In this episode of The Preschool Podcast, we connect with “The Systems Queen” Andrea Dickerson on child care systems and how directors and owners can use an organized approach that results in consistency every time. Andrea explains how her systems can benefit anyone in the child care space regardless of their experience while delivering consistent results every time.
Andrea explains that a child care system and being organized in your child care center is the single best thing you can implement in order to have families rave about your business. Andrea explains that right now many child care centers start child care because of their passion for providing safe and reliable child care to young children and families. However, many of these directors and owners may be naive to consider the needs and want of their families, “many of the child care owners may only consider what they need and want rather than what their families need and want.”
The child care industry is a heart industry, we do a lot of things from our hearts. And that needs to meet the needs of the families.Andrea Dickerson, The Preschool Podcast
Andrea’s Motto to Having the Right Mindset
When it comes to implementing systems, you need to have the right mindset and approach in order to have them be successful. As a child care owner or director, you will not be able to find the time to implement a child care system, you’d need to make the time to implement a system.
Most Important Parts of Child Care Systems
As an Owner, you Must Have a System Yourself. You must have a daily management or rhythm and flow for their own life. In order for the other systems to be put into place properly, owners must have a system themself and be organized in order to survive and thrive.
Identify the Main Pillars of Your Company. This includes staffing, onboarding, training, retention and, growth etc. Once you’ve nailed down this set of systems and how you’ll hire, educate, onboard and retain your staff, then you can move on to the next system.
Managing Your Classrooms. Regardless of who you hire, your educators must be able to manage the classrooms and build meaningful relationships with the families, your clients. Without this system, your pillars will crumble.
Consider Your Operations. Plan out your year from beginning to end, this will relieve the constant thought of “what’s next”. You’ll be able to have a clear vision of your year as a child care center and will be able to scale and grow as a business.
Make Systems for Your Parents. Consider how you’ll market your center as the very first time a family sees your center all the way up until graduation when their child leaves your center. How will you communicate with families? Will you use a digital app? How will you market to your families?
Connect With Andrea
Andrea recommends the book Employee Engagement 2.0 and Your Next 5 Moves. If you want to connect with Andrea you can visit her website or her YouTube Videos. Andrea wants to provide our listeners with a FREE gift for our listeners with her parent engagement e-book available here!
Episode 271 Transcripts:
So, I just want for everyone is listening to know, it’s not about finding time. It’s about you making the time because we all have 24 hours in a day. And if you want to see your business shift to the next level, then you do what you have to do and you make time.
Andrea, welcome to the Preschool Podcast!
Hello, thank you for having me today!
Very excited to have on the Preschool Podcast with us today on Andrea Dickerson. She is a childcare success coach and a self-defined, a.k.a. The Systems Queen. So, are we going to be talking a little bit about systems and what that means to Andrea and to you.
We’ll also be weaving in parent engagement a bit into the conversation, something that Andrea is also very well versed in and is something that I know our listeners are very keen to hear more about. So, Andrea, as we always do, let’s start off learning a little bit about yourself. Tell us how and why you got into childcare and what keeps you really passionate about it today.
Well, absolutely. Thank you all so much for having me on today. Well, you all may wonder: how is it that someone who never had any children of our own at the time, never worked in a childcare facility before, never managed people before, never had any friends who discussed childcare, would ultimately serve the rest of her life in the childcare industry?
So, I’ll just say that my entering into this industry was by divine appointment. I remember my dad, he was saying, “Andrea, you have to do something,” because I was trying my best at the local jobs here in my area and none of them worked out. I was constantly being reminded that, “You are not the boss,” and/or I was terminated.
And so by divine influence, I prayed and I asked God to tell me what I needed to do. And I heard clearly to start a daycare. And I told my dad, I said, “Dad, I think I’m supposed to,” – and remember, I said the words, “I think” – “I think I’m supposed to start a childcare business.” And my dad trusted me. He trusted in my judgment. And I just engulfed myself in the get-started phases of childcare.
And without having any children, my own no experience, no management experience, I started a facility that was 11,000 square feet, licensed for up to 200 children. And in my first year, I failed miserably. The reason why I failed is because I had no background experience in management, no background experience with business operations and infrastructure. So, ultimately, here I am with the desire and love to care for children and wanting to be the best that I to be. And that’s all I had.
And then within a year’s time, after failing – it took me one year to get 60 children – and I decided I wanted to quit. So, Ron, guess what I did? I quit. After I quit working in the industry within a year’s time, that passion and the desire to care for children just would not leave me. So, I asked and prayed again that, “If this is really for me, I’ll get started, but give me one more time to succeed.”
