evelyn knight

Making Sure Your Child Care Business Will Survive if You Have to Step Away.

In this episode of The Preschool Podcast, we connect with Evelyn Knight, CEO of Childcare Business Professionals, an organization that helps owners and directors through mentorship and providing resources. Evelyn discusses her passion for ensuring the centers are set up for success at their center even if they’re not physically there. In this episode, Evelyn discusses how directors, owners and, admins can ensure that their center can run efficiently even while you’re not physically present in the center.

Want to connect with Evelyn? Check out her Facebook Group, website, or Instagram to learn more about Evelyn’s story and how she can help your center get its processes in order if you have to step away from your business unexpectedly.

Episode 287 Transcripts:

Evelyn KNIGHT:

And that isn’t just throwing them into the classroom and hoping they stick. You have to have a system to make sure that they’re really learning, getting to know your system and really, honestly, falling in love with your [childcare] center.

Ron SPREEUWENBERG: 

Evelyn, welcome back to the Preschool Podcast!

KNIGHT:

Thank you for having me, Ron!

SPREEUWENBERG: 

Great to have back Evelyn Knight, a business coach and CEO. We had Evelyn with us last year, talking about keeping our Child Care Businesses going through the COVID-19 pandemic. Most of us are trying to move on from that and think about the future where COVID-19 isn’t part of everyday conversation.

And part of that, as well, is thinking about how our Child Care Businesses can continue to survive and thrive while we may not be there as owners, administrators, directors, which is a real challenge because we’re all so involved in the day today as business owners, myself included. That’s a hard challenge.

And so we’re going to talk to Evelyn a bit about that today. Evelyn, welcome back. For those of you who didn’t have the opportunity to listen to our last podcast, can you tell the audience a little bit about yourself and your background?

KNIGHT:

Sure, I am the founder and CEO of Child Care Business Professionals, which is a company that helps owners and directors learn how to navigate the business side of childcare. My mission is really just to help more owners and directors find success while providing high-quality, research-based standards that are really just delivering what’s best for the children.

I am also the host of the Child Care Business Coach Podcast, which focuses on just that business side of things. And I’m also a childcare center owner – that is really what sets me apart from other business coaches out there, is that I walk the walk and I live the life every single day. This morning I was at my childcare center before we’re recording this, putting out [proverbial] fires. So, I know exactly what it’s like to manage a center.

SPREEUWENBERG: 

Tell us a little bit about your center, where it is and what age groups you have there and whatnot.

KNIGHT:

So, we are in [the] northern Nevada area, so we’re way north of the Vegas area, closer to Reno. And I am licensed for 130 and my current center that I own here. We’re always at capacity. I actually have a waitlist that’s several years long. I actually have a special license: I am licensed from birth. Literally, I can take children from babies from birth until eight years old. We very rarely take them that young. But we do work with the foster programs. So, every now and then over the years, we’ve had to take them.

I’ve been an owner for 15 years and this is actually my fourth center. But this is the one that I just kind of hold on to. I’ve owned and operated other centers, sold them, but this one is my baby. So, I don’t think I’ll ever be letting this one go.

SPREEUWENBERG: 

Awesome. And you are also the CEO of Child Care Business Professionals. And one of the topics you’re passionate about is this idea of allowing your center to go on without you, as an owner, as a director. Why are you passionate about this subject? Why do you feel like that’s an important conversation?

KNIGHT:

Well, this is something very near and dear to my heart because I’ve lived through it twice now. And the first time I went through a huge life experience, I actually was diagnosed with neurological disease. And it basically put me out of commission for several months. And when I returned to the center I owned at the time, I was facing bankruptcy. It was really, really bad. My center was not equipped to go on without me. So, I almost lost everything.

