In this episode of The Preschool Podcast we connect with Michael Tasner CEO of Local Child Care Marketing on why child care centers should consider marketing their child care center, even if their numbers are good right now. Michael provides us with tips and easy wins to get started on marketing your child care center TODAY!
Why should centers consider spending time and money on marketing? Previously, child care centers found that they were receiving enrollment through word of mouth and walk-ins – they weren’t looking to maximize the profitability side of child care. In the last year, we’ve seen a huge shift in the need for child care and the need for a backup plan should enrollment dip due to whatever reason. Ready to start your marketing journey to help increase enrollment in your center? Then keep reading!
Trends in Child Care Marketing
Michael states in the last 6 months he’s noticed that the landscape has changed and the center director and owners are now struggling with a lack of waitlist and parent referrals. Parents are now shopping a bit differently and word of mouth isn’t as present for child care referrals. Michael states that now more than ever if you want to stand the test of time as a child care center, you need to start marketing your center.
Michael explains that he’s starting to see a lot of centers that used to have one niche, for example a Spanish-emersion center may begin venturing out into different niches and philosophies to draw in new families like Spanish emersion with Montessori teaching philosophy. By incorporating another niche or style into your center, you’re bound to get new clients and families.
Common Mistakes in Child Care Marketing
Treating the Potential Client as a Parent Referral. A lot of centers that are used to getting so many parent referrals are now treating potential clients they receive from the community, social media, Google reviews, etc. as parent referrals. The problem with this is that these clients are not convinced your center is the best yet. These types of clients may not be ready to enroll and are simply showing interest, need a lot more follow-up and to be nurtured, and are a bit more of a sales-driven journey and it may be a bit more hard work than a parent referral.
Not Considering Alternative Communication Strategies. Consider text message marketing. People are busy and don’t always have time to answer their phones. If after calling a potential client they don’t respond, consider sending a text to follow up you’re bound to get more responses and a better relationship with your potential clients!
If you start to look at child care marketing as a math equation, the math starts to make sense eventually. If you look at it as dollars in and dollars out, the math will start to make more sense.Michael Tasner, CEO, Local Child Care Marketing
Michael’s Quick Wins for Marketing Your Child Care Center
Consider How You’ll Manage New and Potential Clients Successfully. Remove the director from the equation completely. Directors are busy day in and day out, a lot of times these new potential clients need to be sold on the spot. Consider hiring an additional team member that is only doing this task and managing new clients to track your process and nail the selling piece.
Use Video to Sell Your Center. Sell your story through “fireside chat” style videos to reconnect with new families and understand their needs. Producing content is super easy and can be done with a phone and good lighting. Consider creating a promotional video showcasing your center and what makes you the best and most unique and post it on your website and social media. The story of “why” can be so compelling so consider retelling this story and sharing it with your community. This is an easy, low cost win!
Want your Child Care Center to Stand Out from the Competition?
We’d love to show you how HiMama can reel in new clients and delight and retain current families! Did you know that parents are increasingly evaluating childcare centers on whether they offer digital parental communication, photo and video updates, and contactless check-in and billing? The HiMama child care app helps to streamline your digital parent communications, join the family today and get a quote!
Episode 254 Transcripts:
If you want to stand the test of time, the core way you’re going to do that is through marketing. So, continuing to get your name out there, your brand out there; continuing to be educating families, current families and just executing stuff on a regular basis.
Michael, welcome to the Preschool Podcast!
Thank you ever so much for having me. Pleasure to be here.
We’re delighted to have on the show today Michael Tasner. He’s the CEO of Local Child Care Marketing. Michael, let’s learn a little bit about you. Tell us about your background and why you decided to start and build this organization, Local Child Care Marketing.
So, I’ll give you the personal stuff first. I live in upstate New York – Buffalo, New York, to be exact. Married father of four: so, I’ve got four kids, with my youngest being three. Actually, we’re shopping preschools right now. And my oldest are twin boys that are turning 13. So, that’s just a few personal tidbits.
On the work side, I’ve kind of been in the marketing space since I was 14 years old. So, I started a marketing agency actually in high school, learning how to just make websites. And way back when, nobody knew how to make a website and you could charge ridiculous amounts of money for websites that were pretty crappy.
