Creating a marketing strategy for your childcare center may seem like a difficult, time-consuming, and expensive process. Luckily, it doesn’t have to be!
Marketing is a key component to ensuring your enrollment is consistent, you have a healthy waitlist, and your center climbs to the top of every family’s “must-see” childcare list. These marketing musts will help cut out any confusion about marketing and help you grow your center!
Understand Your Audience
Make sure you know who your marketing efforts need to reach. Naturally, parents are who you think of first; but sometimes you need to think about expanding your audience to those that influence parents. This could be childcare workers, grandparents, and other caregivers.
Question: Do you know where your audience is most likely to be engaged?
Four out of five prospective parents that check out your center will now be millennials. Reach millennials where they are most likely to be: Online, using social media, and looking at reviews of local childcare centers.
Question: Where in your community can you reach your audience? Do these places offer advertising spaces or opportunities?
Are millennials with school aged children at the YMCA, fitness centers, community events, churches, or local restaurants? Are they reading news online, watching tv or listening to the radio? Ask current parents how they learned about your center. Chances are you will get new ideas from asking your families.
Question: What other organizations in your community are interacting with your audience? Can you partner with them to host events or otherwise support each other?
Be Consistent in Your Messaging
It’s important to deliver consistent tone, style, and branding to your prospects. This means you should have a logo and standard colors and type font that you always use in advertising.
- Does your website, marketing materials, emails, and other promotional materials have consistent fonts, colors, and images?
- Do you have a mission statement for your center? If so, is it reflected throughout your external messaging?
- Do you have access to engaging pictures or stock photos to enliven your marketing materials? If not, try a royalty-free stock image service like Pixabay.
Choose your Marketing Methods Wisely
Understanding both inbound and outbound marketing methods will help you determine which type to use in various efforts.
Do you use any inbound marketing? Inbound marketing focuses on the prospect and their needs, challenges, and goals instead of on your center. Try offering your prospects information they will find truly valuable. Maybe create a checklist on how to choose the best childcare center, or a document that will help them rate the different childcare centers they tour.
Does your outbound marketing work? Outbound marketing is product-oriented, relies on sales incentives, and keeps the focus on you, the business, and your products and services. Track when these offers work, and when they don’t so you can continue to increase your return on investment.
Great marketing is never a one-and-done deal. Perhaps the most important marketing must for your childcare center is to keep your marketing efforts rolling. Keep asking new families how they heard about you. With your creative ideas flowing, chances are you’ll have great marketing and more families coming to you.
At Smartcare, we are committed to helping ease the burden of your administrative tasks to give you more time to promote your business.
An interview summary from our live webinar on Thursday, June 13, 2019
Featuring special guest: Patrick Miller, Managing Partner of Archer International, experts in data security.
Patrick Miller is a cyber security expert here to discuss the importance of keeping your financial, family, and student information safe. With years of experience in protecting corporations and public organizations, Patrick’s straight forward, no-nonsense answers provide clarity about the basics needed to protect a child care center from a possible breach. We will discuss good cyber hygiene, avoiding phishing and pharming scams, and five important steps to securing your data to avoid potential liability.
What does data security mean for an Early Learning Center? Whose data? What data are we talking about?
We are talking about any of the data used by your organization. This means the business data, personnel data, health data, family data entrusted to you, and financial data—both business money and your family or payer money.
Centers need to be aware that there are laws in place for privacy protection. An example of this would be HIPAA, the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 which is United States federal legislation that provides data privacy and security provisions for safeguarding medical information.
Privacy laws in the United States deal with several different legal concepts. One is the invasion of privacy, a tort based in common law allowing an aggrieved party to bring a lawsuit against an individual who unlawfully intrudes into his or her private affairs, discloses his or her private information, publicizes him or her in a false light, or appropriates his or her name for personal gain.
The Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA)
At Smartcare, we are sometimes asked about FERPA. (FERPA) (20 U.S.C. § 1232g; 34 CFR Part 99) is a Federal law that protects the privacy of student education records. The law applies to all schools that receive funds under an applicable program of the U.S. Department of Education.
FERPA gives parents certain rights with respect to their children’s education records. These rights transfer to the student when he or she reaches the age of 18 or attends a school beyond the high school level. Students to whom the rights have transferred are “eligible students.”
