Are you a stay-at-home mom looking for a way to earn extra money? Why not build a business around something you know better than anyone else—child care.
For years, you’ve entertained, fed, taught, and taken care of your own kids. You’ve made your home a safe and loving place, and have probably read up extensively on positive discipline, child development, and educational activities. And, you’ve got books, Barney and Dora the Explorer DVDs! So you’ve got a head start on the business—and a ready market of working parents who’d feel better leaving their kids with someone they know. Read on, and see if this is for you.
1. Weigh the pros and cons
There are numerous advantages to starting a childcare business. This is a way for you to work from home. You can stay with your kids, and you get to make a career out of taking care of them (and a handful of others). Start-up costs are relatively low—you can set up a small center for about $2,000.
The cons? Well, it does take a special kind of patience and personality to be able to deal with kids—not just yours, but a whole roomful of them. As you know from experience, they can raise quite a ruckus and one tantrum can easily snowball into mass hysteria of five or six toddlers screaming their heads off. Plus, kids this age aren’t known for their abilities to share, play nicely, or stick to schedules. Expect to be running around a lot, and tending to numerous needs at the same time.
2. Consider the investments.
You know how parents are—being one yourself—so your clients will naturally want assurance that their kids are in good hands. Besides, many states require day care centers, no matter how informal, to pass inspection; others require certification. (Contact your local state or business bureau to find out. ) So, the brunt of your investment will go to child-proofing your home and creating a safe, and big-enough area for them to play, nap and eat. Minimum requirements include smoke detectors, fire extinguishers, first-aid kits, gates around pools and stairs, safety latches. You will also need to take courses in First Aid.
And, as you know, the kids need to be entertained. So, you’ll need things like rubber mats, baskets for toys, low-lying shelves for books, and small tables for art activities and snack time. DVD’s and music CDs are also important—when things get chaotic, at least you have Barney to help you calm everyone down. You need sleeping mats for naps, and cubby holes for their things.
3. Beef up your credentials and experience.
A degree in child development or a background in early learning or child education is always a plus, but you don’t have to go back to college. You can build ‘credentials’ by being a parent volunteer, teaching Sunday School or working at a daycare—basically, any job that puts you into contact with kids. (This will also let you test whether or not this is for you, before you actually invest time or money in the business.)
4. Scout for clients.
You already have an incredible network of parents you’ve met from soccer games, parent-teacher conferences, church service, neighbors. At the start, they’ll be your best clients. They know you personally, and will trust you with their kids. But even if they’re your friends, do make the effort to look professional. Make a brochure, with your services and the fees, and a clear list of guidelines and policies. (For example, the hours of your day care, extra charges if a child is picked up late, a ‘stay home’ policy if a child is sick, and a legal waiver that protects you in case of an accident.)
Hold off massive marketing campaigns until you’ve perfected your system and have a portfolio of happy clients who can give testimonials and personal referrals. Once you’re ready, though, you can quickly expand your customer base by advertising in community newsletters, or writing letters to local businesses. You can ask to send emails to their employers, or strike up a deal where the company shoulders some of the employees’ child care costs as part of their worker benefits (and of course, you’ll give them a great package rate).
5. Offer service bonuses.
The best way to keep parents happy is to keep their kids happy. But there are many ways to give ‘added value’ to your customers. You may want to develop an informal curriculum—like a calendar of crafts and activities that develop social, physical and emotional skills. Parents will also appreciate if you take photos of their kids at play, so they have a keepsake (plus proof that they’re having a good time!). You can also hold a ‘parents day’ and teach the kids a special song or dance number that they can perform.