You Can Have It All…Just Maybe Not Right Now

2871333638_4a15219343_oWhen new folks sign up to receive my emails (which you can do by clicking the special report link at the bottom of this post, if you’re so inclined!), I ask them to tell me the one big thing that’s holding them back from the business success they’ve always wanted.

Here’s one recent response:

The one thing holding me back is MONEY. Takes money to make money. And I live somewhere that’s in dire need of a facility (of my dreams) that I would like to create but it’s going to cost quite a bit to make it.

It’s a very good, very honest answer to my question. And there’s no simple response, alas. But I do have some advice for this reader, and you as well if you’re in a similar position:

Do what you can with what you have.

What do I mean by that? Well, it’s generally much easier to start a small home-based center than to purchase (or construct from scratch) a huge facility elsewhere. It’s cheaper to get a Facebook page up and running than to hire the best web designer in town to build you a site with all kinds of bells and whistles.

It’s better to partner with some like-minded businesses in your community for some fun, well-publicized events than to blow a lot of money on a Google AdWords campaign that you can’t afford and don’t really understand.

Now, don’t get me wrong. There’s nothing wrong with any of these things – there’s a time and a place for all of them, in fact. But you don’t need them to get your child care business started. They can actually be a distraction from the few, yet truly important, things you need to be focusing on as you get your business up and running:

1. Finding a unique niche to focus on.

2. Making sure you’re in compliance with all applicable laws and regulations.

3. Getting the word out and opening your doors.

Once you start to develop a reputation within your community, you’ll get more business. And more. And then you can start thinking about expanding.

Overextending yourself too soon is the surest way to see your dream (and your savings) die a sad, early death. One client of mine did this and wound up calling it quits on her dream of owning her own center before ever opening her doors for business – but not before spending a tremendous amount of time and money. It was very sad to watch.

Don’t make this mistake. Start small, keep reinvesting in your business and yourself, and grow at a sustainable pace. Learn from your mistakes and correct course as you go.

Your business can be everything you’ve ever dreamed (and more!), just maybe not all today. As Bill Gates – who launched Microsoft on a shoestring – put it so well, “Most people overestimate what they can do in one year and underestimate what they can do in ten years.”

Be in it for the long haul, and you will astound yourself with what you can do over time.

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

Why You Need To Move Quickly

20150626_104020 (751x1000)We are in the process of moving houses – our closings (both buying and selling) are 3 weeks from tomorrow. Yikes.

We had only just been starting to vaguely think about moving someday, but our amazing Realtor managed to find both a buyer for our current house and the perfect new place for us to move into, just up the road, in less than a week flat. So a-moving we will go.

Packing up a house occupied by two curious young children is a lot like taking a shower with your clothes on – you may get a little bit accomplished, but many of the truly vital spots are nearly impossible to attend to.

Nonetheless, when the mover arrived to give us an estimate, he seemed pleased with how much we’d gotten done so far. (He was also happy that we’re packing everything in bona fide boxes. A lot of folks, apparently, prepare for moving day by tossing things into wicker baskets – a practice he really wasn’t a fan of.)

I had actually planned to get estimates from one other moving company as well – we’ll call them NoShow Movers – but I waited a long time to hear back after filling out their online contact form. So long, in fact, that I had already sent off our deposit to the other guy, who had gotten back to me and come over for the estimate within 24 hours of my initial contact.

There are some important lessons here for child care centers:

1. Beware the black hole of the online contact form. If you have one on your site, that’s fine – just make sure that it works as it’s supposed to and that you get back to people promptly. Oftentimes, there is less perceived urgency with these forms as compared to a phone call or a direct email, but in the eyes of your prospective customers there isn’t. They got in touch, they are excited, and they want to hear back from you right away.

If you’re not exactly sure where those contact form queries are routed (and this is not uncommon), find out ASAP – and/or disable the form until you have a chance to look into it.

2. Remember that timing is everything. Both of the moving companies I considered came recommended by our Realtor, and both had solid-looking websites. I had no preference for one over the other when I made my initial contact – but the one that was responsive quickly shot head and shoulders above the one I was still waiting to hear back from.

You may have the best website and the most compelling testimonials in the world, as well as a fantastic program, but none of that will do you any good if you don’t hustle on getting back to parents and nailing down that initial tour. As Woody Allen famously put it, “Showing up is 80 percent of life.”

3. Acting quickly means the business is yours to lose. All things being equal, it’s better to be the first center a parent tours than the second (or third, or fifth). If you do a good enough job with the tour, as our mover did during our in-home estimate, that parent won’t even bother looking around further: You’ll get the enrollment.