Parents or eligible students have the right to inspect and review the student’s education records maintained by the school. Schools are not required to provide copies of records unless, for reasons such as great distance, it is impossible for parents or eligible students to review the records.
At Smartcare, we are compliant with FERPA. The key provisions of FERPA require the educational institution to receive consent from the parent prior to disclosing a student’s education records. Smartcare does not disclose any records. There is the expectation that a school has internal controls to ensure that information is not disclosed by school employees.
Why is data security important?
For obvious reasons, if someone can bring a lawsuit against a child care center, or if a federal or state law is violated, it spells trouble for the business. It can mean having to hire lawyers for defense, paying fines sometimes up to $100,000, and in some cases prison time.
In addition to securing your business information, keeping a child’s personal information secure is paramount because with access to certain information, hackers and cyber thieves can steal the identity of the child, take out credit in the child’s name, and create long-term credit issues for the child.
A business can suffer and may never recover from the negative results. So, it is important to be aware of the laws and to take preventive action to avoid problems.
Who is responsible for data security at a child care center?
In a word, everyone. The owner and board of directors, the executive director, administrators, business manager, receptionist, teachers, custodians–everyone is responsible. Leadership in child care centers need to be aware of what we call “cyber-hygiene” and make sure that your business is clean and safe from potential attacks.
It means taking time to train your staff of potential risks. For example, a receptionist should never leave family payer personal checks out on a desktop in plain view. That check contains personal identifiable information also known as PII. Physical health records and files need to be securely locked down. Computer and tablet screens should time out and go dark when an administrator steps away and be password protected to access.
At the very least, child care centers need to have a data security plan in writing. Technology within that plan should address encryption, firewall standards, the regular update of anti-virus software, and the use of strong passwords. Generally, it’s important to have longer passwords because it is the length that makes it harder to crack. So, pick a phrase or sentence with more that 15 characters that is easy to remember and use it.
Everyone that has potential access to information, needs to be aware of phishing and pharming scams.
Phishing: Phishing is the attempt to acquire sensitive information such as usernames, passwords, and credit card details (and sometimes, indirectly, money), often for malicious reasons, by masquerading as a trustworthy entity.
Pharming: Pharming is a scamming practice in which malicious code is installed on a personal computer or server, misdirecting users to fraudulent Web sites without their knowledge or consent.
Pharming is a cyber-attack intended to redirect a website’s traffic to another, fake site. Pharming can be conducted either by changing the hosts file on a victim’s computer or by exploitation of a vulnerability in DNS server software. DNS servers are computers responsible for resolving Internet names into their real IP addresses. Compromised DNS servers are sometimes referred to as “poisoned”. Spyware removal programs can usually correct the corruption, but it can recur.
If I have a webmaster and a cyber-security insurance policy, won’t I be protected if a cyber-attack hits me?
Many small centers probably don’t have or can’t afford a full-time computer system manager. Some centers may have just set up a website and their software may be running on old personal computers. Even if you have a webmaster, or you have hired one, as the organization’s leader, you need to be aware that the ultimate responsibility is going to fall on the shoulders of the person in charge.
As for cyber-insurance, it generally offers some protection, but it might not pay out depending upon the policy type and claim. Your claim may be denied. Most policies have clauses that deny payment for global ransomware acts. You need to do your due diligence and be aware of what your cyber-insurance covers.
What technology do I need to have in place?
To be protected, it’s important to think of your business as a place full of electronic devices that are becoming more and more automated and complex and reliant upon wi-fi. You have business devices and software, and non-business and worker devices. Software and apps are running throughout your organization. Think about Alexa taking voice commands to direct music, televisions, bots and coffeepots.
You have two choices: One is to remain hosted locally—meaning managing tech security yourself or with a hired IT person. The other choice is to outsource to the cloud.
If you remain local, at the very least you will need four things:
- A firewall and someone to manage the firewall. With an average IT staff member earning $80,000 per year, this gets expensive quickly.
- You need to be sure your anti-virus protection is up-to-date. These are anti-virus security software products that are readily available at Best Buy or downloadable online such as McAfee, Norton, or Symantec.
- Thirdly, you will need to be sure you are running the latest version of Windows or whatever operating system (OS) you are using. Don’t ignore updates. Go into your settings and switch to auto update so you are always running the latest versions.
