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If you pay peanuts, you get monkeys (for childminders)

I have always hated this expression from when my very first boss would use it. ‘If you pay peanuts, you get monkeys’ he’d say. The problem was, he DID pay peanuts. So every time he used the expression, he made me feel that was how he thought of me. He paid peanuts. He’d hired a monkey. Me.

 

Childminding pricesDon’t let parents pay you ‘peanuts’

Feeling that you are being paid peanuts is awful. Feeling undervalued in any job is demoralising, but when you are childminding it can feel doubly awful because you are the one who sets your own prices. It is not parents who are paying you peanuts. When you are self-employed, you are the one who decides what you are ‘worth’. You are no longer the victim of a horrible boss.  You have undervalued yourself. If you let these feelings go ignored you can end up resenting the parents, your partner, other childminders and ultimately the children you care for.

 

But how much is ‘peanuts’? What is a GOOD hourly rate for a childminder?

This is a difficult question because childminding hourly rates vary enormously across the country from as little as £3 per hour (per child) to as much as £7 an hour. If you are childminding in many parts of London, for example, then you may feel you are being paid peanuts if you are paid only £5 per hour, when that same hourly rate would put you near the top of the hourly price range in many other locations across the country.  So when you compare yourself to others, make sure it is to other childcare providers in YOUR area.

 

When you are just starting out, how should you decide a good hourly rate?

If you are new to childminding the best way to decide on an hourly rate is to look at what other childcare providers in your area charge. This will also give you a good idea about the ‘market’ in your area – in other words – what parents are looking for and what they are willing to pay. You should find out what both nurseries and childminders in your area charge per hour.  As well as looking at the prices, you should also look at what is offered for those services.

Here is an example. It’s actually a real example of how I decided my original hourly rate TEN years ago in Slough (home counties) where I was trying to set up my childminding business.

The very cheapest childcare in my area were childminders who charged between £3.50 and £4.50 per hour. Next on the scale were many mid-range nurseries that charged between £4.50 and £5.50 per hour. The services these nurseries and childminders advertised all seemed very standard. The “best” nursery in our area (with a waiting list) that took the children to swimming lessons, had Ofsted outstanding and cooked lunches on the premises charged £5.50 per hour. The most expensive childcare in the area was an outstanding childminder who had been childminding for 15 years from her farm location outside of the city. She charged a massive £6.50 per hour and always had a waiting list.

So, where I lived, it seemed reasonable that parents would be willing to pay somewhere between £3.50 and £6 per hour for childcare, depending on the type of service I decided to offer.

 

How do you decide on your ‘price point’?

Once you have the range of prices in your area, you then need to make a decision about how you want to fit in on this scale. You also need to consider your ‘market’. Do you have lots of parents willing to pay high end prices in your area?  Or do most people where you live want the cheapest childcare going?

Suppose you decide to become one of the most expensive childminders in your area? If so, you will be competing with the top nursery, nannies and other top childminders in your area. If you are going in at the ‘top end’ then what services are you going to offer to parents that will make your higher prices justifiable to them? How will you compete with the nursery that offers ‘swimming lessons’ or the ‘growing up on a farm’ experience offered by the top childminder? This is especially difficult if you are new to childminding as many top childminders and nurseries have years of experience and the reputation that goes with it, neither of which you have if you are new. One of the key benefits of deciding to offer a top end service is that you often attract parents who want longer hours for their children. So you get the added benefit of longer, contracted hours at a higher hourly rate. Getting rated ‘outstanding’ by Ofsted can be a huge benefit if you intend to go in at the ‘top end’ and there is no reason why you shouldn’t try to attract parents who are looking for ‘the best’ even if you are new as long as there are enough parents in your area looking for that service.

Alternately, you may decide to go in at the lowest cost end. You may want to try and offer cheap and no frills childcare – like Easyjet for parents!  Parents bring their own food and snacks and children can come and go flexibly. Many childminders who offer a low cost childminding service are happy to be flexible regarding hours and this suits and helps many parents enormously. The low cost business model for childminding can make it easy to attract many parents, especially parents who have low paid jobs themselves where they are making only marginally more per hour than they pay you to look after their child.  The downside is the lower rate, and the risk that taking children for five hour slots in a day can make it impossible to take on full timers.

Other childminders decide to go ‘middle of the road’ on their prices. Childminders who choose this option are not trying to compete with nurseries or nannies, or with childminders who offer low cost. If you go middle of the road with your prices then finding ways to stand out is crucial if you want to attract parents. You have to think very carefully about what makes your service unique.  If you are neither the cheapest, nor the best, why else should parents call you, instead of the next childminder on the list?

When I had to make this decision ten years ago now, I decided that I wanted to go ‘top end’ and offer a quality service. I couldn’t possibly compete with the childminder with 15 years’ experience who raised children on her farm. But I felt that by having all-inclusive prices, home-cooked meals and weekly outdoor ‘Forest Childcare’ outings, I could easily compete with the top nursery in our area. So I matched my hourly rate to theirs offering ‘all the benefits of a nursery but in a home environment’. That was my tagline. And it worked for me.

 

Are parents really looking for the “cheapest childcare”?

