Tuesday, 8 November 2011

Finding your unique selling point

What is your unique selling point?

A lot of childminders ask me how they can sell themselves and their provision in the currently challenging economic climate. One way is to promote your unique selling point – the key feature of your provision that makes you special.
You can use your unique selling point in your promotional literature and on your website to actively encourage parents to visit you so they can find out more.
To find your unique selling point you need to think about the things you do during the day with the children or the ways you conduct your business which make your special. We all have qualities which enable us to be the best but we sometimes struggle to blow our own trumpets – or even to recognise how special our provision really is!

Here are some ideas…

Personal development

Your passion and dedication to attend training and always try to better yourself by further reading, extra qualifications, welcoming visits from your local childminding coordinator to give you tips for improving your service etc… all of these will help you to be the best qualified and professional childminder you can be and to have up-to-date knowledge that will put you in a perfect position to respond to children’s changing needs.

Parent partnership

Parents have a wealth of knowledge about their child and business ideas from the different jobs they perform. By working with them and asking them questions and involving them in all aspects of your provision you can tap into their expertise and use it to improve your level of service. By focussing on the positives and explaining when things change parents can be moulded into valuable resources.

Outdoor opportunities

Think about your outside provision – do you have lots of resources? Does it complement the inside area? Do you have a covered area or all weather surface? Ask yourself – how does it enhance children’s play experiences?
Your outside provision should offer learning and development opportunities the children cannot access inside and should be available for use every day. If you feel your outside play provision is higher quality than others you have seen then promote it to potential customers.

Strong community links

Do you go on regular outside visits which are carefully planned and organised so children can experience a wide range of community involvement? Do you have a timetable of outings which you can share with parents to promote the experiences you offer to children? If so, talk about it in your literature and explain why it is so important that children experience close community links. This is one area of provision childminders can easily do so much better than nurseries and group provision… so promote it to parents!

Quality resources and experiences

Do you have a wide range of resources linked to children’s interests? Do you focus on one specific type of resource such as natural, Montessori, Forest School etc? If so, use it as your selling point and make sure parents are aware of the experiences you provide for their children.

Is your food provision the very best in the area? Is all your food home grown and organic? Is it cooked by a qualified chef? Do you offer a range of menu choices for special diets? You could link a sample menu to the parents page of your website or offer to send one by email on request to potential customers to help you sell your special service.

Disability friendly

Have you completed an accessibility audit and concluded that your provision is disability friendly and accessible for all children including those in wheelchairs, walking frames, hearing aid users, severe allergy sufferers etc? Do you have specialised knowledge of disability and inclusion linked to a previous job? If so, you should speak to local health visitors and any special schools or units in your local area, explain what you have to offer and ask for referrals.

Everyone has something special to offer – their time, patience, understanding, experience of working with children, knowledge of child development, play room etc. Think about your unique selling point and advertise it…

Sunday, 2 October 2011

Troubled times... marketing your childminding business

Many childminders are noticing that it is getting harder to hang on to clients and even harder to find new families.

This is something that is affecting all of us and with rising day-to-day running costs, less available free training, shortfalls in income if you offer the free entitlement and children’s families complaining that they cannot pay the bill it does not paint a particularly good picture for childminder sustainability nationally.

However there are some steps you can take, whether you are noticing that you need to tighten your belt now or you think you might suffer financially in the future...

• Check your prices carefully against those charged by other childminders in your local area. Try not to pitch too high or parents who are looking for a childminder based mostly on cost will go elsewhere. However do not undercut local childminders – they will not be happy with you!

. Plan ahead - if you know a family are going to leave you in a few months' time or children are due to start school in September start advertising 2 or 3 months in advance to give yourself the best possible chance of filling your space

• Consider whether you can offer a service which appeals to specific types of workers – overnight care for parents who work at night, shift work for parents who work strange hours etc. This is especially helpful if you live near a hospital, fire station etc

• Save on the heating bills - check the temperature in your house through the day and, instead of turning up the heating, ask parents to supply warm socks and layers of clothes for the children to wear. Consider how you keep the house warm when you offer free flow play to the outside area as the weather cools down

• Think carefully before raising your charges – I have heard from many childminders who say they put up their prices only to have parents take children out of their provision for a day a week to compensate

• Prioritise spending – look at the resources you already offer the children, both inside and out and what they can access on outings. Before you buy anything new ask yourself why you want it and how the purchase will improve outcomes for the children. Plan a spending budget rather than buying a few things every month – you might be surprised at how much you can reuse and recycle before reaching for your credit card

• Initial meetings - when organising meetings with potential new parents think carefully about your own children’s needs and those of minded children. Sometimes you can spend the whole meeting feeling hassled by the other children and not giving new parents the attention they need. As we know, children pick their times to play up… so think about whether you should meet when they are not present

• Reward parents who send you new customers – maybe with a little gift or a voucher. This has worked for a friend of mine and she is now full. Bribery clearly focuses the mind!

