It’s Time To Get Specific

Ken and Barbie marry.JPGWhen you were a little girl (guys, bear with me for a moment), did you ever play the game with your girlfriends where you envisioned your ideal grown-up life?

…and I would marry a tall man named Bradley with light brown hair and dark blue eyes, and we’d have three kids – twin boys, Max and Michael, and a girl named Emma – and we’d all live in a big white house on the ocean and go play outside on the beach every day with our golden retriever, Sandy.

I certainly remember playing it from time to time, though I confess my dreamy fantasies (both past and current) tend to run more along the lines of discovering the perfect fudgy-yet-cakey brownie and eating happily ever after.

Life has a way of turning out differently than we expect, to say the least – did anyone out there actually marry Bradley and move to the big white house on the beach? If so, do tell! – but you should never underestimate the importance of getting specific when there’s something you want.

Here are a few examples to illustrate my point:

Example A: Enrollments

  • Okay: I’d like some more nice families in my program…
  • Better: I’d like to enroll three new families by the end of the year – each of which has an annual household income of over $80,000, is pleasant to deal with, stays very involved with our program, pays on time, and is well-connected in our community to help bring in even more similar families.

Example B: Hiring

  • Okay: We need a new teacher in the preschool room…
  • Better: I’m looking to hire a preschool teacher who has a real passion for working with 4- and 5-year-olds, has at least three years of classroom experience, and is looking for a long-term professional home.

Example C: Staff Performance Issues

  • Okay: I wish Donna were more on top of things… 
  • Better: Donna, I need you to get here at least 15 minutes before you’re expected to be in the classroom, have your room and materials all set up when the first kids arrive, and give every family a cheerful, personal greeting when they enter.

Do you see the difference? In all three examples, the first statement is nothing more than a vague wish, while the second is a crystal-clear vision of your ideal outcome.

You may not always get your ideal outcome – but you’re much, much likelier to get it if you know exactly what you want.

When you do this exercise, don’t get all hung up on all the reasons it simply couldn’t work (“But a teacher like that would never want to work here!” “But all of the really good families in our area have been snapped up by the center across town!”). Just get clear on your own ideal scenario – what you’d truly want, in your perfect world – and go from there.

You will be shocked at how much this helps you both clarify, and achieve, your biggest goals. You can’t hit a target you can’t see, whether that target is a spouse who’s perfect for you or your dream of a fully enrolled, wildly successful program.

(Case in point: In addition to a great husband, I’m happy to report that I did find what I think is the nearly perfect brownie recipe – just add half a teaspoon of kosher salt. Brilliant.)

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

From the Mailbag: Making Time for Staff Management

mailboxHere’s one submitted by Gina:

One of the areas we struggle with is the inability for childcare center managers to focus on staff management, amidst the looming needs of licensing, tuition and other administrative things. We have tried many things – I was wondering if you would speak to the need for effective time management and intentional management of staff as a priority.

Great question, Gina! I think it’s one many centers struggle with.

The answer is actually hidden within the question itself: In order for something (anything, really) to get done, you need to make it a priority:

1. Train staff on its importance: Especially in a fast-paced environment like a childcare center or preschool, it can be hard to find time to look up and catch your breath. And your teachers may feel (quite reasonably) that if they do all the day-to-day stuff, and do it well, they are doing everything they need to do. During your new-teacher orientation and in regular ongoing training, emphasize the importance of staff development and retention.

2. Carve out time in the schedule: I often read about Silicon Valley companies that give employees massive blocks of time to work on nothing but side projects and develop new ideas for the company. Obviously, in a childcare setting, taking a whole week off to brainstorm simply isn’t feasible!

However, one dedicated hour a week is certainly doable, and/or maybe one whole day twice a year when the center staff gets together to do some big-picture planning and staff-development exercises. (And, yes, you need to pay people for this time – but if you do it well, it will pay for itself many times over.) Schedule this time into the calendar and don’t let anything intrude upon it.

3. Keep staff looped in: Most of us yearn to feel part of something important – something bigger than ourselves. There is a temptation to keep staff in the dark on anything “they don’t really need to know about,” but the fact is they should know about as much as possible regarding your overall mission, your enrollment numbers, staff vacancies, leadership opportunities, and so on. The more engaged and involved they are in visualizing the big picture, the more invested they will be in making it happen.

4. Conduct regular performance appraisals: Twice a year is optimal, but go with any schedule that works. People get so hung up on doing these perfectly that they don’t do them at all, but this is a mistake. The very fact that you make time for performance appraisals is crucial to your staff’s morale and development. And don’t make the common mistake of “saving” something (good or bad) to discuss at the performance appraisal – regular feedback is key. Nothing that’s raised at the performance appraisal should come as a surprise to the employee.

5. Look for volunteers: Especially if you have a small center, there may not be a lot of room for upward mobility. But there’s probably something every teacher is really good at, enjoys doing, and would welcome the chance to do more of at work. Whether it’s spearheading your social media efforts, creating a beautiful photo montage for your front entrance, or starting a mentoring program, there are a variety of ways your teachers can contribute and get more involved at your center.

6. Don’t let things slide: Many child care professionals are kind, nonconfrontational people who would rather cut off one of their own arms than hurt someone’s feelings! When it comes to effective people management, however, the head-in-the-sand approach is one of the worst things you can do. Don’t let things fester at your center – discipline as needed and terminate when necessary. If you do this consistently from the top down, your entire center will be stronger and more effectively managed.

Check out Time Mastery for Child Care Professionals, an online, self-paced course I created specifically for folks like you – gain an hour a day or your money back!

