First and foremost, I believe and I am sure you will agree that any successful nursery is child centered and focuses all that they do on the outcomes for the children that attend; this in itself is a recipe for success. There are many ways in which you can increase occupancy at your setting and build your clientele in order to have a flourishing business.
As we all know it is fundamental to have a vision and an ethos at your setting. Why did you decide to open a nursery? What makes you stand out from the rest of the crowd? There are over twenty five thousand group based providers in the UK, which means competition is high, so by having a strong vision and ethos it can help you to attract like-minded parents and staff. Developing a staff team and parent community that share the same values will strengthen your business and support its success, as everyone is sharing that same vision and ethos.
The following headings, summarise the factors that I feel are needed when aiming to increase your nurseries occupancy. Every manager/owner is different and has ways that work for them, but it is always good to reflect in order to move forward.
No matter what it is you are looking for, the first impression you receive is what will determine whether you continue to look into that business or move onto the next. Websites are often someone’s first impression, so it is important that your website reflects your vision and is memorable. Websites should be clear, concise and have plenty of images of your nursery and perhaps even a video, as this helps your prospective clients to visually connect with your setting. Showcase what makes you different and offer a warm welcome so the prospective clients want to learn more, encouraging that first point of contact.
Aside from your website, leaflets and posters, the first impression that you the owner or manager gives to new clients is paramount in building your business. Remember that each prospective parent should feel as though they are your only client; personalised tours and introductions go a long way in securing a good first impression. People connect with people, so parents look to find nurseries that offer the same values and learning experiences that they would otherwise create in their own homes. Managers and owners should endeavour to ‘sell’ their nursery and what makes it unique but also look to find out more about the family and their needs too.
The aesthetics of the building are important too – never become too complacent with how your setting looks. As a manager, owner or nursery worker you will see the nursery everyday, but try to look at it with fresh eyes and from the viewpoint of someone that has never seen it before. Chipped paint on the walls, or the display board that has started falling down will affect a first impression. Daily or weekly checks on your nurseries 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!
Always be proud of the nursery that you have created and by promoting your setting more people will hear about you and your services. Social media is a fantastic way to engage prospective clients as most people use Facebook, Instagram and Twitter. They are also free so we should certainly make the most of them! Posting photographs of the activities you do with your children, the building and your staff team certainly help to connect new followers.
Everyone loves incentives; promoting free taster mornings or open days encourage people to come and look without feeling like they have to commit, but getting potential new families through the door is the first hurdle and if you can do this in a relaxed and fun way it will support the business. Another idea is to give your current parents a voucher for a retail shop or a discounted nursery day should they recommend the nursery to a friend – a simple idea that is cost effective in fostering new clients.
Planning is important, nurseries suffer dips in occupancy at various times during a year, for example school leavers. This means that the manager or owner should have clear knowledge about their occupancy, predictive numbers and forecasting so they can plan financially; enabling the nursery to advertise at the right point in the year to compensate any dips in occupancy. Blossom Educational for instance, can help to streamline this whole process and allow managers to be more effective in promotion, financial planning and forecasting, with regards to occupancy.
Parents will be your biggest advocates if you involve them within your setting and take the time to speak with them regularly. Building the parent/teacher relationship is vital, as one of the best ways to build occupancy is through word of mouth and recommendation. It can take time to build this repertoire up, however it will lead to continued success.
Parents have busy lives and often will drop their child off at 8am and rush to collect them for 6pm, not leaving much time to chat about their child’s day. Parents are interested and by having clear ways of communicating and involving them will ensure they feel valued and important. Parent’s evenings, newsletters and online platforms, such as Blossom Educational are great ways to communicate and involve families, fostering strong parent partnerships. In a time where social media plays a huge part of peoples everyday lives, platforms such as Blossom give parents the ability to see their child’s progress, learn about their nursery day, add comments and communicate with the nursery at their leisure and time that is suitable for them. The flexibility that software like this offers both the parents and the nursery means it is easier to communicate and promote good working relationships.
Having worked as a nursery manager myself at several settings, I found that holding social events such as family fun days throughout the year really helped to involve families and encourage them to feel part of a community, not to mention giving them the opportunity to meet other parents and network themselves.
I always say that ‘to be effective, you have to be reflective’. An Ofsted Outstanding nursery today will not be outstanding in ten years time if the staff do not reflect, change and move their practices forward. It is important to try new ideas and work out what works and what doesn’t in order to achieve and grow. This way you are always developing and moving forward, rather than being stuck in one era and losing touch with what clients are looking for. Everything you do should be child centered and the children’s happiness and wellbeing should always be at the forefront of any decision you make. Reflection can be daunting but fearing change will prevent continued success and growth.
Jamie Victoria, AKA the Childcare Guru, has worked as a, nursery manager, forest school leader and deputy head. Today she offers bespoke consultancy and training for early years settings as well as forest school sessions and much more. Find her at www.thechildcareguru.co.uk