• Work with the local community – think about whether you and some childminders could team up together to advertise at local community fairs and other events. It does not take much organisation and you will raise the profile of childminding

• Save on food costs – carry out a month long audit of exactly what you buy for the childminded children, how much is getting eaten / wasted, what they really like to eat, whether they are eating for the sake of it etc. Put together a menu, with the children’s input, which reflects your findings.

You might also find it helpful to experiment with cheaper shopping – cheaper cuts of meat are lovely if they have been in a slow cooker all day; fruit and veg bought seasonally tends to be cheaper; it can be cost effective to use cheaper brands of kitchen roll to wipe hands (or cloths that are washed with the normal family washing), tissues for noses etc – although I will not compromise on my nice loo roll!

• Tart up the house – clean your front door, check your bell works, clear your hall of clutter, think about buggy storage to make things tidier, make sure your front garden has kerb appeal etc. It is important that potential new parents get a good feeling about you and your house and, according to research, first impressions really do count and are made in the initial minutes of meeting someone

• Remind parents in your newsletter that they might be able to get help with their childcare costs… they might find the website http://www.payingforchildcare.org.uk/ useful

• Late payments – the time has come to get strict! Yes, I know, we put the children first… but parents wouldn’t be able to get away with it at Tesco and you should not let them away with it either. Remind parents about your late payment policy (make sure it is written into your fees policy) and follow it rather than letting things slide

• Offer something different – shopping sessions around Christmas time or in the lead up to the child’s birthday, a regular cooking afternoon when other children who do not normally come that day can attend, yoga sessions, regular music and movement groups with other childminders and their children, craft activities with other childminders where the children can work on a much larger scale, collections from local school clubs, outings to well resourced activity sessions etc. Advertise these sessions so your advert stands out from the rest in your local area

• Some childminders offer extra services for parents – at a cost of, say, £1 per errand. If you think you can pick up or deliver dry cleaning, visit the post office to post letters, collect prescriptions, pay in cheques etc for busy working parents as part of your daily routine, while involving the children and making it into a learning experience for them, then why not consider adding it to your list of services?

• Work together with other childminders rather than against each other. You all need each other more than ever at the moment… so get together and swap numbers and talk about how you can support each other

• If you have assistants or work with other childminders remember that they are an investment in your business. Diary in short weekly training sessions to make sure everyone keeps up-to-date with the latest good practice advice and support

• Plan your marketing – whether you are busy or empty, plan to do at least 1 marketing exercise every month to keep everything fresh and updated. For example…

- January – update website, adding a new page and ensuring the information reads well. Make sure the first paragraph mentions your business and town as that part is most likely to be picked up by Google and other bots

- February – ring Family Information Service and update your advert. Read through some others first and refresh your wording

- March – put up new adverts in local shops and businesses. Decide on an advertising slogan or link in with the most popular reason why current parents use you (ask them and find out)

- April – write an advert for your local Parish or other free listing magazine

- May – send a letter to local paper about your new garden or healthy eating award or something that you have done as a childminding group or individual (make sure have you written parents permission before submitting photos)

- June – update your group photo album ready for showing new parents when they come to visit

- July – order new sun hats or brightly coloured t-shirts for the children with logos. The children can wear them and advertise you when they are out and about through the summer

- August – order new business cards ready for the start of term. Make sure the spelling, punctuation etc is absolutely spot on so they look professional

- September – take business cards round local children’s groups and pin then to notice boards or give out to parents

- October – put together Halloween goodie bags for the local trick or treaters when they come round and add a business card to each

- November – work with children to make a banner for the front wall or window which advertises your childminding service

- December – put an announcement in your monthly newsletter advertising your spaces and asking current parents to mention you to their friends or relatives

I hope you find some of the tips useful! I have written a mini e-book 35 about marketing your business which contains these and lots of other ideas for promoting yourself and the service you offer :)

Sunday, 4 September 2011

Toddler checks for 2 year olds… what do childminders think?

The Government is proposing, in the EYFS review, that every child in England who attends an early years setting undergoes a check at between the ages of 2 and 3 years to link in with Health Visitor checks which take place at around the same time.

The review will be carried out to check children’s development in what the EYFS (2012) recognises as the 3 prime areas…

- Personal, social and emotional development;

- Physical development;

- Communication and language.

When the checks have been carried out, parents will be provided with a written summary of their child’s development.

There are arguments for the checks… the government suggests it will enable practitioners and parents to note areas of children’s progress which need support, to provide next steps in their future learning and development.

However, there are powerful arguments against… individual children’s development is never as simple as the Government would like us to believe; appropriate training might not be accessible to those writing the checks; parents might not accept the results, saying their child does or says different things at home; the tests might become an area where parents compete against each other to ‘hot house’ their children so that better results are gained.

The consultation paper for the EYFS review is online and open until the end of September – please make your views known!

You can find it here - www.education.gov.uk/consultations.

Thursday, 28 July 2011

Children and Physical Activity

The Government has released new advice (June 2011) for increasing young children’s physical activity levels.

Babies and non-walking children

Encourage physical activity from birth, ensuring babies are not restricted by clothing or with straps.

Use resources and activities such as...

