20 Tips to Fill Your Empty Spaces As Your Center Begins Operating at Full Capacity Again

As pandemic restrictions and capacity limits continue to be further lifted across the country, the more child care centers can work on filling their empty spaces and closing their gaps. While many centers experienced their families leaving during the shutdowns and reopened with low enrollment numbers, the number of parents that are returning to working in-person and being comfortable with sending their children back to school continues to rise. This means that not only are your families that previously left now searching for care again, but there is also a new large pool of families in your area to market to.

In this blog, Coach Tameenah Adams and I reveal 20 post-shutdown enrollment building tips to attract both your previously enrolled families back and new ones that we have seen proven to be successful for center owners, including members in our Child Care Success Academy.

Stay in Touch with Unenrolled Families

Parents may have had to make the difficult decision to leave your center due to financial or health reasons. Many center owners have asked us how to gain back families after COVID, and wonder what they should be doing to stay in touch with them.  It is important to show that you understand how difficult it was for families to decide to leave your center by staying connected to them.

Staying Connected to Unenrolled Families

1. Show Them You Care and Want to Stay Connected

You want to appeal to their human side. Some people are getting tired of all the information surrounding COVID, and others feel it is essential to stay on top of it. However, everyone will appreciate your patience, empathy, and understanding of their situation.  

  • Keep them engaged in your social media sites and in newsletters to let them know what has been going on since they left. 
  • Send them an email packet, letter, or personalized message to let them know that you miss them and hope to keep in touch. 
  • Host fun socially distant activities such as Drive-In Storytime or Drive-In Family Movie Night. 
  • Get creative to remind families why they fell in love with your center in the first place. 

2. Make it Personal

Follow up with families individually. Invite them to a zoom session to check in and say hi or offer them a virtual tour to show them your center’s new health and safety measures. Ask them if they need help with anything and how you can be of service to them during this difficult time. Make sure you continue to follow up with them and let them know that you care and are thinking about them. 

3. Leverage Your Current Happy Families' Stories

If your center had to close for a time and is now reopened, or if you lost a significant number of families due to the pandemic, be sure to start sharing testimonials from parents who’ve already chosen to come back.  There’s nothing like the social proof from parents who can personally attest to their child’s safety, their own peace of mind, and the benefits their kids are enjoying by being back at your school.

4. Use Empathetic Language​

The language you use in your letters, spoken conversations, social media, and any other means of communication with these families is crucial. Use phrases like “I understand how difficult it was for you to have to make the decision you did.” and “I want you to know that we are here for you with open arms whenever you are ready to return.” Just letting them know that you care, that you haven’t forgotten about them, that you empathize with them, and that they always have a home with you is important. Adding that extra personal touch and appealing to their human side goes a long way. People are craving human interaction and reassurance during this time, so you can’t go wrong with reaching out and frequently following up. 

Attract New Families to Your School

Increasing enrollment is crucial to the success of any child care business. If you aren’t at full capacity or have lost even more families during this difficult time, you may find yourself needing to recruit new families to your center. If you are on a budget you can find numerous inexpensive ways to show your support and engagement in your community. Just make sure you are taking lots of pictures and posting them like crazy! Here are several outside-the-box enrollment building tips to help you start boosting those numbers:

Thank Health Care Workers

5. Involve Families and Staff While Giving Back to the Community

Community involvement can be key. Work together with your team to come up with a creative way that you can address the current needs of your community. Host a food drive, a clothing drive, or set up a donation booth. Then ask current enrolled families to volunteer with the event. Take pictures of your staff and families helping out and having a blast while doing it. Post those pictures on social media and your website. Your community will thank you for your help and in return show their support by enrolling their children in a facility they trust. 

6. Thank Health Care Workers

Health care workers deserve a huge round of applause for this past year and can always use a pick-me-up. Call ahead of time and offer to bring hospital staff donuts and coffee, or call a local bakery and have personalized thank you cookies delivered. Invite current families and staff to create thank you signs and participate in a drive-by celebration. Another idea is while you are delivering treats to hospital staff, you could also create get-well-soon packets and drop them off to children at the local hospital. Have your children create hand-written letters and drawings to include in the packets. 

7. Muffin Runs to Local Businesses

Think about other businesses in your community that may have a similar target market but provide a different service that you may be able to swap promotions with: children’s clothing stores, pediatric dentists, dance or art studios, etc. You can take the same idea above and deliver a basket of muffins, donuts, cookies, or other yummy treats to other local businesses that may be a great referral partner. Delivering food is a great way to open the door and start relationships. When you offer to give their promotional materials in your goodie bags if they will do the same for you it’s a win-win for all involved!

9. Spread the Love Monthly

Make it a point once per month to spread the love by having your students create hearts, cards, or artwork to send to local first responders, grocery store workers, teachers, nurses, nursing home residents, etc. This teaches your students to care about others and gets you noticed by important members of the community, resulting in positive word of mouth referrals long term. 

11. Partner with Another Local Business

Another great idea is to sponsor a family fun night with a local pizza shop. Supply a personalized coloring book with your logo and when families order a pizza they will receive the free coloring book.  On average, a coloring book can cost ten cents a copy and there are many print companies to compare prices to find the best deal. Who else could you partner with? Get creative and reach out!

10. Provide a Coupon for a Day of Free Care to New Movers

Connecting with local real estate agents and apartment complex managers is another avenue to gain referrals from your community. Offer to provide these agents a goodie bag with a couple of child friendly items and a coupon for free child care on the day that they are closing on their house, signing lease paperwork, or moving into their new place. This can be a huge perk that they can offer to their clients with children. This gives you exposure to families new in your area- and if they like you, could result in an official enrollment!! 

