Can Your Child Care Logo Pass This Test?

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Your child care logo is the face of your brand. It’s a visual representation of who you are that appeals to your ideal customer.

Ideally, it’s the result of the work you’ve done identifying your position in the market. Far too often, it’s one of the last pieces of your child care business and the result of a quick decision or the lowest bidder.  

Whether you’ve spent a ton of time and effort identifying your brand, or you had your cousin Harry draw “something colorful,” there are a few crucial questions to ask yourself about your child care logo.

Try to answer these honestly. Is your logo as effective as you’d like?

1.     Is it simple?

What does your logo look like on a business card? Can you make out all the details? Can you read everything?

Sometimes a design looks great on a large screen but doesn’t work out when reduced in size. Maybe there’s too much crammed in there? Maybe that fancy cursive font doesn’t say “child care” anymore when it’s tiny? No matter the size, prospective parents need to be able to read your name.

What does it look like in a single color? Does the design depend on different colors to define edges or elements? Does it look like the same logo when it’s all white on a solid t-shirt?

A logo isn’t a drawing or painting meant to be appreciated one way. It should be versatile enough to be transformed and/or altered as needed.

2.     Is it recognizable?

Can people recognize the design as yours without reading the words?

When is the last time you read the words “Coca-Cola” on a soda can? Get it? You don’t have to. You just know what it is. THAT’S what you’re after.

3.     Does it look like anyone else’s?

Aside from any potential legal issues, you run the risk of diluting brand awareness or even becoming associated with another brand if your logo is similar enough to another company’s logo. It doesn’t matter what industry.

The whole point of marketing is differentiating yourself in the market. It’s hard enough battling direct competitors. You don’t need to become confused or associated with “Happy Time Septic Systems” down the street.

4.     Was it designed without bias?

This one is a bit trickier. Here’s what I mean:

Were there too many people involved in the decision-making process? Did trying to keep everyone happy result in an over-complicated mess of imagery and strange fonts?

If you were the sole decision-maker, did you base the logo on your personal tastes or the taste of your ideal customer avatar?

Of course, we’re going to choose a logo based on personal preferences; but it’s far too easy to lose sight of what the end goal is.

A way to avoid this is to hire a professional designer that’s versed in branding. Ultimately, the designer will give you whatever you ask for. That’s our job, so keep all the above in mind. A good designer will maintain an impartial view and try to keep everyone focused on simply representing your brand through suggestions.

So, how did your logo do? I hope you’re working with something great, but if you need a re-do, 2C is here to help!

We’d also love to hear any war stories about getting your logo designed or issues you’ve run in to along the way. Feel free to comment below!

Until next time, Be Well. Be Happy. Shape Minds.

-        Tom

Free Download for Teacher Appreciation Week!

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They’re your front line.

They’re the people you count on to make your program as great as it is, to convey your parents’ concerns and to be your brand ambassadors.

They’re your students’ role models and your families’ trusted caregivers.

Each year, the first full week in May is Teacher Appreciation Week. Although we should appreciate them all year long, this is a great time to let them know what they mean to us, our students and our families.

While some people may have something special planned for next week that may include a small gift, sometimes a simple show of appreciation is enough to make your staff feel the love.

We created this simple download (below) with that in mind. Print it out, eblast it to your parents to print, post it on social media, have students fill out a special message – whatever you like.

The important part is that they know how much they are appreciated!

Happy Teacher Appreciation Week from all of us at 2C Marketing – and THANK YOU to all of the role models out there!

Just enter your name and email to download!

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Is Your Child Care Center Using Its Built-In Sales Team?

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Did you know you have a built-in, free sales team?

Depending on the number of child care centers you have and the size of those centers, we could be talking about thousands of people!

If you haven’t figured it out yet, I’m talking about your parents. 😉

Assuming you’re running an awesome program that’s making families happy, you have a built-in pool of advocates for your child care brand. For the most part, these parents are happy to spread the good word!

While some word-of-mouth marketing will happen organically, there are a lot of things you can do to “boost the signal.”

Here are a few simple ways you can put those parents to work!

 

Start a Referral Program

If you don’t have a parent referral program, it’s time to start one.

If you do have a parent referral program, can it use some beefing up?

Think of a referral like a testimonial on steroids. While it’s important to have online ratings and parent quotes as proof of concept, nothing beats the recommendation of a trusted friend.

Again, people will do this organically without any prompting; but MORE people will do it if there’s something in it for them and they are reminded of it every now and then.

What you offer is up to you. Just consider what the lifetime value of an enrollment is to you. Does a $15 Starbucks card say, “Thanks for bringing tens of thousands of dollars to my center?” Idk – maybe it does - but I think somewhere between that and a new car* may be your sweet spot.

*Disclaimer: I am NOT suggesting you give your families new cars.

Aside from any reward you come up with, you will also have to remind them from time to time that you have a referral program.

These reminders can be as simple as a poster in the lobby, an eblast, an occasional reminder posted on social media or just adding it to your newsletter. As long as it gets in front of them occasionally, the medium doesn’t matter.

 

Put Their Kids on Social Media

Assuming you have permission to do so, post pics and videos of their kids on social media!

If a mom or dad sees their kid having a blast in the playground or making crafts with their classmates, they may share that pic/video with their friends. Out of those friends/followers, I’m willing to bet a few of them are a similar age and have or are planning to have children.

Well, those people just saw: 1. Your well-branded center page 2. Their friend’s child having FUN at your center and 3. That their friend is excited enough about what you do to share it.

All that for free!

 

SWAG!

I’m telling you right now: spend the money.

Brand it! Sippy cups, bibs, water bottles, t-shirts, stickers, hats, DIAPERS…whatever you think your parents will actually use, put your branding on it and GIVE IT TO THEM!

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There’s a reason companies do this. It’s free advertising.

The bank I use are masters of swag. I have a glasses case complete with micro fiber cloth in my car, my dogs both have bandannas and (used to have) a football, I have a SHOE SHINE KIT in my travel bag! All branded.

WHY would a bank give me a shoe shine kit? Free advertising. People have asked me about it. There ya’ go.

It’s worth creating a branded coloring book (2C will do that for you, btw) and getting some branded crayons to give out. Trust me.

 

Getting your parents involved in and excited about where their child spends every day won’t just drive referrals, it will help foster a sense of community and open communication within your child care center. That’s a win-win!

Are you providing your parents an easy way to help promote your brand? Have you seen success with referrals, or do you need to take another look at your program? We’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments section.

Until next time – Be Well. Be Happy. Shape minds.

-        Tom

Lotsa Leads and No Enrollments? Read This.

Got plenty of leads but they're not converting to enrollments? Maybe start looking in to these few things.  

Got plenty of leads but they're not converting to enrollments? Maybe start looking in to these few things. 

Has this ever happened at your child care center?

You spend a lot of time, effort and money promoting your center – everything is branded perfectly with consistent messaging and imagery – you’re offering a fantastic enrollment deal for a limited time – the response to your promotional efforts is AWESOME with TONS of leads contacting you for a tour, then…. cricketcricket…2 new enrollments?!

Hello? Is this thing on? What happened?!