And it was a horrible, horrible feeling to know that over 100 families were relying on me for childcare and that 20 women’s jobs were on the line and they relied on me for their paychecks. And because I had checked out for a few months while I was dealing with this medical condition, everybody almost lost everything. And it took me years, it took me about five years to undo the damage and to recuperate financially. And just my childcare center’s reputation, everything, to just undo the damage of me having to step away for a while.

So this, again, I was faced with another, just huge life transition. My husband was diagnosed with end-stage kidney disease and he was not eligible for a kidney transplant. He actually did pass away this last July. And this time, however, I was prepared and I learned from my past mistake. And I put processes into place so that if I ever had to step away again, my business would be okay without me.

And I am so thankful that I did because I was able to take the time needed to become my husband’s full time caregiver. So, instead of having nurses and someone else care for him in that last year of his life, I was able to provide that care. And then after he passed, I was also able to step away from both my companies and just be with my kids. We were just able to take that time and grieve and just be there for each other.

So, now I’m really passionate because I know… I would say the majority of centers are not ready for something like this. And if I could just tell your audience one thing, it’s just we don’t know when life is going to hit us. I am pretty young to be a widow. And my husband and I were together my entire adult life. And had you told me five years ago that I would be facing the life I face today, I wouldn’t have believed you.

But I am so thankful that if I hadn’t made these changes in my business, I could be facing bankruptcy right now. I lost his income. I went from a dual-income family to a single-income family. I could be facing losing everything and having to start over from scratch while trying to deal with this tragedy of me losing my husband and my children losing their father. But instead, I have been able to step away and I’m okay – I’m okay financially. We’ve been able to take care of ourselves emotionally, all because we put the systems in place needed for me to be able to walk away when the time came.

SPREEUWENBERG: 

Yeah, and I was going to say the exact same thing, which you reiterated the point to our listeners, which is you just really don’t know what life is going to throw at you and when. And certainly you have been through that, so you can speak to it. And I was wondering if you could also talk a little bit to the mental side of that, too. Because by putting the systems in place to be able to physically step away from your role, but also my sense is there probably was also some sort of mental space for you knowing that things would be okay without you.

KNIGHT:

Yes, absolutely. And yeah, I can tell you, I’ve been through quite the journey in the last 15 years where before, when I almost lost my center due to my neurological disease, I had a victim’s mentality. I really thought the life was happening to me. And so I really worked on my mindset. And I realized that mindset is absolutely key in order to being able to go on. And it’s really how we see the world.

So, through all of this, I have been very careful to take care of my mental health, to be honest, and just really being proactive instead of reactive. I knew going into this that I am a facing the hardest season of my life. But I also knew that I have a choice: I can choose to walk into this time prepared and to do what I need to do to make sure that I survive and that I’m okay, or I can fall apart. And it took a lot of mindset work because it’s easy to fall apart. It’s easy to get angry and just to let these overwhelming life experiences just take you over and overcome.

So, it has taken a lot of work and intentionality on my part in order to really just be in that right mindset and really embrace what’s happened. Focusing on the good in life has been huge for me. I wouldn’t be here today talking to you, to be honest, if I didn’t wake up every morning and force myself to think about the wonderful things I do have in my life.

I think we get caught up so often in looking at the loss. I could come to you and say, “I lost my husband of 29, years and my life is tragic.” Or I can come to you and say, “I had the amazing, wonderful experience of having this man in my life for 29 years. And we built a wonderful life that I’m going to make him proud and continue on with.”

But that does take a lot of work. Having that kind of mindset shift takes a lot of work. So, I’m constantly diligent about journaling. I do make sure I get into therapy. I read a lot of books that really just keeps me focused on just moving forward instead of staying where I am and focusing on the tragedy that we’ve experienced.

SPREEUWENBERG: 

And so some of these things that you’re doing to continue to maintain that mindset – because I agree that mindset is so fundamental and critical – are those the same things that you did to develop that mindset initially? Or were there other things above and beyond that kind of triggered that mindset shift for you, as well?