Think You Don’t Have a Brand? Think Again.

Child Care BrandingYou may not have given much thought to the “branding” of your child care center. We’re a child care center, you’re probably thinking.

But make no mistake: You do indeed have a brand, whether or not you’ve taken any active role in shaping it. Your brand is simply how you – and your child care center – are perceived in the minds of your customers and potential customers.

Think about the “brands” of the people you deal with in your daily life:

– Mildred at the bank: Friendly, methodical, unwilling to be rushed for any reason. Inordinately fond of pennies.

– Olivia, your dry cleaner: Brusque bordering on rude, yet relentless on grease stains.

– Frank, your mechanic: Kind of flaky and slow to return calls, but knows his way around a transmission like nobody else.

What’s your brand? It’s shaped both by what you officially “do” – and how well you do it – as well as the countless interactions you have with your families and prospective families, including things like:

  • How promptly – and enthusiastically – you answer the phone
  • The look and feel of your website
  • How the teachers and administrators interact with the children in your program
  • The way your center looks (and even smells)
  • Whether your teachers are a cohesive, effective team or a fractured, gossiping, unhappy mess

Maintaining a formal marketing program is an excellent way to be proactive in shaping your brand, but never forget that you’re already imprinting it on everyone around you, every single day, with everything you do (or don’t do).

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

Are You Keeping Up with the Times?

20160909_070921At my son’s preschool, there is a lovely modern fireplace in the lobby. In the winter months, it provides warmth and atmosphere. And in the warmer months, the stone hearth becomes a checkpoint for all manner of used goods free for the taking – old CDs, books, baking pans, VHS tapes, and so forth.

A few weeks back, Nicholas discovered a vintage cake-decorating catalog in the pile – the 1989 Wilton “Cake Decorating!” Yearbook – and eagerly appropriated it as his own. He largely forgot about it by the time we got home, but I found it hard to put down.

In addition to being all about one of my very favorite subjects (food), it was like leafing through a time capsule from my own childhood. Cast your mind back, if you will, to a time when an ALF cake – featured on the bottom portion of the cover – was the pinnacle of party fun.

As I was paging through the catalog, it became clear that the company that issued it, Wilton, was a big deal in the cake decorating world. They even offered in-person cake-decorating classes at their headquarters outside Chicago.

It all seemed so quaint, the idea of mailing in an actual paper order form for your cake toppers and decorating tips, with delivery guaranteed “within 10 working days after we receive your order.” They seemed like nice folks, the people at Wilton Enterprises, and I became concerned that they – like so many other businesses – might not have made a successful leap to the online world in the years since the publication of the 1989 yearbook.

Curious, I Googled them – and I needn’t have worried. The Wilton empire appears to be doing just fine, with a sophisticated website and Facebook fan page with over 1.5 million “likes.” Good for them.

I bring this all up not solely because I enjoy thinking about cake (which I do), but also because the Wilton experience over the years provides a valuable lesson for the rest of us.

I’ve heard it said that the railroads in this country made a fatal mistake, many decades ago, when they remained determined to think of themselves as being in the “rail” business rather than the “transportation” business – the latter would have enabled them to move seamlessly into the burgeoning airline industry.

Similarly, the photography giant Kodak clung to film long after the rest of the world was moving inexorably to digital, to its great detriment.

Child care is a timeless undertaking in many ways; the heart of it will always lie in the important relationships between child care professionals, parents, and the children themselves. But the trappings of your business – and the marketing of it – are evolving all the time.

You run the risk of being left behind if you keep doing what you’ve always done as the world moves on around you. Whether it’s offering online billing, or an app that allows parents to get updates and photos throughout the day, or deciding to meet parents where they already are (e.g., on Facebook), you need to stay current. If not, even if you run an extraordinary center, it will not stay successful over the long haul.

So get out of your comfort zone on a regular basis and keep trying new things. It’s the best way to stay afloat and thriving.

You can bet your ALF cake on it.

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

Where Does It Hurt?

band aids

A little while back, Lorelei took a nasty tumble on a boat dock. She turned her ankle a little, and had a few scrapes and bruises. She’s a tough kid, though, and by the next day the only lingering problem was a little pain in her “thumb toe.”

The first thing we asked her when she went down, naturally, was “Where does it hurt?”

We all do it with kids, and even the really little guys are good at identifying the precise location of the boo-boo. (This has no relation, of course, to where they want the Band-Aids applied, which is usually everywhere, and as many as possible.)

It’s pretty obvious, really – we can’t effectively treat the pain if we don’t know its exact nature and location. But when it comes to pain in our businesses, many of us are perfectly happy to stay in the dark. Which is a mistake.

Let’s say enrollments are down from last year. A surprising number of child care owners and administrators are content to chalk it up to, say, a new center that opened elsewhere in town, or road construction that’s now detouring traffic away from the center, or even just “the economy” generally.

Now, any or all of these could in fact be factors – or not. There’s only one way to find out the real story, and that’s to do some research.

Are you getting the same number of inquiries as you were this time last year? Are you giving as many tours? Is your percentage of tours-leading-to-enrollments down? Are current families leaving in greater numbers than before? If so, from which classroom(s)? Do you follow up with families who enroll elsewhere to find out why? Are you regularly surveying current parents to get their feedback?

It’s no fun to delve deeply into the cause of a problem at your business – but if you don’t know where you’re going off track, it’s almost impossible to get back on track. And the good news is that once you’ve identified the problem, you’re well on your way to fixing it.

So where does it hurt?

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