Hi I’m Ron Spreeuwenberg Co-Founder and CEO of HiMama. Welcome to our podcast about all things early childhood education.
In this week’s episode we chat with Kris Murray founder and president of Child Care Marketing Solutions, about how you need to make time for passion-filled activities that energize you as an owner or director of a preschool or child care organization. She gets to the deep question of what drives you to do what you do to get back in tune with your life purpose to energize yourself and your staff. This means being purposeful about making the time to do these important activities, both for yourself and for your business, and holding yourself accountable for it.
Kris has some super insightful advice that gets the reflective questions of what drives us to work in early childhood education. This is a must listen episode if you’re a leader in early childhood education. So stay tuned for this episode of the preschool podcast. To kick things off. Let’s start with why you’ve gone into the field of child care in the first place.
I just noticed from a mom’s perspective and just with my marketing hat on the side that these people, I think, could use my help. And so I really just kind of put together some services and some training on how to improve what they were doing and I saw a star that only 10 or 15 percent of early childhood professionals directors and leaders and owners had had any formal business or marketing training somebody had done a study. And so that proved to be a really good thing that I was able to bring a market that really needed it, they were actually starving for it. So I started doing webinars and different trainings and live trainings and speaking at seminars around the country, conferences. People just loved it. They just you know they needed it so badly in our industry. So that’s how I got into it was just giving the market something that it needed.
It’s I’m in the business of teaching and caring for children and I’m going to do what I do so well that word of mouth is going to spread like wildfire our fire around my community and I don’t need to market and many times and in the early 90s and then threw out all the way up until 2007. That was fine for many childcare owners. They didn’t have to market because they did have that word of mouth. But then when the Great Recession had and leading up to that point and the competitiveness of early childhood it got more and more competitive and franchises entered the market. They realize that they better get savvy with figuring out how to make this thing profitable and get clients in the door or guess what I’m going to have to close my doors so I just think you know I think when you start a business and you hang out your shingle, especially if you started out as a preschool teacher you think I’m going to do it. They will come and I don’t necessarily need to get marketing a business training but then later you might realize that that’s a fallacy.
Yeah that’s an interesting point. So I it sounds like it’s safe to assume that a lot of these teachers who transitioned into maybe a supervisory role and then a director role probably focus a lot of their attention on the programming on the education which is amazing. But that word of mouth about the great quality of their programs internally you might not have really made it out to the families in the community around the child care program.
Yeah exactly. They put 90 percent of their focus on the curriculum and the quality which is fantastic. That’s what you want. But if nobody knows that you’re that you’re doing an amazing job because you’re not being found on Google and your signage is terrible so no one can find you or no one even knows you exist then you’re going to sadly not be able to gain and keep those clients that you need to survive. So you can have every amazing curriculum and equality in place but sadly still not be able to run a successful business if you don’t have the other pieces in place.
And that was actually one of the pieces that I wanted to talk to you about was how do childcare owners and directors spend their time. And so we’ve touched on the fact that you know maybe a lot of these directors and owners who spend their time in the classroom previously, maybe spend a little bit too much time on the programs themselves. And so I guess a couple of questions about that. Firstly how would you recommend that a director spends their time in terms of time in program in classroom versus on marketing the business or other activities.
So I think it varies. To say that one directors prescription of time fits all. It would be a misnomer because what we try to teach people is to strengthen your strengths and to work in the area of your unique brilliance. We help people figure out what that is. So what are the passionate things that when you come to work or the passion filled activities in your day that you look forward to doing that you could do all day long that energize you and don’t drain you. So if everybody can be mostly working in their area of unique brilliance they’re going to be much more effective and passionate and inspiring to others and effective in their job in general. So trying to figure out what that is for each person, so that everybody on your team can be fulfilled and passionate about their job is great. So that’s one thing. So if you as a director just love being in the classroom doing teacher assessments and you know child assessments and coaching teachers and helping them, developing them and then and that drives you then that should be a fantastic use of your time for sure. Because it supports teacher happiness and parents are going to see that their kids are happier because the classroom effectiveness is just going to be at the top, 110 percent it’s going to be hitting all cylinders.