Well, it could be a number of things. What I’m about to talk about is in no way a complete list of reasons parents might not enroll in your child care center.

That said, the following is a great place to start figuring it out.

So, what went wrong? Consider these possibilities:

1. Your targeting was off.

Where and how were you promoting your program? Is there any chance you attracted people that weren’t likely to enroll in the first place?

This can happen in a lot of different ways.

Maybe you targeted low income families, but your center is unapologetically high-priced? Maybe it was as simple as giving away really fancy sippy cups in exchange for an email at an event? Is there a chance you spent the day collecting emails from people that just wanted free stuff? Where did you advertise? Did that advertisement get in front of your ideal parent?

Like I said, there are a lot of possible scenarios where this could happen. Just remember it’s not the quantity of leads that counts, but the quality.

If you put a sign out in front of your center that reads “free puppies and cookies,” you will get plenty of foot traffic. But are they looking to enroll? Probably not.

2. Your program or facility doesn’t live up to the hype.

Part if this goes back to an earlier post about being honest in your marketing.

Did you promote your center as eco-friendly only to hand an interested parent coffee in a Styrofoam cup? Is that state-of-the art playground just a new swing set?

Don’t try to fool parents just to get them in the door. News spreads fast these days and you will do way more harm than good.

It could also be as simple as your facility, itself. Is there a funky smell somewhere? Does it look like a prison with bright flowers taped to the walls?

A few years ago, I was running a fall push for a company with several centers. Everything was going well except for one center – lotsa leads/not so many enrollments. After pulling what’s left of my hair out, I discovered the center had had a leaky roof for months that hadn’t been fixed. Parents were walking in to drip buckets in the main foyer and most of the hallways as well as that “OMG, fix your roof” smell. Seriously. It was that simple.

3. There’s a clog in the enrollment funnel.

OK – this is actually a huge conversation that I’m not about to go that deep in to here.

BUT…

Are you answering your phone? What do your drip campaigns look like? Are you following up with these leads? How and how often? Who’s giving the tours? Do they know HOW to give a good tour?

Basically, all the leads in the world won’t matter if you’re not engaging them properly or (gasp) at all.

If you’re using ChildcareCRM, you can identify and fix all of those issues. Between setting up drip campaigns and running reports on conversion rates, tour success rates by tour-giver, last contacted, etc., you really have no excuse.

Sorry – it’s true, though. That program is a beast when used properly.

 4. The “golden rule” of competition.

Again, this is a bigger topic; but it needs to be mentioned here.

There’s a pretty simple rule in marketing that goes like this (simplified):

You have to beat the competition on either PRICE or PRODUCT

without completely losing on the other.

Here’s what that means:

You can have the most expensive program in town, but it has to be the best. You can also have a so-so, not a lot of bells and whistles program, but you have to be cheaper than the mega-care place down the street with the waterslide.

See how that works?

If you charge too much for a mediocre program while there’s a fantastic, cheaper program down the street, you’ll be getting their left-overs for a while before you close up shop.

My point is this: if you have looked at every other option above, it may come down to something as simple as this. Just keep it in mind.  

Have you run in to the issue of too many leads and not enough enrollments? What did it wind up being? We’d love to hear about it in the comments below.

Until next time – Be Well. Be Happy. Shape Minds.

-        Tom

How to Use ChildcareCRM Forms to Track Your ROI

Not sure of the ROI of your child care marketing dollars? Read on. 

Not sure of the ROI of your child care marketing dollars? Read on. 

We all know ChildcareCRM is a fantastic tool for guiding potential families through the enrollment funnel. By thoughtfully setting up drip campaigns, you can deliver the right message at the right time while ensuring NO ONE falls through the cracks.

Hopefully, you have all that set up and have already increased your conversion rate from initial contact to enrolled. If not, 2C happens to have a package deal for that! Just contact us and we’ll help build it all out for you.

But, I digress…

As cool as all that is (along with all the other features it has), you can also track where your child care leads are coming from, where they are in the funnel and, therefore, what your ROI on any given lead source is.

Most of us know about the “Lead Source” field and that we’re supposed to ask “Where did you hear about us?” to every lead that contacts us.

That’s great. Don’t stop doing that. But…

The issue with leaving it up to the parent to tell us where they “came from” is that they’ll answer “Google” 98% of the time they’re not answering “so-and-so-friend referred me.” Right?!?!

While referrals and Google searches will, most likely, remain your bread and butter lead sources (I explain how leads actually wind up at Google in THIS FREE WEBINAR), what if you’re running a Facebook campaign and want to know what your ROI for the ad is?? Hmmmm?

Again, it isn’t likely that the parent is going to tell you they clicked on a Facebook ad. It does happen, but don’t count on that for figuring your ROI.

Also, the most info Facebook gives you is that someone clicked the ad and, if you have your Facebook pixel set up to track conversions, they submitted a form.

Figuring out what happens after that person contacts your child care center is up to you.

Luckily, ChildcareCRM can help with that!

Here’s what you do:

For any digital ad (or backlink), any form on your website or any event you’re attending (with your handy tablet for form collection, of course):

1.     Create a campaign in your CRM under the Marketing Tab. Name it something you’ll recognize later as related to a specific ad, etc. and don’t forget to enter the cost of the ad/event/whatever you’re tracking.

2.     Create a form and link it to that campaign.

If you’re using this form at an event, you’re pretty much done here.

3.     For any digital ad (Facebook, Instagram, AdWords, etc.) have the ad click through (link) to a landing page that has the corresponding form on it. When someone submits the form, they will enter your CRM as part of the specified campaign.

PRO TIP: If you’re using WordPress, the Gravity Form plug-in works really well with ChildcareCRM forms and looks slick!

4.     Run a Campaign Report after all your leads have had a chance to either enroll or…well, make the wrong decision. Assuming you have your center’s pricing entered, the CRM will TELL you what that ad’s ROI was!

Boom. Done. Easy Peasy.

Obviously, this method only works for online forms and event forms. There are ways to track incoming calls to a degree, but you still have to ask how they heard of you – even though they’ll most likely say “Google.”

How do you use ChildcareCRM to track your ROI? Do you know where your money is going? Do you have a different method? We’d love to hear about it in the comments below.

Until next time – Be Well. Be Happy. Shape Minds.

-        Tom

Stop Wasting Money Marketing Your Child Care Center (FREE Webinar)

I just found this gem while I was looking for another file and wanted to share it!

Here’s a webinar we did with the spectacular Emily Smith at ChildcareCRM sometime in the beginning of 2017. This was specifically for their child care clients, but the information is really useful for anyone with a youth enrollment program.  

The webinar covers topics like:

  • What an impression is
  • How impressions REALLY work
  • How to build brand awareness through your current child care marketing efforts
  • 5 TIPS ON HOW TO MAKE THE MOST OF YOUR IMPRESSIONS (and stop wasting your money!)

I hope you enjoy. We’d love to hear any thoughts or stories in the comments below!

Until next time – Be Well. Be Happy. Shape Minds.

-        Tom

Why Online Reviews = More Enrollments

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Anyone marketing a child care center, dance studio or any after school program understands the value of referrals, testimonials and reviews. The opinion of parents is crucial to youth enrollment.

We all know this.

