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.

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.

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.

From the Mailbag: Where Are All the Teachers?

mailboxToday we’ve got a great question from a reader that will resonate with many of you:

I was wondering if you could advise on WHERE to find qualified childcare teachers!!!!!  We’ve really struggled with this over the years and can’t seem to find a good resource to use that generates qualified leads.  We’ve tried local colleges, Facebook posts on local community pages, Craigslist, Indeed, bulletin boards in local shops, word of mouth/friends/family (including our existing teachers doing this)… It just doesn’t seem to provide good, qualified leads!  HELP!  I need a head hunter!   -C.S.

Make no mistake, this is a huge problem in early ed – and it sounds like our reader has done a great job covering all her bases (including both online and offline sources, as well as good old-fashioned word of mouth).

While there’s unfortunately no easy solution that will work for every center – especially if you’re in a small geographic area – there are a few things you can do to up your odds:

1. Always be hiring. Don’t wait until you have an opening to start looking. Always, always be on the lookout for great talent.

2. Be open about the fact that you’re always looking for great talent. Now, this is a little like dating – you definitely don’t want to come across as desperate – but you do want to let qualified folks know you’d love to hear from them anytime. This could be as simple as a short note on your website: “Here at Fun Kids USA, we are always looking for fantastic new members to join our teaching team! If you’d like to learn more, call or send an email to…”

You could also repeat that message in your staff and parent handbooks – you might even include a few staff testimonials about why they love working there, just as you do with parents. The more clearly you can get across why you’re a great employer, the more interest you’ll generate.

3. Figure out what’s in it for them. I always tell schools that have trouble finding good teachers to clean their own house first. In other words, look around and honestly assess whether you run the type of center a great teacher would love to teach at. If not, you need to get that sorted out first. You may be hoping one or two good teachers will help you raise the bar, but unfortunately it doesn’t work that way – you need to raise the bar first.

4. Present your benefits effectively. If you can honestly say you run a great center, the next question is whether you are conveying this well to applicants and would-be applicants. Do you know what makes you special and different? Do you run interesting ads that do a good job of demonstrating this, including all the special perks of working at your center? (Some possible examples: Paid time off, continuing ed opportunities, tight-knit staff with low turnover rate, early ed library for teachers’ use, pizza lunches once a month, etc.)

It’s particularly effective if you can show prospective teachers that you are offering them a richly rewarding career opportunity – rather than simply a way to fill a few years while they figure out what they really want to do.

5. Don’t be boring! This is a biggie – I’ve seen some wonderful centers run ads that are about as exciting as an invitation to the National Watching-Paint-Dry Convention. If you don’t come across well on paper, you won’t attract the folks you’re looking for. An offbeat, irreverent ad may well turn off some people – which is just fine, as it will attract like magic the folks you do want.

6. Consider online ads. You know those little ads that turn up as part of your results when you run a search online? They are a fantastic way to narrowly target people in a certain geographic area who are searching for a few specific terms you specify (e.g., “childcare jobs in Iowa City” or “ECE teaching positions Seacoast NH”). When people click on your ad, they go to a specific page on your website – maybe your “Careers” page or a specific job posting. Best of all, you pay only when someone clicks on your ad, which keeps costs down.

Google AdWords is pretty user-friendly, and they offer free phone support. If you want more detailed training, I always recommend Perry Marshall’s resources (no affiliation; he just really knows his stuff).

7. Leverage the power of referrals. When you consider how much a great teacher is worth to your center, even a hefty referral bonus is a bargain. Click here for more details.

8. Remember: It’s not about the money. A lot of child care centers worry about the fact that they can’t offer even fantastic teachers a whole lot of money. While you certainly want to be competitive with what other centers in your area are offering – and if you can even go a little higher, that’s great – the good news is that nobody goes into early childhood education for the money! As such, money is not going to be the determining factor in the talent you’re able to attract. Focus on what you can and do offer your valued staff, and the money will largely take care of itself.

Thanks again for your question, C.S. – good luck and happy hiring!

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