From Chaotic Hard Work to Calm Confidence and Increased Profits Emily Anderson owner of Plazmart…
Before I (Rachel Klaver) started Identify, I was an early childhood facilitator, going around New Zealand to early childhood centres to help in areas of literacy, numeracy, children’s behaviour, leadership and team dynamics.
I absolutely loved working in the early childhood space and really the only reason I switched to marketing originally was because it helped me keep better hours for my children. (Now, I absolutely adore marketing and wouldn’t go back!) But, I still miss all the people I used to interact and work with and I am very passionate about the amazing work that centres do for their children.
I think that’s why I am so focused on making sure that good early childhood centres know how to express the right messages they need to, in a clever and clear way, to help attract the right parents and people for their businesses.
There has been a huge shift over the last few years with many more early childhood centres opening, meaning there is a lot of competition out there. But if you are very precise in who you are marketing to and who fits best with your centre – you will be able to grow your business. I do understand this can be really hard for owners, managers and teachers to come to grips with, because ECE is all about welcoming everybody. And I’m not saying to not welcome everybody that comes in your door, but you can target specific people that are the best fit for your centre.
The key thing is finding your point of difference. So even though there is a whole lot of other stuff here that I am going to suggest to you – unless you know what makes your centre stand out and are able to be clear on what the best parts are of your centre are, it will be much harder to grow your business even with all the best marketing strategies in place.
So that is the first part, to really hone in on what makes your centre special.
What they don’t teach you in your training
One of the things I learnt in ECE is there are no lessons on how to market and sell. And the reason for that is because it feels so separate from the core focus of the service being offered. It can almost seem a little ‘wrong’ to mention the word selling when the care of people are involved.
But I teach that good marketing and selling is actually about serving your future families best and to help them find the right place for their children – which is, of course, what every parent/caregiver wants. So let’s look at how we can do that across a variety of different ways.
Let’s take a look at your environment first
Before we get started on how to market your business, it is important to realise that marketing can’t fix your business. First, you need to ensure you have to have a good, solid environment where children want to come and stay. Otherwise there is just going to be churn after churn, in that children will come but families won’t refer others to you, they won’t talk about you favourably and they won’t actually stay.
So here are some things to really be honest about when reviewing your service offering, and if these things aren’t well-established in your centre, you must fix them before you get onto marketing.
- You have a low turnover of families – families come and they stay. If you are in a transient family area then this will be hard to achieve. But generally a low turnover of families is a very important sign that you have a good centre that people trust.
- Your teachers are settled – you don’t have heaps of changes all the time. They are happy and there are not any major issues, because that tension can make a huge difference on the floor and can negatively affect the environment.
- Your families tell other people your centre is great. Word of mouth marketing still works really well in ECE, so if that is not happening you need to look at why and what you can be doing to serve your families better so they are recommending you. Perhaps they are the wrong families for you or you are not the right centre for them.
- People comment on the nice feel of your centre. Visitors come in and go ‘wow – this place feels amazing’. That is definitely a good sign that things are going well.
- Your children are engaged and relaxed – they enjoy the activities you provide, have times of quiet play, they have opportunities to be independent and there are not a lot of tears all the time. Of course I know there will be tears sometimes – that comes as part of the territory – but overall the place is calm and relaxed.
- You have word of mouth enquiries. You have people coming in from referrals and potentially you have a waiting list (which means you might not even need this blog!)
So if you can say yes to all of the above, then that is a really positive sign your business is operating well and has a good environment in place.
Take your team along with you
After looking closely at the environment you provide, next we need to look at your team and how to make sure they are on board with what you want to achieve. Your sales process requires buy-in from your teachers, because even if you are the person showing potential families around the centre, the way your team reacts to visitors makes a big difference.
Set in place a clear procedure for welcoming prospective parents as a team but also focus on how to greet everyone as they come in the door, whether they are a potential family or not. This will help it to become established as simply the way you ‘do business’ – by being friendly and approachable.
