The Ultimate Guide for Childcare Businesses: Accepting Electronic Payments

The Ultimate Guide for Childcare Businesses: Accepting Electronic Payments

It’s not uncommon for many childcare businesses to accept only checks and cash. With so many childcare-specific problems to solve on a daily basis, it’s incredibly easy to procrastinate on the bigger picture items. While some centers have progressed a bit and might have a credit card reader in their center, which is a great step toward convenience for the parents, that may not help the director much at all. Additionally, as the millennial generation becomes the majority of the “parent” demographic, they expect to pay for childcare as they do everything else: on their phone.

 

Having payment system that is integrated into your family data means that you spend less time doing administrative work and spend more time with your teachers and students.

 

It’s truly a win-win for everyone. It may seem overwhelming to analyze your options, decide on a solution and switch all of your existing families to a new process. Change can be difficult, especially when you have tens or hundreds of parents to get on board.

 

In this guide you’ll learn why in this day and age, electronic payments are not just a feature that’s nice to offer, but a must-have. Then, we will dig into how to find the best solution for you and how to implement the change for existing and new parents.

 

 

Why should I accept electronic payments?

 

 

Save Time

 

As a childcare director or owner, you spend a lot of time doing a variety of things in your center. We’ve found that the largest amount of time is usually spent staying on top of billing parents and accepting payments. Your business has to accept payment to run, so this is a top priority out of necessity.

 

There are childcare management solutions out there that allow parents to pay via a mobile app, update their payment method, view their bill and access their statement history. This amounts to hours each week that you can spend elsewhere, growing your business and making it run efficiently, instead of focusing on these day-to-day tasks that can weigh you down.

 

Ensure Accuracy

 

Eliminating a human hand from the mix means that you’ll be reducing the risk for human error.

 

Let’s face it: everyone makes mistakes and each mistake is time (and potentially money) directly out of your pocket.

 

Using a system that can generate a recurring invoice each period, automatically charge the parent’s card or bank account, and adjust the balance accordingly, means less math for you.

 

A great system should also allow you to credit or adjust bills as needed or even split bills between divorced parents or automatically adjust a bill for a child who receives a state subsidy. All you should need to do is run reports to check or view data when you need to see it; not spend hours daily checking your own work.

 

Parents Expect It

 

Millennials are now the main demographic having children and searching for childcare. This group has had technology for their entire adult life and spends hours each day on their mobile phone. According to Pew Research Center, 93% of Millennials own a smart phone. Gen Z, the generation behind them is the first generation who has grown up with social media.

 

These groups are used to convenience. Everything from groceries to furniture is purchased with the click of a button. Your business is no exception. If you don’t accept mobile payments, but your competition does, as long as the quality of your services is deemed equivalent, they will win that match up. Meet parents needs by adopting the technology and beat their expectations with amazing service and education for their children (which you’ll be able to focus on now, with all the time you’re saving!)

 

How do I start accepting electronic payments?

 

Find a Solution

 

There are quite a few software solutions out there to help you manage your center. Of course, at Smartcare, we are a bit bias about our technology, but you should find the one that meets your needs. All of the options out there should offer you a demo to begin.

 

A software demo is your chance to scrutinize the solution being offered to make sure it does what you need.

 

Make sure you ask the right questions during your demo, depending on your needs. Here are some ideas, based on needs we hear:

 

  • Does the technology support your billing frequency? (weekly, monthly, biweekly)
  • Does it accept both credit cards and ACH? Do you have to accept both if you don’t want to?
  • Can parents manage their own payment methods?
  • Can parents access their invoices on their own?
  • Can parents enroll in autopay?
  • Can you set up automatic late fees or other fees?
  • How long will it take you to get set up?
  • Are you under a contract?
  • Do they offer a free trial?
  • If you need to charge any fees, accept deposits, etc. make sure the software has a solution for that

 

If you center has any unique situations, make sure to walk through it with your sales consultant. You don’t want to purchase technology that doesn’t solve your problem or makes more work for you.

 

 

Email Existing Parents

 

Once you’ve set up your new software, start by moving existing parents over to the new process. Depending on the size of your center, you might start with a small group (like a class or two) and keep going from there.

 

Email is a nice way to communicate this change to your parents for a couple of reasons. First, you can outline the benefits of the new solution for them:

  • Access your invoices
  • Manage your own payment method
  • View your bill
  • Enroll in autopay

 

Secondly, you can also link to the app that they need to download. As most parents will be reading your email on a mobile device, this allows them to click through and download the app right from their phone.