While nothing beats a friend’s recommendation, and the testimonials you gather for use on your site and materials are important, online reviews carry a LOT of weight these days.  

Put simply, people are reading those reviews before they contact you or even go to your site.

According to Bright Local’s 2017 Local Consumer Survey:

  • 97% of people read online reviews for local businesses in 2017
  • 85% of people trust online reviews as much as personal recommendations
  • Only 49% of people need a 4-Star rating or above before they choose to use a business
  • Positive reviews make 73% of people trust a local business more
  • People read an average of 7 reviews before trusting a business

Additionally, they help improve your local search engine ranking!

According to MOZ’s 2017 Local Search Ranking Factors report, a bit over 10% of search engine results are based on online reviews.

That’s enough to include it in your SEO strategy.

TIP: While Yelp and Facebook reviews are favorites with consumers, Google likes Google Reviews and may place more weight on them when determining what businesses to show first. Those reviews will also appear right at the top in the local business search/map in Google, so pay some attention to getting Google reviews!

As if that weren’t enough to start a review campaign at your center, reviews also provide you feedback to help improve your program. Parents tend to be more frank online than they would be in-person. Use that criticism!

Reviews also allow you to have an honest conversation in an open forum (one you don’t have control of). In fact, according to a TripAdvisor survey, 78% of people believe a company that responds to online reviews cares more about their customers than those that do not respond.

So, get out there and ask your families for reviews!

Don’t wait for them to do it on their own. Only about 10% of people “always” or “almost always” review businesses online. But most will leave one if you ask!

Have you incorporated reviews in to your child care marketing plan? Have you seen any magic happen? We’d love to hear about it in the comments.

Until next time – Be Well. Be Happy. Shape Minds.

-        Tom

Do Parents Really Notice How You Print Materials?

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Answer: Yes.

Whether it’s conscious or not, they can, quite literally, FEEL the difference between your printed-in-house brochure and the place down the street that spent a few bucks.

Does this mean you have to get everything printed professionally?

No.

But there is a big difference between printing in-house and having your materials printed professionally.

 

What’s the difference?

Honestly, there are several differences between professional printing and using your copier/inkjet/whatever you’ve got at your center. Things like paper quality, ink quality, CMYK vs RGB color models and folding/stapling, etc. may all be debated when considering either. But…

Since home printers and office print/copy machines have come a long way over the years and can produce really nice results, I’m only going to focus on one main difference.

Bleed.

 

What the heck is “bleed?”

Put simply, bleed refers to how close to the edge the colors of your design go. Full bleed means the colors go OFF the edge, leaving no unprinted area on the paper at all.

A professional printer will print in full bleed. The printer hooked up to your computer and even the local office supply/copy place will always have a border of unprinted space around the design.

Here’s what it looks like:

 

While you can adjust the margins of a document, it will never fully be to the edge of the page with in-house printing. This is because it’s being printed directly on to the chosen paper size. For example, if you’re printing a document that’s 8.5” x 11”, your printer will choose 8.5” x 11” size paper.

A professional printer prints that same document on a larger sheet of paper, then trims the edges down to an 8.5” x 11” size sheet. That’s how the design can reach the edges.

NOTE: If your background is white and none of your design runs off the page, this is much less of an issue. Try to keep this in mind when having that brochure designed!

 

So, which do I use?

Well, it depends. (how’s THAT for a non-answer?!)

There are a few things to consider:

  • What is it?

If it’s marketing collateral like a brochure or post card, or a corporate identity piece like a business card, you should really consider having it professionally printed.

Again, parents can feel the difference between a professionally printed business card and one you printed in-house then cut out with scissors. You’re probably charging a decent amount of money to enroll in your program. Don’t hand them a crooked card or a brochure printed on copy paper.

Things like rate sheets, forms, food menus, holiday calendars, etc. are fine to print in-house. BUT, keep it professional looking! Don’t photocopy an old fax!! (I’ve seen it done).

Make sure everything is properly branded and uniform. Have a folder professionally designed and printed to put loose papers in. No matter what you’re printing in house, it should look as professional as possible.

  • What’s the content?

Are you printing teacher bios? What’s your turn-over rate? Are they still going to be there when you run out of those professional brochures?

Are you planning on changing your rates next year? Did you just order 10,000 tri-folds with the old rates?

You see what I’m getting at. Consider what the content is and if you can easily change it or reproduce it.

  • How many do you need?

How many of these things are you going to need? How much does it cost for you to print in-house? Is it cheaper to have it printed for you?

Ink is expensive and copier leases generally charge per page. Just keep an eye on your spending.

  • What’s the design?

Again, is it full-bleed? Will it look bizarre with a white border around it?

If you’re in love with the design and can’t alter it to suit in-house printing, then that’s something to consider.

 

Although it may seem a bit silly, how you print what you’re handing parents can really make an impression. In a lot of instances, it’s a first impression.  Taking the time to make your printed materials look good can go a long way in representing your child care center as a professional program!

How do you print materials? Have you found a system that works? We’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments!

Until next time – Be Well. Be Happy. Shape Minds.

-        Tom

Why You Should Invest More Time on Your Child Care Brand

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Over the years, I’ve run in to clients that have a similar problem: they don’t have a clearly defined brand. Child care centers, dance studios, after-school programs - any program that enrolls children - it doesn't matter.

They focus on “out feature-ing” their competition without any regard to how their program’s benefits support their overall messaging. In some cases, they haven’t put thought in to their overall messaging, at all!

They’re “just another child care center” in a sea of other child care centers, pushing their new playground equipment as their biggest differentiator. They’re a dance studio with a slick logo, a so-so program and zero personality.

It’s not enough.  

 

 

You need a well-defined brand identity as the cornerstone of ALL your marketing efforts. Without it, you will get lost in the sea of competition.

So, what IS “brand identity?”

First, I need to say that this isn’t a how-to article. That will come later (but you can sign up to hear about it). This is an article that talks about the different elements to consider when building your child care or dance studio brand. A while back, I wrote about the important difference between brand and branding, so we’re going to leave that be and dive deeper in to the BRAND part here.

There are four pieces to your brand identity:

  1. Brand Values
  2. Brand Voice
  3. Brand Personality
  4. Visual Brand Identity

These four components combine to convey the tone, feel and look of your youth enrollment program to the outside world. When well developed, they will make you stand out in the crowd and help attract more of your “ideal customers” (more on that in a minute).

Let’s break the pieces down a bit…

Brand Values

These are your core values – what you hold dear.

Why do you do what you do? What is your main reason for teaching children? When a child leaves your program, what do you hope to have instilled in them?

What is the purpose of your program?

Brand Voice

How do you speak in your messaging? Are you more casual or professional? What do you focus on? What language do you use to convey your values?

What benefits can a parent expect by enrolling with you? How do you describe them?

Brand Personality

If your brand were a person, how would you describe it?

Is it funny? Serious? Academic? Playful? What’s the motivation behind your brand voice?

NOTE: A fantastic exercise to identify both your brand voice and personality is to create an Ideal Customer Avatar (ICA).