So that’s one thing to take into account, so if that was the case if on that example I would say that director should be spending probably a least a third of her time doing those things that in the classroom and for the quality the teacher support teacher happiness and the impacts are going to show in the child. The impacts are going to be all throughout you know from zero to five. It’s the entire community is going to be feeling the impacts of that director working at her unique brilliance and making a difference in the classroom. But that’s balance with all the other stuff that directors have to do. I think, Ron it’s one of the hardest jobs on the planet. I tell people all the time because they also have to do potentially billing or account reconciliation and licensing stuff and food programs stuff and paperwork and dealing with phone calls all day long, where parents are calling in and maybe upset parents then you know it’s just there’s just so much and there can be also a lot of interruptions.
But what we’d like to try to do is we like to try to help people sift through all that all that noise and have a few hours of uninterrupted time every day. This is from the directors standpoint so that she can focus on what we call her up her high payoff activities. And those would be certainly giving tours, following up on phone calls making sure that her enrollment building activities and her enrollment building processes are getting some good focus everyday ideally, so that the enrollment in the school and the retention in the school the family retention and the happiness level which is again supported by the classroom we mentioned earlier can be at its optimum. And so if you can stay between 90 to 100 percent fall and you can be focused on enrollment to some degree you know maybe 20 percent of your week maybe 10 percent of your week but it needs to have some focus for sure. Otherwise the enrollment of the school will suffer. So that needs to be a focus certainly classroom needs to be a focus. I like to always also say a part of your day should be getting up and walking around and greeting parents saying bye the parents just making human connections. I think directors who are active and who get up who make sure that the trash is picked up outside you know the school the little wrappers, you know, just paying attention to detail and managing by walking around talking to your teachers make sure they have everything they need and that’s a good school. That’s the sign of a healthy well-run school. I don’t know if I answered your question.
Absolutely. Some very good points in there. You know one thing I’m sure some directors and owners would ask you is Kris I would love to have this uninterrupted time to do these pay off activities. But how the heck do I find that time in my day. Like you said this is one of the hardest jobs on the planet and there’s so many things going on there’s interruptions.There’s paper work there’s reporting there’s teachers there’s families there’s kids it’s chaos. I’ve got so many things going on. How do I find time to do that stuff?
So we like to train directors on how to set a daily schedule and they actually communicate it. I’ve seen people use something as simple as a small white board and they would ideally have something that they could hang on their door or placed outside of their door or put up through it that you can see through the window right there so that you have an expectation of what the director’s daily schedule is. Also, part of that is grouping teacher interruption. So she would maybe have four 15 minute slots every day from 1 to 2 p.m. So I’ll take you through it really quick. So an example schedule could be director daily schedule could be greeting parents and doing classroom management and observations making sure everybody is all good and they have all the stuff they need from 8:30 to 9:30. And then from 9:30 to 11:00 is a quiet uninterrupted time and she’s got a front desk person or an assistant director who’s handling the phone at that time. That’s essential.
And I like to see the phone answered by a human being by the way. I don’t want that phone to go to voicemail. So if it has to go to voicemail then we need to figure out something else because parents and prospects, prospective parents they want to have the phone answered by a human being and at child care center. It’s very disconcerting when you’re calling a school to learn about ABC child care and then it goes to voicemail. It’s making you think well I’m not going to put my child in that school because I can’t get a hold of them. So the phone, assuming it’s being answered by a front desk gal or assistant director or somebody or the cook while the cook is prepping lunch or whatever and then director can get stuff done from 9:30 to 11 uninterrupted, may have an occasional parent call but hopefully all that stuff being taken handled by the front desk person ideally and then from 11 to 12 maybe the director takes an early lunch or does something else and then like I mentioned from 12 to one, her teacher slot so everybody’s on nap now teachers can come in for 10 or 15. They group there they’re concern. So if a teacher wants to come in and talk to the director she gets coverage or they’re on naps so she doesn’t need coverage. She comes in and has her 15 minute one on one with the director and then there’s another potential slot from two to four of quiet time where the director can get work done and then from four to six she’s open and available she’s out she’s mingling she’s talking to parents she’s working with kids she’s you know what have you.
So that’s just an example. But I think if you post it you can also use a system we’ve developed which is just red light green light yellow light and if you’re on green light that means I’m open for interruptions come on and if I’m on red light it means I’m really trying to get this licensing thing done asap please don’t interrupt me, please go see the assistant director. Go let somebody know and I’ll get back to you soon as I can. So there got to be ways that she can protect her time if not there. You know folks are never going to get to their high pay off activities if they can’t protect their time. And so that’s what we teach.
