How to Run a Daycare: 9 Tips to Make Your Life Easier
You’re business savvy and you love kids, so no one was surprised when you decided to make the career leap into owning your own daycare. You’ve already started with some of the logistics like choosing a location and developing a basic business plan. Perhaps you’ve even opened your doors for your first few clients already.
But what happens beyond the threshold of your first day as a functioning daycare? How can you operate more efficiently and continue to grow your business?
Spending time with kids all day is one thing, but running a business is a whole different animal. That’s why we connected with childcare directors who have seen it all to get their best tips for running a smooth, profitable operation.
Whether you are already in the game or are considering getting started, this expert advice on how to run a daycare will inspire and challenge you to run the best business possible.
9 expert tips for running your daycare
1. Put yourself in the parents’ shoes
With all the work of starting a new business venture, the simple act of walking through the day as one of your clients might never occur. Any business can benefit from this practice, but it’s especially helpful for a daycare, where parents trust you with what matters most to them. Of course you’ll be following your state and local licensing requirements, but there are other things you can do to go above and beyond for your clients.
“You don’t want parents to feel stressed dropping off their children,” says Yvette Salvaris, education consultant at Ethical Training Solutions. Once you’ve completed your checklist to make sure your space is safe and up to code, take a shot at examining the aesthetics and logistics of your daycare.
Is your location clearly marked so frazzled parents can find it easily on their first day? Is parking readily available for the number of people who will be buzzing in and out? Does your space feel safe, professional and welcoming?
You could be running the best daycare in the world and still lose customers if the process is stressful. Salvaris recommends doing what you can to make the space bright and airy, even adding some natural elements to help families feel more relaxed.
2. Consistently encourage reviews from your clients
These days, people rely on reviews for something as simple as buying a new blender or deciding which movie to see. Those testimonials matter even more when it comes to important decisions like choosing a daycare. “Our success is due to exceptional reviews from our current parents who in turn refer friends and colleagues to our program,” says Danielle Lindner, founder of the London Day School.
Lindner believes the best way to grow organically is by providing superior service and encouraging your happy customers to spread the word. If your daycare is brand new and you haven’t built up a client base yet, offer discounts to get your first clients in the door, encouraging parents to provide reviews in return.
If you have clients already, ask parents to review your business on your website or Facebook page, and thank them personally when they do. “There is nothing better than a referral from a happy parent,” Lindner says.
3. Invest in your staff
Reviews from happy parents and smooth customer experiences are vital to running a successful daycare—but both can be derailed by hiring the wrong employees. “We spend a lot of time and resources on training and continuing education for our staff,” Lindner says, adding that it’s always important to make your staff feel appreciated and respected as educators.
This extra effort makes it likely that your daycare will retain high-quality staff members who invest in the job and consistently impress your clients. “Staff who are approachable, friendly and happy make parents feel less stressed about leaving their child at care,” Salvaris says.
4. Keep your environment clean and safe
It seems obvious, but safety and cleanliness should be a constant priority in your daycare. Your daycare might have been shiny enough for those little hands to eat off of when your doors first opened, but the wear and tear of life eventually takes a toll.
Stay on top of regular cleaning and maintenance by sticking to a routine schedule, and fix recurring problems with more permanent solutions. Get in the habit of walking around your space both indoors and out to check for hazards and prevent accidents before they occur.
5. Maintain a detailed handbook
It may seem formal, but having a handbook for your business will lead to a better customer experience for your parents and protect you as a business owner. Write (and consistently update) a policy handbook for your daycare. Ask parents to review and agree to it before enrolling their children and ensure that it’s accessible to parents at any time throughout the year.
“Every state will have a licensing agency that dictates many of the most important policies and emergency procedures you must have in place,” Lindner explains. Include those in your handbook to make information clear to your clients, and include your own procedures so everyone is aware of how all issues are handled.
Creating strong and thoughtful policies will make your expectations and services clear to your clients, even if something unusual comes up.
6. Acquire quality tools
Maybe you need to keep to a tight budget when you begin, but you should eventually invest in some quality tools as soon as you have the funds. “You need a very reliable computer and great accounting software,” Salvaris suggests. “You also need to be able to organize yourself.”
Salvaris recommends virtual project management tools like Trello to keep everything in one place and easy to access. Some daycare providers prefer to stay organized in a good, old-fashioned day planner. No matter which system you prefer, be sure to keep organized records of things like child attendance and business receipts.
7. Embrace social media
Maybe you’re already using social networks to promote your daycare, or maybe the mere thought of those buzzing platforms stresses you out. Either way, embracing social media for your business is a perceptive move these days.
“A few years back no one would have done this,” Salvaris says. “But now I see people advertising in Facebook groups and sharing pictures of their childcare environment.” If social media seems overwhelming, try choosing one platform to focus on, using it to promote your business and connect with potential clients. Just be sure to get parental permission before sharing photos of their children online.
8. Make important information easily accessible online
Making your client’s lives easier will in turn make your own life easier. Salvaris recommends creating as many online options as you can to let parents save time and find anything they need with a quick search from home. Creating a website for your daycare is a smart move, even if it’s on a free blog platform or Facebook page. Parents will appreciate having a hub for all of your important information—just be sure you update it regularly.
Make your daycare’s location and contact information easy to access from any part of your website and include your policy handbook, licensing credentials, reviews, printable forms and permission slips and online options for enrollment. “It saves parents from sitting at your center filling out pages and pages of forms,” Salvaris says. And it makes you look like the organized, prepared professional you are.
9. Adjust to the kids in your care
It takes a lot of work to plan events and activities for all of those kids each day! Focusing on what the children are interested in and letting them explore their natural curiosity will make a more fun learning experience for them while taking some of the stress off of you and your staff.
“At the end of the day, you are doing this for the kids,” Salvaris says. “So ask them what they like and what their interests are. Observe each child. Then take this information and plan your activities.”
Salvaris advises educators to let the branching curiosity of the kids form a portion of the daily activities. For example, if the kids are fascinated by a cardinal that visits your yard each day, you could plan activities that center around birds, which could lead to discussions about eggs, building nests and migration.
“These unplanned activities are helpful to extend children's learning and give them a sense of belonging,” Salvaris adds.
What are your best tips?
Now that you’ve heard some expert advice on how to run a daycare, it’s your turn to share some of your tips and tricks. Do you have any advice to add to the list? What do you think it is that makes running a daycare easier on the owners and better for the clients? Please share your thoughts in the comments below!
EDITOR'S NOTE: While the term “daycare” is commonly used, many early childhood educators prefer to use other terms to better reflect the professionalism of the field. Our article, “Childcare vs. Daycare: What’s the Difference? (And Why It Matters),” explains this in further detail.