KNIGHT:

What triggered the mindset shift was … the things I went through medically. I realized that I was going to lose everything if I didn’t make a change. I really had to basically face the cold reality within myself that this is happening because of me, not to me. And I do have a choice.

So, I really had to just pretty much have a really stern talk with myself and really just tell myself that I had to start taking my life back and taking control. And that’s when I had to acknowledge my victim mentality. So, that’s when I really had to admit that this isn’t happening to me. I can control the narrative. And that’s when I basically sought out to seek the knowledge that would help me to change my mindset.

SPREEUWENBERG: 

Yeah, it’s funny because I was actually just talking to my partner about this the other day. And she was telling me about, I think it was Dr. Phil who was saying, these life-altering events, oftentimes the tragic ones, they can either make you or break you. And yeah, your mindset there is so critical. So, moving on to the more, let’s say, practical side of this: what are things that childcare center owners directors can do to make sure that their centers aren’t solely relying on them to operate effectively?

KNIGHT:

So, some of the things that we really need to focus on as owners and directors is making sure that you have documented systems in place. I cannot stress the importance enough of this one thing, that everything in your center should be systematically documented and have procedures. And I am talking about something as simple as changing diapers.

I know a lot of people don’t understand how important this is. But my childcare center is a very high-quality center. We have the highest star rating we can. We’re going through an ECE [early-childhood education] accreditation. And in order to make sure that you’re always providing what is absolutely best for the children and for your staff, and to make sure that you can step away and it’s going to continue, you have to have very clear expectations for your staff and your parents. You have to have them documented and you have to also make sure that they’re trained on this, that it is just absolutely huge. You want to pretty much create a system where you are duplicating yourself.

And then for me personally, I was the owner-director. I duplicated myself in my director and then I’ve taught her how to duplicate herself. But we actually have documented systems. And my employee onboarding process on its own is a six-month-long process that teaches teachers every little thing, down to how we want conversations with the children’s structure.

And I know it kind of sounds like we micromanage and control, but we really don’t. It’s just basically these structures on how things need to be done and how it’s done with that ability to have some creative input, as well. But without those documented systems, you’re always chasing your tail. And that is when owners and directors create atmospheres for themselves where they cannot be away from their center.

I’ll tell you, as a business coach who helps mainly a lot of owners really establish these things, that I see so many owners who are stuck and they can’t leave their center. They can’t take vacations. They’re just stuck because they feel like their staff isn’t stepping up and that they’re just not getting it. But what it really comes down to is that the owners have not really made their expectations clear. They think that, “Well, if they just see me doing this, they’re going to do it, too.” Or, “This is just the way we’ve always done it.”

But what owners don’t understand is that they actually have to create a system that they can constantly train on. And that’s where the documentation, even if it’s video documentation or if you want to use an app like Trello [management software], things like that have to come into play. And I know it sounds like it’s a lot to put together, but I cannot even tell you how much time it will end up saving.

SPREEUWENBERG: 

Do you also think that mindset plays a role here in a little bit of a different way, which I guess maybe is like ego?

KNIGHT:

Absolutely.

SPREEUWENBERG: 

Because on the one hand, I think a lot of people feel good that they are a central part to the effective operating of their business. And without them, things wouldn’t work. That kind of feels good in a way, doesn’t it?

KNIGHT:

It does. And yes, absolutely, that is one of the biggest things I have to overcome with my clients that I’m helping. I’m also actually a life coach and I actually have a degree in psychology. So, when I’m teaching my clients these concepts, I always bring life coaching into it with psychology because my mindset is what will bring you down every time. That is the number one thing that will basically be a setback.

And exactly what you’re saying, I see so many owners and directors who don’t even realize that they have created atmospheres where they’re actually the problem because they’re so afraid of their staff being okay without them. And they’re so afraid, it does hurt their ego, that things go on just fine without them.