- You will need to remember to constantly back up your systems. In case of a breach or attack, if you have back up, it will be easier to restore your data.
If you choose to host in the cloud, you will need to find a reliable vendor. The advantages of cloud security are:
- Cloud providers are able to manage security better because it is all they do.
- With multiple clients, they know their business reputation relies upon providing good service.
- Cloud providers are constantly updating security measures to stay ahead of hackers—or at least they are better able to combat the latest hacks and cyber mining activities.
I recommend you first separate your business data and move it to cloud based applications that are more secure than keeping data in your own center. Hire the best data security vendor you can afford. Most likely it will be less expensive than hiring an IT staff member. Use the BBB Better Business Bureau or get word of mouth recommendations from peers or associations to select a vendor. Interview vendors by going online and searching for “What Questions Should I Ask My Data Security Vendor?” A little research and meeting with potential vendors will payoff over time.
Going digital and paperless is actually more secure than people initially think. Dumpster divers who seek personal information are not uncommon. At the very least, be sure you are shredding all paper documents. Going digital can help your business be more efficient in addition to being more secure. You have easy access to bank and account balances and reports that can be backed up and have less of a chance to be hacked. In 10-15 years, we will see more movement to a paperless society where all documents will be stored electronically.
You need to take responsibility for managing your own system. You may need to hire a consultant to help you, but you really need to keep business data separate. Within your school, be sure to have two WiFi networks, one for guests and one for business. Let all the toys, tablets, Bluetooth, and staff devices run off the guest WiFi, and give it a relatively easy password like your center phone number or address. Then password protect your business WiFi with a strong password that is only given to authorized and trusted administrators.
What are the elements needed for top grade data security?
Security is challenging. Don’t expect to have a full data security plan implemented overnight. Take some time to research and adopt in stages. Here are the top tips you should take away from this webinar.
- Change your mind set about data. Data is money. You are liable for losing or mishandling data.
- Create a protection plan for your cybersecurity. Outsource business data to offset risk and liability. It is critical for your business continuance to protect data.
- Put your business data on cloud-based apps and don’t rely on your own servers. This is especially true for PCI-DSS compliance when accepting credit or debit cards. Leave this to professionals who focus on processing funds digitally.
- Your network should be segmented to keep business data separate from other software and apps running in your building(s).
- Outsource and get cyber insurance and understand your policy. Your security vendor will be able to have your business back up and running in hours if there is a breach. Without a vendor, it could take days—if ever—to restore lost information when trying to respond to a cyber incident.
- Begin training and non-stop messaging about data security to everyone in your organization including kids who are using tablets and computers.
This concludes our interview. Smartcare University thanks Patrick Miller, and his company Archer International for his time in presenting this information on data security and compliance for child care centers.
You can learn more about Patrick at: https://www.patrickcmiller.com/about-me
Archer International Security Advisers:
Demand for high-quality, developmentally engaging early child care is growing. Parents of young children seek out exceptional child care, and the demand for preschool programs that support kindergarten readiness is increasing.
Your early child care center’s prestige can increase with a defined growth strategy. Create a solid program that connects your academic focus with that of local public or independent school readiness requirements. By focusing on both quality child care and academic kindergarten readiness, you can propel your reputation as your graduates enroll at public, private, or independent kindergarten programs.
Based on our experience with thousands of schools across the country, we’re seeing a renewed demand for developmentally engaging child care services and successful implementation of strategies to grow enrollment and quality.
How can you grow enrollment and quality in your child care program into a school growth strategy?
1. Start with the Data
Changing needs and expectations of young families show that they want developmentally engaging learning services. They are more often working parents who want a broader range of services that are individually and personally delivered.
The majority of U.S. children under five are students of color, so diversity and cultural awareness are even more critical in the training and recruitment of faculty, in the development of the curriculum, in communications to families, and out to the broader community.
The more educated parents are, the more likely they are to enroll their children in a child care center.