An ICA is a single representation of who your ideal customer is. By creating a profile including details like: gender, hair color, eye color, employment, marital status, concerns/fears, favorite movies, what they listen to, what they read, etc., you can direct all messaging to ONE “person.” That focuses your tone and ensures the all-important human element in your marketing.  

Visual Brand Identity

This includes your logo, color pallet, fonts, tag lines and image choices – anything that visually represents your brand values, voice and personality. It should support whatever you’ve identified in the above components.

It should also be consistent across all channels. I CAN NOT stress this enough! That color isn’t “purple.” It’s PANTONE 2076 C.

I'm not just being a persnickety marketing guy here, I promise. Look at the difference:

Imagine telling two different designers to “just make it purple.” You will wind up with two different purples sitting on a table next to each other.

That’s like showing up to a job interview in a hula skirt and hard hat. Not cool.

Instead of leaving it up to designers or printers to figure out what you mean by “purple,” create a style guide that contains the exact colors, fonts, logo representations, etc. that you have identified as your visual brand identity.

Consistency builds brands. Brands build business.

A well-defined brand identity will tell parents who you are before you even sit down to speak with them. Couple that with honest marketing and a great program and you’ll be unstoppable.

How much time have you put in to identifying your brand?  Do you feel like your leads “get” what you're about? Do you find you’re attracting the “wrong” type of people to your program? We’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments!

Until next time – Be Well. Be Happy. Shape minds.

-        Tom

How to be Honest in Youth Enrollment Marketing

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If you own or run a program that enrolls children, you are in the trust business. Child care, dance, gymnastics, charter school, after-school – it doesn’t matter.

The greatest program with all the latest bells and whistles won’t get enrollments without the trust of parents.

We all know that, right?

Right.

So, why not start building that trust with honest marketing?

What IS Honest Marketing?

There was a time when marketing and advertising were considered somewhat deceptive. Business owners often assumed a different persona to spin their service or product in to a sales pitch – and that sales pitch usually overpromised and certainly exaggerated.

At a wedding a few months ago, a friend of mine “clarified” what I do to someone as “lying for a living” because I had told them I was a marketer. I laughed it off, but that really sums up the reputation.

With the instant connectivity of the internet, social media and customer reviews have changed the game. Deceptive marketing is called out for what it is and can be ruinous for a small company.

The parents with children enrolled in your program, as well as those parents considering enrollment, are looking for authenticity.

They’re human. You’re human. Be human.

This isn’t to say you shouldn’t position your benefits toward your target audience. You just have to be honest about it.

How to be Honest in Your Marketing

1)    A good place to start is with your program’s mission statement. This is assuming your mission statement is something other than “We’re here to take as much money from you as possible so the owner can retire early,” btw.

Assuming it’s something involving “helping your child reach their fullest potential as a dancer” or “inspiring a lifelong love of learning,” we can use that as the core of our marketing (and everything else, for that matter).

The result on your messaging should follow something like this:

This is what we’re here to do. This is why we’re the best at doing it. This is why you can believe that we’re the best.

2)    Don’t overpromise or oversell. Say what you do and what can be expected. Then verify those facts with parent testimonials or statistics (i.e. “X amount of our students have gone on to get gymnastics scholarships”).

Do what you say you do. Don’t advertise a “green program” if all you have is a fish tank at your child care center.

3)    Own your mistakes by being transparent. The truth will come out either way, so why not address it head on?

In 2015, the restaurant chain Chipotle dealt with an E. Coli outbreak that could have ruined the company had they tried to deny or downplay the situation. Instead, they openly communicated the steps they were taking to manage the outbreak by closing locations and instituting new safety measures.

I realize that’s a pretty extreme example, but it illustrates the power of honesty and transparency extremely well.

4)    Don’t do dishonest things.

I know. This is implied. Still…

If your SEO person wants you to pay people overseas to post fake reviews on YELP or GOOGLE, don’t do it. If you find a great image to use in your next campaign but don’t want to pay the usage rights, find another image.

Aside from being unlawful, activities like this are completely under-handed and will be noticed, called out, and potentially ruin your reputation.

I think I was around 25-years-old when I figured out a simple fact that I still try to live by. Here it is:

If you don’t lie, you can’t get caught.

Think about it.

The Reward of Honest Marketing is Two-Fold

Not only will completely honest and authentic marketing build trust in your program, it may also serve as a differentiator.

Again, the internet has changed the way parents make decisions about enrolling in your program. If your immediate competition is screaming their overinflated selling points from the rooftop, you can easily be the refreshing change parents are seeking.

Be known as the place that does what they say and handles their affairs like real people.

Parents trust that place.

 

Can you be more honest with your marketing? What’s your experience with building trust? We’d love to hear your stories in the comments.

Until next time – Be Well. Be Happy. Shape Minds.

- Tom

Should You Consider Branding Your Child Care Summer Program?

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In the spirit of full disclosure, 2C just introduced a new Summer Program Branding Package for child care centers, and we’re running a $300 OFF deal through February 2, 2018. Hence, this blog post.

BUT…whether we do it, you do it or you have your cousin, Larry, do it…

HAVE you ever considered branding your summer program a little differently than your core program?

If you’re running a child care center with a distinct summer program, differentiating that program in your marketing may be something you should consider.

Why?

  • Manipulating your existing logo, brand imagery and messaging allows you to alter and/or expand your targeting. Does your child care accept older children during the summer?
  • It piggy-backs on your existing brand awareness and positioning while differentiating just enough to be considered something “other.”

For example, if a parent sees an ad for a child care center that mentions “camp enrollment” using the same logo, imagery and messaging they see all year ‘round, they’re going to think “that’s that popular local child care center.”

If that ad looks and says something different than what they see during the school year, they’re going to think “summer camp…oh, isn’t that that great child care center? I should look in to what they do over the summer for my kids.”

 For an extreme example of this, just consider what Richard Branson has done with the “Virgin” brand.

Image from a fantastic LinkedIn  article  published by Mahesh Murthy

Image from a fantastic LinkedIn article published by Mahesh Murthy

He’s piggy-backing products from books to trains to soft drinks on his brand; each allowing for different targeting.

  • If you’re like a lot of programs, there is (at least) an extra activities fee for your currently enrolled students staying enrolled over the summer.

Do you get push-back from parents? Couldn’t you position that fee as a discounted way for their child to take part in the summer program?

Put simply; if it looks and feels different, it’s an easier sell.

If your daycare or child care business takes a hit during the summer months, maybe it’s time to consider treating those months like a different animal.

Aside from planning activities and field trips, think about separating the summer from your core program even more with its own brand!

How different is your summer program from your core program? Have you tried different brand imagery and messaging in your marketing successfully? We’d love to hear your stories in the comments below.

Until next time – Be Well. Be Happy. Shape Minds. - Tom

p.s. Don’t forget to check out our new Summer Program Branding Package before the $300 OFF deal expires on 2/2/2018!

One Simple & Foolproof Way to Increase Enrollments

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A few years back, I was in an initial meeting with a child care client. One of the first questions I asked was: 

“What happens when a new lead contacts one of your centers (either via phone or web)?”

The response I got was:

“Well…someone is supposed to call them back as soon as they can.”

Okey dokey.

Over the next week, I called each of their centers at least twice and filled out the existing online form from their site (it didn’t have an option to specify which center I was inquiring about).