So, we sold that first location. And I didn’t have enough business acumen at the time to really navigate my emotions and business sense. So, selling that location was not the best decision. However, this past tense – I can’t stay stuck there.
Fast forward: I start over again in a 700 square foot house and we could only have 6 children initially. Then we upped our licensing for 12. And we went from 12 to 24 within, like, 8 months because by now I know systems; I have strategy; I’m more prepared with business acumen; I have the knowledge and experience of management. And so I’m starting from the bottom.
But within one to two years time, I was running 2 group homes. From 2 group homes, I opened up a nanny agency. I started servicing the United States military through my nanny agency, made enough money, opened up my childcare facility, Akeba Academy. Within 90 days, I had full enrollment, systems in place and I was well on my way.
Year two, I opened up my second location, my nanny agency still thriving. And within my third year, I started coaching and consulting and traveling around the world, coaching others on the systems that I used to have a successful business.
Love that story. And I also appreciate your transparency and the challenges along the journey, which is a great reminder for all of us that there’s always ups and downs along the way and that determination and persistence is key.
And really looking forward to a conversation because I’m also very passionate about how business administration and management and knowledge about business operations really helps to fuel a great experience for not only the business owner, but also the children and family in those programs.
So, let’s dive into that a little bit more. You’ve used the word “systems” a few times and you’re known as the Systems Queen. Tell us a little bit about when you say “systems”, what do you mean by that? What are they and why are they important?
Alright. So, for me, “systems” is my organized approach that provides step-by-step how-to’s to accomplishing the end result consistently each and every time and having your systems written and/or taught in such a way that someone that does not have any childcare experience could read or watch how you want it done and perform the task.
And so that’s how I define “systems”. And that’s what saved me. That’s what saved me, Ron. When I started with no systems and no experience, it literally kept me in an emotional rollercoaster because I had no defined, step-by-step process that I would take someone through to empower them to help me reach the end goal.
And I’m not sure if you all caught that in my discussion earlier, due to what just happened. But because I didn’t have systems in place, I really didn’t even understand that there was a difference between new hire, orientation and onboarding.
And because I didn’t understand that there was a systematic rhythm and flow to how I ran my childcare business, I did what most childcare business owners are doing, Ron: I just hired someone that said they loved working for children. I put them in a classroom and I assumed that they knew exactly what to do to make my vision come to pass.
But after 55 wrong decisions in hiring people, I soon learned – which took me kind of, like, a long time, but I learned it eventually – that [a] systematic approach to everything in childcare honestly defies the parent experience, it does.
If you want to grow your business, if you want to have a business that parents rave about, put systems in place and you will watch how your parents will walk in and explain to you how organized you are, all together how to put-together your program is and how they are enjoying their engagement and experience with you because your system is the infrastructure for childcare. No matter where you are in the world, every childcare business needs infrastructure, every business.
So, my question to you is, why do you think childcare programs and businesses struggle with setting up systems? You mentioned yourself, it took you a few tries and you were finally able to get there and figure it out. Why do you think the sector at large might struggle with this?
Okay, so for me, it’s several aspects. And I’m going to speak from a holistic point of view. Many of us – and when I say “us”, it’s because I’m still in this industry – many of us, we start childcare because we want to provide children with something that we think they are missing, whether it is, “I want to provide safe, reliable childcare for working moms; I want to provide childcare services for moms who really can’t afford it; I want to provide excellent, quality educational learning environments for top performing parents, etc., etc.”
So, when we start normally, when we look at a vision and mission statements, it’s all about what we the owner want to do. So now, holistically, we’re not looking at the fact that, “I need a system in order to deliver what it is that I want to do,” because it’s a heartfelt initiative. It’s from the heart. I got started in the industry, those of you who are listening, you got started in the industry from your heart.
So, once we then deal with the concept that this is a heart industry, we do a lot of things from our heart. Next, the other pillar that I noticed was that it doesn’t require a lot to give your heart. We could give our heart, we can perform this job with a good heart and eventually we’ll catch on and learn.
So, statistics have proven that if you start out without having any infrastructure system background in any business, it could take you approximately 10 years to finally get systems in place and begin to operate in a turnkey model. So, many of us don’t figure out the missing pieces until 10 years later. And many of us don’t make it 10 years because we get frustrated with the ebbs and flows of childcare.
We think that because we love working with children, that that’s going to solve the majority of the problems. And it’s not. That’s the anchor keeps you waking up every morning, is your love and desire to care for children. That’s your anchor, that keeps you waking up and going out there every day, going into your business every day and facing the challenges.