In 2016, the percentage of 3 to 5-year-olds enrolled in preschool was:
54% for those children whose parents had a graduate or professional degree
41% if the parents earned only a bachelor’s degree
37% for parents who ended their education with an associate’s degree
37% for those with some college but no degree
33% if they stopped with a high school credential (33%),
30% if parents didn’t complete high school
Public demand for early childhood education is accelerating. Philanthropists, community leaders and policy makers are seeking “opportunities to build new capacity in the early learning field as it enters a critical next stage.” For example, in 2018 Jeff Bezos announced a $2 billion plan to fund full scholarships for low-income children to attend “Montessori-inspired” preschools. The Saul Zaentz Early Education Initiative at Harvard University is another example.
As students transition from child care to the education system, it’s important for them to have skills in learning behaviors, such as their ability to:
- Pay attention in class
- Follow classroom rules
- Complete tasks independently
- Show eagerness to learn
At kindergarten entry, students who perform well in learning behaviors have a positive correlation to test scores.
When students enter kindergarten, many of them are not equipped with the skills to support learning success:
- A national survey of kindergarten teachers reported that 35% of their students were not ready to “participate successfully in school”.
- Problems that affected readiness included deficiencies in language, emotional maturity, general knowledge, social confidence, moral awareness, and physical well being.
Fact: Demand for High Quality, Developmentally Engaging Early Child Care Services is Growing
2. Develop Strategic Growth Plans for Child Care Centers and Preschools
Both independent child care programs and private school pre-K to grade 8 programs will benefit by having a strategic growth plan.
For independent child care programs where students move to public or private schools:
Understand that your center needs goals and plans for growing and sustaining. Your center plays an important part in your community. Your families are relying on you to be aware of local school academic and behavior readiness. Building community relations with local schools should be an important part of your growth plan. Network with local educators and school principals to share news about your center, ask for their input on your program, and work together to build a strong bridge to kindergarten.
For private and faith-based pre-K through Grade 8 schools:
With an integrated marketing and enrollment management strategy, your preschool program can provide a strong base of students for your kindergarten and elementary grades. Certainly not every student will be expected to stay beyond preschool, with a national average of 40-60% reenrolled/retained into kindergarten, but these classes should provide a reliable base for elementary grades.
With some preschool families you will have to Bless and Release them, assuring them of your support for their next decision and your genuine appreciation for the positive contributions they have made in preschool. They may have already pre-determined their plan to attend another school, but you can still cultivate them as brand ambassadors for your school out in the community.
After leaving your school, some may eventually Return to Sender, where they come back to your school after becoming disillusioned with their other choice and remembering the quality of the relationships and education provided at your school. Because families today are increasingly opting for private education in the middle school and high school years, your child care services should be viewed as a long-term investment to build your brand and grow the upper grades.
Fact: It’s important to establish a strategic growth plan to build intentional relationships
Retaining families in your child care program begins with intentionally cultivating deep relationships with each one. This requires a commitment from the center’s leadership and every employee to sustain a culture that values genuine interest in people, active listening, and responding appropriately to sustain trust and engagement.
3. Work with Neighboring Schools
In A Unified Foundation to Support a Highly Qualified Early Childhood Workforce, experts in education came together to discuss the importance of aligning early child care programs with larger education efforts to build a unified foundation for children, noting:
“To provide guidance and support for efforts at the local, state, and national levels, national nongovernmental organizations that offer resources and support for the care and education workforce should collaborate to provide and periodically update shared, coherent foundational guidance for care and education professionals working with children from birth through age 8. This collaborative effort should represent professional roles across settings and age ranges to improve the consistency and continuity of high-quality developmental support and learning experiences for children as they age.” (p. 545)
Academic and behavioral expectations
Working with the larger K-12 community allows child care centers to better prepare their students for the next step in their education. In many states, children are not school ready when they enter kindergarten. In fact, in Mississippi, kindergarten teachers report the lack of school readiness as their top challenge.
Positive networking can increase awareness of your school
Positive experiences for families in early child care centers and in K-12 educational programs can result in a buzz around the community for both. By communicating a dynamic partnership to the community as a whole, there are more opportunities for parents to hear about your school or child care center.
Children benefit from great foundational expectations
School and community partnerships can result in a seamless transition for students moving from a child care center to elementary school. Research confirms quality early child care set students up for a lifetime of academic success.
Parents benefit when educators are informed and working in tandem
When child care centers and schools work together, they are able to develop community programs that can help parents develop social networks and better understand the education system.
