COVID-19 & Your Childcare Business
COVID-19 & Your Childcare Business

Keeping Your Childcare Business Going Through The COVID-19 Pandemic

Episode 194 – The COVID-19 pandemic has caused a lot of anxiety and uncertainty for childcare business owners. In this episode, we have an honest conversation with Evelyn Knight, business owner and coach about the changes she has made are her center in the last couple of weeks. She emphasizes the importance of keeping a positive and creative mindset to maneuver through the current moment and continue delivering value to the families she serves. 

Resources: 

Episode Transcript

Evelyn KNIGHT:

Finding a way to provide value to your families, even if they’re not at your center. So, we’re still providing the service. It’s just not in the same way but we’re still providing value.

Ron SPREEUWENBERG: 

Evelyn, welcome to the Preschool Podcast!

KNIGHT:

Thank you for having me!

SPREEUWENBERG: 

We’re delighted to have on the show today Evelyn Knight. She’s an owner of a childcare program called Zoo’n Around Preschool in Nevada, but she’s also a coach for childcare providers, directors [and] owners. And the business that she has is called Childcare Business Professionals because she really wants to get the message out to the world about early-childhood educators being professionals, which is something we definitely support on the Preschool Podcast.

So, we’re delighted to have Evelyn on the show today. And there’s lots of crazy things happening in the world right now and they’re very challenging to deal with. So, we’re going to talk to Evelyn about COVID 19 and the challenges of managing your center, which may or may not be open right now with the Corona virus and all the things that are happening around that.

So, Evelyn, welcome to the show! Let’s start off learning a little bit about you, your background and who you are.

KNIGHT:

Okay, well, I started in early-childhood education when I was still in high school and I’ve just been doing it ever since. I became an owner about 15 years ago. But I have done every job in the field, from being a director to even the cook at a childcare center. So, I know the industry pretty well.

SPREEUWENBERG: 

And lots of crazy things are happening right now, as I mentioned. You’re pretty in tune with a lot of the conversations. What are the things people are talking about right now?

KNIGHT:

Well, right now I am seeing just so much stress and distress. Owners are really scared that if their centers get shut down, or the ones who are shut down already, they’re really scared that they’re not going to be able to open their doors again, that this is going to be just a permanent situation and they’re going to lose their business.

Directors are afraid of the same thing. They’re also really afraid of losing their staff. They’re not sure when we do come back, “Are we going to be able to financially bring all of our staff back? Are we going to have to do layoffs? There’s just so much heaviness right now for these owners and directors that I talk to every day. It’s the stress level and it’s the weight of the responsibility, just keeping our families safe – our personal families and the families in our care. It’s just so heavy, the weight of the responsibility right now.

SPREEUWENBERG: 

So, let’s kind of tackle those two pieces because there’s the aspect of practically and pragmatically, financially, what should we be doing right now? And then also the other really important thing of mentally and from a stress perspective and in our mindset, what should we be doing? Which one of those do you want to tackle first? Big subjects.

KNIGHT:

I think let’s talk about mindset. I think mindset right now for us, if we’re going to survive this, mindset is the key. We as leaders have to remember that we chose to be leaders in the field. And now it’s time for us to step out of our comfort zone and shine. Our families and our staff are really looking to us for guidance. So, if we start to shy away or to show that uncertainty, they’re going to be even more uncertain. They need to know that we are strong and we’re in this and we’re not going to give up.

And that’s not to say that you can’t have your own concerns and that you can’t feel insecure also – we do, of course. But there’s a difference between fear and courage. And now is the time that we really just have to be the courageous leaders.

I think it also gives us a wonderful opportunity to show the world that we are professionals and that we are vital to businesses being able to operate because they need us for their childcare. So, I think it’s just really important right now for us to really just step up and be leaders.