 

Starting with your existing parents (and potentially a small group of them), is a perfect way to introduce this change as they will be more forgiving as you learn the new software than brand-new parents, who haven’t yet made a judgement call on your business.

 

Keep in mind that any new software will have a learning curve, so while it might be tempting to rip the Band-Aid off and move everyone at once, a tiered approach like this will allow you to make sure you’ve selected the right technology and work out any kinks until you’re running smoothly.

 

Enroll New Parents

 

Focusing on new parents should be your second goal, after you’ve gotten most existing parents using your new software. Here’s where we are going to be just a little self-indulgent. Smartcare offers an online enrollment tool that makes this process incredibly easy. Send a link to parents and they can:

 

  • Enter all of their child’s information
  • Add pick up and emergency contacts
  • Add medical information and allergies
  • Enter a payment method
  • Pay any deposits needed
  • Enroll in autopay

 

This means from the minute a parent knows they want to enroll; their billing is set up with zero effort on your part.

 

Making sure that you have a seamless solution for newly enrolled parents means that you aren’t just saving time with the daily billing and payment tasks, but also on the enrollment end as well.

 

Promote Autopay

 

Now that you’ve got most parents set up and have a process to capture payment method during enrollment, you should optimize the software you chose and make sure you are getting the most payments at the earliest time possible.

 

By promoting an autopay feature you will receive parent’s payments on time and have happier parents because the process is easy and will result in less risk for late fees on their end.

We’ve seen centers get creative here. Maybe you simply send out an email blast occasionally, reminding parents to enroll in autopay, or maybe you offer incentives for enrolling. For example, you might give a small discount to parents to are enrolled in autopay, or maybe the reverse works better: if not enrolled in autopay by a specific date, then there will be a small price increase.

 

Parents will understand that if they don’t enroll in autopay, that means more work for you so typically, this approach makes sense and makes everyone happy.

 

Adopting the plan above is a surefire way to implement electronic payments for your center and make sure you find a great program to work with. If you aren’t already accepting electronic payments or using a childcare management software, hopefully this guide has helped you determine what to look for and understand how to make the change. It might seem like a big adjustment, but once you’ve made the jump you and your families will be grateful for the change.

Request a demo below to learn more about the Smartcare solution.

 

The New Normal

The New Normal

Smartcare believes strongly that education in general and childcare in particular are entering a “new normal”.  What this means is that many of the common practices in place before COVID-19 will need to be replaced with practices better suited to current challenges.

 

One of the first things that we think the student will change is the check-in process.

 

In the pre-COVID era, the process typically involved a parent entering a common space like a lobby, interacting with a fingerprint scanner to authenticate themselves, and then handing off a child to a staff member.

 

Before COVID, Smartcare modernized this process with the use of touchless QR codes, and while removing a fingerprint scanner dramatically reduces contact points, we think the process can be better.

 

We think the best practice in the new normal will look something like this:

 

  • Families will queue in socially distanced location such as the family’s car in a drop-off line in front of the school.
  • Either the parent or the student’s teacher will complete a pre-drop-off health-check. The CDC has provided guidance and we anticipate that guidance will evolve over time.  At this time, those guidelines include:
    • Temperature checks for fevers over 100.4 degrees.
    • Signs of illness including coughing, shortness of breath, difficulty breathing, fatigue, extreme fussiness, nausea
  • Technology can automate validating the health-check to ensure it meets regulatory requirements and the school’s own preferences. A child who poses a risk to others never enters the facility, and so that staff and parents have the peace of mind that their child is a in a safe environment.
  • The student’s teacher can take custody of the child in a well-ventilated, socially-separated space such as directly from the child’s car in a drop-off line, and escort the child directly to a classroom. From here, the child will stay with classmates and remain isolated from other classes in the school, minimizing contact points along the way. This ensures separation from other students in other classes.
  • Within a school, classes should be kept as separate as possible. Where common areas must be shared, to the extent possible, those areas should be used by only one class at a time and disinfected between uses.  All areas and toys should be disinfected regularly.

 

Where the above procedure isn’t possible, we recommend the use of personal protective equipment (PPE) and barriers to minimize the exposure to staff and families.

