First impressions are not only important in relationships and friendships, they are “make and break” when it comes to new families enrolling their children in your childcare center. Now, more than ever, first impressions are so important because the competition with other centers is so high. Centers are trying to redeem the last few years and bring enrollment back to where it was before the world changed in 2020. But here’s the thing- first impressions need to be converted into lasting impressions. So just because you have a wonderful tour doesn’t mean that a parent will stick around. What are you going to do to get that enrollment and retain them?
How to make a great first impression with parents
When someone calls, emails, or fills out an inquiry, reply back within 24 hours or less if possible. Getting back to the prospective parent right away shows that you care and that you are accessible. If you are not organized and cannot respond to inquiries right away, then that makes parents feel like you won’t be a good communicator in general.
Have a system in place where you keep track of inquiries and what happens next. After following up, there should be next steps such as setting up a tour. As a director, it is important that you are approachable and interruptible.
A strong website
Your website is your main first impression. If your website is outdated or nonexistent, millennials (the majority of today’s parents) will not even consider enrolling their child with you. Your website should be user-friendly, bright, clean, and inviting. Have relevant photos, descriptions of your program, and an easy way for someone to fill out an inquiry form. This can be costly, but I promise you, it is well worth every penny. Your website should not be confusing at all. If possible, besides photos, it is great to have a video introduction where the director is introducing themselves and giving a tour and background of the program.
An immaculate facility
Over the years, I have walked through many centers. Sadly, I must say, most of them are dirty or super messy! There is no excuse for a dirty daycare. This sends a terrible message to parents. Instead, invest your money in a janitorial budget. Aside from teachers having their own cleaning supplies in their classroom (bleach wipes, Swiffer mop, etc.), there should be someone designated to clean floors, bathrooms, and classrooms.
Floors should be clean, toys in good shape, and everything in its place. Your space should not feel cluttered in any way. When I walk into a space, I don’t want to see anything piled-up or items that should be in a closet somewhere out in the open. Be thoughtful when it comes to your classroom. It should be bright, inviting, and clean.
To parents, clean means safe.
Friendly and engaging staff
When giving a tour, nothing makes a parent more nervous than when they get a weird vibe from the staff. Educators do not need to put on a show or act like something they are not, however, they should be personable and engaging, especially to parents. During a tour, train your staff to introduce themselves, make eye contact, and come down on the child’s level if the child is on the tour, too.
Educators should also be dressed appropriately for the job. Even though they are working with little ones and need to be comfortable, when on a tour if a parent sees all of the staff in sweatpants and concert t-shirts, it may send the message that you are not professional. Have a dress code for your staff, and make sure it is realistic to the job description. For example, I allow my teachers to wear leggings and t-shirts, but the shirts must be long enough and plain enough to not be offensive or inappropriate. I don’t expect them to wear business casual, but I also don’t want them to look like they just rolled out of bed. There’s a happy medium for sure!
Also, train your staff to greet each parent and child as they drop off in the morning and give one or more affirmations at pick-up time to personalize the greeting with each family. Parents love to hear how their children are doing from the teachers, so be sure to engage and be friendly each and every day.
A user-friendly app for enrolled parents
Just like a website, using a communication app is almost as important to parents. Gone are the days of paper reports. While on their tour, show off your daycare app to the parents. Use the class tablet to show how you communicate, track progress, and create reports. Apps like HiMama are wonderful for both educators and parents. Educators can upload their lesson plans right into the app and then share activities with photos and videos that correlate with their lesson plans. Early learning standards are already programmed in to make it even easier. Parents can like and comment on photos in a safe space and send direct messages to educators to make it easy for communication. Tracking diaper changes, feedings, activities, and moods with personalized photos is such a great way for parents to be kept in the loop daily.
Parent testimonials and references
Something that always impresses prospective parents on tours is when I offer a list of currently enrolled as well as graduated families who they can call or email for a direct reference to our program. Parents have nothing to lose when it comes to giving honest feedback, so offering that to prospective parents is bold and respectable.
Encourage current and graduated parents to create reviews on your website and social media sites as well as sites like Yelp so that more future families can see what others think. Since we as employees will always defend our program and back it until our last dying day, it’s good to have objective perspectives as well.
Sit with your team at your next staff meeting and discuss why first impressions matter. Cast vision for them so they all can understand why you want things to look a certain way. It sends an important message, and we want to not just portray those messages in the beginning but consistently throughout their time with us. This way, first impressions turn into lasting ones.