Childcare provider barriers - Insights from last year
Over the past year we have been supporting many more local providers who have accessed the
Covid recovery grant alongside our normal support activity and you may find some of the insights from this work both interesting and food for thought!
It is usual to find a few similar problem areas that businesses struggle with and the childcare market is no different. Low demand and problems caused by the pandemic highlighted some obvious and underlying issues that local providers were experiencing and ones that really should not have been a problem. We can learn from this situation and put measures in place that should deliver a stronger business going forward and be a bit more resilient to market changes should they happen again.
Here are a few insights that may help your business recovery as we try to get back to sustainable levels.
Insight #1 Customer Engagement
During the most difficult times of the pandemic we found that some providers were communicating frequently with parents, but the majority were not. It was probably partly to do with not knowing what was really happening or what could actually be done to support and help parents, but some seemed just to accept nothing could be done, and therefore didn’t do much.
The important thing this brought to mind was that as a childcare provider you have much more advance information about what’s going on in the sector, than parents do and therefore are in an ideal position to be that focal point for information and motivation.
Being the ‘go to’ place for information and being proactive about communication can bring you closer to parents and potential new customers, building confidence and awareness of your knowledge and skills and giving them a reason to look out for your information.
This is so easy to do with a choice of social media platforms to use, your website where you can host, blogs and newsletters and email communications to existing parents, communication really does bring customers closer as long as your content is helpful and relevant.
What key message would you communicate to your parents / future customers today that would not only help them, but also ensure they become more aware of your business and potentially enhancing your chances of more place take up or respect for your excellence?
Insight #2 Not tracking Business and financial performance
Tracking financial and general business performance is not the most fun thing to do for some of us, but it is essential for running a successful business and preventing problems before they happen.
We found that many providers when asked did not have basic business performance information like, a cash flow forecast which tells you how cash you have available at any point, or a business forecast which predicts what and when income will be received and vice versa for expenses. There was also an absence of budgets to track progress of your annual forecasts and spending.
There are other business measures that should be reviewed regularly, but without the basics like a forecast you don’t know whether you have secured enough income to make a profit or whether you need to do more marketing to get that missing income. Similarly without tracking cash flow weekly, you may run out of cash and not be able to trade any longer, even if you have future income yet to come.
Tracking information is a support to your decision making telling you if you are on track to make a profit, whether you need to move money temporarily into your current account to ensure you don’t go overdrawn or whether you are doing enough marketing to actually fulfill your forecast and actually fill enough places to make a profit.
Are you confident that you are tracking enough business information to ensure you will make a surplus this year? If not what changes would you make?
Insight #3 A lack of proactive marketing and advertising too late
The majority of providers we worked with over the last 2 years are not doing much proactive marketing as evidenced by low place take up levels as compared with others who were doing proactive marketing.
There is often no one within the organization who is tasked with marketing and promotions and often tends to happen intermittently, yet frequent marketing is seen much more by customers and tends to have a greater impact.
Add to this that many providers who only begin marketing or advertising the term before they need to fill places, which is pretty late. The main problems with this is this approach are that the later you leave it the more chance that parents may have chosen other settings as they want to be sure of a place and you are not giving yourselves much time to fill empty places.
Bear in mind that if your marketing is constant then parents are continually updated with your place availability and latest news and that gives confidence. Equally some parents like to get their children on a waiting list or even booked into a place a long time before they reach the appropriate age. So don’t miss these opportunities and make sure you try to fill places well in advance, rather than advertising late and worrying about low occupancy next term.
Do you think your marketing activity is good enough? If not, what would you change?
Insight #4 Not using Social media or Websites effectively
When it comes to marketing for childcare providers, social media platforms and websites are essential and we found that most settings had a website and around 70% used social media.
The websites however were generally used as a static resource of information and there was a distinct lack of website updates or adding content like newsletters, social media feeds or blogs to make the website more user friendly and up to date.
The other common issue regarding the use of websites was that the most important information that parents are likely to want to see was often hidden behind lots of clicks or not easy to find, which is off putting particularly for new customers.
Social media was better utilized but generally the content and posts were not planned and just random content. Engaging people on social media is a mix of understanding who you are targeting, what they want to see, providing good quality content and getting people to engage with your posts. To do this you need to think about current customers and potential new ones and post interesting content which will appeal to both, thus keeping current parents happy and enthusing new ones.
Equally, it is important to consider the range of information you are posting about and including business information, vacancy information and adverts alongside sharing the wonderful things children are learning and experiencing in your care.
In essence using social media is a strategic business activity that needs planning and clear targeting to your customer base and professional community, which is a very different approach to how we tend to use social media as individuals.
What top 3 things do you think a new customer wants to find out about on your website and can they easily do that on yours?
How often do you use your social media platforms to directly advertise and promote your services to attract new customers?
Information & Support available
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