One center out of nine called me back two days after I left a voicemail.

That means:

  1. Out of 18 phone calls, not once was the phone answered.  
  2. 8 centers never returned my call at all.
  3. No one responded to my web inquiry. Not even an email.
  4. An actual lead would have already spoken to their competition, probably toured at least one other center and possibly enrolled elsewhere in the time it took to receive a call-back. At the very least, that lead (me) was further along in the sales process with someone else.  

  That’s baNAnas!

What’s happening when a parent first contacts you?

By the time a parent reaches out to you, they are well into the decision-making process. They have researched your site, read reviews and gathered any other information they can find. Gone are the days of salespeople (that’s you, btw) having to lead a prospect through the entire sales process.

Assume that they are, at least, 50% through and meet them there. Be ready to answer informed questions. They’re not contacting you to “see what you’re about.” They know already.

When a parent contacts you about your program, they are in what’s known as a “buying mindset.” They want to talk to you – now.

So, what does that mean?

That means the sooner you speak to that inquiring parent, the more likely they are to enroll.  

According to a study published by Dr. James Oldroyd called the Lead Response Management Study, your chance of successfully contacting a lead is 100 times greater within 5 minutes of an inquiry as opposed to 30 minutes. That parent is also 21 times more likely to move forward in the process if contacted within five minutes.

Another study published by InsideSales.com shows that 35-50% of sales go to the person that responds first!

It’s pretty simple when you look at the data.

If the dance studio or child care center down the street from you speaks with that parent first, it is HIGHLY likely you just lost money.  

OK. What do we do about it?

The simplest step to take is to answer the phone when it rings. I know…. but, seriously.

The next step is to make response time a priority with your staff.

Whether it’s fielding web inquiry forms, emails or voicemails, someone at each of your locations needs to be responsible for taking immediate action.

If you’re unsure of your current response speed, simply secret-shop your locations. Contact each via web and phone and see how long it takes to get a response – or have a friend do it. After all, you can’t fix what you can’t measure. Use that information as your starting point.

If you’re using a system like ChildcareCRM, set alerts for incoming inquiries. At the very least, you can set an auto-responder that says, “Thanks for contacting us – here’s a little more information to hold you over – someone will be calling you shortly” (obviously, put a little more effort in to the copy than THAT).

It’s really a no-brainer.

Increasing your response speed can immediately increase your enrollments while costing you nothing (or next to nothing). Of everything we do in marketing, it really is a no-brainer.

Have you successfully increased your response time and seen the results? Is it a thorn in your side? We’d love to hear your stories in the comments!

Until next time – Be Well. Be Happy. Shape Minds.

-        Tom

How Turning Features into Benefits Can Increase Enrollments

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So, you just built a brand-new playground at your child care center – or, maybe you just had new flooring installed at your dance studio.

You’ve added these things to your marketing materials and web site, but you’re not seeing the mad rush of enrollments you were expecting. How can it be that no one is as excited about these new features as you are?

Is it possible you’re guilty of feature-only marketing?

In order for your marketing to be effective, you need to include features AND benefits.

What’s the Difference between a Feature and a Benefit?

A FEATURE is a surface statement about your program and/or facility.

It’s the “security coded entryway” at your studio or the “indoor gym” at your child care center.

A BENEFIT illustrates the end result of those features. It’s what the parent and/or child “gets” out of the feature.

For example, a benefit of your studio’s secure entryway is the safety of the dance students inside. No one can enter without a code and there is a log of everyone entering/exiting the building.

A benefit of your child care center’s indoor gym is that the children can consistently build gross motor skills, regardless of the weather.

See how that works?

A benefit speaks directly to a problem or concern that the feature addresses.

But can’t parents figure out the benefits on their own?

Sure. Maybe. Probably. BUT…

…by only listing the features of your program, it’s left to them to decide what those features mean for their child and themselves. Are they going to understand that those new floors in your studio mean less chance of injury for their child, or are they just going to say “Hey, those floors look nice and shiny?”

Benefits help tell your brand story.

By excluding benefits in your marketing, you’re also missing out on a chance to tell your story to your target audience.

For example, if your child care staff recently completed a course such as Educating the Heart Through Nature Art, the feature may be that you’ve incorporated nature-based learning in to your curriculum.

If your ideal customer avatar is an all-organic, nature-loving parent, they want to know what that means!

Tell them the story behind this new element in your curriculum. For example, tell them you’ve added nature-based activities to their child’s day to foster their creativity and imagination while helping them discover their connection with the planet.

That speaks directly to your target parent and doesn’t leave them to decipher what the “nature-based activities” bullet-point on your brochure means!

It also establishes a connection point between you and the parent.

That’s what all of this is about, right?

So, where do we start?

Luckily, any feature can turn in to at least one benefit. All you have to do is tell parents how the feature will benefit them and their child.

Seriously. It’s that simple.

A good way to start is by listing out the features of your program. Take a look at your existing materials if that helps get the marketing mojo moving.

Then list out as many benefits as you can for each feature. Keep your ideal customer in mind while doing this to really tailor your messaging.

Now tell your story!

Explain to the parent touring your child care center that you’ve added extended hours to accommodate their work schedule.

Let the parent reading the flyer for your after-school program know that you have shuttle buses from their child’s school so they don’t have to worry about transportation.

Do you have any stories about your experience with features vs. benefits? We’d love to hear them in the comments.

Until next time – Be Well. Be Happy. Shape Minds.

-        Tom

p.s. For more elaborate ways to flesh-out your programs’ benefits, type the phrase “feature-benefit matrix” in your favorite search engine.

4 Easy Fixes for a Better Youth Enrollment Web Site

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Your web site is the hub of your youth enrollment program’s identity. We all know the vast majority of child care center, dance studio or after-school program research starts on line – but that’s not the only reason for your site!

If you advertise through print ads or signage that direct the reader to call a number, they will rarely call before going on-line. If a current family recommends your center to a friend, that friend is most likely going on-line before contacting you.

It’s safe to say that any impression you have out in the world will usually result in the interested parent finding your web site.

So…how’s your site? Are you happy with what prospective parents are finding when they get there?

Aside from any design or content issues, there are a few user experience fixes that are easy to spot and easy to fix.

Can you improve any of these areas on your site?

1.     Is your site mobile friendly?

For the last few years, the majority of online activity has taken place on mobile devices. While trends come and go every other week, smart phones aren’t going anywhere. Most sites these days are what is called “responsive” – meaning: they behave and look differently on tablets and phones than on desktops. If your site can’t tell the difference between a desktop and a phone, it can cost you potential leads as they click off.

2.     Is your site easy to navigate?

Is it easy for parents to find what they’re looking for? Is your navigation bar confusing in any way? How much “stuff” do you have on your main page?

Parents don’t want to be bombarded with newsletters and calendars and explanations for every single element of every single thing you do right when they get on your page. Don’t overwhelm them. Let them know why they should keep looking. Make it very clear how to find what they’re looking for and even guide them through the discovery process as much as you can.

3.     Is it easy to contact you?

The whole point of your site is to get parents to either call you, sign up right through the site or fill out a form for more information, RIGHT?

How easy is it for them to do that?