So, that’s kind of how I got started. And it just kind of continued to evolve over the last 20 plus years to where we’re only working in the childcare space. So, Local Child Care Marketing works with hundreds of childcare centers of all different shapes and sizes from one location centers to I mean, 10, 15, 20 plus locations, franchise brands, not-in-franchise. And just really focuses and hones in on just the results aspect.
So, results by way of leads, which ideally results in tours, which result in enrollments. And it’s just been a wonderful industry to work in. And especially with all the ups and downs of last year, it just allowed us to kind of dig in even deeper to help support the centers that we’re working with.
Very cool, thanks for sharing a little bit more about you. Now, let’s turn to childcare programs and marketing. And it’s funny because, on the Preschool Podcast, we talk a lot about education and the challenges around child development and learning. And we don’t spend too much time talking about the business side of things.
So, let’s start with the, I guess, most basic question of, with all the things happening in our childcare and early-childhood education programs and organizations, why should a childcare center spend time on and consider spending money on marketing?
It’s a great question. And I probably would have given you a different answer about a year ago, if you asked me the same question. But even just in the last six months, even before the all the craziness with COVID , I’d started to notice a shift. And the shift has really been where childcare centers in the past, when I would ask them, “Well, how are you getting all of your enrollments currently?” 98% of the time they would say, “Word of mouth.”
So, families would refer other families, they would get some walk-ins and things like that. So, they really never… it’s not that they didn’t have to market. But if they weren’t looking to grow aggressively or if they weren’t really looking to maximize the profitability side, they would just kind of run without it.
But I’ve noticed the last six months that the landscape has changed. And we’re fielding more calls than ever of a center owner or director or someone calling up saying, “Hey, Michael, we used to have a wait list,” or, “We used to get tons of parent referrals and something’s changed. So, what do I have to do differently?”
And it’s the way that the parents are starting to shop has definitely changed. The level of competition continues to increase. And that’s not to say that there’s still not cities across the US or across the world where a particular center has kind of a monopoly or maybe they’re the only game in town. But I’m noticing more competition than ever.
So, for me, I kind of take a hard line and say, “If you want to stand the test of time, the core way you’re going to do that is through marketing.” So, continuing to get your name out there, your brand out there; continuing to be educating families, current families; and just executing stuff on a regular basis.
Because if something happens, again, whether you can control it or not, there’s going to be this this situation where you’re going to have to make sure you have a backlog of people that you can go to, whether that’s called a “wait list” or you’ve been able to kind of build up that brand recognition.
So, I’m seeing a lot of centers that, again, they used to be able to just kind of chug along without having to focus a lot on marketing. But I’ve seen that change drastically over the last six months, more than I ever have in the many years that we’ve been doing this.
Yeah, it’s interesting, something does seem to have changed a bit in the market. And one thing I think we’re noticing, as well, is the definition of competition is changing. Because I think some families are also thinking, ”As opposed to childcare, if it’s not exactly the right fit for us now, maybe we’ll keep them at home. Or we’ll have a family help out or we’ll group with some other families and have a small group that we can we can kind of have an educator together,” or something like that, which might be impacting. So, I don’t know if you’re seeing some of those kinds of trends as well.
I’m definitely seeing that. But then I’m also seeing – and I hate to use the word “desperation” – but I’m also seeing a lot of centers that, because they got hit by something… and Covid has been talked about way too much, in my opinion, to be continued to dwell on that. And we can’t blame low enrollment, in my opinion at this point, on Covid.
So, a lot of these centers did get beaten up. But now they’re almost getting a little bit desperate where centers that, as you said, you normally wouldn’t consider competition, that maybe a Montessori center all of a sudden is making some changes and now they’re also Spanish immersion and they’re also Reggio Emilia-inspired, for example. So, they’re trying to get all that market share, for example. When you’re center, it was Spanish immersion and that kind of kept you as the main game in town for those kinds of families.
So, there’s definitely a lot of centers that are kind of using that “shotgun approach” where they’re almost grasping at straws and they’re lowering prices. And again, it’s not in every market that I’m seeing across the globe. But I’m definitely seeing a lot more of that. I’m seeing almost the “buy one month, get one month free” kind of stuff that I never used to see in the past because a lot of centers that, again, if they have been struggling for a while in enrollment, they’re going to just throw out whatever they can and hope that something sticks.
So, you’ve talked about a couple of sort of issues, I guess, in terms of how childcare centers are approaching improving enrollment. What are some of the other common mistakes you see in marketing with childcare programs?
