In a competitive sector, attention to detail will help you keep your occupancy high, says Caroline Johnson…
It’s the small touches that make a nursery unique. Regulation ensures that the majority of settings will offer a good standard of care, but those prepared to go above and beyond, to take time to reflect on their business and action change that leads to real progress, will set themselves apart. Here are some key areas to focus on…
Outstanding service can only be achieved by understanding the people you are providing for. As the business owner, you need to know who your clientele are, and their expectations, if you want to develop your offering to the next level.
Look at the social dynamics of the area in which your nursery is situated. Social media is an excellent place to start if you want to learn about what parents want from their nursery. Get to know your families – what’s important to them, what elements of childcare they are unhappy about and what they like. Carry out market research to gather information about what other settings are offering. Although fees will be important, these will be overlooked if quality is compromised.
Carry out regular questionnaires and act upon the data collected. You’ll be surprised at what aspects of your setting parents value, and this data is vital for building upon those things.
Communication with parents doesn’t stop at a few tick boxes. An open-door office policy makes your setting feel less business-like, and more personal. Make it easy for parents to discuss issues or concerns, and ensure they feel comfortable doing so by dealing with any information immediately. Always be available to discuss even the smallest matters with mums, dads or carers as they will likely feel strongly about what they are bringing to your attention. Provide alternatives to parent’s requests if you are not able to meet their needs directly and keep them informed of what has been actioned. Your open door will work both ways, and parents will often take the opportunity to praise your setting too.
Put yourself in the shoes of your prospective clients. Always try to accommodate their busy lives by allowing them to look around unannounced, regardless of the timing, remembering the prominent part your nursery will play in a child’s life. Show them that you care about all aspects of their child’s wellbeing, safety and learning by listening to their needs and answering any questions, without rushing. There is a whole world of competitive parenting out there and mums and dads undoubtedly want to feel they are making the best choices for their children.
Your responsibility as equipment buyer and staff selector must not be ignored. This role requires you to ensure high-quality care, progress and improvement in your setting, and will mean that you are constantly aware of what the children require and enjoy.
Look at the continuous provision you offer in your environment. Is it inviting, interesting and challenging? Does it incite and intrigue? Is it in good repair and clean? When selecting new toys and activities, take care to choose unique, challenging and inspirational products. You don’t have to break the bank, but you will be commended for having unusual equipment that sets you apart from other settings. Be creative, think outside the box. Move away from generic, everyday toys, or seek different ways to use them.
Present activities in a way that looks inviting, setting them up in advance before the children arrive and tidying them away after use. This will also demonstrate your organisation and planning to parents.
Natural products are often cheaper and can trigger imaginative play in various forms and initiate rich conversations as well as being aesthetically pleasing. Utilise out-of-the-ordinary learning opportunities, including frost, snow, rain, wind, broken trees, delivery trucks or a new baby, for example, and be open to new ideas and suggestions from staff, parents and the wider community. Become a vessel for change and do not let your ego become a barrier. Children are learning new things every minute of every day – embrace and enjoy it.
Engage your staff in interesting training and talk to them regularly about the latest research and interesting things that you have read or discovered. Keep them interested in the children and the importance of their role. Encouraging staff to embark on further training, inspiring them to reach for the stars and providing opportunities for growth in their careers will raise their selfworth, and in turn they will reward you with good practice.
Doing this will allow your staff to share in the passion for learning that the nursery projects. Help them to engage with the children and monitor them in their planning of activities, making sure they are ‘child-based’, and not something the staff are interested in doing for themselves. Offer advice, help and support to achieve a shared goal, and help staff to remain consistent, friendly, caring, kind and presentable, using regular supervisions. The opendoor policy applies here too.
As a nursery owner, you must evolve as your business does, letting go of prescriptive schedules, rotas and unnecessarily strict routines. Be open and adaptable, and attentive to your clients’ individual needs, and watch your setting thrive alongside the children within it.
Money matters in the private sector, but for nursery owners a commitment to high-quality education is essential too…
● Find your unique selling point (USP) and be creative in devising new ways to utilise it.
● Forget profit and loss; empathise with your parents and play with your children. Find out about the children’s needs and what they want from their day.
● In the nursery industry, quality childcare and education has to be at the forefront of your business.
● Don’t be too rigid with timetables; children in early years cannot tell the time and although they need routine, they do not need a timetable. Allow yourself to be spontaneous.
● Keep up-to-date with emails and parent correspondence, and respond quickly.
Caroline Johnson is managing director and founder of Stables Daycare Ltd.