It’s no secret that maintaining and scaling nursery occupancy is an ongoing effort. Throw in the Covid-19 pandemic and it’s made even more difficult. And, as much as you’d like to, you can’t just keep increasing fees.
Instead, you need to attract parents and children with the same or similar ethos to what your setting stands for. As a nursery owner/manager, you will find your own recipe for making your nursery stand out. Here are some suggestions that worked out at our settings from our EY experts.
There are 2 main routes to knock first impressions out of the park: Your setting and website.
The first one is of course the nursery itself. Is it clean? Does it have a fresh coat of paint? Is the notice board outdated with tatty papers hanging off? Are staff friendly and helpful? These are just some of the quick judgements potential parents will make in the first 5 minutes of entering. So you want to make it memorable (and for the right reasons).
“Daily or weekly checks on your nursery’s appearance is a great way to keep on top of maintenance and ensure your setting looks as good as it possibly can. People instantly notice when a business truly cares about what they do!”
Physical appearance isn’t the only thing that matters – consider the first interaction parents have at your setting. This comes down to implementing your setting’s policies and procedures properly. Make sure you have the right person welcoming visitors at the door and that they understand clearly the procedure. For example, an excellent first impression interaction may look something like this:
Your diligence in this process will communicate to parents that this is an example of the high standard you offer at your setting.
Secondly, before parents may even step foot in your nursery, they most likely have visited your website. This is your digital shop window. If parents do a quick Google search for your setting and it turns out the website is slow to load, messy and difficult to read, and overall just unpleasant to view, this sets the tone for your nursery. And because of it, parents may decide on the spot not to do a physical viewing. Therefore, your website must reflect your nursery and what it is about. Not only the colors, but the messages and content you publish, as well as the overall experience of the site.
On your website you want to provide information about your:
Our 6 tips on creating a welcoming, easy-to-use website:
How to do an amazing personalised tour
You’ve got the prospective parents through the door and now it’s time to wow them. The main point for conducting a great personalised tour is just that – make it personal:
Also make sure the Room leader is properly briefed and ready to speak to the potential parents. This is the person their child is going to be spending their time with, therefore you want to instill confidence that they are in good hands.
If the parents do not sign up after the tour – no problem! But you need to follow up with them. Sending a personalised “thank you for visiting us” email where you reference highlights of the tour (e.g. Sam loved playing on the swings) keeps the conversation going. And after 48 hours, a follow up call to touch base with the parent is good as well. Remember, the aim is not to bug the parent, but to start building that trusting relationship with them.
Promote your business
Running a nursery is just like any other business; it needs promoting to gain more clients. You can make your nursery shine online through various digital marketing channels such as:
Another idea is to use incentives. Try a voucher for a free day at nursery when parents refer other parents. This is fantastic word of mouth marketing for your business. Parents are likely to share this on their own channels for their friends and family to try.
Hosting an open day also works because it gives parents a chance to explore and investigate your nursery without the pressure to commit.
At all nurseries there is a cycle and flow of occupancy. There is a constant need to balance children leaving with those joining. With occupancy reports, Blossom makes this easy.
Some traditional marketing methods still prove valuable as well. Signs and banners go a long way in getting your nursery’s name known to the community as one banner can be seen by hundreds every hour.
Get parents involved
Parents are essential not only as clients, but also as your nursery’s marketers. A happy parent will spread the word for you which means more referrals. This word of mouth marketing takes time and consistency, however it will generate continued business for your setting with minimal marketing efforts on your part. But you need to involve them. Some ideas are:
It’s important to catch up with parents face to face, one on one every now and then. Of course, keep everyone’s safety in mind during the pandemic. Some nice drinks and snacks set a welcoming tone.
This is a great way for parents to get to know the nursery and staff without the pressures of everyday life getting in the way. A social event where their children play with their friends and parents can meet or even network with other parents works well.
Implementing a nursery management software can spare you lots of pain (and time). For instance, Blossom’s 2-way instant messaging feature connects parents and your nursery. Parents can pop a message to the nursery anytime – great for last minute bookings and late parents.
A weekly/monthly newsletter is a great way to keep your parents in the loop. Update parents on policies, general updates and announcements, and more.
Team up with primary schools – they are not the enemy. Become a feeder school for one. Also, try opening up your setting for others to use. Let a ‘mommy and me’ group use your play area, for example. It’s fantastic visibility – and to those most likely looking for a nursery/know those who are.
Working with local estate agents and housing developments can also be a great avenue. The more your name is in your community, the better.
Offering an Amazon voucher, or money off fees are great ways to get parents referring your nursery to others. Send email reminders and put up posters about this offer in the setting for parents to see.
Set up press releases
Team up with local newspapers and magazines to get your name out there to the community. Hosting those family fun days we mentioned earlier? Contact the media to let them know and get featured!
Offering certain discounts can also be a great way to increase occupancy at your setting. However, they can be tricky to manage. You do not want to end up giving away all your profits. Therefore, you need to know what your margin is, and provide a percentage of that margin as a discount. This way you will be covered. Here are some ideas for discounts to implement at your nursery:
Remember to set a time limit on the discounts. For example if you offer a discount on fees for 3 months, parents still feel like they are getting a great deal and you are protected in the long term as this will only run for a set period.
Have flexible booking slots
While your nursery is starting up and gaining momentum, you may need to adjust your booking structure to be more flexible. You want to accommodate those parents you have secured. Later on as you get more children joining and taking up slots, you can start to fix your booking structure. But initially, having fixed booking slots may be preventing other customers from joining your nursery because the booking times do not work with their schedule. Always think about the type of service you offer and the appropriateness of it to your target audience.
Make sure your occupancy drop is normal
There are of course going to be dips in your occupancy as children leave for school. You can expect your occupancy rates to fall around July/August as they start in September. Therefore, you must start thinking about how you will fill these new vacant spots as early as January so that you do not get negatively affected. Keep in mind that younger children in your setting will also be moving up and filling spaces. The goal is to prepare early enough so that you minimise any financial impact experienced by this normal drop in occupancy.
Reflection and development
Just because you are an Ofsted Outstanding nursery today, does not mean that you will be rated the same in 4 years time. Social changes and updated government policies are happening all the time. Therefore, it is essential to reflect on your setting, your staff and yourself regularly. Simply put, you can’t grow if you don’t reflect on what’s working and what’s not. The main question to ask yourself upon reflection is: Do we put the children’s wellbeing, and learning and development journey first?
Ensuring that your occupancy rates stay where you want them requires dedication and consistency. However, by implementing certain policies, encouraging positive behaviour, and making use of helpful software you are set on a good path.