Don’t get me wrong. Many parents really do choose a childminder because it is the cheapest childcare can they find. But for the vast majority of parents, price is only one small factor in the decision. Parents will pay more for childcare if you give them a reason to. They will find money if you give them a reason to spend it. So don’t start off by assuming that the only way you will attract new parents is by undercutting the competition. Setting your prices too low can result in you regretting it later on by feeling undervalued for the work you do.

 

Low prices may actually put some people off

Many parents think that they are looking for cheap childcare. But really they are looking for ‘the best childcare they can afford’. Many parents (people) believe that if they pay more for something that it must be better. They may actually seek out higher hourly rates because they will feel that if they are paying more, then what they are getting must be better.

Recently I had to buy a new toaster. I walked up and down the rows of toasters in the shops horrified at the range of prices and weird and wonderful extras I could get for an appliance that I essentially wanted to be able to ‘heat bread reliably at breakfast’. Did I buy the cheapest toaster? Even though it did exactly that? No, because somehow I allowed myself to believe that some of the extras I was being offered might be worth it. But more importantly because when I looked at the cheapest toaster I thought to myself ‘what’s wrong with it?’ Why is it so cheap?  It must not be any good if they are selling it that cheaply. It will probably break in a year.

 

A parent who pays peanuts can get a childminder who feels underpaid and undervalued

Feeling respected is very important to people’s wellbeing. When you feel that you are being paid less than other childminders, this can seriously harm your enjoyment of the job. If other childminders in your area charge more than you, then think about the impression you are giving parents about the service you offer and consider putting your prices up.

Many childminders still charge the same fees per hour as they did 10 years ago. It is easy to say be brave and tell parents that you are putting your prices up. But this is so much easier said than done.

 

Give yourself a clause in your contract about reviewing your prices

If you are starting out, then make sure you put a clause into your contract that tells parents your prices are renewed annually at a certain date (1st April for example). Then it will come as less of a shock to parents that your prices are being reviewed and are going up. And you won’t feel guilty asking because it was in your agreement.

 

How to put your prices up if you don’t have a review clause in your contract

Putting your prices up takes a lot of nerve and you are right to feel nervous about it. You don’t want to upset families and drive them away. But you also don’t want to grow increasingly resentful of them (and their child) which can happen if you ignore your feelings.

If you look after just one family, then you may want to discuss your feelings regarding the pay rise with them and come to a mutually agreed amount. If you explain how you feel, perhaps in a letter, not in the morning as they are rushing to work, or when they are tired and their child is whingy at collection time, but when they can sit down and discuss this together, then you may all be able to come to an agreement that is reasonable and will keep everybody happy.

If there are multiple families involved then I wouldn’t ask their permission if I were you. Imagine if you were a nursery. Would a nursery send a letter home asking ‘look, I hope you don’t mind but I’m thinking of putting my prices up’ and it is demoralising to ‘ask them for a pay rise’ when you are self-employed. Just make the announcement like your nursery or any kids sports club would do. Parents will moan and groan, like you would do. But unless you are being unreasonable, they are very unlikely to actually leave you over a small price increase; they will most likely grumble, then do it, and then forget about it.

 

pile-of-peanutsDon’t feel like a monkey by offering your service for peanuts

I have carried that expression on with me throughout my life. When I left my first job I made a promise to myself never to work for someone who ‘paid peanuts’ again because it left me feeling very bad about myself, including when I started childminding and became my own boss. When you are not being paid what you feel you deserve for your work, it can really get you down. If this is you, it’s time to take the brave step of asking for the money you feel you are worth. Good luck!

 

Childminding Best Practice Newsletter

Sign up for the free quarterly Childminding Best Practice Newsletter using the orange sign up box on my website and I will send you best practice ideas, childminding news, EYFS tips, outstanding ideas, stories from other childminders, arts and crafts project templates, new products, and links.

http://www.kidstogo.co.uk/childminders/childminding.html

 

About Kay Woods and Kids To Go

Kay Woods Kids To GoKay 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, safety 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.

http://www.kidstogo.co.uk/childminders/childminding.html

10 Mistakes to Avoid on Childminding Directory Sites

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:

 

  1. 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.

 

  1. EXPLAIN your prices, especially if you are a lot more expensive or a lot cheaper than other childminders.

Forest Childcare Association LogoWhether 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!

 

  1. 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.

 

  1. Check that you can find yourself on the directory – otherwise it isn’t working properly and you should complain.

Kay Woods Childminder ListingAfter 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!

 

  1. 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’.

 

  1. 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.

 

  1. Avoid using really terrible email addresses and photographs that make parents think you would not be suitable to look after their children.

childminding email addresses to avoid“lipstick-kisses@hotmail.com” 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 “naughtynicola@yahoo.co.uk” and “utterly-frazzled-mum@gmail.com” 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!

 

  1. 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.

 

  1. 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.

 

  1. 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.

 

Childminding Best Practice Newsletter

Sign up for the free quarterly Childminding Best Practice Newsletter using the orange sign up box on my website and I will send you best practice ideas, childminding news, EYFS tips, outstanding ideas, stories from other childminders, arts and crafts project templates, new products, and links.

http://www.kidstogo.co.uk/childminders/childminding.html

 

About Kay Woods and Kids To Go

Kay Woods Kids To GoKay 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.

www.kidstogo.co.uk

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