• Going swimming;
• Play arches to kick and hit;
• Play mats;
• Tummy time every day;
• Copying actions such as clapping hands;
• Space to roll and learn to crawl;
• Opportunities to pull up on furniture;
• Toys just out of reach to stretch out towards... etc.

When not asleep, eating or for short periods in the buggy or car seat babies should be unrestrained and encouraged to move around.

Young children (EYFS age)

Once children are capable of walking they should be encouraged to walk and move around for a minimum of 3 hours a day, spread out through the day. Time spent sitting (watching television, in a buggy or car seat etc) should be minimised.

Resources and activities should encourage active movement (not just gentle walking) and can be both adult planned and child initiated such as...

• Swimming with family or taking lessons;
• Dancing to music and joining in movement activities with songs and rhymes;
• Learning to skip, jump, gallop, hop etc in a large open space;
• Balls and bean bags for kicking, throwing and catching;
• Using hopscotch mats;
• Independently washing themselves, drying after a bath, getting dressed etc;
• Visiting the park to climb, swing, chase and run around;
• Biking or taking a scooter around the local area to post a letter or visit the shop;
• Active playing in the garden, running, climbing, jumping building dens... etc.

The most important thing for this age group is that they are moving around... as long as their environments are safe, healthy, fun, challenging, stimulating etc then they need to be have the freedom to be active.

Young children should move around more and time spent watching television, sitting in a buggy or car seat and using a computer should be limited.

Children from age 5

All children should have the opportunity to move around from 50 minutes to several hours a day.

Activity should be vigorous and physical to strengthen muscles and support strong bone development. This does not include normal walking around the house or school runs which is classed as light activity – it means something more active.

Resources and activities include all of the above plus...

• Adult led games to promote movement;
• Ball control activities;
• Running around the garden or park;
• Dance or gymnastics;
• Weekend walking activities;
• Tennis, badminton and similar games;
• Using large apparatus at school or clubs... etc.

Time spent sitting should be minimised.

Physically disabled children

I cannot find information in the report relating to activity levels and physical disability. However from experience I know that physically disabled children are more likely to gain weight than their non disabled peers so I would say best advice is to work with the child’s parents to find ways of exercising the child’s gross and fine motor muscles to promote good health.

I have a number of e-books which promote healthy living including...

E-book 6 - Outside Play £4.99

E-book 21 - Healthy Eating £3.99

E-book 31 - Outside all year round £3.99

All my e-books are available on my website - www.knutsfordchildminding.co.uk

More information about the Government report is available from - http://www.dh.gov.uk/en/Publicationsandstatistics/Publications/PublicationsPolicyAndGuidance/DH_127931

Saturday, 12 March 2011

Childminding for deaf and hearing impaired children

I have written the following article as a guest post on the Baby Sign Language blog.

It is written from the point of view of a parent searching for an inclusive childminder. However, I thought it might be of interest to childminders who are considering how they might offer an inclusive provision for children with hearing disabilities.

Choosing a childminder

Hello! My name is Sarah Neville. I have been working as a registered childminder for the last 17 years (currently graded outstanding by Ofsted)... and in a past life I qualified as an Educational Audiologist. I am delighted to be asked to write a guest post for Baby Sign Language blog.

How do you choose a childminder for your child? It is a hard enough question when your child has normal hearing, but when s/he is born with a hearing impairment or is deaf it can be a much harder question to answer. All parents feel torn when they make the choice to go back to work – they know that financially or to further their career it is the right decision but they also worry.

Parental guilt is normal! Only parents know their child well enough to understand every nuance of their body language and to recognise all their attempts at communication. However, parents can find a childminder who is ideally placed to care for their child... they might just need to visit a few different ones first and see who is out there with vacancies.

Your future childminder must be interested in you and your child. At the initial interview and throughout your time with the childminder s/he should ask you lots of questions about your child’s needs, including how communication with your child is best achieved. S/he should also be happy to access alternative communication methods so that s/he can understand what your child is asking for... including attending courses and learning your child’s sign language.

Some years ago I put together an illustrated book called ‘My favourite things’ for a child who suffered from regular bouts of glue ear. It helped her to ask me for drinks, toys etc and allowed me to ensure her essential care needs were met when she was feeling under the weather with sore ears or not confident enough to speak to me.

Other things to check for in your future childminder’s house include hard surfaces so sound bounces, a calm quiet atmosphere (we know that most children have tantrums, but watch how the childminder deals with them), good lighting so your child can see clearly to develop lip reading skills and lots of outings through the week so your child is socialised with others.

You must feel confident and comfortable with your future childminder and this will be built up through a series of meetings including settling-in sessions for your child. Always ask about settling-in at the interview stage – you should be offered at least one session of a couple of hours so the childminder and your child can get to know each other while you hopefully spend some special time doing something just for you. If you need more sessions – ask for them!

Parents can help childminders to have the best possible relationship with their child... they can share information about their child’s home life... they can pay on time and be prompt... they can let their childminder know when their child has said or done something new... they can keep their childminder updated about medical and other appointments... they can involve their childminder in their child’s life.

If you have any concerns about choosing a childminder which I have not covered, please feel free to contact me via my website.