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.

Note: There will be no new post next week due to the Memorial Day holiday here in the U.S. We’ll see you back here on Thursday, June 4.

Child Care Marketing: Just Get Rolling

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAScene: Tuesday morning, in the car with my kids on the way to school.

Lorelei [from the back seat]: “Mommy, are you driving the car, or is the car driving itself?”

Me: “I’m driving, hon. Cars can’t drive themselves.”

Lorelei: “What if you took your hands off the wheel?”

Me: “Well, the car would either keep going the way the wheel was turned, or else the wheel would straighten itself out and the car would go that way. Either way, it wouldn’t be good.”

Lorelei: “So the car would be driving itself!”

Touché, Peanut.

My car will indeed continue to “drive itself,” as my daughter put it, if I don’t take my foot off the gas pedal – even if my hands are elsewhere. Maybe not well, but we’ll keep moving…in some fashion.

Your marketing does not operate the same way. You won’t go anywhere if you don’t invest some time, effort, and money in your child care marketing plan.

A lot of the child care professionals I work with are hesitant to start proactively marketing themselves for fear of doing the wrong thing, but taking no action at all is like sitting in the driveway with your engine off (perhaps because your 2-year-old has hidden your keys, but that’s an analogy for another time).

Here are some quick ideas to help jump-start you into action:

1. Start with three. If you can’t decide where to begin, choose just three things to work on for now:

2. Don’t give up too soon. As I mentioned last week, it can take a little while for your marketing efforts to gain traction.

3. Go big or go home. Unlike driving with no hands on the wheel, which will almost certainly turn catastrophic pretty quickly, it’s hard to really go wrong with a marketing plan. The worst that will happen is not much – maybe you’ll lose a little time or money, but maybe you’ll have a big success. And you’re certain to learn a lot along the way regardless.

So don’t be afraid to be memorable and silly and self-expressive. You’re not going to hit a tree.

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

The Rule of Seven

Prosecco boxOur local grocery store has now replaced that old checkout standby (“paper or plastic?”) with a new version (“bags or boxes?”). The boxes are left over after items are shelved, and I’m sure they’re happy to pass them along to customers and save themselves the work of breaking them down and recycling them.

The boxes are actually quite helpful at times, I’ve discovered, both for heavy items and to solve the persistent problem of Nicholas gnawing on the plastic grocery bags whenever I’m not looking.

Lorelei, for her part, has enjoyed turning them into various projects – including a “Brodie house” for our ancient cat and a makeshift end table on which her Frozen alarm clock is proudly displayed.

One of the boxes we ended up with recently was a bright orange Prosecco box – Prosecco being a white sparkling wine (kind of like an Italian version of Champagne). I’ve had Prosecco before, and enjoyed it, but hadn’t given it much thought lately.

Until I saw that box sitting there by the front door, several times every day, while we waited for the next trash-and-recycling pickup to come around. It was new and eye-catching, and it kept grabbing my attention – unlike the Pampers box at right, which is just a regular part of the landscape around here.

By day 3, I was kind of excited to try it again, and by day 7, I’d bought a bottle for our family Mother’s Day celebration (just to be clear, the celebration involves my husband and both of our moms; it’s not just me and a bottle of Prosecco).

In marketing, there’s a standard guideline that prospective customers need to see something seven times before they really see it.

While this sounds like an awful lot, in actual practice it tends to be true. Think about how many times you see a certain commercial on TV before you fully notice what it’s advertising, or a classified ad in the paper that takes a while to attract your attention.

The bottom line is that, with your marketing efforts, it’s vitally important not to get frustrated and give up too early. Something may be ramping up to be very effective for you, but only if you give it a fair shake.

This also means that, if given the choice between spending money on a great big ad that will appear only once vs. something smaller that will run over and over, the option that will give you repeated exposure tends to be a better bet.

Just as it takes a while to get potty training and manners to stick with the little ones, your marketing is a long game, too. Rome wasn’t built in a day.

Happy Mother’s Day to all the moms out there! I shall raise a glass of Prosecco in your honor on Sunday.

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

5 Reasons To Raise Your Tuition Rates Every Year

moneyMy husband is now a cost accountant (and, no, I still don’t fully understand what he does), but before that he was a property manager for several years – renting out apartments, staying on top of leases, and collecting rent checks.

When those checks didn’t come in, he was also responsible for eviction proceedings. Yikes.

