We’ve all done it. Forgiven a missed payment here and offered a few discounts to a family in need there. Most good business owners, especially child care providers, want to be sensitive to their customers’ needs and keep them happy.
If you stopped to add up all the tuition dollars you leave on the table when you’re trying to be flexible or understanding, you might be shocked by the total. By being too lenient on collections, the average small- or medium-sized child care center risks losing out on a huge chunk of their potential profit. This is money that you could be using to re-invest in your business, providing services and educational experiences that make parents happier over the long term.
While any accountant or business manager will tell you that it’s important to run a tight ship when it comes to billing, they may not understand how difficult this is in practice for the average child care provider.
The truth is: you shouldn’t have to give up the flexibility you may want to offer for families that need it, but you do need to take steps to ensure you’re not leaving money on the table for reasons that are within your control.
Fortunately, there are some things you can do to prevent needless loss of tuition money, using HiMama’s all-in-one childcare management app. HiMama’s billing and payments solution was designed to bring structure to the way directors and owners manage tuition and simplify payments collection, making it easier to set expectations with parents upfront and get exactly what you’re owed.
Communicate Your Tuition Policy Proactively and Regularly
Setting expectations regarding payment is really important before parents even enrol their child in your program. Tuition policies should be covered clearly from the start to avoid any miscommunication. Be clear and firm on the terms of the different fees at your center, including:
- Enrollment fees
- Late payment fees
- Supply fees
- Overtime fees
Recognize that even if parents know the drill up front, they still may occasionally forget or deprioritize their tuition payment by the time it actually comes due, especially if you invoice less frequently (for example on a monthly schedule). By billing parents through the HiMama app, not only do parents receive invoices in the place they check daily for reports and communication about their kids (making them hard to miss), but you have a natural opportunity to send gentle reminders ahead of payment due dates.
Reminding parents about the terms of your tuition policy, along with the next upcoming due date, is an easy way to ensure they don’t forget or push your bill down the priority list.
Make Cash Flow Predictable With Automatic Payments
Most child care centers choose to charge a tuition fee for enrollment, so they can expect to receive a consistent amount of money for each child enrolled in the center. While child care providers occasionally have good reasons for charging varying amounts (for example, only for days the child attended), these setups make it much harder to manage your business and can actually be confusing and stressful for parents. When you charge the same amount every week or every month, parents know what to expect from a budgeting standpoint.
If you collect tuition as a flat fee, you should feel comfortable encouraging parents to set up automatic payments according to your billing schedule. When you collect payments in HiMama, every family can set up autopay in just a few steps, so that your tuition fee will automatically be withdrawn from their credit card or account on your payment due date.
For families, this reduces stress of remembering to pay bills or get checks and bank drafts on time. For you, it means avoiding taking losses from missed payments and incorrect sums, or spending time chasing payments.
Don’t Let Overdue Payments Slide
In the HiMama app, you can easily check the status of all your invoices at a glance, and now you can easily see any invoices that are past due. What this means is that we’ve made it simpler than ever to follow up with parents on overdue payments. Instead of nagging delinquent parents at drop-off, or using precious admin time to write individual follow-ups, HiMama will allow you to resend invoices for overdue payments with the click of a button. If only part of the payment is missing, your latest invoice will update to show only the balance the parent is owing.
Resending invoices as soon as fees become overdue sets the expectation that it’s important to you that payments are made on time. If this is a more frequent problem among some of the families you serve, you should consider introducing a late payment fee. Add the details to your official payments policy and update parents with a clear explanation that late payments affect your ability to manage your business, so your community will understand the reason for your stricter policy and follow suit.
Parents Need to Know What They Owe
Many times, children’s tuition fees are being handled by multiple sources. Some children attend on subsidies provided by the government. Others have parents splitting tuition payments, or grandparents contributing an occasional helping hand. Whatever the case, when payments come due, sometimes small portions of your fee will be missing.
Child care providers tend to be empathetic people, and many of us may be tempted to let a few dollars here and there slide, assuming families have a reason for not making the full payment and avoiding what feels like an uncomfortable confrontation. But we all need to realize that, as a result of the variety of ways tuition gets paid, parents are not always going to be aware they have an outstanding balance, and it’s your job as a director to make sure they know. When you use HiMama to send invoices, they will automatically provide up-to-date and accurate information about outstanding balances to parents, leaving emotion out of it. You can still be sensitive to financial issues as they arise, but you should let parents come to you if they require lenience instead of making assumptions that will cost you money.
A best practice here is to resend an updated invoice to a family as soon as a partial payment comes in, whether via subsidy or check or other means. This can be helpful for the family’s awareness, and also sets the expectation that you keep a close eye on your balance sheet.
While your first priority should always be the kids and their families, as a business owner or administrator, it’s on you to make sure your center is bringing in the money it needs to operate sustainably.
While it’s definitely worth considering whether you can increase cash flow by upping tuition or enrolling more students, your first step should be to figure out whether you’re getting enough of the money you’re charging for your services right now. For one reason or another, most centers aren’t.
Using the right tools in HiMama, you can improve your payment collection processes and see more of those dollars, while making sure your families feel respected and heard.
If you’re interested in learning more about billing and payment collection in HiMama, click here to see how it all works!