 

Smartcare has functionality to support the new normal in your center and our team of customer success managers can help you update your procedures for the new normal.  We have a report to help you track health checks and our teacher app allows for touchless check-in wherever its best suited for you to do so.  You should expect improvements from us over the summer as we get more feedback.

 

We are committed to be your technology partner as we navigate into the new normal together.

 

Use Online Enrollment to Modernize your Childcare Facility

Use Online Enrollment to Modernize your Childcare Facility

As a childcare provider, enrollments are exciting for you, because it means new students. However, enrolling a new student also usually means some back and forth with the parents, a large stack of papers, and then filing all those papers away so you can reference them as needed. It can end up being a lot of work, both for you, as the provider, and for your parents.

On top of that, most parents now expect to be able to sign documents online or send items via email. By moving your enrollment online, you can not only exceed parent’s expectations, but you can streamline your processes – allowing for more time doing what you love, instead of managing paperwork!

Here are the top ways that online enrollment can help your center:

 

Save Paper

Whether you’re eco-conscious or are just sick of filing stacks of paper away and struggling to find them later, saving paper is a big deal. With an online enrollment feature, parents can head to your website or click a link in an email to complete enrollment.

Even better, as with Smartcare’s online enrollment feature, once enrollment is completed, you’ll be notified and can go over their information right away. Once they’ve been approved, you can easily push the information into Smartcare. You will always know where to go to find forms in the future, no complicated filing system necessary!

Increase Efficiency

It’s just not efficient to send a stack of papers forms home with a parent to complete. Not only do you risk papers forms being lost, but then upon return, you have to manually check each field and form for completion. Using an online enrollment system means that a parent will have to complete the required fields in order to move along. This makes it so much easier for you to spot check their submissions before approving or denying.

Additionally, with Smartcare’s enrollment feature, you can capture payment for any fees that need to be paid at enrollment, such as deposits or enrollment fees. This means no more needing to take a check to the bank, you can have the funds as soon as they’ve hit ‘submit.’

Enhance Parent’s Experience

Parents today are tech savvy. For some childcare providers this can be a huge adjustment. However, in today’s world, adapting to technology and your customer’s expectations is a must. The enrollment period is one of the first interactions that you have with a future customer, so it’s important that this experience goes well.

When signing up for a new program, most customers expect that they’ll be able to complete everything, including payment online. They expect the experience to be user-friendly and self-explanatory. By wow-ing your parents by this first interaction, you show them that you’re not only going to provide great care for their children, but you value their time as well.

Modernizing your childcare facility can seem overwhelming if you’re still a bit old-school in some of your practices. From attendance management to billing to enrollment, you can improve bits and pieces one step at a time. Enrollment is a great place to start with modernization, because it’s one of the first steps that a new parent completes. Additionally, enrollment is one piece of the puzzle that affects more than just your experience, it also affects parents’ experience and how they view your facility. Moving to an online enrollment system will surely mean improvements on both ends of the spectrum.

Schedule A Demo

Watch our 1 minute intro video above

Your live demo will include how to:

 

  • Send billing and post payments
  • Record attendance history
  • Retain medical information
  • Note incidents, successes, and birthdays
  • Make payments at your center
  • Create real-time communication with parents
  • Use leads to nurture prospective families
  • Meet all your center’s needs with our cohesive child care and preschool software solutions

Meet all your center’s needs with our cohesive child care and preschool software solutions

Spring Cleaning

Spring Cleaning

Are you getting ready for longer, sunnier days, spring break and getting one month closer to the end of the school year? So are we! Spring is the perfect season to close out winter and do some spring cleaning. Here are our tips for spring cleaning at a childcare center:

1. Floors
Sanitize floors to remove muck and germs that built up over winter.  Steam cleaning hard surfaces like linoleum or hardwood and using a carpet cleaner to clean carpets is your best bet.  Search for professional cleaners in your area.  Or, if you’re on a budget, most home improvement stores offer affordable rental options.  Plan on about an hour per room and 24 hours to fully dry.  A great way to clean floors on a budget is to rent cleaners, come in on a Saturday morning (or another day you don’t have kids in school), clean and be done by lunch time, and then come back on Monday to a facility that feels like new!  We’ve heard it turns into a team event too – just don’t forget to bring the donuts!