But the truth of childcare is that having problems with staff comes along with it having to find new staff, new parents, children, enrollment, marketing, systems, your state licensing division, all of that is what makes up the back office to childcare that nobody really talks about.
And so those are my thoughts about it, Ron, holistically and from experience. That’s why many of us in this industry never, ever look at systems because we don’t start out saying, “I want a system that I can use to deliver a service to children and parents.” We don’t think that way. We think with our heart.
Yeah, that’s such a big takeaway from this podcast episode. I would just really reiterate what you’re talking about here, which I think is really a lesson for a lot of passionate business owners, which is even more so in early-childhood education. Because, like you call it, it’s a heart industry. Most folks who are here in early-childhood education are in it because they love children and they love working with children and they want the best for children.
But the best intentions isn’t enough. And it’s a really hard lesson at some point, as the director of a childcare program or a business owner, that your passion and heart alone isn’t enough to create a great experience for your families and for your children and for your staff. You have to create the systems for that. So, so important.
And then that begs the next question, which, of course, will resonate with a lot of listeners, which is you’ve got a gazillion things on your mind. How do you find the time to create systems and document things? This is the last thing I think most people feel like they have time for.
Well, typically, I would send someone to my website and say, “This is why I did the work, so that you don’t have to. This is what I call what I do a blueprint.” And then for the sake of those of you who are interested in knowing my thought process, that I tell everyone who says, “I can do this myself, but how do I find time?” Then I have to be very real, but yet compelling, in saying, “You make time.”
When it comes to your business in the success of your company, it’s not about finding it. It’s making it. So, here’s what I’ve done, Ron. I have started on a Friday night after running my company and not sleeping until a Saturday afternoon because I was determined that, “I have to put this system in place because I know it in my head. But I’ve got to get it out of my head and into a systematic way that would deliver the content or information to my staff so that they can implement it right away.”
So, because of that, you will have sleepless nights, early mornings and a never-give-up mindset. So, that’s what I teach my clients. I give them what I call the Three P’s. These are my Power Push P’s to having the right mindset, the right daily activity in order to implement systems. Because if you go in this mindset that it’s going to take up time without knowing that you do what you have to do now because it’s going to give you time later, you have to look at organizing your business and putting systems in place as an investment.
See, we always want to talk about investing in paper, or when I say paper stocks, bonds, or metals, precious metals or etc. We look at investments as that. But when you put systems in place, you are literally investing in the company to become a franchise-type model, which will ultimately become a turnkey operation for you.
So, it’s not about… and I know this is a long answer, but I like to teach. So, I just want for everyone listening to know it’s not about finding time. It’s about you making the time because we all have 24 hours in a day. And if you want to see your business shift to the next level, then you do what you have to do and you make time.
And that may mean that, “I’m not going to go to sleep because it’s Friday. I’m not going to go out to eat dinner. I’m going to eat home, get me a bowl of grapes and I’m going to sit here and I’m going to what’s in my head out of my head and onto paper.”
Yeah, it’s a good lesson. And sometimes yeah, it’s kind of going back to what you were saying before, that the passion and the heart is easy because that’s what comes so naturally to lots of folks in early-childhood education. It’s forcing yourself to do something you’re not used to doing or maybe don’t like doing that’s the hard part. But that’s where the real change comes, is getting out of your comfort zone. So, I like that.
And then when we think about these systems, there’s so many moving pieces, right? So, I think a lot of folks who would kind of be like, “Where do I start?” So, like, how do you think about sort of, like, bucketing these systems? Or, like, what are the most important parts of the system, if we had to think about it that way?
Right. So, let’s dig into the blueprint a little bit and I’ll just discuss from that point of view. And so the first system that we put in place is a system for the owner. The owner has to have a daily management or rhythm and flow for their own life if and how they want to run their life. Because ultimately, in order for these systems to be put in place, the owner has to have a good grip on putting them in place, a good grip on their own life, right? That’s number one. So, that’s the mindset; that’s the personal portion of it.
Now, let’s go into the business section of putting systems in place. So, you have to identify the main pillars of your company, which in general we have main pillars such as your staffing – that includes your pre-hire, your hire, your orientation, your onboarding.
Then you have after onboarding, you have – which is my proprietary system – your 10-week teacher training, your retention and that’s your growth. Your retention is your growth, right? So, then you have to look at those systems.