Objectively speaking, NoShow Movers may be a terrific company – maybe even better than the one we’ll be using – but I’ll never know because their competition had already closed the deal with me before I ever heard back from them.

This is not online dating: You don’t need to worry about looking over-eager. Parents are both nervous and excited about getting their children into the right program, and they want you to be (or at least seem to be!) excited, too.

But please – no wicker baskets.

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

Quick Summer Child Care Website Tuneup

IMG_0001Even if you run a year-round program, things tend to slow down (slightly!) in the summertime at many child care centers. This makes it a good time to give your website a once-over. Here are four relatively quick but important things you should review and update if necessary:

1. Accuracy: It can be easy to overlook old info on your website. Are your staff bios accurate? Have you changed locations, phone numbers, or email addresses recently? Do you have a neglected blog that should be updated or removed?

Finally – and this one’s important – while I don’t recommend posting your tuition rates on your website, if you do, make sure they’re correct!

2. Typos: Misspellings, grammar errors, spacing problems, and the like – all of these make you look less professional in the eyes of your current and prospective parents. Find ’em and fix ’em.

3. Contact info: Your full contact info should be easily findable on your website (and, of course, correct).

4. Mobile responsiveness: This one’s a biggie. Back in April, Google changed its rules to favor mobile-responsive websites in its search results. What’s a “mobile-responsive” website, you may ask? One that looks good on all devices – smartphones, tablets, laptops, and regular old desktops.

You can get a sense of how mobile-responsive your website is by pulling it up on a few different tablets and smartphones. But even if you think it looks pretty good on those, what really matters is what Google thinks. You can check your site on Google’s handy-dandy mobile test tool here.

If Google gives you the thumbs-down, it’s time to talk to your web guy or gal, pronto. Yes, I know it’s a pain, but it’s important. As we’ve talked about before, if prospective parents can’t find you online, it’s almost like you don’t exist in their eyes. And you don’t want that.

The good news is that you don’t need a whole new website – there are tools that can create special mobile versions of your site that pop up only when people are looking at it from a mobile device.

Once you’ve crossed these website checks off your list, you can sit back and enjoy the rest of your summer, complete with fruity drink and fluffy novel in hand.

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

Make It Easy for Parents To Pay You

money handoff

I like to think of myself as a “recovering lawyer.” I was in active practice for less than a year, over 15 years ago now, and have no plans to return. (It’s like that great Winston Churchill quote I mentioned a few weeks back – if you have successfully gone through hell and kept going, you don’t return to hunt around for your car keys.)

Nonetheless, the New Hampshire bar requires a small annual payment from even the inactive attorneys on its roster, just so we can maintain our status should we lose our minds and decide to start lawyering again.

Every year, when I get that renewal letter in the mail, I hunt around for the online payment option. There isn’t one. There’s also no way to pay with a credit card. Just as they’ve been doing for the past several decades, I imagine, the good folks at the New Hampshire bar still require us to mail in a hard-copy check.

Lawyers, like parents of small children, tend to have multiple balls in the air at any given time. They are prone to bouts of absent-mindedness (also, like small children themselves, they are prone to outbursts and tantrums, but that’s neither here nor there).

I’m guessing the NH bar has to send out multiple reminders to many of my fellow attorneys and former attorneys in order to collect all the checks they’re due – even with the imminent threat of disbarment hanging over its members.

You probably see where I’m heading with this: If the only way the parents at your center can pay you is with checks, you’re working harder than you need to to collect on your payments because you’re making your parents work harder than they need to.

Every child care center I’ve ever seen has some kind of secure dropbox for tuition checks located in a prominent location – but as a parent, I tend to think about that dropbox only when I’m already at the center, squirmy kids in hand and checkbook at home.

I may do my best to remember to bring my check when I return for pick-up, but invariably I forget before I’ve left the center’s parking lot, lost in thoughts of work and grocery shopping and the source of that mysterious awful smell emanating from the back seat.

If you offer parents a variety of ways to pay you – credit cards, automatic bank debit, PayPal, and so forth – they can choose the one that’s most convenient for them, leading to less tuition-hunting (and parent-hounding) time for you. You’ll collect the money you’re owed more easily and more often. Even with the small fees associated with these additional payment options, you will likely still come out ahead financially.

Additionally, a streamlined payment system can even be a competitive differentiator for you; parents appreciate knowing you’re looking for ways to make their lives easier.

The NH bar is a monopoly of sorts that can do what it wants – even if it’s inefficient and counterproductive – but you are not. Make it easy for parents to pay you and you’ll reap the rewards many times over.

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

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.”

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