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?
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.
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.
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.
Recently we teamed up with our friends at IntelliKid Systems to learn how you can add Virtual Tours to your enrollment toolbox. The informative webinar went over how to make a virtual tour, why it should be an important part of your strategy and all of the ways you can maximize its effect on your enrollment.
Increasingly, parents are asking to tour a new facility remotely. Even in the pre-COVID world, this request would arise from parents who were moving and wanted to see a school before their move or from parents who are strapped for time and could squeeze in a virtual tour during work but couldn’t make the actual trip.
Now, in the post-COVID world, virtual tours help parents reduce exposure. Most importantly, virtual tours aren’t mutually exclusive with in-person tours, meaning you’re likely gaining tours that wouldn’t have happened otherwise which can only benefit your school’s enrollment.
For all these reasons, virtual tours should be part of your offering. Now that you understand why virtual tours are important, let’s discuss how best to conduct a virtual tour.
The first thing you should do is to map out the way you want to showcase your facility. It’s important to decide which classrooms you will be showing, what outdoor yards, and to have a concise walking path between all of the elements of the tour. Then, you will film the tour from the point of view of someone walking around. It’s important to remember that the camera will be your prospective parent’s “eyes” so be sure to capture all of the unique elements you normally would in an in-person tour. In our webinar, we discussed the right tools for the job, which in our case was a iPhone 11 pro camera and a stabilizer made by DJI. Once you have your video ready, you can then connect with your prospective parent over a few different video conferencing services. We discussed a few of the options, including Zoom and Google Meets. While sharing your screen, and your facility video, you can then be free to walk the inquiring parent through your building just like you would in-person! Using this method allows you to engage and build a relationship with the parent, answer any questions while still maintaining distance and adhering to any new guidelines that prohibit in-person tours.
For a more detailed discussion about the methods, impact and to learn how to make your own virtual tour, we encourage you to watch the recording of our recent webinar with IntelliKid Systems.
Parent and family communication has always been important in the Childcare and Early Education business, but now during these unprecedented times during the COVID-19 pandemic it has become even more essential that you keep the lines of communication open with your families.
Whether the communication be in regard to social interactions, virtual learning, community resources, reopening updates, etc. all of these are important as we navigate through this time together. We have put together a list of communication tools that can help you meet these new communication needs during these times with some suggested uses for each one.
Smartcare’s built in messaging feature is great for sending email updates for a variety of reasons. These emails can be sent to all families and employees for center wide updates or filtered to include certain segments depending on the audience that you are targeting.
If you are continuing virtual classes and assignments, you can use email to explain how the virtual learning process will work. Email can also be used to communicate resources available in your community that may be useful or needed during this time. Be sure to add any social media links such as Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, etc. in your email signature. These are just a few examples of how you can utilize Smartcare’s built-in messaging feature.
Text Messaging: Smartcare’s SMS (text) Feature
Your childcare center can utilize Smartcare’s text messaging feature to send reminders to families to check their email, announce reopening dates, virtual meetings/events, etc. Similar to the email feature above you can also filter which segments receive these text messages. Note: There is a per message per recipient fee for using this feature.
If you need more information regarding using either of these Smartcare features please refer to the Smartcare Center Web User Guide, our Help & Resource Center, or reach out to your CSM or our dedicated Support Team at by email at email@example.com or by phone at 844-SMARTER (844-762-7837).
For more in depth ideas on how to use Smartcare’s messaging and SMS features, check out this blog.
Additional Communication Tools:
Social Media: Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, YouTube, etc
Utilize your social media platforms to encourage engagement with your families, employees, and students. Create posts containing updates, community resources, virtual events, photos, student spotlight, etc. You can also make videos, upload them to YouTube, and share on your social media accounts to keep your families and employees updated and engaged.
Virtual meeting rooms are a great tool and can be used several different ways during this time. If you are offering virtual learning you can use them as virtual classes for your students. You can also use them for virtual office hours for parents and/or employees that have questions or concerns while your center is closed. You may choose to schedule virtual events such as family trivia night, virtual class parties, virtual snack time, etc. Note: Many of these third party companies require a monthly subscription fee.
These are just a few examples of features and tools that you can use, the possibilities are endless when it comes to communicating and staying engaged with your families and employees during this time.
With school closures throughout the country, Early Learning and Childcare is no exception to the new normal of social distancing in the wake of COVID-19. This can leave us feeling isolated, lonely and overwhelmed, which is why it is important to stay connected to your families and staff, perhaps now more than ever.
With our routine face-to-face interactions currently on pause, we are all turning to other modes of communication to stay connected. Smartcare’s messaging functionality can help by making it easy to reach your families and staff via mass email and text messaging.
Here are some suggested topics to stay connected with parents and teachers:
Confirmed cases / exposure to coronavirus
Planned re-opening dates
Availability of emergency care for essential workers
Billing impact for families
Payroll impact for employees
Accessing meals for those who qualify for free & reduced
Facility sanitizing efforts
Accessing activities to help keep children engaged at home
Outside of all the critical details and updates, your families and staff will undoubtedly appreciate you checking in, saying hello and letting them know you miss them and that you can’t wait to welcome them back when it is deemed safe to do so. Whether you are distributing critical information or simply sharing a virtual smile or hug, it’s only a few clicks away with Smartcare.
You may find yourself asking “should I use email, text or both?”. To some degree, this is a matter of personal preference, or what you’ve found to be the preference of your clients (if you’ve been fortunate enough to identify the majority population).
Here are some things to consider and guide you:
Text messaging tends to be delivered and opened / read faster than email. If your message is both urgent and brief, text is sure to be effective; a good example is a school closure notification.
If your message is less urgent in nature &/or requires providing a greater amount of detail, email is more efficient; an example might be changes to billing and payment policies and procedures.
With both functionalities easily accessible in Smartcare, it never hurts to utilize both; is there such a thing as over communicating, especially in times of crisis?
Here are some tips to help you maximize the benefits of messaging in Smartcare:
Identify and reach your target audience. Use of filters, such as classroom or tuition plan, allows you to deliver each message to the intended population (and eliminates cluttering the inbox of others).
Need to drill down deeper? No problem! Smartcare allows you the flexibility to create and assign ‘custom fields’ or ‘tags’ to identify and reach any audience you need to. Some relevant examples include:
Children enrolled for “emergency care”
Children who receive free or reduced meals
Create and utilize templates in Smartcare to help you save time for frequent communications, such as weekly newsletters.
Staying connected with your clients is ever more critical during these challenging and changing times; Smartcare is here to help you get the job done with ease and efficiency.
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:
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!
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
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.