Most councils and many private companies offer websites where you can list details about your childminding business to help you to fill your childminding vacancies. Getting these listings right will help parents to find you and choose your service over the competition. Check your listings today, especially if you are struggling to fill childminding vacancies, to make sure you aren’t making any of the following mistakes:
- Don’t hide your prices or parents will be suspicious.
Parents want to know at a glance if they can afford your service or if they should be looking elsewhere. A blank space next to ‘price’ looks suspicious and even writing ‘contact me for prices’ can make you appear to be hiding something. Ultimately, honesty saves you time from having to deal with calls from parents who can’t afford you.
- EXPLAIN your prices, especially if you are a lot more expensive or a lot cheaper than other childminders.
Whether you offer ‘the cheapest childcare in Slough’ or are selling an ‘outstanding service to rival the best nursery in Cambridge’ you need to make it clear what parents are getting for the price you charge. If they scan down the list of childminding providers and your prices are higher than most other childminders in your area, then parents need to know at a glance what service you offer – meals, antisocial hours, Forest Childcare, flexibility etc. – that makes your setting worth paying so much extra for. Equally important – if you are offering the ‘cheapest after school club in your town’ parents will want reassurance you aren’t running your childminding business from the local bus shelter!
- Update your listing frequently, especially if listings are ordered by the ‘last-updated’ field.
Many sites have a ‘vacancy information last updated’ field. If your listing includes this field then it is really important that you update your entry frequently. This is important for two reasons. Firstly because parents will feel that your entry looks more relevant if it is up to date. Secondly, and more importantly, on many sites the default listing order of all the entries is by the ‘last-updated’ field. Therefore to ensure that your entry appears near to the top of the listings you should update it frequently, even if you don’t actually change the information. Parents are more likely to contact you if you are top of the list.
- Check that you can find yourself on the directory – otherwise it isn’t working properly and you should complain.
After you have created and updated the text on the directory website, make sure that you check it is working. By this I mean: can you actually find yourself using the website? To do this you need to pretend to be a parent. So if I was trying to find myself on the Slough Council website, I wouldn’t type ‘Kay Woods’ into the childminder search. Of course this search would bring me up. But if I asked the website to find the closest childminder to ‘SL1 6NG’ I would expect it to bring me up at the very top of the list. If it doesn’t do this, then I would complain to my council that their search facility doesn’t work and keep on complaining until they fixed it!
- List your phone number so parents can get a great first impression of you from your phone manner.
Parents want to be able to call you. They will say they are ringing to find out if you have any vacancies but really they are calling to hear what you sound like. Within the first few seconds of a phone call they will have formed any number of judgements about you based on your accent, the words you use, the noise in the background and even how you answer your phone.
There are a few points here to think about. Never answer your phone from an unknown number if you can’t speak to the person on the other end at that moment. Let your voicemail get it. If there is a baby howling in the background, if you are going to have to admit, ‘Sorry I can’t talk right now I’m driving,’ this will not make a good impression! ‘Will you kids belt up I’m trying to hear this woman!’ will make a similarly poor impression. Let your voice mail get it. Call them back when you can sound professional. Answer calls from unknown numbers ‘hello this is Kay’.
- List your email address and reply quickly to impress professional parents.
Many professional parents don’t want to take the time involved in making phone calls and would much prefer the convenience of a quick email message. For them, the key advantage of emailing is that they can email lots of childminders at once so if you have vacancies it is really important that you reply quickly. If you don’t have an email address listed you make it just that little bit more difficult for them to contact you. They are liable to contact everyone they can contact by email first before going to the trouble of ringing entries without an email address. It is completely free to create an email address on many sites like yahoo or hotmail or gmail.
Always reply to emails about enquiries even if you are completely full at the moment and ask them if they would like to join your waiting list. You never know when your situation may change and you’ll be glad of some names to contact.
- Avoid using really terrible email addresses and photographs that make parents think you would not be suitable to look after their children.
“firstname.lastname@example.org” might have been a fabulous joke when you set the account up when you were sixteen, but if I were a parent looking for a place to send my child, I might be put off contacting you if I saw that. Think carefully about the impression that your childminding email address gives to parents. “Littlelearning@yahoo.co.uk” or “Kayslittlestars@hotmail.com” make parents go ‘yes please’. “Iboilchildren@hotmail.com” and “email@example.com” and “firstname.lastname@example.org” should probably be rethought! Create a new account just for your childminding business and think professional!
On a similar note, many directory sites, especially those run by private companies, give you the opportunity to upload a photograph of yourself. If you are given this option, always upload a photo, otherwise it looks like you are hiding something. More importantly, think very carefully about the photo you are using. The photos that make me laugh the most are when people upload “sexy” glamour shots of themselves, dolled up in so much makeup they look like they belong in fashion magazines. Remember that you are “auditioning” for the role of substitute parent who will change nappies and do painting with small children – you are not posing for Cosmopolitan!
- Avoid poor English and spelling mistakes.
If English is your second language or if you know your spelling and grammar are poor, get a friend or your council support worker to check the wording on your entry. Poor spelling and bad grammar can really make a bad first impression on parents. Remember that parents have never met you and know nothing about you, so they will make their first judgement about you entirely from the entry on a website.
- Make your entry stand out in the first two lines and think like a parent.
Parents using childcare directory sites are faced by hundreds of similar-sounding directory entries. Especially if you live in an area where parents are spoiled for choice, you must think very carefully about how you will make your listing stand out from the other childminders and nurseries who are using the site. Imagine a parent scrolling through page after page of nearly identical-sounding entries for childminders. You need to grab their attention in the first two lines of your entry.
Think about what businesses call your ‘unique selling point’. What do you do at your setting that makes you special? Why should a parent contact you instead of any of the other childminders on the list? Lead with what makes you special, rather than some boring waffle about “loving children” or (worse) some EYFS jargon that parents won’t understand.
- Don’t rely only on your council listing.
Your council is one of the first places that parents looking for vacancies will go to check what is available, so, while it is important to make sure your entry is up to date and working properly, it is certainly not the only place with childcare listings on the internet. There are many private companies that offer a listing service including Free Range Childcare which offers a service just for childminders. Increase the chances of parents finding you by getting listed in lots of places.
To summarise, think carefully about your listings on directory sites because they are an important way to help you fill your childminding vacancies. Fill in all the fields, sound professional, and focus on what makes your service unique. Most importantly, make sure that you can find yourself using the directory, otherwise however good your listing is, if you can’t find yourself, then parents won’t be able to either.
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About Kay Woods and Kids To Go
Kay Woods has been writing and selling childminding resources through her company Kids To Go since 2008. Her products include the Ultimate Childminding Checklist, the Learning Journey Plus for planning, observation and assessment and best practice resources promoting diversity and childminding in the great outdoors (Forest Childcare). She is the author of the Start Learning book set published by Tarquin and she writes the free quarterly Childminding Best Practice Newsletter.
Lots of places offer help to childminders. I provide solutions.