Whether you are marketing your childcare services now or are thinking about it one thing remains a fact, "Ignore marketing and at some point your setting will suffer!"
We often hear childcare providers saying, "We don't need to do any marketing, parents find us by word of mouth" which is actually a key marketing strategy that you can feed and develop, BUT if you think that's the only reason parents choose you, why not ask them and be sure? (oh, and that's another key marketing activity, market research). The thing about word of mouth is that not all people are positive and that's when it can work against you and you need to intervene to balance parental perceptions of your setting.
Whatever your preferences for marketing , (or not) , it's wise to evidence your ASSUMPTIONS with facts and use that knowledge to set the appropriate marketing activities in place. So here's "5 Big Steps" you can take to get your marketing on track and enhance your sustainability chances.
STEP 1 - Understand your markets and customers
If you make assumptions about why people buy your childcare services, you are likely to reach the wrong conclusions about what messages they want and need to hear to ensure they bring their child to your setting. Equally if you don't know basic data like; local competitor activity, vacancy rates, birth rates, where your customers live or travel from and their preferences, you cannot adapt your services to give them what they want.
Here's a quick example - The majority of parents do not have the 6 weeks school holidays off in the summer, so that is a critical time when they are reliant upon childcare. So if you don't open in the summer is that because you have asked parents and they don't want childcare, or is it your arbitrary business choice? (and FYI, local authorities DO allow you to deliver the free entitlement all year round!!).... The way you handle this will directly affect your business.
So to be able to offer your customers what they want, you need to understand their preferences and what they can get elsewhere, so do some market research and find out about; your customers, competitors, and the local childcare market and adapt your services to meet their needs.
STEP 2 - Set a target for growth
Growing your business can mean many different things, but essentially you need to keep making enough money to; be sustainable, develop quality practice and enhance child outcomes. Alongside that each year you need to financially develop to meet rising costs and continue to make surpluses to enable development of key areas of your business that you deem important. If you don't set a target for this it is likely you will not focus on it, take it seriously, or plan to achieve it.
Targets are not set without some thought. You will need to consider the business circumstances, make some assumptions about what might happen during the year, test those assumptions and challenge your estimates and thoughts, and try to set achievable but challenging targets.
We are great believers that "what gets measured, gets done", so set your targets, review them regularly, and take positive steps to "make them happen"
STEP 3 - Develop a Marketing Plan
Break down your growth targets into a series of actions and marketing activities which are geared to taking you towards your goals, this will form your marketing plan. It doesn't have to be highly sophisticated, just fit for your purpose, but if you don't have a plan no one will be accountable, you will not have any set timescales, people will be working in an ad hoc manner which will probably not take you towards your goals and the net result of this meandering is...... failure!
Set up a marketing plan, set timescales make people responsible for achieving them and review it regularly to ensure you stay on track!
STEP 4 - Develop "Unique Selling Points" (USP's)
There are many childcare providers all around you, so why should parents choose you? This is the question you need to ask yourselves to develop your USP's. It is surprising how many positive and different attributes one childcare provider can demonstrate when compared with others, so think hard about what makes your setting the most desirable to parents and get that embedded into your marketing plan and materials.
If each of your staff were asked the list the top 2 or 3 USP's for your setting, could they do it and be consistent with their answers? .....This is what you are aiming for so go SELL your wonderful childcare provision.
STEP 5 - Use social media to promote your setting
This usually divides childcare providers and professionals so each to their own. However, have a look on Facebook and Twitter and there are hundreds of childcare providers and schools posting great things about their setting and children. The reason social media is so important is the multiplying effect of the messages you put out there, so it’s very important to seriously consider this marketing opportunity. If you consider your target market of parents and their age group, you will find that a very high percentage of parents actually use Facebook and Twitter constantly to communicate with friends, family and organisations, so as a business if you choose to ignore this powerful communication channel, it will definitely hamper your efforts to reach your target audience.
Marketing is s contest for people's attention