And in order to do that, we’ve got to get in that right mindset. We have to just every morning tell ourselves, “We are going to make it through this. I’m going to do whatever it takes. I’m not going to give up on my center; I’m not going to give up on my staff. I’m just going to do what I need to do. And even though things look really rough right now, I’m going to make it through this.”

SPREEUWENBERG: 

Yeah, and I think that’s a really important message. Even just with our toddler, they closed the childcare program down. And the owner very kindly came directly to our house to drop off some of the things that we had left when we left on the Friday, not knowing that it would be closed for a few weeks or however long it is.

And she was really… she felt really terrible by the fact that the center was closing. But she really had no control over that. And she was asking us, “What can we do for you? The center’s closed but what can we do?” So, is that also a conversation that you’re seeing?

KNIGHT:

Yes, absolutely. That is another big conversation I’m seeing. And I think part of what you’re alluding to, too, is it’s really hard… I think we’re questioning ourselves as leaders. And we just are so afraid to make the wrong decision. And I think it’s important to know that really there is no right or wrong decision to make – it’s just a decision right now.

And if you step out of your mind and change that thinking when it comes to like, “Oh, what if I make the wrong decision?” And you just tell yourself, “You know what? There is no right or wrong. This is totally unprecedented. I just need to make a decision,” that is the important thing.

And I also think we need to think about the fact that, in retrospect, we tend to beat ourselves up. I think it’s important for us to tell ourselves right now that, “No matter what decision I make now I am going to be okay with it. I’m going to honor it and I’m not going to beat myself up in the future for it.”

And we also have to remember, our future selves, we know we have all the information. Today, we don’t have all the information. So, if we don’t worry so much about making the mistakes and just tell of we’re going to honor the decisions we make today, it kind of takes that pressure off.

But if you promise yourself, “I’m not going to beat myself up for the decision I make today,” and remind yourself that in the future we know all the scenarios, we know the outcomes but today we don’t, it just helps release that tension of having to make the decision.

SPREEUWENBERG: 

Yeah, and I feel like an important part of that, too, is just to remind ourselves that everybody’s in the same boat right now. Parents, companies, businesses, childcare programs – everybody is faced with the same challenges where we’re making decisions on the fly and we don’t really know what’s going on at times. And we only have the information we have in front of us to make decisions. And just keep that in mind, that if you’re not sure if you’re making the right or wrong decision, nobody knows that right now.

KNIGHT:

Exactly, everybody is in the same boat right now. None of us have been through this so none of us really have the right decisions. So, don’t worry about judgment; don’t worry about making the wrong decisions. And release yourself from knowing that there is no right or wrong right now – there’s just decisions.

And take that pressure off. I think that is the best thing we can do, is just… I mean, there’s so much pressure on us right now that we can’t take off. At least take the pressure of being scared to make the wrong decision off your shoulders.

SPREEUWENBERG: 

Yeah, and I think an important part of that is just the empathy, right? So, if you’re being empathetic with the people you’re talking to, whether that’s your teachers, your parents, other stakeholders, that’s so important.

So, like, our son’s childcare program, they closed their doors on the recommendation that turned into a mandate from the provincial government. And they told us, “This is not ideal but we really also want to make sure that our staff are supported during this time. And you know what? As a parent, I get that. Everybody has bills to pay. And so we’re going to pay for the childcare services this month, even though we’re not using it, because we want to support the community. We want to support our childcare program; we want to support the ECE’s [early-childhood educators]. And they’re now going out of their way to try to provide us with value through this time, which has been great.

KNIGHT:

Right, and that’s something I’m communicating to the owners that I coach, that I’m really telling them. I think the key there to what you’re saying is that communication. And one thing is we need to make sure, especially owners out there, we have to do what we need to do to protect our business. And I know that is really, really hard. It’s because we feel bad for the parents if we’re asking them to pay, even if they’re not there. That makes us feel really bad and we feel guilty about it.