So, there’s two that I see all day, every day. And the first one is that once you start to get leads – and for me, a lead is any family, any parent, any grandparent, anyone that’s raised their hand. So, it’s a lead isn’t necessarily [that] they have a child and they’re ready to enroll tomorrow, but they’ve at least raised their hand and have expressed interest.
So, great, that lead could come in from social media. It could be a referral, a walk-in, a Facebook ad, Google, whatever that source is. One of the biggest mistakes that I see centers making day-in and day-out is that they treat that lead as if it were a parent referral because they’re so used to getting parent referrals that they’re going to treat it like that.
And unfortunately, those families, those leads, they’re not parent referrals; they’re not ready to enroll tomorrow; they’re not convinced that your center is the best thing since sliced bread. So, these leads, they need a lot more follow-up than ever before. They can’t just be called after six days of them submitting a form on your website and having a casual conversation. They need to be called within hours of that lead coming in. If you don’t reach them, you need to try them again in another time. They need emails; they need text messages. You’ve got to kind of work the leads.
So, it’s a bit more of a sales-driven system. Rather than that lead just coming in, the centers [just say]. “We think it’s a parent referral type of lead.” But that’s just not working. And they get flustered because, “What do you mean, Michael, we have to call the lead six times? If they submitted a form, shouldn’t they answer and be interested?” And it’s not that they’re ignoring you, but just put yourself in parents’ shoes. I mean, maybe they’re at work; maybe they have three jobs.
And I mean, we’re finding that most of the centers that we’re working with, we’re advising the centers to be calling. But we’re getting results that are night and day using text message marketing. So, instead of calling them, you’re going to call them but then 30 seconds later, you send them a text message. And you’ll find you’ll start to get replies.
I mean, people are… I personally rarely, if ever answer the phone. If someone needs something, they leave a voicemail or they’ll shoot me a text message. And that way of communicating has changed. So, that’s the biggest mistake I see centers making, is that when they finally do start to do marketing, whether it’s free or paid, they start to get some of these leads.
But they almost self-sabotage. And they continue in that cycle because they’re going to say, “Well, we got ten leads and nobody answered their phone. And I didn’t generate any tours. So, this isn’t working.” When in reality, it would work if you continued to work the system and put in the effort to actually make that happen.
So, a lot of what you’re describing, I might go so far as to say, is Sales and Marketing 101. Why do you think that, in the world of childcare, it seems we’re generally quite a bit behind in terms of where we’re at with our sales and marketing efforts?
I think there’s a few reasons. I mean, the big one is most childcare center owners that we start working with – or even ones that we don’t end up working with – I can maybe, if I were to make up a statistic on the fly, since they always say marketers do that, less than 10% of them were working either with an agency or doing any kind of marketing before engaging us. So, one in ten.
So, most of the centers, they just haven’t had to budget for marketing or they’ve… childcare has been one of those things where it was word-of-mouth driven and people driving by on their ways to work. And [saying], “Oh, I’m going to go stop in at X, Y, Z center, give them a call and schedule a tour.” And it was almost where they didn’t have to do marketing. But, again, with the competition and things like that, those days have changed.
The other thing is the financial side. A lot of childcare centers, they’re not flushed with cash. And if you really want to do marketing the right way, we’re not talking about investing $500 a month, for example. And they hope that they can just throw a little bit of cash. Or, “Can I throw a few thousand dollars during the course of the year?” And then they say, “Well, we’ve got, I don’t know, a gap of 100 enrollments across two locations.”
So, a lot of it is a mindset shift. And it’s just, if you’ve never had to do marketing before and you’ve often been able to do quite well and then all of a sudden enrollment numbers start to dip a little bit. So, then your finances get tight. But then you get into that crossroads of you’ve either got to change something up or if you keep doing what you’re doing, it could continue to spiral down the wrong direction.
So, I found a lot of it is just old habits, of not having to do marketing. And then candidly, just a mindset around marketing. Just a lot of center owners, directors, educators, they don’t really understand it. If they think I say “marketing”, that’s them throwing up fliers or going door-to-door. They think of marketing just as doing maybe direct mail postcards, for example. And they just don’t fully understand, I guess, the value. But when they start to see numbers initially, it can be a little bit of a sticker shock until you start to see those enrollments.
What would your message be to those childcare center owners, directors and administrators who are struggling to make that mindset shift about marketing?
