Annelies Condon, owner and president of two Primrose schools and Live Oak Bank borrower, describes the three things you should know before opening your early education center.
As the saying goes, you’ll never work a day in your life if you love what you do.
Running an early childhood education center has rarely felt like work to me. Even when I worked 14-hour days during the early years of my first franchise location, I loved the children and families, and I found the work enjoyable. When researching the business, I realized there were only two things I would not like to do – cook and drive the bus. I’ve cleaned my share of potty accidents, held children in my arms for hours at a time and plunged many a toilet. While someone else may find those aspects of the job daunting, I saw opportunities to connect with the children and staff.
Regardless of your personal preferences, make sure you fundamentally love 99% of the daily job. Owning an early childhood education center involves hiring, marketing, accounting, budgeting, event planning, managing expectations and performance at all levels and the occasional quick-fix plumbing repair. Know what you are getting into and make sure you’re willing to do all it requires. A good rule of thumb: never expect your employees to do something you would not do. While I have never had to drive the bus or cook, I am certified to do both (just in case).
Happy teachers and managers are more successful at creating an environment in which happy children will grow and thrive.
Inherently, early childhood education is not a field that pays its teachers and staff a high salary. I cannot possibly pay teachers and staff what I know they are worth and make a solid profit. While it certainly can be a profitable business, I find it important to share those returns with the staff by creating a positive work environment with perks. I can do little things to show I care about them and their success like recognizing their work with handwritten notes and jeans passes and incentivizing them with yearly raises and performance evaluations. Consider a profit sharing or retirement plan for your employees. Cater staff meetings, offer to pay for continuing education and certifications, invite your employees and their families to a baseball game or a day at the pumpkin patch.
In this field, there are many young females and single parents who may work for you. While you must have policies and procedures that are fair and consistent, consider the reason for call-offs (for example) and make exceptions when you can. Free childcare for employees’ children can help you attract high-quality employees and retain them for several years. If you find that someone is not a good fit for your business, perhaps help them consider other jobs and assist them with time off for interviews. By doing this, they’ll likely have a better attitude during their final weeks with you. Always look for the win-win situation and remember that you can affect the lives of the children and families you serve as well as the staff you employ. You can truly impact a whole community with your early childhood education center.
Most important, your primary focus must always be the children in your care.
During my initial training, a wise woman at Primrose told me that if you make a decision with the children’s best interest in mind, you will always make the right call. In this business, there is truly no other standard to which you need to adhere. This concept applies to building and maintaining your facility, hiring, firing, purchasing, and every other aspect of the business.
We talk a lot at our school about meeting children where they are. Often, this also means meeting parents where they are to create a partnership that helps the parent to see how their child is doing at school. On the flip side, most parents understand their children very well and listening to them with an open heart and mind can help even the best teacher see something they may have missed. It is also important to recognize where a teacher is falling short and retrain them where needed. When a teacher or a child fails, it is often because they were not given the tools to succeed. Investigate failures, small and large, from a team perspective. The primary focus must always be on the child, but to focus on the child, you must see the whole picture and be able to successfully manage all of the people, places and things that impact the child while they are in your care. Doing this has financial implications. If you keep too keen of an eye on profits, you won’t want to spend the money on landscaping, refreshing toys, nightly cleaners, snow cone days, parent meals to go and all of the other little things that create the “wow” factor. But if you spend the money to do things the right way and in a way that is best for the children, the profits will come back to you in the form of word of mouth advertising. Word of mouth advertising may seem free, but it is built on your reputation for doing the right thing and that often means spending some of those hard-earned profits!