From what I can tell, the property management years were a wild ride – people are, unsurprisingly, rather irrational and emotional about their homes. They don’t take it well when you tell them the entire building needs to be bagged up in plastic and vacated for three days due to a bedbug infestation caused by a yard-sale couch on the 8th floor.

They also don’t take it well when you raise their rent. This is true, Eric discovered, even if the rent has not been raised in several years, and even if the new rent is still well below market rate for a given apartment. Big honking rent increases just make people unhappy.

As do big honking tuition increases at child care centers. Which is exactly why, paradoxically, you should make tuition increases an annual – rather than sporadic – event at your child care center:

1. You prevent sticker shock. An annual tuition increase of just a few dollars a week is far more palatable to parents than an isolated massive increase. Parents won’t care about your argument that “We haven’t raised our rates in over six years!” Six years ago, they may not even have been parents yet; this sort of logic is not comforting to them.

2. You protect your bottom line. Your costs are almost certainly going up every year – why shouldn’t your rates?

3. You come across as organized and business-minded. An annual tuition increase, even if not warmly welcomed by parents, feels logical and defensible. One that comes out of the blue at some seemingly random time does not.

4. You reinforce the idea that you are a school rather than a babysitting service. “Here are our new tuition rates for the 2015-2016 school year, effective as of July 1 [or September 1].” Sounds very official, doesn’t it? This works well even if you run a year-round program.

5. You help ensure you have enough money for teacher raises. Their costs are going up, too – and while they certainly didn’t go into ECE to make big bucks, the fact that you are looking out for them is itself a powerful morale- and retention-boosting tool.

I know the whole idea of raising tuition makes a lot of child care professionals uncomfortable – but no matter how resistant you are, you’re going to have to do it sometime. It’s far better to make it an annual thing, announced a month or two in advance. People will come to expect and accept it. And don’t worry about families storming off in droves – it ain’t gonna happen.

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

Don’t Get Derailed by Organic Kale

file000601640704The nice lady at the front desk of our local YMCA got Lorelei all whipped up about a special spa & wellness event they’re doing on Mother’s Day weekend – chair massages, a smoothie station, yoga, various beauty tips…and, most exciting of all, a fresh flower for every guest! (Lorelei is already hoping that roses will be included in the assortment.)

Now, none of this is really my cup of tea per se – change that fruit smoothie to a chocolate milkshake and I’m there with bells on – but Lorelei was so excited that I signed us up.

When I told her we’d be having some special girl time, she said, “That means you’ll be able to give me your full attention!”

Ouch. Score 1 for maternal guilt.

Lorelei and I talked a bit, and she feels – rightly so – that my attention is often divided between her and her 2-year-old human tornado of a brother. Even though I do my best to keep things as even as possible, my time and attention are, alas, finite.

So I try to focus on the big stuff: Keeping both kids safe, respectful of others, and feeling loved. Everything else is secondary.

If I can sneak some organic kale into their diets from time to time, so much the better, but it’s never going to be a priority for me (and, frankly, it’s probably never going to happen at all in my house).

Even setting aside the constant presence of loud, tiny people, there are some parallels between running a child care center and parenting small children.

You are constantly pulled in a million different directions, and there are (almost literally) a million different things you could be spending your time and money on at any given moment. In order to allocate your resources in the best possible way, you always need to be looking at the big picture.

For you, as a child care owner or director, your focus should always be on the following three things:

1. Attracting and enrolling new families

2. Attracting and hiring great teachers

3. Retaining your current families and staff

That’s it. If you can manage to do these three things consistently and well, you will have all the business you could ever want – and a very high-quality program to boot.

It’s not easy, of course, and each of these three goals involves many different components. But focusing on them above all others will help you steer clear of the things you shouldn’t get overly fussed about – the organic kale of your program, in other words.

Now, there’s nothing wrong with organic kale. In fact, it could very well tie in nicely with the big three above if, say, you decide to offer and promote a special healthy menu that sets you apart from all the other centers in your area.

But if not – if, as in my house, organic kale isn’t helping you advance your most important goals – then you should take a pass (and, once again, may I direct you to the miracle of the chocolate milkshake).

Don’t let yourself get distracted, in other words, by the nice-to-haves and why-nots. For whatever investment you’re considering (be it an investment of time, money, or effort), the test should always be whether it’s moving you closer to one of the big three goals above. If not, keep in mind that it could actually be moving you farther away by diverting your efforts and attention – even if it costs little or no money.

There are many different paths to success, but it’s your job to make sure that you stick to the specific path you’ve chosen for your center. And when you do that, everything just falls into place – organic kale or no organic kale.

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