally taking it right after law school graduation.

There were a number of reasons (not least of which, apparently, that I am a glutton for punishment), and I was struck by what a different experience it was the second time around.

The test itself was very similar, other than the welcome addition of laptops for the essay portions, but my mindset was not. Back in 1999, I’d gone in wanting to crush the competition – never mind that it’s a pass/fail test! I was determined to triumph, whatever the heck that meant.

This time around, as an almost-40-year-old mom of two, I felt a great deal of compassion for my fellow test-takers (who looked impossibly young to me). I wanted us all to do well. I felt like hugging everyone in the room and wishing them luck. I was also somewhat giddy after two nights of good sleep away from my small, restless children. Bar exam as spa getaway; who would have thought?

Looking back at my 1999 self, I feel more than a little foolish. There was never any need for my insanely competitive view of the world. There was enough work, and enough success to be had, for us all. (Insert your lawyer joke of choice here.)

The same is true of your child care business. Even if you are in a crowded market, if you’ve positioned yourself well and established a strong USP, there will be demand for the child care service that only you can provide. This also means that you can – and should – view other centers in your area as allies rather than enemies. They have their own tribes, and you have yours.

If you’re new to the area or to the child care business generally, introduce yourself around to the other owners and directors in your area. Connect with them on LinkedIn and Facebook. Grab a cup of coffee with them, if time permits. Ultimately, you can become tremendous resources for one another:

  • Jointly sponsoring extracurricular programs, activities, and classes
  • Referring overflow enrollments/waitlisted families to each other
  • Sharing heads-ups about unreliable teachers and deadbeat parents who don’t pay
  • Answering questions about local child care rules and regulations
  • Mutually referring families who are simply a better fit for the other center, for whatever reason

And who knows? You may even decide to join forces one day and become a single, incredibly successful business. But none of this can happen if you go into things with the mindset of wanting to poke them in the arm with a freshly sharpened #2 pencil every time you see them on the street.

So get out there and collaborate. There’s plenty of good stuff to go around.

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

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 thighblaster2014.com!”

On my website, while you can poke around and check out various things, what I ultimately want you to do is click that green button at top right (or the link at the bottom of this blog post) and give me your email address so I can send you some special reports and other info you will hopefully find useful.

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 our online form
  • Stop by to pick up a packet of information
  • Sign up for XYZ special event/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.

Remember The Magic

roseola LoreleiToday, I’m writing this installment in the company of my 4-year-old, who is home from school with a mild but decidedly spotty case of roseola.

What’s that, you say? Four seems too old for roseola?

That’s what I thought, too – but her 2-year-old brother had it a few days back, and Lorelei had apparently never had it, and, well, you can guess the rest. (I knew their recent full-contact-clinking “popsicle cheers!” was a bad idea…)

When Eric and I got married, we often jokingly told each other that our lives were going to be “rainbows and gumdrops” from here on out. I have no recollection of why or how we picked this term, but it’s something we frequently remind each other of – usually with an arched eyebrow, a wry smile, and a fresh handful of kid poop or vomit.

I tell you all this not to gross you out – as a group, you all are pretty gross-out-proof anyway – but because it’s the start of a new school year.

Even if you run a year-round program, this is the time when everything feels fresh and expectant. Whether you’ve got some new teachers on board, or maybe just some new boxes of crayons, slates are clean and energy is high.

As you well know, it doesn’t take long for that crisp fall feeling to fade. All it takes is one nasty stomach bug to rip through your center, or a long-brewing staff squabble to come to a head, or the unexpected departure of a fantastic teacher, to leave you feeling exhausted and defeated.

When that happens, I encourage you to step back and try to recapture how you’re feeling right now, and to remember why you chose this work in the first place:

  • The little faces that break into grins as soon as they see you in the morning.
  • The sticky hugs that make you smile even as you bust out the stain remover at home that evening.
  • The pride your students feel when they master letters – or going on the potty – for the very first time.
  • The moment when you finally break through to a student you previously feared was unreachable (though you never stopped trying).
  • The sheer chaotic joy of being around little people who see the world with fresh eyes every single day.
  • The knowledge, deep in your bones, that you’re making a difference in the lives of children.