Your team also needs to understand how to ‘sell’ as an educational professional. This is the difference between hard out selling and listening, being responsive to needs and genuinely serving people.
It is important that your team can be easily identified as teachers when people are visiting but that doesn’t mean they have to have uniforms (even though uniforms do help). However this is more about the way they are carrying themselves and that they are interacting and actively engaged with those around them.
And don’t forget to help your team to know exactly what it is that makes your centre different and/or special. That way they can tell anyone the story behind what it is that sets your centre apart from the rest.
For you, in terms of the sales process, make sure you have the ability to stay in touch with anyone who does visit. This can help when it comes to gathering important feedback and also enables you to continue to ‘soft sell’.
Once these points above are dealt with, then you can go and have a closer look at your website.
Express yourself on your website
For your website, we recommend using a platform like wordpress or squarespace. Because it needs to be something you can easily update yourself, do not get a custom built website that you can’t edit. There is always turnover, there are always changes and you need to be able to do those things yourself.
The first thing to check is that your website clearly shows what makes you different. It needs to be focused on who loves it at your centre and the types of families and children that attend. Of course your philosophies on education are important, but those are just words and what you need to capture is everything about the children who get the most out of playing at your centre. For example, maybe you have a big outdoor area which makes it perfect for active children, or are in a smaller space that is ideal for those who would benefit from a more intimate environment that feels secure and safe.
These are the types of things you need reflected on your website, telling a story about the type of children who thrive at your centre and how you meet their needs. And when it comes to imagery, you don’t have to actually have your children in the photos. However if you have 90 percent of a particular ethnicity but your website doesn’t reflect that, then your centre may be perceived incorrectly. And if catering to different cultures is something you do really well – you want to show that off for prospective parents seeking that niche offering.
Have an up-to-date staff page and even if you don’t want to have everyone posted individually, I still recommend a group shot. Then you could incorporate little excerpts from teachers about what they love about working there.
Make sure you have a call to action on the front page, whether that be to download something or get in touch. But ensure it is easy for people to take action when they do arrive on your website. I also always recommend having a lead generation (there is a lead generation in this blog in that you can download a checklist to help you with your marketing) because if there is something they can download with their contact details, you can follow up with them over a period of time.
If you don’t know what a Facebook pixel is, find out – so you can install it on your website and track them for advertising later on when you are ready for that step. Have chat available on Facebook or on your website, so people can talk to you and make an inquiry while they are on there – it needs to be easy for people to contact you!
Your website is extremely important – it is often the first view prospective parents have of your centre and who you are, and they will be making decisions based on what they see on there.
Get your signs saying the best things
Do your signs out front show or refer to special features that you can’t see from the road? If not, they need to! You can also use flags to catch the eye and if your centre is hard to find, see if you can use signs to direct people in to where you are so they don’t get lost.
Use Social Media for new business
Most people in early childhood education use social media for their families but you don’t need to do this because there are a variety of other tools that allow you to stay in touch with your families who are already at the centre. You can also create a private Facebook group to communicate with parents as well. So when it comes to social media, you should be targeting it towards prospective families with a plan of the things you want to post. These should be interesting insights into learning, ideas of fun educational games to play with children and anything else that helps to showcase the culture of your centre and the environment you provide.
Get Google My Business going
A Google My Business page is perfect for local businesses – including you. Search for your centre name and if it comes up on the right hand side, there should be a picture and/or a map. You can then claim that page, ensure all the information on there is correct and start making regular updates onto it.
This could include things such as a question and answer section, photos of your centre inside and out, and you can also ask families to review you on there. Google My Business is a very powerful tool and I highly recommend making the most of it.
Use advertising after everything else is sorted
So, have you sorted all of the above? Only once you have can you consider engaging in advertising (even though you may find that doing the above is enough).
We recommend that for most people you don’t have to have Google Ads (unless you have the budget for it), but a location-specific Facebook ad that targets local families is a good starting place.
And now what? You’re ready to market your early childhood centre.