It’s more important than ever to stand out from the crowd to attract new business. Here, Kayte Cooling-Smith explains how to enhance your brand identity in a digital world…
As with any business, early years settings have been affected over the last 15 years by the evolution of digital online marketing.
Previously, advertising was simpler. It was generally through word of mouth in the local catchment area, with basic adverts in printed literature, or via cleverly positioned posters and leaflet drops.
However, potential clients now expect to find early years spaces at the click of a mouse. Not only do they want to find them quickly, but they also expect to be able to research settings fully before making direct contact.
With this in mind, how early years settings present themselves and attract new business requires a little bit more forethought and skill in order to make a positive and memorable first impression against your competitors.
Before meeting with new marketing clients, I ask them to actively research their competition. Most families will look at location in the first instance. They’ll then make contact with the setting they feel most impresses them and matches their needs.
Knowing what is available out there in terms of your competitors is crucial to being able to assess your own business and marketing strategy effectively. For example:
● Who are they?
● How do they project themselves?
● How do they operate?
Once you’ve done this, consider your current corporate image. In simple terms, how hard is your existing logo design and overall brand identity working for you?
Some smaller nursery settings and many childminders may not have any brand identity at all, but my advice to any client is to always build an easily recognisable identity. This will help to give families a sense of who you are and the quality of your offer the second they lay eyes on it.
Although a bespoke design is preferable, there are many websites and apps available that can help you to build and customise a logo cheaply and easily using stock designs.
The key is to develop a brand identity that:
● looks professional
● makes sense within your sector
● is personal to your business
Childminders often struggle to hold credibility as qualified early years practitioners, in comparison to nurseries and pre-schools. However, I’ve found that creating a strong professional identity helps to alleviate this problem.
Reflect on your brand identity every few years or so to ensure that it grows with your business. Just as a logo can work hard at bringing in new clients, it can also have a negative impact. This is especially the case if it doesn’t give out the right first impression or looks a little bit dated.
In cases like this, it’s often easy to rework and refresh a design to bring it back up to date while remaining recognisable. Credibility is key.
When you have an identity that’s ticking all the right boxes, the next step is just as vital. Once a potential client notices you and is intrigued to find out more, you need to ensure that the supporting information you give about your setting is:
● shouts loudly about what makes you special
Every single setting is different. I suggest taking some time to really think about your unique selling points, compared to your competitors.
● Do you have a specific approach?
● Does your setting have a high adult to child ratio?
● Do you have a strong SEND offer?
It’s often beneficial to ask your existing clients for feedback on this to help you to develop your ‘elevator pitch. Plus, their input can also be used as positive references for future marketing purposes.
Once you have fine-tuned your corporate image, it can be difficult to know how to deliver it directly to any potential new clients. There are two distinct paths to consider when advertising your business: printed media vs online.
Dependent on your business and budget, I recommend using both options in order to gain the greatest reach. Both have their advantages and disadvantages, so it is important to weigh up each of these to decide a best fit for you, with the highest potential for return.
The obvious advantage of printed media is that you can physically put a printed flyer in the hands of every household within your local area using professional leaflet drop companies.
Using the internet via websites, paid advertising or digital classified listings makes it much harder to guarantee those impressions.
However, print and delivery services can be costly. It’s possible to utilise free or less expensive advertising opportunities online via:
● social media pages
● a skilfully worded website with enhanced search engine optimisation (SEO)
● email drops
For any business no matter how large or small, I always advise some form of online presence. In our modern world, how you project your business on the internet has an impact on how credible you are as a company.
Potential clients expect to be able to search for you and read about you. More often than not, they also expect to see up-to-date news and information.
Having a broad online presence also helps to boost your SEO. In simple terms, this means how likely it is for a search engine to include you in people’s search results.
Although you can pay to appear higher up in listings, this can be incredibly expensive and is often not necessary for smaller businesses.
The most effective way to increase your online presence is with a professional, dedicated website. As with your brand identity, for settings with a smaller budget it’s possible to use online companies or apps to build your own using pre-designed templates.
Your website should tie in with your branding, and include any relevant information. This should be written in plain English to ensure a search engine can navigate and make sense of it easily.
Ensuring your business is uploaded to free search engine listings such as Google Search and Google Maps, for example, also enhances your SEO. This increases your chances of appearing in search results.
Make sure to include any keywords that clients might use when searching for childcare settings. Don’t forget full contact details, including an address and postcode.
Also consider creating social media pages to bolster your online reach. These are a great way to share up-to-date news and other relevant information quickly and effectively. Not every platform is relevant to your potential audience, so it’s important to weigh up which one’s fit best for you.
If using multiple platforms, make sure to keep your branding consistent across them all. For example, your profile picture, strapline and contact information should be the same.
By being digitally visible and accessible you’ll help to foster a sense of trust in your business. By updating your website or professional social media pages regularly, your audience will feel connected and informed. This is all before they’ve even made their initial contact or arranged a visit.
When posting content online, think about what makes you unique compared to your competitors. The great thing about online marketing is that it gives your audience a peek behind the scenes of your business.
It’s an opportunity to control and highlight what you want people to understand about you. Think of it as a working portfolio showcasing everything that is amazing about your offer. Try to convey a sense of your practice and what it’s really like to be a child in your setting.
Be careful to only share high-quality imagery. Invest in a good quality camera, camera phone or video camera. There are many free, easy-to-use image and video editing apps available. These can help you to enhance the quality of media before uploading.
Try to always include an image or video with any written text. This will catch your reader’s eye as they scroll. In the absence of examples from your own practice, download alternatives from dedicated stock imagery sites. Remember to always consider whether you have permission to share any imagery or video that contains children or their families.
Although marketing ourselves effectively is more complicated than it used to be, we have a far greater opportunity to reach a higher number of potential clients quickly and effectively.
By building a quality image online, more often than not you’ll find that there’s no need for targeted advertising. Your online profile will do all the hard work for you.
Katherine Cooling-Smith is an award-winning childminder, marketing consultant and content writer.