11. Reward for Referrals

Create a referral program for staff and families. Incentivize your staff and families to want to bring you business. Oftentimes people will become busy and forget to refer a friend who might be interested in finding child care. For every family or child that enrolls, give a reward to the person who referred them. Referral challenges are also a fun way to incentivize the community and you can post this on your social media pages. 

12. Testimonials and Reviews

Always make sure you are collecting and using testimonials in every piece of your marketing content. Testimonials have a large impact on the choices people make. When others can connect with their community by reading the positive experiences others have had, it creates trust in your center and staff. Plaster your testimonials on both your digital and printed material. There are many great ways to collect testimonials from both parents and staff. Here are a few: 

    • Search through your Facebook and Google reviews and compile your best ones.
    • Ask parents who have verbally given you positive feedback if you can paraphrase their comment for a written testimonial. After it is written up, have them look it over and ask them for their permission to use it.
    • Train your staff on how to ask for testimonials and include role playing to help them become more comfortable with the process.
    • Mail a card to parents asking them for a review.
    • Collect video testimonials.
    • Collect staff testimonials on why they love working at your center, how they are caring for the children, and why they feel safe and enjoy the culture.

Remember to constantly collect testimonials. You can never have too many or use too many!

13. Social Media Boosted Posts & Paid Ads

Facebook is also a great tool for boosting inexpensive ads. Make sure you are going into the right settings and getting very specific with your geographical location and the target region.

Close the Enrollment

If your phone rings with a potential new enrollment, it’s important that you have a plan for winning them over on the phone and when they come in for a tour (whether on site or virtual). Provide testimonials of current families and why they know that their children are safe at your center. Create an offer with a set expiration date and present the offer at the end of the tour when you ask them to enroll. You can also send them a packet that includes all of your safety information and parent testimonials. 

14. Use a Phone Script

Make sure you and your staff are using a phone script that sets you up for success! Start with a greeting and ask how you can be of service to them. Always ask for their names and a phone number in case you become disconnected. This is also a great way to obtain their information so you can personalize the conversation, show you are listening, and follow-up with them. Give them a “WOW” welcome and let them know that they made the right decision to call you today. Collect more information about the child and program that they are interested in that way you can share your unique benefits and check for classroom availability. Schedule a tour with your prospective families, ask how they heard about you, and once again thank them for making the right decision by calling you today. Complete with a “WOW” closing by asking if you answered all their questions and if there is anything else you could help them with today. 

16. Ask Questions

When parents come in for a tour, make it a point to ask open-ended questions that provide insight into the parent’s fears, concerns, past experiences, desires, and objections. Good questions to ask may include “What are your goals for your child over the next four years?” “Do you have any concerns about Kindergarten Readiness?” and “Tell me about any parenting challenges you have and how we can help.” You will find that 95% of other child care programs do not take the time to ask and LISTEN to parent concerns. If you do, not only will you set yourself apart, you will be seen as more caring and trustworthy than others. 

17. Communicate Your Unique Differences

Present three or four unique differences that set you apart from other child care centers. Do you have a registered dietician working with the children and teaching them about healthy eating? Do you have an onsite nurse at your center? Perhaps your center teaches Spanish or other languages to the children. Establish your unique benefits that differ from standard cookie-cutter or generic answers such as “we offer top quality child care.” Demonstrate the value through visual or social proof. Create a visual aid such as a flyer that is included in their tour packet. Most importantly, back up your unique benefits with parent testimonials about why these special differences are so important and how they have impacted their children. 

18. Give a Tour Gift or Goodie Bag

Giving a gift or goodie bag to your touring families will set you apart and really make you memorable. Create that extra “WOW” factor by showing your prospective families that you are prepared, appreciate them, and offering them a type of keepsake or special treat. Include something for both the parents and children so they are equally delighted. You can give them a tote bag with fun and educational items or a keepsake to be worn at home and on the playground. Ideas can include a set of books tied in a ribbon, special offers on products and services in the community, a logo item children can wear, or fillers like crayons, bubbles, and toys. A goodie bag or gifts sparks the rule of reciprocity, especially if you hand it to families before asking for their enrollment. 

19. Ask for the Enrollment

Always ask for enrollment when closing your tour. If you aren’t asking for the enrollment or providing the next step for them to enroll, it is almost a disservice to your prospective families. Moms and Dads are busy and will often forget to follow-up. It’s yet another step on their list that often gets forgotten. Be of service to your prospective parents by asking for their enrollment and offering to get the paperwork started. An example of how to word this would be, “We think Johnny would make an excellent addition to Miss Smith’s room and would really THRIVE here. I would love to help you get this decision handled today and put Johnny’s start date on the calendar!”  Paired with an unrefusable offer that will save them money if they enroll by a specific date, it will entice your prospects even more. 

20. Follow-Up

Always make sure you are following-up with families. Even if your prospective parents missed their tour and didn’t show up, you need to follow-up! Maybe parents forgot or just feel embarrassed that they missed their appointment. Let them know that you missed them and ask them if they would like to reschedule. They will be happy you reached out and more often than not they will want to reschedule. Create a system for an effective follow-up that includes automated emails and text messages, one or two phone calls from you, and actual physical mail sent to their home address. Have a seven step system where you are reaching out to them at least seven times within thirty days. Add your prospective families to your mailing list and continue sending them email and direct mail long term. Include fun and memorable mail such as books specifically addressed to that child or a card signed by other kids in the class. 

Follow up with families individually. Invite them to a zoom session to check in and say hi or offer them a virtual tour to show them your center’s new health and safety measures. Ask them if they need help with anything and how you can be of service to them during this difficult time. Make sure you continue to follow up with them and let them know that you care and are thinking about them. 

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