But I’ll tell you, the best leaders in the world, they will actually have a program and their companies will be able to just move on seamlessly, whether they’re there or not. That is one of the truest tests of leadership, is how well does your company run when you’re not there? If you’ve done your job as a good, effective leader, then it is going to run exactly the same, whether you’re there or you’re not there.

SPREEUWENBERG: 

Yeah, and I think that’s part of the mindset shift, is from, “I am a really important, central aspect to the business and therefore am quote-unquote ‘successful’,” to, “I am successful if this business can run without me.” It is really this shift that you’re speaking to. And I think, yeah, it is really a change in perspective.

KNIGHT:

It is, and I see a lot of directors, especially who are afraid of their job security. They’re afraid if, let’s say for example, right now, I can tell you, my director is actually out on a medical leave. And my center is fine without her. A lot of directors would be afraid of their centers being okay with them gone for eight weeks because, in their mind, “If the center’s okay, then why do they need me?” That’s a lot of it.

But you’ve got to lose that mindset. You have to understand that you are invaluable. Whether or not you’re there, present, the work you do, your leadership is what people need. And honestly, if a directors working for an owner that doesn’t appreciate that, then I’d have to question why you want to work for the owner to begin with.

SPREEUWENBERG: 

And here’s my perspective on that, curious to get your thoughts: but I don’t think childcare programs should be striving to just be able to operate and function every day. That’s kind of like the bare minimum, what you want to bring to the table as a director or, as you said, with the leadership is moving things forward, improving things. That’s where you might lose some forward momentum as an organization by missing that leader. But to just operate every day effectively, the systems, to your point, should be able to manage that.

KNIGHT:

I could not agree with you more, absolutely, where you don’t want to just be surviving. And that is the problem. You want to be thriving and always be in a place where you can move on to the next better version of yourself. And I think for me, as an owner, I want to see my director being able to do things like joining committees where she can advocate, doing different things like that so she shouldn’t be stuck in that survival mode all the time where my center relies on her to be there all the time.

But it is a trap I see, probably 80% of the time when I am hired on to centers that need help. That is exactly the biggest problem I see, is they don’t have that structure. They don’t have the consistency. They know in their head what they expect and they assume that everybody else just should know that. And they don’t understand that that isn’t how we work as humans – we need direction and guidance.

SPREEUWENBERG: 

So, you mentioned earlier, documentation. Any thoughts on people and hiring when it comes to this concept of having your centres be able to operate if you’re not there?

KNIGHT:

Yes, I think it’s really a couple different things. It’s funny, I just recorded a seminar yesterday for the Leadership Lounge that’s coming up. And basically it’s on hiring and recruiting and retaining employees. And what the biggest thing I would say is, people aren’t intentional enough about this. And this is another thing where you need to create a system. Before you even hire, you should have a system to identify, who do you want to hire? What are their characteristics? What are their values? What kind of a person do you need to attract in order to enhance your center’s brand and culture?

And I know so many people are out there, are really struggling to attract really good employees. And part of the reason is because they don’t know who they’re looking for. So, the messaging that they’re putting out into the world and the image that they’re putting out into the world isn’t really calling to anybody. They’re not being relatable to that right candidate. So, instead, those right candidates are going elsewhere.

And so I can tell you, the employees are out there. It’s just how we’re going about hiring. And then once you do hire, the more important thing is retaining them. And in order to retain your staff, you have to have a solid onboarding process that really assimilates them into your program. And that isn’t just throwing them into the classroom and hoping they stick. You have to have a system to make sure that they’re really learning, getting to know your system and really, honestly falling in love with your center.

And then once that onboarding process is done, you have to have continuous coaching. You have to keep coaching that staff. You have to have continuous conversations with them to make sure that they’re doing okay, that they are really representing your brand and your vision. But it is just an ongoing thing.

And once you have these systems in place – and when I help my clients create, I literally help them create from the ground up – I think of it as, if we’re opening a brand new center, how are we going to start this from the hiring to enrolling, everything? Once you have these things in place, it’s amazing because suddenly you don’t lose staff. They stick with you for years.