But right now our responsibility is to protect the business part of our center. That way our staff has a job to come back to and our parents have a center to come back to. And I think the best way to do that is to be transparent with your parents, just like what you’re saying. Your provider has said they’ve gone to you and talked to you.

And that is exactly what I’ve done: I put a letter out; I talked to the parents that I can and I just tell them, “I hate to do this. I absolutely hate charging you, even though I’m not providing you with a service. But if I don’t, my business will not survive.” And I’m noticing that the transparency and honesty is making it so that my parents really just like, “No, we get it.”

At the same time we need to show the compassion for the parents who maybe lost their jobs. So for them I do have like a sliding scale that I’ve designed. And this is something I literally just designed in the last week. It’s not something I’ve had. I just kind of had to sit down and I created a forum for my center that I can give to different families that they can fill out, a hardship forum. And then we’re determining from there what they can afford to pay.

And the other thought on that is that’s also going to create a more loyal customer base for me. So you guys, I know it’s just so hard. And to tell these parents, “You’ve got to pay,” but we have to survive, too. And when you’re honest about it and just tell your families, “Look, I’m afraid if I don’t do this you’re not going to have somewhere to come back to,” most people are great about it.

SPREEUWENBERG: 

Yeah, and that’s a good way to really think about it – which is how you should think about it – is, if your program is not able to survive you’re really going to end up letting down those parents and those teachers and staff that work at your center. So, it’s almost your obligation to try to ensure that you avoid that scenario.

And that’s why for me, personally, I’m really passionate about this term “social enterprise” –which is what HiMama is, as a software company – which means we understand that important aspect of our business continuing to operate effectively and with some level of profit so that we can provide that great service.

And in times of need like this, being able to support families, like you said, it’s not always black and white. There’s maybe a gray zone. And if there’s families in a hardship position, like, again, that goes to the empathetic thing of, “Let’s have that conversation,” right? And just be honest.

KNIGHT:

Yeah, exactly, just being honest, really opening those lines of communication. That is just the most important thing. I think the worst thing owners can do right now is just withdraw. And I am seeing a lot of that right now through some of the coaching I do and the Facebook group I lead that has a lot of different owners. And they just kind of want to hide away. And that is the worst thing you can do right now. You’ve got to just face it head on.

And most people are just… when you are honest, most people are wonderful. I know it’s not always the case but the majority are going to stand by you and they really are going to help and be there for us.

SPREEUWENBERG: 

Absolutely, absolutely. And I think that’s such an important message. And you reiterated the importance but I’ll do it again: we can’t withdraw in this situation. We have to attack it head-on. And the more communication, the better, it sounds like you’re saying?

KNIGHT:

Yes, and I just constantly, especially during times like this, I just try to fill my time with just little positive messages. And I heard something yesterday that was saying… the thing we really also need to realize is, we were in a booming economy that was doing fantastic, just last week. And the money is still out there. The only difference is that people are afraid to spend it.

And that is what really ends up driving the economy, is that fear. So, as childcare is our industry, we need to make sure we don’t sink into that fear and that we just keep going. Just remember, a lot of our families are still… they’re working remotely; they are still getting paid. So, if their income hasn’t changed then they can still afford to pay it.

So, one of the things they think that is helping me, at least, deal with just I guess the guilt that we might feel for charging is finding a way to provide value to your families, even if they’re not at your center.

So, one of the things we’re doing is, my center is actually going on Facebook Live every day for two-and-a-half hours a day. And we’re still providing our preschool program so that our parents can view it. They can have their children watch from home. So, they’re still getting the curriculum. And we’re emailing what our weekly curriculum is with things they can print from home, different things like that. So, we’re still providing the service. It’s just not in the same way. So, we’re still providing value.

SPREEUWENBERG: 

Yeah, and I think that is another message that we’re hearing across all sectors and communities is things are different right now. And so we have to be creative and think about how we can provide value. And that’s a great example with the Facebook group.