The great news is that, yes, I’m definitely seeing more competition. But from a positive standpoint, I’m seeing more parent testimonials than I’ve ever been seeing so that the families that are enrolled at centers are more grateful than ever. So, I’m seeing happy families that are happy to have their kids returning to some level of normalcy. So, you’re doing great things and making a huge, huge impact on the communities that you’re serving.
So, for me, it comes down to just having to commit to making a decision one way or another. And it’s either you’re going to bet on yourself and you’re going to go all-in and take what I kind of call a “strategic risk” of, “I’m willing to invest X.” And you got to give it some time. I mean, that’s another mistake that a lot of centers think, that it’s all of a sudden, in month one, you’re going to get 50 new enrollments by investing $2,000. It doesn’t happen that way, typically.
But if you’re able to get yourself comfortable where you say, “Well, jeez”, and I’m just using $2,000 as an example. If you start to look at it, I like to call it “marketing math”, you start to look at this as a math equation, the math starts to make makes sense. And I know your background and your CTO’s [chief technical officers] where you’ve got a lot of metrics and analytics and an engineering background. So, if people start to look at it a little bit more from a linear standpoint of dollars-in and potential dollars-out, the math really starts to make sense.
But a lot of center owners and directors, they’re not used to looking at financial numbers on a regular basis. I look at financial numbers daily. Some of them, they might look at it once a month or conversation with the bookkeeper, for example. And the bookkeeper says, “Well, you can’t afford to invest in that.” But it’s being able to take strategic, calculated risks.
And I like to just plot things on paper. And once you start to see the math, the math really starts to make sense pretty quickly. And it becomes, in my opinion, pretty black-and-white, as long as you execute.
Yeah, that reminds me of the classic picture of, like, the caveman with the wagon that as the square wheels. And he says, “I can’t afford to get the circle wheels because I’m too busy right now.” It’s kind of like that, it’s worth the investment in the round wheels because you might have to take the time to change the wheels off. But once you do, you’re going to pass the square wheels pretty, pretty fast.
And there’s money out there. I mean, a lot of centers have gotten multiple rounds of PPP [paycheck protection program] money. There’s different government grants; there’s SBA [small business administration] loans; there’s zero percent interest credit cards. And I’m not saying [to] go and ring up a quarter of a million dollars of marketing. But you don’t need to invest insane amounts of money to start to see a return.
So, once you start to get a couple of enrollments, your marketing is covered each and every month. And for me, for anyone that we work with, that’s always objective number one, is how quick can we cover the marketing investment, whatever the center is investing with enrollments? Because it’s month after month after month.
And a lot of centers, when I use the term “lifetime value”, LTV – and I’m sure you look at that in your business, as well – they’re not often thinking about that. But if you think about the potential lifetime value of just one enrollment… And obviously tuition ranges drastically. The lowest that I personally have ever seen was $95 a week. That was a center that was on the border of Texas and Mexico. The highest I’ve ever seen was a center in San Francisco that we worked with, her tuition was, like, $1,800 a week. And everywhere in between.
But even, let’s just for simple math, let’s say it’s $250 a week, $1,000. One enrollment, they’re going to stay at least for the year. So, that’s worth $10,000 in sales. Well, what happens if they refer another family or two? Well, there’s another $10,000. And what if they are two years old and they stay for three years? There’s another 10 [thousand dollars] and another 10. And what if they have another child?
The potential lifetime value, if you really start to think about it for just one, enrollment can be astronomical. And if you start to think of that that way, as, “Hey, am I willing to invest $1,000 to potentially get $50,000 in revenue over the next two years,” for example, it hopefully makes the decision a little bit easier.
And I know that that’s a huge mindset shift. And a few centers that we work with are able to really grasp it and look at it that way. But when you do, it becomes “game over” in a good way. If you want to grow to 10 locations or 50 locations or whatever your growth strategy is, it becomes a lot easier to get there because you’re just constantly working the math equation and kind of tweaking and optimizing, if that makes sense.
Yeah, and then on the other side, have you seen childcare programs who have done this really successfully? And maybe there’s a specific case study that comes to mind. Or otherwise any tips that our listeners can take away from things that childcare programs have done really well when it comes to marketing?
Yeah, we’ve got plenty of case studies. But I’ll speak, I guess, a little bit more just in general terms because sometimes I’ve found when I give a specific center, or someone will say, “Well, I can’t do that because they’re faith-based,” or, “I can’t do that because they have 8 locations,” for example.