The other thing is, you don’t lose children suddenly. You don’t have that revolving door that so many administrators are seeing when it comes to enrollment. And that’s when you really step into becoming a category of one where there really is no competition because people are lining up at your door to get into your center.

SPREEUWENBERG: 

Yeah, and those are two good practical examples with hiring and trying to keep your enrollment up, of this concept of, you shouldn’t be there just to keep things operating but to improve them. And that’s where you can fall into that trap of that spinning wheel of just trying to keep your head above water and keep things going, versus having those things be steady, like steady enrollment with a waitlist to back it up and having employees that stay with you so you’re not constantly dealing with turnover and recruiting and interviews and hiring and training. And then it’s so, so time consuming.

KNIGHT:

Yes, it really is. And I don’t think a lot of programs understand how expensive it is, too, and how much money they’re wasting on hiring and this constant attrition, which really isn’t necessary. In our industry, we have this false belief that we can’t hire because of low wages and that we can’t retain, but we really can. The problem is that we just don’t know where to focus and really how to manage that.

SPREEUWENBERG: 

Yeah, absolutely, which goes back to the mindset point. Which brings me to my next question to you because on the Preschool Podcast, we’re trying to encourage our listeners to own their professional development. And so I was curious to know if you had any good content or things you’d like to share with the audience in terms of their professional development and resources they can check out there.

KNIGHT:

Sure, right now I am actually reading an amazing book that has just been a game changer for me. It’s called Rocket Fuel [The One Essential Combination That Will Get You More of What You Want from Your Business] by Gino Wickman [and Mark C. Winters]. All of Gino Wickman’s titles are great, but it really does help owners and directors understand the relationship that they should be having with each other.

The other thing is, I am a huge fan of Kelly Roach, anything she writes. She’s my personal business coach, that’s who I contract as a business coach. Everything she writes is amazing. She’s coming out with a new book that’s called Conviction Marketing. She also has books on team building. But when it comes to mindset and business practices, she’s amazing at putting those things together.

The other one, the last thing I would really recommend is, there’s a podcast called Your Live Well Journey, it’s Your Live Well Journey Podcast. And that really helps to just get that mindset in track.

SPREEUWENBERG: 

Awesome, some great recommendations there from Evelyn, go check them out. And Evelyn, if our listeners would like to get in touch with you or maybe see if there’s an opportunity to work with you as a coach, where can they go to get more information?

KNIGHT:

You can find my website is www.ChildCareBusinessProfessionals.com, and you can also find me on Facebook. I would really encourage everybody to join my Facebook group, it’s the Child Care Business Coach, Facebook group. And basically every week I actually do a live mindset video. I go live on Facebook every week – I also do it on my YouTube channel, but Facebook is where I like to have the interaction with people. But I do live mindset trainings every Monday morning at 9:00AM, Pacific time, just to really help ECE leaders, just encouraging them to get through the day on a positive – and the whole week, basically – in that positive mindset of thinking how we really should, as leaders in early-childhood education.

SPREEUWENBERG: 

Oh, that’s awesome, I love that. It’s a tough job, so getting that energy and the mindset in the right place is so important. So, I like the idea of doing that on a weekly basis, which lines up really well with your messaging here today on making sure your childcare business can survive without you and the importance of mindset and systems in making that happen. Evelyn, thank you so much for joining us again and sharing your story and your learnings and experience with our audience here today!

KNIGHT:

Thank you, Ron!

Kiah Price

Kiah Price is a Social Media Specialist at HiMama. Prior to HiMama she was an Early Childhood Educator in a preschool classroom in Toronto. She is the Jill of all trades at HiMama from dipping her toes in Sales, Customer Success, Operations, and Marketing! She enjoys sweating through spin classes, hot yoga, and biking along the waterfront trails in Toronto. She loves traveling and trying new foods and wines across the globe- 29 countries and counting!

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