Now, more than ever, nurseries need to be both visible and highly engaged with not only their existing parents, but prospective parents too. The competition could be high when children are able to return to their settings, and many parents will be looking for childcare as the new academic year approaches.
At the moment, when the country is dealing with a global pandemic and every day seems to bring new challenges, it may not feel like this is the best time to be thinking about occupancy levels or filling spaces - because this matter has been taken out of your hands. However, timing is everything - and right now is a good time to start putting plans in place for when the country is back on its feet again.
Marketing your childcare business doesn’t need to be expensive. There are many ways in which you can make your setting stand out to potential customers, putting you at the forefront of parents’ minds as they make the decision of who to entrust their children with for their early years education.
The word “marketing” worries many early years practitioners. Some see it as the unknown, which only “the professionals” can do – and a service for which they would need to pay an awful lot of money for. On the other hand, many understand that marketing their setting and standing out from the crowd is essential - they appreciate it doesn’t need to cost an arm and a leg, and they embrace it!
In the competitive world of early years education, marketing your setting is becoming more and more important. It’s what gets you noticed and it’s what makes the difference between your business “just about scraping through”, “breaking even” or in a few cases even “turning a profit”.
It’s worth remembering that in theory, every new enquiry, lead or referral that you get could potentially lead to between £6,000 and £10,000 per year in revenue!
Timing is everything
Looking at ways to advertise your setting - way before you actually need it - will put you ahead of the competition. Many practitioners see September as being the month which holds the main intake of the year, so they start thinking about advertising in the summer. In reality, the end of July could be the time that you push for new children to start, therefore avoiding a slump in business during August when many parents take their summer holidays. With that in mind, June is a good time to be getting the word out!
Build an army of supporters!
Your existing customers have the potential to be your greatest supporters – so coming up with ways to continue this great relationship once they have ‘signed up’ is a great idea. Involve them via your Facebook page, ask them to spread the word, to become your “ambassadors”, and include them in conversations about how to raise the awareness of your setting – you may be surprised just how many parents want to help! If your customers love your service, they are likely to talk about it with their friends and colleagues and this will lead to more enquiries coming in. Try to get as many testimonials as possible from happy parents and share on your website – you can never have too many great things said about you!
Perception is everything
Making the effort to have your nursery name and sign well displayed is definitely worth it. Perception and reputation are important factors - from the way your staff conduct themselves in the community whilst wearing their nursery T-shirts, to the way the phone is answered and the way parents are greeted at your front door. Marketing isn’t just about placing an advert in the local paper - it’s so much more than that. It’s an ongoing process to engage with prospective parents and carers so that they are aware of your setting and truly believe your setting is the right one when making that all-important decision. Even the simplest of things can be really effective, but they are not always obvious. For example, using signage outside (and also nearby, where appropriate) can make all the difference – if a prospective customer can’t even find your setting, their first experience of your setting won’t be particularly positive. Whereas, having clean, colourful and welcoming banners not only helps with people finding you easily, it also doubles up as an advertising board for future business! Be sure to keep the signage clean and up to date – having a dirty, shabby sign is worse than not having one at all!
When your setting is open again for visitors, have a think about how you can go above and beyond when conducting showrounds and looking at things from the customers’ point of view. What would make you choose your nursery over a competitor’s? You could choose a small, specific area within your setting to meet and greet and agree follow-up steps. Even having a bowl of fruit in that area shows that you are thinking about making healthy choices during the day, which can be a great selling point for parents.
Make your website work hard for you
During these difficult times when many settings are closed or only partially open, your website is, now more than ever, your shop window. Make sure your website is ‘optimised’ which means when parents are searching in your area, your setting will appear on the first page for Google. It’s also important to ensure that your website can be viewed on all devices by parents as most websites are now viewed on mobile devices.
Building up a social media following that is in-keeping with the look and feel of your nursery is a great way to get in front of everyone. It can be tempting to delegate the social media marketing to one of the younger members of the team, simply because you may feel they are the ‘experts’ but beware – social media posting for a business is totally different from posting personal content.
The team at Parenta has created hundreds of childcare websites and social media accounts for settings over the years and understands that parents want to get the most out of their online experience when looking at your website and engaging with your social media activity.
The subject of “Marketing Your Setting” is discussed in much greater detail in “Improving the business of childcare” – an easy- to-read reference manual specifically for childcare owners and managers. Written by Parenta’s CEO Allan Presland, its main purpose is to help early years practitioners identify where their business skills gaps lie and teach them how to overcome them, thus enabling them to run their businesses more successfully.