One of the most important elements to running a successful and profitable home based child care service is the initial interview you organise and conduct with prospective clients (parents/carers/families). There is a reason I call them clients – you are running a business, not interviewing for new friends. This might sound a little harsh but its an important distinction -you need to maintain an air of professionalism!
In my conversations with educators a common thread seems to come through – they wished they had listened to their gut and said no to a particular family. The consequence of that action has usually been late payment of fees, a stressful relationship or a lack of respect from the parent to the educator.Trust me…It is a lot easier to make a difficult decision at the interview stage rather than after a child begins attending your service and you haven’t put any trial measures in place!
Some family day care coordination units will screen/enrol and interview parents before they reach educators but many do not and therefore it is up to an educator to promote their business, get new clients and then interview them before care can begin. I personally prefer this method as I feel it gives me more control to choose the parents and children who suit my service and the children I already have in my care.
However, even if your scheme does enrol and interview prospective clients before referring them to you for a meet and greet interview the process and outcome should remain the same – the parent is not only checking you out but you are also checking to see how well this parent might suit your service.
You can say no even if your coordination unit has referred them to you. Not enough educators do this as they are concerned they won’t get any more referrals.
I’m going to help you to overcome this thinking.In this post I’m going to share my 5 top tips and strategies to ensure you make the most of your initial interview process and in turn grow your business as a professional service. Let’s get started!
5 Strategies to ensure your new parent/client interviews are effective
Be clear and ask questions on the phone…
It is no point wasting your time arranging an interview with a new parent if they do not meet your current basic criteria. State the vacancies you have , the ages you have currently in care, let them know the days and hours you work and talk them through the requirements of the enrolment process before you even think about making an interview date.
I like to take an email address and offer to send them through a pdf copy of my parent handbook so they can read through more detailed information about my service, see my fees and get a feel for whether they would actually like to proceed with an interview. This saves me wasted time explaining all the basics on an initial interview only to have them realise my service will not suit them because the fees are too high or they need care on a Friday and I only work Monday – Thursdays.
Don’t underestimate the importance of your time – you are busy – the children in your care are your current priority – take steps like this to ensure you are making the process more efficient. Not only does it save you frustration, time and paperwork but it ensures your business presents as a professional service and you are organised. And that brings me to my next top tip….
Book your interview times when you do not have children in care or on your least busiest day. A parent might want to see you in action but it becomes stressful for everyone involved including the children you care for if you aren’t able to talk or do your job effectively. Explain this to the client on the phone before you even set a time.
Set aside days and times you are confident to have enrolment interviews with clients because usually they will stay longer than you intended and this can get difficult if you are already very busy.
Ensure you have a parent information pack ready to go with your branding. I have at least 5 made up ready to go for anyone that makes an enquiry about my service or possible vacancies. I go through the design and development of your parent information pack and what you should have in it in my latest online training about marketing and branding your child care service. You can see the details about this training here.
At the very least you should have a business card and a brochure with information about you, your philosophy, your hours of operation, who you are registered with and the current enrolment process. Lots of photos will help sell your environment too.
The packs come in very handy when a parent is possibly staying longer than you intended and you now need to move them along. Ask them to take the pack and have a good read through now that they have seen your environment and met with you.
Encourage them to call or email you with any questions they have after reading through all the paperwork and touring your service and then firmly state that you need to get back to the children now as they are your number 1 priority!
Trust me – they don’t argue with that one – it is what every parent wants to see. Remember – you aren’t there to make a lifelong friend, you are interviewing a prospective client so act accordingly. If you would like some tips on developing your assertiveness skills you might like to have a read of this recent blog post.
Communicate succinctly but effectively…
You don’t need to tell them your entire life story – unless perhaps you are a lot more interesting than the rest of us! You need to be able to find a way to share efficiently and effectively so make sure you know what you want to get across. Write a few dot points beforehand that you refer to each interview perhaps if you are worried about covering everything. Here are the main talking points I would consider including….
