Tag Archives: marketing

Marketing 101: An Introduction to Marketing Your Early Childhood Program

Group of Children Playing in a ClassroomEarly childhood professionals are often known for our big hearts and our wide range of knowledge of child development. Yet an undeniable fact about what we do is that we are providing a service to our children and families, in return for which, we receive payment. We are, by definition, a business. Administrators/owners of early childhood programs—you are tasked with making business-related decisions for your programs every day.

“Has tuition been billed for the week/month?” “Did we stay under budget for snacks?” “Has the wording on our sign out front brought in any new enrollments?” “Are our children and families (our customers) happy overall with the service we are providing to them?”

In order for a business to sustain itself for any length of time, it must be marketed in one fashion or another. How do you get the word out about just how wonderful your program is to your surrounding community? And, once you get families in the door, how do you keep them?

Listed below are some early childhood marketing strategies you may want to try in your program:

  • Create appealing, professional marketing materials that are free of spelling and grammatical errors. You want to convey the idea that children will be getting a quality experience at your facility. One of the quickest ways to sabotage this is putting out sloppy marketing information (business cards, brochures, flyers, informational packets, etc.).
  • Answer the phone in a pleasant, professional, helpful manner. The person who answers your phone is the first point of contact a new family has with your program, and first impressions last. Encourage everyone who may answer your phone to use a standard, professional greeting. Make sure the public’s first encounter with your business is a positive one.
  • Post a sign in front of your business. Make sure the community knows you’re there. Include wording about program events, or open enrollment spots, if possible.
  • Maintain an online presence (Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Google search, etc.). Post and tweet to your heart’s content about what’s going on at your program. (Just be sure you have family consent before posting any photos or information about children.) In today’s society, this is often the first way the general public becomes acquainted with your program.
  • Ask local businesses to display your marketing materials. Go around to pediatrician offices, dance studios, sports facilities—places where families and children often go— and ask if they’ll let you leave a stack of business cards and/or brochures. You might even make a deal with them that you’ll display theirs in return.
  • Offer a discount on enrollment to new families, or a referral bonus to your current families. As we all know, money talks. Giving a family a break on their initial enrollment cost is often made up in the long run when they stay at your program for an extended period of time. Rewarding your current families for speaking of your program in a positive light is a win-win situation for both of you, as well!
  • Know your competitors—check out other programs in your area. Call around and compare tuition rates. Visit other programs and ask to tour their facility. Know what you’re up against.
  • Maintain the “curb appeal” of your facility. Keep up your property to the best of your ability. During my years as an administrator, I spoke with many families who shared with me that they pulled into the parking lot of a program they were interested in only to turn around and drive right back out because of the looks of the place.
  • Be conscious of “word of mouth.” People talk. They talk to each other at work, at children’s’ birthday parties and playdates, when you’re not around. You want to ensure that what they say is positive, so do your best to put the needs of your children and their families first, above all else, every single day.
  • Provide a quality program. Follow through on your promise to provide your customers with a quality early childhood experience. Maintain the standards of quality that you know are the hallmark of a great program. Additionally, if you are star-rated in Ohio’s Step Up To Quality or Kentucky All STARS, display your banner—share that information with pride!

Marketing your program, though it may not be your favorite part of the early childhood field, is necessary. Do it successfully, and you’ll be the most sought after game in town!

Marketing 101: Boosting Enrollment in Your Child Care Program

“All the marketing in the world is not going to help if you do not offer a quality program.”

I often get asked, “What are the best ways to build enrollment in my early childhood program?”  There’s no easy answer. As a matter of fact, a good marketing program coupled with a mediocre early childhood program will actually lead to declining enrollment. Why? Because a good marketing program means that people will learn sooner rather than later of the program’s poor quality. Parents are smart consumers. You can bring them in with smooth talking and glitzy marketing, but if the program is not high quality, parents will not stay. Parents will also not refer their friends, family, co-workers or neighbors unless you offer a top quality program that meets their needs and their children’s needs.

Want to boost enrollment in your child care program? We can help!

There are many good evaluation tools and checklists you can use to assess your program’s quality. My favorites include the booklets published by NAEYC’s National Academy of Early Childhood Programs and the Early Childhood Environment Rating Scales. I encourage all directors to take a look at your program and make any necessary changes before beginning a full scale marketing program.

You already know that it is important to know how many young children and families live in your area. However, you also need to know something about the families you want to attract to your program. What benefits and features of an early childhood program appeal to them? What is the average size of these families? How old are the children? Where do the parents live and work? Why would they want to come to your center? When you know some of these answers, you will know what types of written materials to develop for them, how to reach them when you promote your program and what to talk about when they call and visit.

Once you know your parents a little better, plan how you’ll appeal to them. Do you have a brochure? How about a logo? Are you advertising in places that reach your potential parents? I was once taught the 5 P’s that may help: PRICE, PROGRAM, PLACE, PROMOTION and PARENTS. All 5 should be working together. For example, the price should be one the parents you are trying to attract can afford, and your program should be consistent with the needs in your neighborhood. And remember: what you’re marketing should be reflected in the quality of care the children in your center are receiving.

Know what makes your program special. What makes your program different from, and better than, all the other early childhood programs in your area? Why do parents come to your center rather than the one down the street?  However you answer this – your staff/child ratios, extracurricular programs, price or teacher qualifications – becomes your competitive advantage.  It should become the foundation of your marketing efforts.

Know your competition. Visit them, not just once, but periodically during the year. Find out tuition prices, their services, the kinds of families they attract and what makes them special. When you know your competition, you know what you are doing better. This becomes the focus for everything you do to build enrollment. Be careful how you define your competition. Don’t limit yourself to other programs just like yours. For example, if you are an all day child care center, are family child care homes competing with you for children? How about public school programs? It is important to look at all programs that offer services to children in your area.

The last step is to develop a strategy for action. Make no mistake about it: a center without an action plan will not succeed in building enrollment. There are too many distractions in your job as director to keep you from building enrollment. So when you’re ready to get started, be realistic, be patient, remain committed, do some delegating and have fun. Action plans and knowing your target audience will get you enrollment and happy customers.

Word of Mouth Marketing

I am often asked by directors for tips about “marketing.” When directors use this word, it sounds heavy and mysterious, as if it conjures up images of glossy brochures and television jingles. Well, I’m here to debunk the mystery. Look out; you were probably “marketing” at least five times today.

The majority of child care enrollment is said to come from word of mouth. That’s right, people telling their friends about your program. Even in this information age, we still trust our friends and family more than unfamiliar sources or even “experts.” So, your best marketing strategy is right in front of you. Also good news, you don’t need any special training or a fancy brochure to be proud of your program and talk about it all the time, everywhere, to anyone. Child Care Information Exchange gives 30 practical and often free strategies to promote your program.

Now, there are other more formal marketing techniques such as brochures, websites, a presence on social networking sites and other forms of media, which can be effective.  Consider including those options in your plan as time and resources permit. But you have the resources for an excellent marketing strategy right now, without spending a dollar.

First start by honing in on your message and focus on friend raising. What are you proud of about your program? Are there unique selling points about your program? What keeps families who have been enrolled for a long time coming back? Once you know what you want to share with your new friends, begin by training an army (your staff and enrolled families) on how to share the good news about your program.  It’s as simple as that.