As you were talking I was taking some notes for myself. That I could definitely use the uninterrupted time. I like the red yellow green light thing.
Awesome I’m glad I can help you Ron
So just changing direction a little bit here. So these things all make a lot of sense to me. It seems like very logical things to do. Why do directors, owners of child care programs, ultimately decide to work with you. Is there sort of like a breaking point where they say you know enough is enough or is it oftentimes what they’re struggling with enrollment or they’re really stressed when do they commonly come to you and say Kris we really need you to help us out here.
Well we you know a little bit of self-promotion, we do put on the industry’s largest business oriented event, so the child care success summit is every October and we’re thinking about adding a spring event but right now we just have the one and people come year after year to get re-inspired and remotivate it because being an early childhood owner and or a director can be extremely draining, like I said, difficult job that feels like sometimes a very thankless job. And so they usually join our coaching programs or work with us because we kind of we have a whole peer support group so not only did they get us as coaches but they get each other. And so sometimes being an owner or director in this field can feel like the loneliest place on the planet. And so not only do they get the tools the shortcuts the resources and the accountability and the coaching and we give them how to get to that next level of success but they also recognize that there’s this group this yummie group of people who are going through exactly what they’re going through and they usually meet those folks at a success summit in October. Then I will have 600 people come in this year and then a bunch of vendors which is great.
And then they all kind of network and then they realize what this is a pretty cool tribe like these are really people who are all early childhood people they all know they all share their trials and tribulations and pains and successes and wins and so to have that group of peers and then with us as the coaches helping support them to get to the next level and we hold them accountable. I mean I think you’re I think you recognize that you’re ready to join us when you’re like you know what. I’m tired of going it alone. I’ve been I’ve been beating my head against the wall. I can see that Kris has a lot of shortcuts. And then all these other members can help me stay sane get to that next level of success be more profitable free up my time find a little bit of time freedom in my life. We had one guy who after working with us finally got to take his wife on vacation to Italy for two weeks, first vacation they’d had in 16 years. So he told that story on stage and so people get inspired. They all just inspire each other. And I’m just kind of the facilitator I’m the conduit for it. But it’s fantastic. And so I think they recognize themselves and the folks that are there and then they just get called to join us which is great.
And so for those folks who might not know about your conference or don’t show up to your conference. And talk to that peer group which sounds very valuable. How would they typically find out about you do it through word of mouth?
Yeah we have a lot of great referrals and word of mouth in the industry. And at this point we’re pretty well now on to success. It’s pretty well-known and there’s a lot of industry buzz about it. And so there’s also a lot of social media buzz. So, well you know, it’s really usually word of mouth or they’ll see one of our books for sale, a lot of times too Ron. Because we just, Jessica who works for me, just did a brand new book on her staff hiring you know how to keep yours how to hire the best staff how to motivate them how to keep them with you how to get them trained. And so we now have three books in our company and so a lot of people will just start by buying one of our books and then we’ll come to an event and then I’ll go from there.
Got ya. Hiring stuff is super important for sure. One thing I wanted to touch on, you mentioned before was holding people accountable. I’m sure one thing that I think I would struggle with if I was a director is I would get really excited about all of the things I could do to improve my childcare business or my organization but it would be really difficult to deal execute over time and maybe I would start to slack off a little bit after a few weeks and then you know after a couple of months I’m kind of back where I started. Is there certain things that you recommend to try to do to keep on top of these recommendations that you provide?
So the way that we keep we have two kind of structures inside of our coaching programs to keep people accountable. Well actually three. So we have live meetings with all the members and we get them to say these are the three things I’m going to accomplish in the next 90 days are going to move my business forward. Then when they come back to the next meeting after 90 days, it’s did you hit those things. We don’t specifically like get them to stand up and say whether they hit them or not but we generally hold them accountable and their peers hold them accountable. So the second thing we have is kind of a peer to peer accountability where they get a buddy and they buddy up with a peer in our program and they call each other every week and keep each other accountable in between meetings which is fantastic.
And then the final thing. And then the final thing as me and my other coach Jessica. They get on the phone with myself and with her and we hold them accountable so I meet with most of my members on a monthly or every other month basis on the phone just a 30 minute phone call. But we always start with. All right. Well what have you accomplished since the last time? What was the homework from last time was x. Did you get it done? How did it go? What pitfalls what successes and so we just kind of go from call to call meeting trying to get them to make progress. And they usually do.