It’s not easy work, to be sure, but it’s important. As Christa McAuliffe put it so well, “I touch the future. I teach.”

That’s what you do. Be proud of it, and hold onto it, even when the heady optimism of fall fades.

Rainbows and gumdrops, my friends. And thanks for all you do.

Click here for your free copy of our special report, 17 Secrets To Finding – and Keeping – Great Teachers.

Do You Hire (and Retain) Sylvies?

poodleI’ve been seeing Sylvie, my hair stylist, for about a year now – ever since my last one disappeared without a trace.

(I suspect she ran off to be with her boyfriend in Hawaii, though I have no firm confirmation of this.)

Over the course of the year that Sylvie’s been cutting my hair, she’s been at three different local salons:

  • The one where I was originally transferred over to her when Hair Stylist #1 disappeared;
  • An odd French/Moroccan-hybrid-themed place, with an in-house poodle, located behind an auto parts store in a desolate corner of town; and
  • The place over the Starbucks where she cuts my hair now.

The current spot is great because it’s in a nice loft space with tons of windows. In the wintertime, looking out over the town, you feel like you’re getting shampooed in the middle of a snow globe. But even if Sylvie decided to go back to Poodle Coifs, I’d go, too.

I wouldn’t bother playing this sort of “Where’s Waldo?” with any other hair stylist I’ve had in the past, but Sylvie’s one of a kind. It’s not even so much that she’s technically skilled at her work – which she is. It’s more that she’s passionate about what she does, and very easy to talk to, and makes me (and everyone else she comes into contact with) feel special and valued.

The reason I bring this all up is that too many child care centers view teachers as interchangeable commodities rather than a key – if not the key – part of the family retention and satisfaction puzzle.

Even if you’re a super-involved owner or director (which is fantastic), your teachers are the people your families interact with day in and day out. They are the ones who plan the curriculum, read the stories, kiss the boo-boos, give the hugs at the start and end of the day, and provide the reports on kids’ behavior, moods, and general well-being.

They are the ones who care for and love the kids at your center when their parents are away at work. Parents love them for this – and rightly so.

All of this means that parents’ bonds with the teachers at a center tend to be even stronger than parents’ bonds with the center itself. Don’t get me wrong – if a single beloved teacher leaves, families are probably not going to leave in droves to follow her to your competitor across town, as I’ve done with Sylvie.

But if you have a lot of turnover, and families start to perceive (rightly or wrongly) that you don’t value your teachers as individuals, well, then you’re going to have problems. Here are 4 steps to help prevent this:

1. Pay your teachers well. Even a little bit more than the other centers in your area are paying can help cement your reputation as a center that values its staff.

2. Invest in their training and development. Not only does this make for better teachers, it makes for teachers who know you believe in them and want them to succeed.

3. Celebrate your teachers. You should do this both publicly (a “Teacher of the Month” bulletin board, for example) and privately (compliment teachers on a job well done and thank them regularly for their efforts).

4. Be transparent about departures. It’s disconcerting for parents, not to mention kids, when familiar faces disappear without a trace or explanation. If you don’t tell them otherwise, they will start to assume something bad is happening at your center.

So when a teacher leaves, for whatever reason, be sure to notify parents and be as open as you can without violating teacher confidentiality:

  • “Miss Maureen has decided to stay home with her new baby, and we’re all excited for her!”
  • “Mr. Brady is going back to school to pursue his degree in Early Childhood Education.”
  • “Miss Janna is leaving to pursue other opportunities, and we all wish her the best.” (This one is a nice, graceful catch-all for even the messiest separations, regardless of whose decision it was to terminate the working relationship.)

It’s nice to have a LEED-certified green building or state-of-the-art playground equipment. But without excellent teachers, none of that other stuff really matters much. Nurture your Sylvies.

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