 

2. Organize
Your center is probably no stranger to a mess – crayons, markers, books, toys get strewn around.  Here are our favorite organizing hacks:

  • Supply buckets: get small (1 gallon or less) buckets and keep crayons, markers and other small supplies separated into their own bucket. The handles make it easy for kids to carry without spilling, and clean-up time become a game: match the right supply to the right bucket.
  • Prep bins: get larger tote bins and put all supplies for a single activity into each bin. For example, if you’re doing a self-portrait, put paper, crayons and other materials into a bin with a lid.  When it’s time for the activity, take out the bin, distribute supplies and when it’s time to clean-up, everything goes back in the same bin.
  • Label maker! Need we say more?  Having a label maker for your supply buckets, prep bins and other boxes makes it easy to find what you’re looking for and easier to put things back where they belong.

 

3. Files
Spring is a good time to shred old files.  Make sure you know your state’s laws for record retention.  7 years is usually a very safe bet.  Many communities offer free shredding events to safely dispose of documents that are no longer needed.  Check out Shredit.com to see if there’s an event near you.

 

4. Upgrade Systems
Just as you sanitize your floors, organize your supplies and get rid of files you no longer need, spring is also a great time to upgrade your systems.  Do you have a mobile app for parents to manage attendance, pay bills and get updates?  Do you have an electronic registration form?  How about a way for parents to book a tour on your website?  If you don’t or your current systems are older than the documents you’re shredding, give us 30 minutes to explain how Smartcare can help organize your day-to-day operations, delight parents and increase revenue.

 

Interested in learning more?

Schedule a Demo

Watch our 1 minute intro video above

Your live demo will include how to:

  • Send billing and post payments
  • Record attendance history
  • Retain medical information
  • Note incidents, successes, and birthdays
  • Make payments at your center
  • Create real-time communication with parents
  • Use leads to nurture prospective families
Meet all your center’s needs with our cohesive child care and preschool software solutions

The Daze of Summer

The Daze of Summer

Summer can be a unique time for a childcare center. Normal routines get disrupted. Everyone seems like they are in vacation mode. And yet, you probably feel busier than ever. We think summer is a great opportunity expand your program offerings and think about improving in the next year.
Summer Activities

Summer activities can present different challenges and opportunities than the school year.

Do you run a summer camp or offer summer specific activities?  Consider offering summer programs for school-age children.  This is a great way to make use of extra space at your facility and helps parents find quality care. 

Smartcare can help in several ways:

  • If you’re already using Smartcare, use our messaging feature to message parents to promote your summer programs.  Chances are many of your parents have school-age children!
  • Better yet, if you’re using Smartcare, ask your families if they have school-age children and use tags to tag families with school-age children so that you can filter for just that group, and message them specifically.
  • Use our online enrollment feature to quickly get information about children enrolling in summer programs and eliminate data entry.
  • Use our billing feature to bill by attendance, flat fee or on-demand, based on the fees for your program.
  • Use our lesson planning functionality to build engaging activities specific to your summer program, keeping kids engaged and parents satisfied.
  • Track attendance for all of your programs, keeping children safe and giving parents peace of mind.

 

Getting Ready for Next Year

In addition to using summer as an opportunity to expand program offerings, summer is also a great time to get ready for next year. 

Use the change in pace to look back at the prior year and assess your performance.  These are just a few questions to ask yourself.  Each situation is different, but in general, this a good place to start.

  • Were you in ratio compliance for all your classes for the prior year?
  • Are you collecting over 98% of charges in less than 30 days?
  • Did you meet your budget, especially for teacher payroll?
  • Did you complete assessments on all children and discuss the outcome with parents?

 

Smartcare has tools to help you improve next year.  At a high level, Smartcare is an all-in-one platform to manage a childcare center, with functionality including:

  • Manage multiple locations from anywhere
  • Online enrollment and registration
  • Manage attendance
  • Automate billing, payment collection and account integration
  • Class, student and teacher scheduling
  • Employee hours worked and paid time off
  • Curriculum, lesson plans, assessments and activity tracking
  • Custom reporting
  • And much more!

Schedule a Demo

Watch our 1 minute intro video above

Your live demo will include how to:

  • Send billing and post payments
  • Record attendance history
  • Retain medical information
  • Note incidents, successes, and birthdays
  • Make payments at your center
  • Create real-time communication with parents
  • Use leads to nurture prospective families
Meet all your center’s needs with our cohesive child care and preschool software solutions

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