But a few things: So, the first one is, even before the lead generation piece, it’s really starting to nail down, how were you going to manage those leads internally? And the centers that we’ve worked with that I can tell you are more successful than others, they removed the director from the equation.
Because directors – and I know there’s a lot of directors that are listening – you typically were not hired to be a salesperson. And this is selling. It’s [that] you’re having to call these families multiple times and send text messages and influential emails. And you’re going to have to be closing and selling on tours. So, it’s a bit more of a selling position.
The centers that I’ve really seen that have went to that next level, they’ve had some kind of admin – even if it’s part time – that’s only doing this particular task. The owner has taken it over and spent a large portion of their time doing this, or they’ve hired somebody else specifically to just kind of manage leads. And that’s when they’re going to leverage different software tools and things like that to really track the process. So, that would be, I guess, one tip.
And then the second one is video, it is just a great way to tell your story. And I just was shooting, trying to be, I guess, a product of the product. If I tell people that they should shoot video, I want to do the same. So, I was shooting some videos earlier that will get published in the next week or two.
And one of them is around what I kind of call doing a fireside chat. And I’m encouraging owners or directors to do a monthly or every other month kind of fireside chat. Whether you do it over Zoom and you make it virtual, whether you do at your center or centers. But just to start to kind of reconnect a little bit with some of these families.
And it’s meant to be casual and fun. And if you’re doing it in person, you can have snacks and just kind of make it fun. But you’re also going to set up, even if it’s just an iPhone on a stand and you’re going to record and you’re going to produce some content that you then can put on the website and put it on Facebook and even invest a little bit of money and sponsor it on Facebook or YouTube. And it’s designed to just be, again, casual and informal, but also just story-driven and just about reconnecting.
I mean, I read through your website and your company’s website kind of backwards and forwards last night. And I’m well versed and we’ve been at a couple of events together where your team has been there. And I love everything that you guys are about. And it’s often with centers that story of why you got into the business or why you do what you do has gotten lost in translation lately. And I would encourage you to find some ways to kind of reconnect with the families that you’re serving with, the community that you’re serving.
But kill multiple birds with one stone: record some of the content, pull some of that stuff out so that you can expose other people to the content. And it really doesn’t cost much of anything.
So, those are the two that I would suggest, is A) have someone that owns your lead management process, even if it’s someone internally. And if it’s going to be the director, you just have to have really strict guidelines and checks and balances so that you can make sure that it’s being executed correctly.
And then the complete opposite end of that it is, I’m suggesting to do something like a bi-monthly fireside chat to just, again, reconnect. And I think now more than ever, what I’m seeing is families are looking for that connection. We’ve been cooped up for too long; we’ve been working virtually for too long, that they would welcome the chance to do that, where you can just connect with those families. And in the background, you’re also producing some good content, as well, as a byproduct.
Alright, some great tips there, Michael, thank you for sharing those. We’re going to wrap up here in a minute. Any words of inspiration for our audience before we wrap things up here?
The good news – and I guess the inspiration that I’m seeing – is that things are continuing to get better and better each and every day. So, again, I’m seeing more positive testimonials on the different centers that we’re working with. I’m seeing more search volume than I’ve ever seen before. So, I do believe that if you have an already fully enrolled summer camp, that I’m seeing a lot more searches for “summer camp” than I did last year and the year prior, upwards of 35-40%, year over year. I’m already seeing people that are starting to get ready for fall enrollment.
So, I think everything that I’m seeing is positive. So, yes, there’s going to be some families that are going to keep their kids at home. But there’s a lot more families that they want to enroll in your center. And it’s up to you to make sure that you’re that preferred choice.
But good days are ahead. Everything from what I’m seeing is continuing to get better and better. Our centers are enrolling tons and tons of enrollments. And you’re just making such an amazing difference. So, that’s why I love to work in this industry. I know it’s why you got in this industry, as well, to make an impact and really appreciate being able to serve people in this space.
Awesome. And if our listeners want to learn more about what you do about marketing or get in touch with you, where can they go to get more information?
Sure, the main website is the www.LocalChildCareMarketing.com.
Okay, wonderful. Michael, thank you so, so much for joining us on the Preschool Podcast and giving us some pointers and tips on marketing, an important part of running any childcare or early-childhood education program. Wonderful having you on the show!
Thank you ever so much, Ron. Have a great day!