- A little about why you choose to be a family day care educator
- A little about your family (you don’t need to go overboard here!)
- Your philosophy and what you love about your profession
- Your hours of operation, fees charged, how and when you expect fees to be paid, policies on booked hours, late pickups, food, excursions/travel and illness.
- Your expectations of children and families and then ask for their expectations of a care arrangement (you need to make sure you are on a similar path here!!)
- The ages of the children/child, any developmental concerns they might have and their current likes and dislikes. You should also make sure to chat about whether they have been in care before of any of their older siblings have. I ask the parent to bring the child with them to an interview because I like to see their personality and behaviour in a new environment so I can get an idea of how they might suit the current dynamic and vacancy options currently available. It’s also important for a child to feel a sense of inclusion in this process and for them to feel comfortable in your environment and around you. Children are wonderful at giving you an honest opinion!
Keep your environment natural and true to your sense of belonging…
Just because you have a new client coming to view your home and daycare environment it doesn’t mean you need to give yourself a stress attack cleaning everything and going overboard with ‘keeping things tidy and perfect’ to show them when they visit. Yes you want a tidy and hygienic home but as a parent I would be a little concerned if I walked in and was shown around a home looking like something out a of a catalogue- you work and play and get messy with children – your home is the children’s space to belong and become – please ensure you show this.
Yes I know some parents are turned off by this snippet of reality but you must then ask yourself if this is the right family for you?!. Are you going to clean up and make things look perfect every time they drop off or pick up their child?
Start as you mean to go on – I’m not saying don’t tidy a little, of course you will….but please don’t go overboard, don’t set up false expectations from the very beginning, it doesn’t do anyone any favours!
If you like the children to get messy with craft or outdoor play then discuss this view with the parent – be upfront. All my parents are told in my interviews that I embrace and encourage outdoor and sensory play which is often messy so they need to attend in old clothes with a minimum of 2 spare changes of clothes in their bag! If a parent is uncomfortable with this then they are not the parent for me!
Talk about outside play, how you provide challenges and manage risk and how strongly you believe in the value of letting children get messy and explore with their senses each day.
Allow parents see the real picture and then decide what they are comfortable with because if they begin a care arrangement with you and come expecting the perfection that was your orientation/enrolment visit then they will no doubt be disappointed from that moment on when it no longer is!
Follow up & decline care if you need to…
Repeat after me…. “I don’t have to love every child or parent that I meet – it is ok not to connect with some families who come through my doors”
I want you to remember that one of the really wonderful things about being a family day care educator is that you are running your own business and there is no rule that says you have to say yes to everyone.
Listen to your gut feeling when you are conducting an introduction meeting. I know money can be tight and it is tempting to say yes just to fill vacancies but it can be more trouble that it is worth to get those few extra dollars – trust me….I’ve been around this game for a while now!
So how do you ensure you keep your options open and not just leave the decision up to the parent?
- Do not make any promises at the initial interview – explain that you do have another client or clients visiting in the next few days and need to think about the best decision for the dynamics of your current group.
- Ask the parent to take home their parent information pack and have a good read through.
- Encourage them to call if they have questions or are uncertain about something in your information book.
- Consider carefully how you felt around this person and their child/children – what was your immediate gut feeling?Ensure you give them a timeframe! Ask them to call you within a certain period of time if they would like to move forward in the process.
- Advise if you haven’t heard from them by the end of the week then you will be free to offer the place to another family.
- If you feel the meeting went well and would really like this family to become part of your service then ensure you follow up with them in a similar timeframe to give them the opportunity to ask more questions or book in for an orientation play session.
I hope the strategies above have inspired you to make some positive changes to your interview process and you are perhaps feeling a little more confident about finding and keeping the right clients for your business.
You are important and you need to be happy as well as your clients and their children…please don’t forget that!!