How to Compete with FREE Preschool Programs

I was talking recently to a child care center owner about the ups and downs, joys and disappointments, struggles and successes of owning a child care center. We were really gabbing and sharing stories because we both LOVE this business.

There is just something special about connecting with someone facing the same types of struggles, and sharing the same passion for their business. However, during the course of this conversation, she made a statement that stuck with me. She said, “But, ya know, how can you compete with FREE?”s

The way she said it was as if this was a rhetorical question with no answer to be had. 

I didn’t like it, but wasn’t sure how to respond at the time. 

I realized she said it that way because that’s how she FELT, but that doesn’t mean that there are no answers! There are MANY things you can do to attract children to your school, even when there are free options near-by. So, now that I’ve had time to think about it, let’s explore this topic.

If you want to successfully compete with free programs there are two key things you must do to effectively, and they all feed off of each other. It can take a little bit of time for you to see the effects of doing these two key things well, but when you do, the results are long-lasting.

1. Adjust your Mindset

Ditch your Self-Limiting Beliefs

First, I think it is so important to understand that YOU could be the biggest hindrance to competing with free programs. If you BELIEVE that tons of parents will not choose your school because a free option is available, then that is probably what will happen. However, if you believe that while some parents will choose the free option, there are still MANY that would LOVE to enroll their child at your school because it is BETTER, then this outcome is likely to happen.

Now, don’t get me wrong, SIMPLY BELIEVING that you have a good program that parents will want to choose is NOT going to result in more enrollments. But the belief is an important piece of this issue. Your belief trickles down into everything you do, from the way you market your business to your demeanor when talking about it.

For example, when you believe that price is the only factor that parents might consider, therefore they are less likely to choose you, you are projecting this unspoken “vibe” out there, and parents pick up on it. They might not be able to put their finger on it, but in effect, this negative vibe (for lack of a better term) blocks them from fully connecting with you and being able to “see” and “feel” your vision for your school. This then turns into a vicious cycle of self-fulfilling prophecy, because they don’t enroll, and your belief is reinforced.

When you truly believe that your school is the BEST option out there for families, that positive vibe is projected by you and felt by others. They are drawn to you and can feel your excitement about what you have to offer their child. They want to be a part of what you have going on, so they enroll.

It is a vicious cycle and can take some time to retrain your brain, but if you are struggling with your mindset around this, you need to try to fix it. It really, truly is affecting your enrollments. While you are working on your mindset issues you also need to be working to improve the message that you communicate with your prospects and clients.

2. Improve your Message, Identify and Communicate your Unique Benefits

This goes hand in hand with mindset. 

First, you have to KNOW that you have an amazing program. Something so much BETTER than the free program in town. 

Then, you have to IDENTIFY the REASONS WHY you are so much better and COMMUNICATE those reasons to everyone you come in contact with. 

These reasons can be ANYTHING that sets you apart, that makes you different. They can be the exact opposite from the school down the street. They just have to be UNIQUE to your school, and you have to communicate them as a POSITIVE thing!

Consider Two Schools: The Feature Being the Unique Benefit

School #1 has a brand new $30,000, state of the art play structure, complete with the best ground surface materials, installed by playground professionals.

School #1 can boast about their brand new, shiny, state of the art play structure and how amazing it will be for the children’s gross motor and physical development. They can show off that they have money to furnish their school with the latest and greatest stuff.

School #2 needed to build their playground on a much smaller budget, so they got creative and built tree stump stepping stones, created a home-made music wall, and installed a mud kitchen with the help of parent volunteers.

School #2 could easily be intimidated by the shiny new thing that school #1 has, OR they can SPIN what makes them unique and different into a selling point, or a UNIQUE BENEFIT. The second school could communicate how they focus on letting the children play and explore in a natural playground which enhances learning, creativity, and problem-solving skills.

The way you communicate your unique differences is important!

BOTH Playgrounds are a POSITIVE selling point.

While one is newer and more expensive, neither one is “Bad.”

Your Unique Benefits are what will attract the RIGHT parents to you: people who identify with your vision for your school. Not all parents want the cheapest school for their kids. Some parents are looking for something BETTER or DIFFERENT.

Think about the K-12 school system. YES, the majority of children attend a free, public school. However, there are MANY PRIVATE, TUITION-BASED schools full of students in almost every city of every state in this nation. Some parents want something DIFFERENT or BETTER for their children’s education, so they CHOOSE to pay to get it.

Think about the ways you can differentiate your program from the free program at the public schools. And then start including these things in your marketing messages. Talk about them on tours. Highlight them in newsletter articles and blog posts. Share your unique benefits on social media. Get the word out there in a positive way, and parents that align with you will seek you out.

Here Are a Few Ideas to Get You Started:

  • Your child will be one of dozens, not hundreds. We will know their name, and have a closer teacher-student bond with them.
  • Your child will not get lost in the crowd. We build personal relationships with everyone.
  • You have a caring, family atmosphere.
  • You have a safe place for children to grow and learn. (Think of your secure entry system and/or camera system……your facility is probably more secure than most public school buildings, which is a hot button topic right now.)
  • You have lower teacher to student ratios.
  • Teachers are more loving because they are free to be.
  • You don’t have to follow the bureaucracy and politics of the school board.
  • You are family owned so can set your own policies.
  • You cook home-cooked nutritious meals for the children every day.
  • You encourage parent involvement and volunteers.
  • You provide live streaming webcam access for parents.
  • You update parents daily on a communication app, so they always know what is going on.

If you live your mission by passionately serving your clients on a daily basis, making a difference one child at a time, then FREE preschool programs will cease to be your competition. 

They remain an option to parents in your area, but not competition. 

Because what you have to offer is so much better. 

Your mindset and your message need to be aligned so you can attract your ideal families and never again have to worry about FREE preschool programs hurting your business.

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