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.

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.

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.

From the Mailbag: Chomping Toddlers

33632889_f1d74de61f_zAny tips on calming parents whose children of two year olds who are being bitten by their classmates? We have tried so many things but some parents are understandably are angry. Any advice will be appreciated.

Great question, Sandra! This is an issue that plagues childcare providers around the world. And while there’s no simple solution to the biting behavior itself, there is an effective strategy you can use that will serve you well in dealing with parents – for a wide variety of issues.

In a nutshell? Advance warning.

You may be tempted to avoid all mention of biting until it actually happens, for fear of parents thinking you foster an out-of-control, toddler-eat-toddler, Thunderdome sort of atmosphere at your center. But that’s actually the worst thing you can do.

Parents of a child who has just been nibbled on will be upset, and concerned, and probably very angry (at both you as a caregiver and the nibbler in question). This is especially true for first-time parents, who tend to be a) less informed and b) more prone to hysteria.

Instead of hiding your head in the sand and hoping the biting problem passes you by, make a point of bringing it up as part of a family’s orientation to your toddler room (or whenever a child enters prime biting territory), along with nap schedules, potty training, and all other things toddler.

Explain that biting is a very common part of normal toddler development due to teething, lack of sophisticated verbal skills, and so forth. Explain your policies on redirection, why disciplining the biter is not developmentally appropriate, that serious injury almost never results, etc. Parents will get prepared for the likely possibility that their child will bite – or be bitten – and that it doesn’t mean the children at your center are evil, or improperly supervised.

In short, if you present biting as no big deal, it’s much less likely to become one.

And this same philosophy holds true for snow days, tuition increases, and most other unpleasant-yet-inevitable parts of running a child care center. People may not love hearing bad news, but they dislike being blindsided with it even more. If you prepare them in advance, it all happens much more smoothly.

So bite the bullet on biting, so to speak, and start educating those pre-toddler parents!

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

Are You Too Nice?

too niceWhen I ask child care professionals what’s holding them back in their work, I always get interesting replies. Here’s a recent one:

I’m too nice as a boss and to parents…or I do too much.

I bet this sounds familiar to a lot of you. In general, people who go into the field of early ed are extremely generous, giving, caring folks. You give and give and give. And sometimes, that’s a problem.

Do any of the following situations ring a bell?

– You feel bad for your teacher with the temperamental car, so you let her repeated absences and tardiness slide…leaving you short-staffed when she’s out.

– You want to be understanding with that family who’s having trouble paying their tuition…leaving you short on payroll three weeks running.

– You put off disciplining that nice but flighty assistant…leaving you to explain to a pair of irate parents how she managed to leave the gate open and let their toddler escape.

– You are the first one in and the last one out every single workday (plus weekends)…leaving you burned-out, exhausted, and fighting a perma-cold you just can’t shake.

Kindness and generosity are great things – in moderation. When you bend over backwards to help everyone else, you are the one who gets left behind. And that’s not good for your health, your mental well-being, or your business. When you have nothing left in your tank, you have nothing left to give.

So be very wary of “giving until it hurts.” Give as much as you can only without putting your own well-being and priorities in jeopardy.

Drawing this line in the sand doesn’t make you selfish. It makes you sane (and successful).

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!