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.

3 Child Care Marketing Mindset Myths

If you’re like many child care professionals, the idea of marketing your program – or yourself, for that matter – is not at all appealing. Maybe you’ve found yourself thinking something along the lines of the following:

If people are right for our program, they’ll find us.

I’m just too busy to worry about marketing right now.

I don’t want to bother people.

I am here today to officially bust you on every one of these (but it will be kind of fun, I promise). Let’s get started, shall we?

Unhelpful mindset #1: If people are right for our program, they’ll find us.

This is just plain not true. Parents of young children, in addition to being bombarded with all kinds of stimuli (not to mention airborne Cheerios), are so tired and distracted that you really have to get in their face – which can be done in a good way – to get them to notice much of anything.

I say this as a person with a Wiggles-addled brain who just received a call from the local library because I returned to them a Curious George DVD that actually belongs to our personal collection and not the library’s. Mind of Mush, I tell you.

Look at it this way: If you don’t take pains to get the word out about your great program, that mush-minded mom down the street may well be swayed by a flyer from a far inferior child care program across town – and that’s a shame, both for her family and for your child care business.

Unhelpful mindset #2: I’m just too busy to worry about marketing right now.

No, you’re not. If, in fact, your program is humming along and you are full to capacity, that’s wonderful! And it’s also precisely why you need to be working on your marketing right now so that you stay full and humming when the next lull happens, as it invariably does.

And if your program is not currently full to capacity? Well, then, marketing your program is pretty much the most important work you could be doing.

If you’re overextended doing other stuff that’s not directly related to generating new leads, conducting tours, and securing new enrollments, you need to clear the decks to make some time for these crucial business-builders.

Unhelpful mindset #3: I don’t want to bother people.

As my wonderful business coach, Michael Katz, put it so well in one of his blog posts:

If you found a cure for a deadly disease, you wouldn’t hide it in your basement. You’d be out there telling the world, day and night, until everyone who could benefit knew about it. Not only would people be happy to pay for it, they’d be angry if you didn’t give them the chance.

The same is true of your child care program. People will always want, and need, great child care. If you offer that – and I’m sure you do – then you owe it to your community to tell them about all you offer and give them the chance to enroll.

So get out there and get marketing.

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

It’s All Relative

Portsmouth-20140117-00127

Until our recent move, my family and I lived in a little old house that was built sometime in the mid-1800s.

It’s kind of a crazy place. While it’s full of character and charm, it’s also full of low, forehead-cracking ceiling beams and odd construction, as well as wonky wiring that regularly challenged and enraged our talented local electrician (who was there so often, we should have kept a bed made up for him).

By any objective standard, that house is old. It’s amazing to me that I spent eight years living someplace older than anyone still alive on this earth – it was here long before many U.S. states were established, and it pre-dates Abraham Lincoln’s presidential administration.

But here in Portsmouth, it’s no big deal. Many folks live in even older places that date back to the 1700s.

And just down the street from my former residence, in fact, is a house that was built in 1664. According to the local historical society, the Jackson House is the oldest wooden structure still standing in either New Hampshire or Maine (Massachusetts, of course, has the Pilgrims and the Mayflower and all that, so there’s some seriously old stuff there).

Nobody lives in the Jackson House now, though it is the site of an annual apple cider festival (where Lorelei, notably, had an epic meltdown during her toddler days).

As old as my “old” house is, in other words, it was the newcomer on the block in 1850 – not by a few years, mind you, but by nearly two full centuries.

I tell you this story as a reminder that no matter how new you are to the child care business, to most of the parents you serve, you are an experienced expert. And that fact is gold when it comes to marketing your program.

People like to learn from experts and get their opinion on things. It makes them feel that they’re investing their money wisely. Additionally, when you’re talking about something as personal as child care, it makes parents feel safe and reassured that they’ve chosen the right place to send their children.

Speaking as a parent, I loved knowing that the lead infant room teacher at my children’s center had been there for over 20 years – she has cared for hundreds if not thousands of babies in her time there, and I always viewed her as my resident guru on all questions baby-related. I feel the same way about my son’s current preschool teacher, a 15-year industry veteran.

But even the brand-new teachers know a whole lot more than I do – and I remain so grateful for (and impressed by) their wisdom.

Too often in the child care profession, administrators and teachers downplay their expertise. Part of it is an unfortunate societal tendency to discount the important work you do, and part of it is the fact that people in the child care profession tend to be giving, selfless folks.

But it’s important to fight this tendency and be proud of – and vocal about – everything you know. When parents ask your opinion on something, give it. Host a class on child development at your center. Write an ebook about your center’s teaching philosophy, and send it out to current and prospective parents.

It may feel unnatural at first, but the more you start owning your expert status, the better you’ll become at it. You’ll start to become the local authority on child care in your area. And that’s a great place to be, because prospective parents will start coming to you rather than you trying to chase them down.

Dr. Benjamin Spock’s famous words to new parents are equally applicable to child care professionals: “Trust yourself – you know more than you think you do.”

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