Are your phone numbers and contact form buried on a contact page they may not even see? Can you put that form (or a button TO that form) on the pages they are logically going to want it? Is your number clearly visible, or do they have to search for it?

ARE THERE 472 REQUIRED FIELDS ON YOUR CONTACT FORM?????!?!?!

Just make it easy for them to do what you want them to do.

4.     Do you have a Call to Action?

While your site should illustrate your program’s benefits and features, it should also be more than just an on-line brochure. It should serve a purpose. In youth enrollment marketing, that purpose is enrollment.

Don’t assume the interested parent understands that that’s your goal. Tell them directly.

“Click here for more information” or “Book a Tour” buttons lead the parent to the next step. For dance studios or gymnastics programs, a “Sign Up for a Free Class” button is a no-risk way for the parent to experience you first-hand.

Give them the reasons WHY they should enroll, then point them directly to your enrollment funnel.

Can you improve any of these elements on your site? Are there any other user obstacles you’ve found and corrected? We’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments.

Until next time – Be Well. Be Happy. Shape Minds.

-        Tom

3 Simple Ways to Boost Parent's Social Media Engagement this Holiday

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The holidays are a GREAT time to boost your social media engagement. I don’t mean pushing promotions for your child care center, dance studio or gymnastics program – that’s something else – I mean giving your followers (so, your families) something to react to and share.

This not only nurtures your relationship with current families, it can help promote brand awareness for your program. The friends of your followers can see what they’ve “liked.” A share puts your post directly in people’s feeds, so that’s even better!

You never know when a fun, shared post will trigger a parent to say:

“Sally’s daughter’s dance studio looks like a blast. Maybe I should rethink where my kid goes?”

Or

“We’re going to need child care next year. I’ll have to remember to ask Steve where he sends his kid. Looks like they have fun!”

In our last post, we gave you a holiday card download to customize and use to directly engage your parents. This tactic is a bit more of a group engagement, but super simple to do!

Be as creative as you can with this, but here are a few ideas to get your marketing mojo moving:

1.  “Winterize” You Profile Pic/Cover Photo

This one is a bit of a “no-brainer,” but by adding winter elements to your social media profile pics and cover photos, you create some whimsy for your families to react to. Can you work a snowflake in to your logo? Put some mittens and a hat on your mascot? Be creative or get a designer to help. Little details like this go a long way.

2. Have a Contest

This is one of my favorites to really drive engagement.

Have your students build funny snowmen, decorate their classrooms or perform a silly dance/skit for the holidays (be creative!) and have parents “vote” for them. Post the pics or videos separately and the one with the most likes or shares by a predetermined date wins a pizza party (or anything!). If you can incorporate the activity in to the curriculum, even better.

TIP: Be sure to announce the contest via eblast and social media channels before you start posting to create “hype.”

3. Have a Donation Drive

Most charities have donation drives this time of year and are always happy to get you involved. Just decide on an organization to support and contact them. Most are happy to supply a box for toys, coats, food, etc. for your center.

Get the word out on social media and ask for shares. The more people that know your center is a drop-off location, the more donations help your charity of choice. That’s a win-win!

TIP: Be VERY careful not to make this about your program! While taking part in a charity’s donation drive can create some brand awareness by association, an attempt to capitalize on that association will surely backfire.

Whatever you choose to do, have some fun! This is a great time of year to show off how awesome your program is by getting in to the holiday spirit.

Do you have anything planned this year? Is there something you do each year that your parents look forward to? We’d love to hear about it in the comments.

Until next time – Be Well. Be Happy. Shape Minds.

-        Tom

Free, Customizable Holiday Card Download - HAPPY HOLIDAYS!

A few posts back, we talked about the importance of proactively engaging with your parents by checking in with them on occasion. While this should be ongoing throughout the year, a great pretext to start a conversation and remind them they are valued are the holidays!

You’re most likely as busy as we are this time of year, so we’re giving you this customizable holiday card in lieu of our usual marketing article this week. We hope this is one less thing you need to worry about.

If you haven’t gotten around to sending cards to your families yet, feel free to use these to spread a little “extra love” to your people.

There’s a customizable version along with instructions on how to add your branding. We also threw in a print-ready version if you just feel like printing it out. Both are 5”x7” cards that can be printed in house or sent to a printer like VistaPrint.

TAKE ME TO THE DOWNLOADS

We wish you a joyful holiday season!

Until next time – Be Well. Be Happy. Shape minds.

-        Tom  

What’s the Difference Between BRAND and BRANDING?

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If you’re in charge of marketing your child care center, dance studio, gymnastics program or any other youth enrollment program, you’ve most likely had discussions involving your brand and branding and brand awareness and brand identity and…let’s just call it “brand stuff.”

It can get confusing, right?

You’re not alone. A lot of people use these terms interchangeably or even incorrectly. Some people have never spent time thinking about any of it at all (gasp)!

Two of the most misused words in the bunch are “brand” and “branding.” While somewhat connected, they are two very different things.

 

What’s the difference?

Here’s the quick answer:

BRAND = a thing (noun)

BRANDING = an activity (verb)

 

OK. What’s the long answer?

I’m glad you asked!

There are a LOT of definitions out there for what a BRAND is. My favorite comes from Ze Frank, president of BuzzFeed, where he describes a brand as “an emotional aftertaste.” In other words, it’s the feeling people are left with after having experienced our business (it’s usually the culmination of several experiences).

Another one of my favorites is this one:

What he’s referring to is the fact that we don’t OWN our brands. Our brand is whatever people say it is. That’s a fact. A brand is a FEELING and we don’t have control over how people feel about us.

We CAN, however, do our best to INFLUENCE how people feel about us.

Which is where BRANDING comes in…

After we’ve decided what we want our BRAND to be (i.e. what we would like people to think and feel about our program), we use BRANDING to convey that feeling to the outside world while establishing ourself AS a brand. Branding is the attempt to influence people’s perception of us.

There are a few key components to influencing that perception:

The Target

This is our ideal customer. It’s who our brand is most suited for. All of what follows is dictated by the target.

The Look

This is our logo, colors, fonts, imagery, etc. It’s the face of our brand.

The Message

This is the language we use to differentiate ourselves and the voice we speak to our ideal customer in.

Branding can also involve where we choose to advertise, types of promotions we offer, who or what we’re associated with, our price point…basically; before doing anything, ask yourself: 

“Does this support and nurture how I want my program to be perceived?”

 

Why does this matter?

Everything we do in youth enrollment marketing relies on identifying the brand and branding. It’s the foundation of our marketing and understanding the two terms helps us make better decisions.  

Without knowing how we wish to be perceived and how we plan to influence that perception, we’re just spinning our wheels.

By approaching our marketing efforts from a proper foundation, we’re also more likely to think long-term. Far too often, I see people singularly focused on the short-term campaign (or even a single advertisement!). True marketing involves establishing an identity in the market and that takes planning, consistency and time. We use efforts like single campaigns to keep moving forward!

How do you influence your target’s perception? Have you developed a “magic formula” that’s working? We’d love to hear about it in the comments!