At HiMama, if your center’s closed, what we’re doing is we’re providing our customers with content on child activities that parents can do at home with their kids. And so they can use HiMama to send their families these ideas for activities to keep the kiddos learning at home.

I’ve heard about other things, too, where we have a provider in Toronto where we are who provides food services for childcare programs. And they’re now delivering to the families’ homes because childcare programs are so close.

KNIGHT:

Oh, how wonderful!

SPREEUWENBERG: 

So, it’s like we have to be innovative in and move quickly to figure out how we can provide value to people in this time.

KNIGHT:

Absolutely. And the other thing owners can do, if there’s somebody out there who’s really scared of the financial outlook, is look around you and really start thinking outside the box. Right now isn’t the time for us to be stuck on industry standards. We have to think outside the box.

And just look at your community and look for gaps. Where is the gap that’s out there right now that you can fill, that can bring monetary value back to your center? So, just like the food delivery service, if that’s something that that center is doing for their customers, they’re providing value and they’re filling a gap that’s been created.

So, that’s something we need to think, too: if you just kind of look around and think, “Okay, what gaps are there that I can fill right now in order to still bring some kind of an income in?” That’s another thing and way owners can look at it.

SPREEUWENBERG: 

Yeah, totally, totally. So, it sounds like you’re big on the communication piece. How are you staying connected with your family? You mentioned Facebook and also your teachers. Are there other channels you’re using or using? Or you’re using mostly Facebook?

KNIGHT:

We use… we’re pretty much all over social media. And I have to say, I am very thankful. We had just started with HiMama last month and I’m so thankful we did because it makes communicating with families so much easier. And so that was actually kind of a godsend. The timing could not have been better for us because it’s just an easy way that I can just jump on my laptop and just communicate with everybody. So, that has been wonderful.

But yeah, we are taking advantage of every means of communication just because right now in our society, everything is so varied. And some people don’t have Facebook, they only have Instagram. And there are some people that don’t have Instagram. Some people only want e-mail and some people want text messaging.

So, it’s really important to utilize all of it and just really figure out what each family needs and customizing it. So, I’m really thankful that we found HiMama because it’s really actually made it so much easier for us to customize that communication.

SPREEUWENBERG: 

Yeah, and I guess that’s one of the conversations we’re having here at HiMama, too, is with some childcare program closures people have more time, from the perspective of directors [and] early childhood educators. So, what can you do with that extra time that you have? And that gives you the opportunity to try to think creatively and step away from the day-to-day putting fires out, which I think everybody’s so used to.

KNIGHT:

Exactly. And now is a great time to do all those wish list things that you have. Like, I prioritize my days. Usually I do every week a “Necessities, Needs and Nice”. And now is a great time, if you think in those terms, to get all those things that you would love to do that are nice to get them, but you never have time to do. Now’s the time to get them done and get it all implemented. And maybe even your center needs some deep cleaning or maybe a paint job. Now’s the time to do all of that.

SPREEUWENBERG: 

Yeah, the other thing that we’re doing is more learning and development. And I know some teachers have requirements to have a certain number of hours. Like, you can get those all out of the way now while you’ve got some downtime.

KNIGHT:

I know, that’s exactly what I’ve done with my staff. I’ve told them, “Now is a great time to get all your annual training in. Let’s get it done!”

SPREEUWENBERG: 

Yeah, totally! Cool, so this is something that’s moving really quickly. Lots of great information here about mindset. And also protecting your business financially is very important so that you can keep your doors open and keep servicing the families that you’re working with. Any other things that you would like to leave our audience with, Evelyn, before we sign off here today?

KNIGHT:

I think the main thing is just not to lose hope and just to keep focused on the positive. I think it’s also important that we really just limit our exposure to media right now because it can just be so overwhelming. And recognizing that it can become an obsession that just makes things even harder to deal with.

I think, for example, if you do go on Instagram or Facebook, if there’s a post that you’ve seen and if somebody is just saying these “what if’s” and it’s something that normally you would not have worried about. But now you’ve seen it, it’s in your head and now you’ve got a new worry.