Question: How does your state stack up?
Check out the state-by-state map, at ceelo.org/state-map, developed by The Center on Enhancing Early Learning Outcomes, to learn more about early learning guidelines for early child care, along with documents for teachers and families to better understand the standards.
If you’re looking for examples of ways child care centers and schools partner together, the Institute of Education Sciences has a wealth of resources!
4. Propel Your Growth Strategy
Build Your Team
Faculty quality and engagement is the leading predictor of student growth and school growth. Don’t compromise when it comes to building a talented team of gifted educators and then nurturing a culture in which they can thrive.
Talent is a discipline that starts at the top and must assure alignment with the mission, culture, strategies, and expectations—in that order. Build a team of talented, energized, engaged educators and you will grow.
Craft Your Story
Your brand narrative is critical as you seek to establish your child care center as a launching point for success for young students. Craft your story as an invitation to join together in the journey of raising each child. Cast the parent as the hero of the narrative rather than repeating a similar list of features that can be heard at other schools in the area. Train every employee in how to tell your story consistently and effectively.
Share Your Story
There’s no advantage for your child care center to be the best kept secret in town. Equip your faculty and families to be ambassadors for the school, telling a consistent and compelling story.
Use Your Data
You have a wealth of data in your student information system. Use your data to learn, improve, and grow.
Craft an Engaging Value Proposition
Distinguish your child care center with a plan that maximizes your unique organizational genius and delivers remarkable value.
There’s never been a more important time to establish a growth strategy.
Since 1985, the cost of child care has nearly doubled, even when adjusted for inflation. As a matter of fact, child care is the costliest annual expense for most families.
You have the privilege of partnering with families as they seek to raise children who can enjoy their childhood while also effectively preparing them for their educational future. Parents want gifted teachers who will genuinely love their child, friends who will be a positive influence and share their values, curriculum that includes social/emotional learning to help their child build healthy relationships with peers, and the opportunity for their child to learn through play.
Families are looking for a child care center that will help their children manage their behavior and emotions to be learners, deal with their emotions, and pay attention in an educational environment. These are ideals and values both child care centers and the larger K-12 education community can help bring to fruition through a strong growth strategy and partnership.
Adams, D., L. A. Bornfreund, J. E. Carinci, L. Connors-Tadros, L. Fraga, A. Guarino, W. Hao, B. Hudson, R. M. Kor, S. LeMoine, J. Lockwood-Shabat, J. Martella, D. S. Mathias, C. McLean, C. Polk, P.S. Rogers, T. Rucker, S. D. Russell, A. A. Samuel, C. Stevens, T. N. Talan, V. Washington, and V. Williams. (2017). A Unified Foundation to Support a Highly Qualified Early Childhood Workforce. NAM Perspectives. Discussion Paper, National Academy of Medicine, Washington, DC. doi: 10.31478/201706b
Center on Enhancing Early Learning Outcomes. (n.d.). State-By-State. [online] Available at: http://ceelo.org/state-map/
Franks, E. (2019). A Leadership Shift. [online] NAESP. Available at: https://www.naesp.org/blog/leadership-shift
Harris, L. (2019). School readiness for children in the United States. [online] Uptodate.com. Available at: https://www.uptodate.com/contents/school-readiness-for-children-in-the-united-states
Nces.ed.gov. (n.d.). Fast Facts: Knowledge and skills at kindergarten. [online] Available at: https://nces.ed.gov/fastfacts/display.asp?id=680
Nces.ed.gov. (2019) Preschool and Kindergarten Enrollment. [online] Available at: https://nces.ed.gov/programs/coe/indicator_cfa.asp
Riddell, R., Jacobson, L. and Campisi, J. (2019). 6 K-12 trends to watch in 2019. [online] Education Dive. Available at: https://www.educationdive.com/news/6-k-12-trends-to-watch-in-2019/543915/
Sonenshein, J. (2015). 8 facts about childcare that will make you think twice about whether you can afford to have children. [online] Business Insider.
Squires, J. (2015). SCHOOL-COMMUNITY PARTNERSHIPS FOR EARLY LEARNING SUCCESS. [online] Ceelo.org. Available at: http://ceelo.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/07/ceelo_presentations_squires_ms_ec_conf_school_community_partner_2015_07.pdf