Until next time – Be Well. Be Happy. Shape Minds. - Tom  

Steal This Insanely Simple Tool for Planning Your 2018 Youth Enrollment Marketing

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Since our last post was “A Step-by-Step Guide to Planning Next Year’s Marketing,” I thought it would be useful to share this insanely simple tool we actually use here at 2C to help us plan.

Knowing the steps is great, but what you use to get from brainstorm to timeline should help move the process forward rather than hinder it. The truth is, all you really need is a pad of paper and something to write with; but I’m a very visual person and I find it helps to see everything together and manipulate the pieces while going through the planning process.

Here’s what you’ll need:

  1. 3”x3” sticky notes
  2. A roll of 3’ wide craft paper
  3. Markers
  4. Tape or tacks
  5. Your team of “key players” (You can decide who this is. The point is to not do this alone.)
  6. A fresh pot of coffee

This is about as low-tech as you can get, but it’s my go-to method for starting most plans. There’s something about physically manipulating a to-do list that you just don’t get while sitting at a computer. It’s like you’re actually IN the process itself.

This method is particularly useful for youth enrollment programs. Whether you're a child care center, a dance studio, a gymnastics program or martial arts academy, seeing your year stretched across a wall helps identify when tasks need to get done prior to program start (or seasonal "pushes" if you have rolling enrollment).

Change this to suit your needs, but here’s how we do it:

Find two empty walls (preferably in the same room!). On one wall, tape or tack up (horizontally) about 15 feet of craft paper high enough to write on.

On the craft paper, list out the months across the top (about 1 foot apart if you have enough room) leaving 1 or 2 feet of blank space at the beginning and end of the timeline. Draw vertical lines between the months to separate them from top to bottom. The blank space at the beginning will be used to identify what project, campaign or other main category the proceeding steps are related to. The space at the end will be your “parking lot,” or where you place the ideas/tasks that may not fit in to your timeline right away.

Grab your team, a whole bunch of stickie notes and a marker…and some coffee.

Go over to the blank wall for the brainstorm session. For each idea, project, step – whatever – write it on a stickie note and put it on the wall. You can either start organizing them as you go by wall location or color of note, or you can organize them when you’re done. The beautiful thing about this method is the ability to stick/re-stick them as you organize your plan.

I usually group the notes by project or a general topic like “Social Media Updates.” We’ll also discuss each in terms of easy vs. more complicated. I talk a lot more about the steps in THIS  post.

Remember to include any ongoing tasks and “black-out” dates for vacations, holidays, etc. As I said in the last post, it’s any time where you know you and your team will lose focus on the tasks.

Once the brainstorm is more organized, transfer over the notes to their respective point in the timeline. Use the empty space on the left to identify what topic the proceeding notes refer to. For example, you may have “New Website” all the way to the left followed by all the monthly steps needed to complete the site chronologically from left to right.

I usually put the “black out” dates at the top or even write them right on the craft paper so I can see where they fall while organizing the rest. Ongoing tasks are usually right under that.

You can also put the responsible person’s initials in the corner of the note or in the topic section if they’re responsible for the whole project. The less “assignments,” the better at this point. Don’t get bogged down deciding who’s doing each step. If it’s one person’s responsibility to get the new site up and running, let them decide who needs to complete the associated tasks. That’s why you’re the boss, right?!

You will probably need to add more notes as you identify more steps for campaigns/projects and add “due date” or milestone notes.

TIP: If you use 3” square sticky notes, there’s enough room in a foot-wide month space to put four weeks across each. That way, you can break down the months by week.

What you end up with is a wall-length timeline with everything that needs to get done, when it needs to get done and who is responsible. If anything is left in the “parking lot” all the way to the right, it’s time to decide if you can realistically do it or need to put it off. Remember: if your plan is unrealistic and unattainable, you’re just setting yourself up for later stress when it doesn’t get done.

From there, you can take the giant, stickie note timeline and put it in any calendar program you like to use. It doesn’t matter what you use, but Google calendars are free, simple and allow access to your whole team. Putting it in an actual calendar also helps refine the dates.  

There are oodles of ways to approach the planning process. This simple method is a great way to get your team involved. By gathering everyone’s input during the initial brainstorm or even further along the process, you’re inviting them to see the “big picture” and feel like they have a “voice” in your organization.

It usually winds up being a fun process, too!

What’s your planning process? How do you get your team involved? We’d love to hear your stories in the comments!

Until next time – Be Well. Be Happy. Shape Minds.  - Tom

A Step-by-Step Guide to Planning Next Year's Marketing

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I like to build things – generally uncomplicated things with a lot of right angles, but still. For some reason, it relaxes me (insert my wife rolling her eyes here). I built a wall-length bookcase this summer, and do you know what the first thing I did was?

You’re right. I planned it out.

I measured everything and drew a really bad diagram to figure out the order of the steps and what materials I needed. Then I took that list to the hardware store, got what I needed (plus a few extra boards ‘cuz…ya’ know) and locked myself in the garage where I spent the weekend inventing new swear words.

Your child care center, dance studio, gymnastics program or dojo is the bookcase in this analogy. Without a plan, you waste your time wandering around the store, spending money on things you don’t need (even though the salesperson says you do); only to come home and randomly nail pieces together hoping it turns in to a bookcase.

What do you get by planning ahead?

  • A blueprint to follow for the next year with measurable goals. No more last-minute, reactionary marketing. You’ll know what needs to be done with plenty of time because you’ve already taken the time to think it through.
  • Clarity of vision…for real. Just the act of organizing your thoughts and writing them down provides an entirely different perspective on your situation. Seeing your ideas on paper helps you sift through and prioritize.
  • Less anxiety. A big list is of “to dos” can cause paralysis. When that big list is organized on a timeline, you don’t worry about the whole list; just the part that’s right in front of you. You can trust that the rest of the list will be taken care of when the time comes. Baby steps!

If you haven’t started planning for next year, that’s OK. It’s November. You can still fit it in. It doesn’t need to be super complicated. It just needs to BE.

If you don’t have a planning process in place, here are the 5 questions I ask myself and clients when putting plans together:

1.     What Are Your Goals?

I like to start with a brainstorm session where everything is acceptable. It can be a big, long-term goal or a small project that’s been on the shelf for a while. The point is to write it all down so you can sort through it.

TIP: It’s best not to do this step alone. If you have a mentor, sit down with them. Grab your center directors or key instructors and get all the ideas out.

After the brainstorm, start separating everything in to big goals like “increase enrollment by 30%” and smaller projects like “open an Instagram account.” You may find that some of the smaller projects are really a part of the bigger goals.

Once you have everything a bit more organized, it’s time to prioritize. Ask yourself these questions: “What absolutely needs to get done? What can wait? What’s easy to get done? What’s going to take a lot of effort?”

From there, start putting “due dates” on everything. Some of these may change later, so don’t fuss too much over it. Consider putting a few “easy” goals at the beginning of the year. The positive experience of completing low hanging fruit early on is a great way to create momentum!  

2.     How Are You Measuring Your Goals?

A goal is useless if you can’t measure it. How are you defining success? Are there any milestones along the way to make sure you’re on the right track?

For example, if your goal is to have 1,000 Instagram followers by the end of the year and you already have 400, you can use 50 new followers per month as your measurement (600/12=50).

