The following is a guest post by Dani Christine.
There are a lot of child care providers working for someone else that dream of opening their own program one day. Many fail to take action on their dream either out of fear, lack of information, or feeling secure inside of their comfort zone. Well…growth does NOT happen in comfort zones!
When I was 16 years old, I began working in the child care industry as a babysitter. One of my favorite high school teachers set me up with a family who was in need of a sitter on a weekly basis. That was a great opportunity, and I loved working for that family, but I really wanted to work inside of a classroom. A year later, I stumbled across a day care center in my home town, stepped outside of my comfort zone and walked in with my resume. There was no job posting, I didn’t know anyone inside, I just took a chance, and it paid off! I got the job a few weeks later, and gained valuable life experience.
I worked that assistant teacher job for a few years through my junior year of college, but could not shake the feeling of wanting to do more. I’ve always had an entrepreneurial spirit and had dreams of starting my own preschool one day. At the time, I did not think it would be anytime soon, but I wanted to do some research regarding the requirements and steps needed to actually open a program so I could be prepared in the future. For instance, at the time, I did not know opening a program required a license. I didn’t know there were state regulations. I didn’t know anything about the child care business start-up process. While my friends and roommates were partying, I spent several weekends doing research, studying regulations, and networking with others in the child care industry. Don’t get me wrong, I had my fun, too! It wasn’t all work and no play!
My junior year was coming to an end and I had to find a new place to live for my final year of undergrad. I had recently learned that people could start child care programs in their homes. With that information and the fact I needed a new place, a light bulb went off! In the past, I had never really thought about opening a program inside of a house. I wanted a big school, a center-based setting, so it could be a “real business.” Little did I know, a home day care could be just as professional and as “real” of a business as a center, or even more so. It’s all about how you run it. While searching for new rentals online, I decided to specifically search for locations that I knew would be approved as a licensed home day care based on the regulations I studied. Fortunately, I was able to find a house not too far from my university, on a main road, that was previously used as a licensed day care. It was perfect in my eyes!
Taking the Plunge
At 20 years old, I took a leap of faith, and with the support of my parents, I quit my comfortable job that was paying me well, and opened the doors to my first child care business. I was ready to take on the world and provide care for everyone’s kids! I gathered friends to help me host an open house, walked miles throughout the neighborhood handing out flyers, and posted so many ads online. Talk about comfort zones, I couldn’t even find mine anymore. I was balancing starting a business, finishing my Bachelor’s degree program, and maintaining relationships with friends and family. To be honest, it took way longer than I expected to build enrollment. I thought after a couple weeks, parents would be lined up at my door, but that wasn’t the case. I gave up in my head so many times. I thought about selling the business, or lack thereof. I got a partner, lost a partner, hired and fired many employees. It was rough in the beginning, to say the least. After about two years, I was finally seeing some stability. Stable income, full enrollment, consistent employees, and I was able to go back to school to work on my Master’s.
A New Opportunity
Of course as I started to get myself all nice, cozy and COMFORTABLE, the universe had to shake things up again. My dad’s friend reached out to me with an opportunity I could not refuse. He owned several businesses and was looking to add a child care business to his portfolio. Being that child care or early childhood education was not his expertise, he wanted to partner with me to open a center because he knew what I had been doing over the years and he saw my potential. Long story short, I accepted, obviously, and we got to work right away. I found a center location that was closing down that my partner was willing to purchase. The only challenge was it was miles away from my home day care in a completely different county, meaning I could not get students to transfer over to that program from my home day care because it was too far.
Key Lessons Learned Along the Way
With a large capacity of children, in a new town where I knew no one, I was a bit nervous about having to struggle with enrollment building all over again. To my surprise, it was not nearly as challenging as my first experience. Within two years, I was able to build enrollment to over 100 children, offer different shifts of child care, be awarded grants for my business, and hire a team of over 20 employees. I believe this was due to the fact that I learned new techniques over the years and actually knew what to expect this time around. There were so many valuable lessons that I learned by starting off small in a home day care setting. I couldn’t imagine making the mistakes I made in my home back then in a larger center-based program now.
It Takes Time
One thing I wish I knew when I first opened my home day care program was that it takes a while for most businesses in any industry to begin seeing a return on their investment. What that means for us in childcare is that it might take a few months, or maybe even a year or two, to build a decent amount of enrollment. If I had known to expect this, I might have been a little more patient and a felt a lot less discouraged.
Have Clear Policies
Opening a smaller home day care program first taught me how valuable written policies and procedures are. I was winging it at first back then! I had parents and employees controlling my business based on their needs until I realized that this was no way to run my program. Developing and keeping up to date parent and employee handbooks are a must!
You’re Not Alone
Arguably the best thing I learned during my first few years of business was that I was not alone. At first, I always felt so lonely because none of my friends or family were doing anything similar. They couldn’t relate to my problems or help me resolve any issues. Eventually, I found other child care providers with different levels of experience to connect with either online or by networking. We helped each other, supported each other, vented to each other! It was great.
Fast forward three years of operating my center, I recently moved out of state, and now work remotely from home. I have administrators at my center, and I visit a few times a month to check in and provide support. I also offer consultation services to aspiring child care business owners all over the world and owners of startups through my online platform, DaniChristine.com. Needless to say, my dreams have grown with me as I have grown. I now dream of opening more centers than I can count, and bringing joy to as many children, teachers, and child care business owners as I possibly can. What I do is not easy, it can be stressful and uncomfortable at times, but it is truly rewarding, and I love it.