So, I think that putting time limits on how much you’re exposing yourself to all this negativity and finding positive things out there instead of just the negativity so that you don’t feel so overwhelmed. Otherwise, if you’re just constantly reading about what’s going on and that’s all you’re allowing into your mind right now, you’re just going to be so overwhelmed.

So, try to bring some positive. And it’ll be so much easier for you to focus on keeping a positive mindset and leading your team in a better manner.

SPREEUWENBERG: 

Yeah, that’s actually a really good message because the amount of information out there right now is crazy. And it can make things seem more scary than what they really are, from a logical, rational perspective.

There is a one really good story I saw from someone in Beijing who, because they’re kind of like a couple months ahead of us, right? So, it’s a little bit like looking into the crystal ball and what the future holds. And it was a really great message because he was saying, “This is awesome! I’m stuck in a traffic jam in Beijing! Things are normal again!”

KNIGHT:

Yeah, right? You appreciate. It makes us appreciate those things that normally would just be so annoying to us.

SPREEUWENBERG: 

Yeah, he’s, like, “The bikes are moving faster than the cars. This is so great!” But really, what he was saying was, “In a few weeks things will be normal again. Things are going back to normal again here in China,” where he was. And so it’s great to see that, like you said at the very beginning of this call, there is an end to this. So, we just have to stay strong throughout and stay positive and keep the right mindset, which I think is a wonderful message, actually.

KNIGHT:

Absolutely. Yes, it’s not going to last forever. And one thing I actually did yesterday, I’d like to just add: I do a Facebook Live every day just to try and keep hope going to my audience. And so I told them yesterday that one hopeful thing for me is to sit down and write a letter to yourself that is dated, like, two years from now. Write yourself a “thank you” letter for all the things that you will do to get through this and to prosper in the end.

And it just helps to bring more perspective of the things that we need to get done. And also just knowing you’re going to do it. So, it’s just a really fun exercise that will just help you to, like, write yourself, “Thank you for staying strong. Thank you for not giving up. Thank you for not letting yourself become overwhelmed by this because we made it through.” So, it helps you to project into the future, too.

SPREEUWENBERG: 

Yeah, that’s pretty cool. I actually know someone on our team, they did something like that. And there’s actually a website or something where you can do it. And then you can write the note and then it’ll send you, like, an email in two years!

KNIGHT:

Oh, that’s really cool! I didn’t know, that would be so fun!

SPREEUWENBERG: 

It’s really cool, actually, I thought the same thing. So, definitely something worth checking out. And Evelyn, if our listeners want to learn more about some of the things that you’re doing, I actually think maybe they could tune into your Facebook group or something as well to see what you’re doing there, to get ideas and then also some content you’re putting out, where can they go to get that information?

KNIGHT:

So, on social media you can find me under the Childcare Business Coach. And I also have a podcast, The Childcare Business Coach. My website is www.ChildcareBusinessProfessionals.com.

And through this I am planning on going live on my Facebook group Monday through Friday just to try and bring tips and for to get our centers through this and also just providing a positive place where you can go hear something hopeful every day. So, that just seems to be really helping a lot of people right now.

SPREEUWENBERG: 

Awesome. Thanks, Evelyn, so much for your positive energy, positive vibes and energy and mindset. Definitely, definitely encourage people to check out Facebook, at Childcare Business Coach and www.ChildcareBusinessProfessionals.com and get in touch with Evelyn and all the cool things she’s doing. Thank you so much for joining us, Evelyn in this time!

KNIGHT:

Thank you, Ron!

Carmen Choi

Carmen is the Marketing Coordinator and Preschool Podcast Manager on the HiMama team. She's been working with childcare business owners and consultants for 3 years. She is passionate making connections that empower the ECE Community through knowledge-sharing to support better outcomes for children, their families, and society!

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