One of the things I wanted to touch on a little bit more was you mentioned you’ve recently put out a book about hiring staff and managing staff in a child care program and I was looking at your Facebook page and a lot of the content on there was about how childcare staff are underpaid. How do you think that correlates to child care or success?
I don’t really buy into the whole industry is underpaid thing. I mean I do agree that it would be fantastic. I mean there’s nobody that would love to pay teachers more than me. Don’t get me wrong, but at the end of the day we’re not really motivated with our careers in general as human beings. Most of us are not motivated solely by money. Certainly you know most of us don’t have money at the top. If you pick to become a preschool teacher is your career, you’re the kind of person that’s not going to want to necessarily put money at the top of your list any way you want to make a difference. You want to work for people who have a vision and have passion and support your growth as a teacher and send you to some trainings and give you all the classroom supplies you need and help you make a fantastic curriculum plan and help you make an impact in the lives of children and that’s at the end of the day what it’s all about.
Yes. Would it be great to pay teachers more, of course, but most child care centers are making, at the bottom line, because everybody thinks oh well they must be making a ton of money and look at these tuition rates. They must be making hand over fist. Well that’s not true. Most child care centers are making between 10 and 12 percent profit which for a retail business service business is on the low and so it’s a labor of love. Tuition is high, wages are low but there’s a lot of money that goes into running a high quality childcare center. You got to pay for this big facility. You have a lot of overhead. You have a ton of salaries, you know payroll even though teachers don’t make that much. Usually runs around 60 percent of total revenues. So it’s a huge cost. When there’s new laws going into effect in December related to wage and over-time, those laws are going to impact the viability of childcare centres and some won’t make it.
So we help people try to you know manage costs make a little money at the bottom line you know and do a great job for kids. And yes we we’d all love to pay teachers more but I really don’t think that that’s the number one human driver of why teachers stay. I think they want to work for a leader who appreciates them, who drives them gives them, shares their vision, improves the school, puts money back into the school, improves the playground and does things for the kids, does things for the families. And so I’ve seen a lot of really high quality programs where there’s no teacher turnover because the teachers just love the culture. There is a strong culture and that’s really what it’s about at the end of the day more than pay, in my opinion.
For a couple of rapid fire questions here for you before we finish up. Do you have certain sources where you get information about child care and early childhood education or maybe places where you direct the childcare directors and owners that you work with?
I do. I like to attend conferences when I can. Other people’s conferences so I can kind just keep a beat on trends and what’s happening. Of course NAEYC is the big national conference, that’s a great resource especially for teachers and your state conferences. Some states are really active in ECE. They have great state associations and some not so much but the state level can be fantastic for resources. Of course the Exchange magazine I’m perusing that monthly and the National Association of Child Care Resource and Referral. I think a lot of child care owners interestingly still don’t know about the fact that there’s I don’t know the number almost 300 child care aware offices child care resource and referral offices around the United States that are resources just for our industry. So if you don’t know where your office is just go to Child Care Aware and put your zip code in and find your local child care resource and referral office and they have a ton of resources available for a local child care providers, loans grants training et cetera. So those are all places and resources that I use.
Awesome. Thank you. And I’m going to put you on the spot if I came to you as a child care director and I said Kris I’ve only got like 60 seconds but what’s like the one big thing you can tell me that is going to hold me up.
So one big thing you know I guess I feel like it kind of goes back to that that passion and vision that I guess I feel like I would maybe say “What’s your why.” Why are you doing this? What do you want at the end of your day when you’re 90 and you’re lying on your death bed and you look back on your life, what is it that is going to you can be like I’m really really glad I did that you know kind of trying to get back in touch with for lack of a better word your life purpose or. But you know what’s your why, what drives you and how can you reignite your passion so that you’re going to show up at work you’re going to reignite your teachers you’re going to make a difference in the life of kids. And that will, I think, help you determine what you want to do to live your best life.
Well said. That’s great. I think everybody can learn from that too. So thanks so much for joining me. I think this was a very interesting conversation. And last but not least where can people find you online?
And then if you want more information about our big conference in October you can go to childcaresuccesssummit.com .
My twitter is
That’s wonderful. Thanks so much Kris.
Thank you so much Ron this has been fun. I really appreciate it.