Then the next systems that you look into are managing your classrooms because overall, regardless of who I hire, they have to be able to manage the classroom based on my system. That’s going to give me the end result delivered to my children and my parents.
And then we have our regular operations. So, you have to have systems in place for operations. So, that’s another pillar. Then your next pillar, once you have your operations, which systems on how you want your business to operate.
And I always have my clients begin… when it comes to setting your operations systems in place, we begin with our yearly master calendar. This yearly master calendar is going to pertain [to] all the pillars that it takes to run a childcare business,. But you’re going to have your year planned out from beginning to end. Trust me, this is a game changer. It will relieve you’re constantly thinking of what to do next. You’ll just have it written out, you don’t have to do all of that thinking.
And then also tell my clients that once you complete the yearly calendar, that yearly master calendar, that system is going to help you with operations. And then you make your systems for your parents. How are you going to, from the moment of a phone conversation all the way to graduation and continuing that client through some type of continual enrollment with you? And then if they are no longer enrolled, you still have to have a program where you have your students that have graduated from your program but yet they’re still involved.
Ron, let me give you a testimony in reference to speaking on systems. When I started in my 700 square foot home, one of the students I started with was 12 years old and eventually came back to work for me in my after-school program. So, we have where these students become alumni students where they are engaged in our preschool graduation. They’re engaged in our program.
And then we build relationships with them in the family so to where they could come back and work with us in our programs. So, you have to think of that when it comes to parent and children systems – you think long term.
And then, of course, you have your director and your admin systems. And so those are the initial systems that all childcare businesses should plan for. And then you start there with the yearly master calendar. Once you get that yearly master calendar in place, you’re going to see what systems that you’re going to need operating in the back office to make that calendar that you organized come to pass. Does that make sense to you, Ron?
That makes a lot of sense. It’s funny because as you’re explaining all that, I was almost feeling like a sense of calm, just like if knowing that you’d have all those things set up so you’re not constantly thinking about these things.
Like, I think that’s part of the issue, too, is the organization just I think, at least for me, would give me a sense of comfort and kind of free up my headspace, versus constantly figuring out what’s next, yeah. And, “Is my staff going to stay? Who am I going to hire next? How am I going to onboard them? What’s happening in my classes?” Because you’ve got that, as you say, the system is taking care of it for you basically.
Yes. That’s it, Ron, you got it. I was hoping I explained that well, thanks.
I love it. I love it. We’re unfortunately running out of time but we’re going to provide an opportunity for you to share where folks can go to get in touch with you to continue this conversation if they want to. Before we do that, any other resources that you’re enjoying generally, whether that be podcast, book, webinar or something related to folks’ professional development in early-childhood education that you would like to share with the audience?
Absolutely. So, right now I’m reading two different books. I can’t think of the name of the authors, but I’ll give you the title. One book that I think is really good and everyone can reference on Amazon is Employee Engagement 2.0. [by Kevin Kruse]. And when you read that book, you’re going to see how you can take and utilize some of those strategies for you for a parent engagement, as well. So, it’s called Employee Engagement 2.0.
And then for those of you all who are mastermind’s, who are like me, you like to organize and you like to think ahead, but you like to have your thoughts pretty much organized in your thinking, otherwise you’ll overwhelm yourself, there’s an amazing book called Your Next Five [Moves] [by Patrick Bet-David]. I started reading that and it is a game changer for me. It makes me think about the next five steps and not just getting started.
Love it, love it. And that aligns very much to the conversation we were having here today. Which brings me to my next question, which is, if our listeners want to get in touch with you or learn more about the work you’re doing, the system that you’ve created, where can they go to get more information?
Absolutely. So, if you are a person that loves to watch and learn from what you see, go to YouTube. You can find me at IOwnADaycare. If you are a reader and you like to get step-by-step, hey, visit my blog at www.IOwnADaycare.com. And then if you want to get in contact with me and just watch my everyday life, see what I am up to, follow me on Instagram. And if you want to talk to me, follow me on Facebook and inbox me. That’s where the conversation begins.
Very cool. Alright, you can find Andrea all over the place, it sounds like. Even though she’s in Georgia, she’s all over the Internet. So, you can find her at her website, www.IOwnADaycare.com, or on other social media networks, including YouTube and Facebook.
Andrea, loved chatting with you today. All the things you shared with us makes so much sense. And we really encourage our listeners here today to really have a think about that conversation and to get in touch with Andrea if you want to learn more. So, Andrea, thanks again for everything you’ve done, your transparency in sharing your stories and for joining us on the Preschool Podcast!
Thank you for having me, Ron. Thank you so much!