Marketing your early years business
Why market your service?
Marketing helps you better understand and anticipate your customer needs. It gives you expertise and the right tools to adapt quickly to a changing market and ensures your childcare business competes successfully.
Every provider wants to manage a childcare business where their childcare places are either full or occupancy high. In an increasingly competitive early years sector, actively marketing your service enables you to continually attract new enquiries from parents. It also retains the loyalty of those families already registered with you.
Marketing is a key element of any business plan and directly contributes towards improving your long-term sustainability.
Benefits of market research
It's important to constantly review what your families think about your service. This helps you to reflect and continually improve your service. The local childcare market should also be researched on a regular basis. For example, are you aware that a new competitor has moved into the area and that another provider has plans to expand their service with a new breakfast and after school club?
Some parents would like to be more actively involved in your research such as joining a focus group while others prefer to feedback annually, for example, by completing a parent satisfaction survey.
Top tips! Make it easy to receive feedback. Offer customers different ways to get in touch with views. Keep surveys simple, ideally no more than five questions. Ask parents what they like or dislike about your service and invite them to leave suggestions for improvement. Encourage more participation by offering an incentive such as a competition prize.
Other benefits of market research includes demonstrating your commitment to involving parents and children actively in the shaping of your service. You can also encourage parents registered at your service to leave independent reviews on external childcare search platforms.
Anyone who benefits from your service is a customer. Parents and local families are key customer groups for early years providers. Other relevant customer groups include local authorities, employees, supporters, volunteers and the local community.
Each customer group has different motivations and expectations. Use market intelligence to identify similar or recognisable customer traits or 'personas' in each group. You can create more effective marketing messages and choose the best communication methods to appeal to each group. This helps increase chances of positive interaction and engagement with you.
Developing a marketing plan
Once market research has been reviewed, use findings to create objectives, key messages and desired outcomes to support your marketing activity. These considerations are the first step in developing a successful marketing plan. Next steps involve choosing marketing activities which will ensure you reach as many of your intended audiences as possible. Be realistic about what you can achieve with financial and staff resources available to you. Every activity has different benefits, this should influence what you choose to do,
Digital promotion offers an inexpensive and immediate way to reach families on your mailing list. Other parents may feel more comfortable using social media such as Facebook. Setting up your own page reaches this group and offers a more informal, no less immediate way to receive information about your service. Other promotional methods include organising special events such as open days or celebrations and using as an opportunity to invite local press, celebrity or MP. It takes more time to plan however it is an effective way to persuade already warm customers to commit to your business.
Other marketing ideas may include taking up paid or free digital (website) or print advertising, working with partners to set-up links between sites such as your local Family Information Service. You can also pay a small fee to add your service's entry on major childcare search engines such as daynurseries.co.uk and childcare.co.uk.
What about fundraising
Fundraising is a great way to your boost income - particularly for providers operating in such a challenging early years environment. While it’s never a good idea to rely on fundraising to cover your basic running costs, most early years providers work to very tight budgets, so fundraising activities can give providers some extra (usually restricted) funds. This may help to buy special equipment and resources for children with SEN or improve your garden or outdoor space. There may even be an opportunity to offer reduced rates for selected families in difficult financial circumstances which can contribute towards retaining families who may not otherwise be able to stay with you.
Local businesses like to support projects which show benefit for the community. As childcare providers make a huge contribution towards enhancing the life of a local community, many companies are responsive to approaches by childcare services. Major supermarkets also offer small local community-led businesses a chance to become their 'charity of the month'.
Parents using your service are generally happy to raise funds on your behalf. There's many creative ways to do this. You can invite them to get involved in sponsored walks, teddy bear picnics, organising raffles, Summer fayres or running stalls at local council events to promote your service. Most parents are more likely to listen to other parent experiences of your service so asking for their support at open days and fundraising events is always a good idea.
Don’t forget! If planning to run lotteries or raffles, get in touch with your local authority first to ensure that your activity meets required regulations.
Further guidance on improving the long-term success and sustainability of your setting through regular marketing and publicity can be found in Alliance publication Effective Marketing and Publicity for Early Years Settings.
Website Development and Design gives guidance on the various steps involved in developing a website for your setting, including content and design which are important when considering your marketing strategy.
Did you know?
Your setting can raise money every time your parents, staff or supporters shop online with major retailers such as Amazon and Marks & Spencer. Just register your setting with easyfundraising and let everyone know. Every online purchase generates a donation to the chosen childcare group – at no cost to the customer or the setting.