3.     What Do You Need to Reach Your Goals?

Start by looking at what you’ve done over the past year. What worked? What didn’t? What will help you reach your goals?

Next, look at what you do ongoing. This can be anything from social media updates, web site maintenance, ongoing AdWords…whatever you do or delegate to someone else on a regular basis. Ask yourself if these things will help you reach your goals. What should you keep doing? What should you stop doing? What do you need to do more of?

Finally, think of anything you may need to add to your ongoing tasks to reach your goals. For example, if your goal is to increase Facebook engagement, you may set a new monthly quota of posts for your staff to meet.

4.     When is Everything Happening?

This is where the rubber meets the road! By creating a timeline of ongoing tasks and those associated with new projects or campaigns, you’re building your business’s “instructions” for the following year.

Start by listing out all obligations, events, vacations, historically busy times and anything else you know of that will take you and your staff away from focusing on tasks. Do not skip this step! I am guilty of skipping this step on occasion and it ALWAYS bites me in the butt! Put these on the calendar before you do anything else. You’ll thank me later!

Next, add the ongoing tasks you just identified to the timeline. Be sure to include who is responsible, the frequency and any milestones.

Once all of that is on your calendar, drop any projects or campaigns from the first step on their respective “due dates.” Leave them there for a moment, step away and list out everything that needs to be done to complete each one. For example, if one of your goals is to build a web site, you may need to outline the site structure, write all the copy, find or take photos, hire a designer and decide on a platform as a few of the steps. For campaigns: Where are you advertising? What's involved? What are the offers?

Put each of those project steps in order, decide who is responsible and assign a length of time to each. You may need to contact people outside your company (like designers or programmers) to get some of these time frames. Don’t guess at how long it takes to build a web site.

Finally, work backward from your due dates using the steps and timeframes of each project or campaign. Do your “due dates” still work? Do any major steps fall on a busy time? What can be moved and what needs to stay the same?

This part is really where your plan comes together. Look at everything happening over the year and ask yourself this simple but CRUCIAL question: “Is all of this attainable?”

If you’re anything like me, this is the point where I step back and say, “Whoa…this probably isn’t happening the way I thought.” It’s totally fine to have that reaction. In fact, that’s why we go through the process in the first place!

You may need to shift a few of your goals around. You may need to go back and look at what your TRUE priorities are from the first step. You may decide to hire more staff or postpone a project until the following year. It’s fine!

What you ultimately want is an organized timeline to follow that doesn’t try to kill you or your staff with unreasonable expectations. You need to stay motivated, but you also need to be honest with yourself and reasonable with your staff. As an old boss of mine once said to me early in my career, “EVERYthing can’t be a priority.”

5.     Does Everyone Know What’s Going On?

Once you have everything planned out, you need to share it with the key people involved. For example, if you’re a child care owner, this is most likely your center directors. Really, it’s anyone that’s listed on the timeline as responsible for something.

By doing this, you’re providing your team with their role in your overall vision, what they’re being held accountable for and the ability to manage their own time and staff.

Be sure to put in place ongoing meetings or check-ins with your staff to make sure the plan is being followed. It’s a living document, not something that sits on your shelf.

One final piece of advice from a guy that’s been managing projects for a long time: Don’t freak out when things aren’t working out EXACTLY as you planned them. This is inevitable. “Things” happen. People quit. Things break down. Markets change. It’s fine. Stick to the plan – even if you need to rearrange it on the fly. Without the focus of a plan, you're wandering around the hardware store trying to figure out how to build a bookcase. 

How are you planning for next year? There are a lot of different ways to approach the planning process. Do you have a proven method? Do you prefer to work “on the fly” with no plan? How do you make that work? We’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments.

Until next time – Be Well. Be Happy. Shape Minds.  - Tom

How to Ask for a Review or Testimonial Without Feeling Like a Jerk

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Most people running a child care center, dance studio, gymnastics program or any other youth enrollment program would rather go to the dentist than ask a parent for a testimonial or review. It’s akin to approaching your junior high crush and saying “Do you like me? Do you really like me? Can you please tell everyone that you like me?” Awkward, right?

It doesn’t have to be and here’s the simple secret: if you don’t make it awkward, it won’t be. It really is that simple.

Consider this: the parents of children in your program understand the concept of social proof. They’ve grown up using the internet and are used to seeing reviews and testimonials on sites like Amazon, Yelp, Google, Facebook…they’re everywhere. Basically, they know what you’re asking for, so there’s no reason to feel like a jerk for asking. Most, if not all, read your reviews before enrolling in your program.

In fact, according to a 2017 study by ReviewTrackers, only 3% of consumers DON’T consider reviews when making a purchase decision on a local business. Click HERE for the source report and full analysis – interesting stuff!

So, what’s the best way to obtain these reviews/testimonials?

First, two general tips:

1.     Make It as Easy as Possible.

If you’re asking for a review, always have your links ready. No matter who you’re asking or when you’re asking, don’t make them do the work. For example, if you’re looking for more Google reviews, be ready to email or text the direct link to them. Don’t just say something like “Just look us up and leave a review wherever.” It’s a LOT less likely you’ll get anything out of that.

With testimonials, a quick and easy “trick” I’ve used is to keep an eye on social media comments. If a parent writes something great about your program, shoot them an email including the quote you would like to use and ask if they’ll allow you to use it in your marketing materials. It won’t be posted online as a review, but all they have to do is say “Yes” and you’ve got yourself a nice quote for wherever you want to use it. Easy peasy!

2.     Start with the Low Hanging Fruit

You probably know who I’m talking about – those parents that are a pleasure to deal with, love what you do and don’t cause headaches unless there’s a good reason to do so. They’re a good place to start.

In our last post, we talked about the importance of communicating with your parents. Why not pair it with a parent check-in? If it feels like a good time to ask, ask. Again, just make it as easy as possible for them. 

But I don’t have time to chase parents around asking for reviews or testimonials!

Of course you don’t. No one does. As a general rule, you should keep it in the back of your mind and be ready to ask when a moment presents itself. However, sometimes you have to create the moment, yourself.

Here are 2 simple ideas to get you started:

1.     Time it with an “Anniversary.”

Why not send a lighthearted “Happy 90-Day Anniversary” with your review links when the time comes? Just put a reminder on the calendar and you can decide to send or not later based on how things are going with the family.

You can also automate this if you’re using a CRM system. Just know that that request will go out to everyone – even the people that may not leave such a stellar review.

2.     Have a Contest.

Post a contest to social media or send out an eblast – something like “Leave us a review on XYZ platform before the end of the month and be entered to win ABC!” Be sure to be specific about where you want the review and make the prize something worth leaving a review for. Keep in mind how much these reviews are worth to your business!

Of course, a contest is open to everyone, but I’ve never seen a parent leave a poor review to enter a contest. Just something to keep in mind before you open that door.

No matter how or when you ask for a review or testimonial, feel good about it! Your parents “get it,” and are usually more than happy to help you promote your program.

Do you have any “secret weapons” you use to get reviews or testimonials? Have you ever felt awkward asking? We’d love to hear your stories in the comments!

Until next time – Be Well. Be Happy. Shape minds. - Tom