The Early Buds & Early Education Centre settings are all in converted churches, with historic stained glass windows and ancient wooden arched ceilings.
Unfortunately, their nursery management software was similarly ‘vintage’.
So, when Christina Demetriou joined in 2020, one of her first challenges was to improve parental partnerships by updating their nursery management software. It wasn't long before she settled on Famly as the right tool for the job.
On Christina’s wish list was an app that could handle a range of booking and invoicing options, to match the variety of sessions, funding possibilities, and term dates throughout the Early Buds & Early Education Centre group. It also had to work for an expanding nursery group. Early Buds have just needed to add another site, due to demand. This brings them up to five and Christina needed to be able to reach all her staff at once. “Babies are Booming in our area!” she laughs. Most importantly, it had to support parents and practitioners to keep in touch.
Christina looked into several different software options, so what made Famly stand out to her and the Early Buds & Early Education Centre team?
I sat down with her and administrator Nick Wedderburn to find out.
Improving parental partnerships and communication was one of Christina and Nick’s main aims with introducing Famly, as their previous software just wasn’t clicking with parents. Unfortunately, emails weren’t working out as an alternative either.
“People get a thousand emails a day and they don’t always check them,” explains Nick, “So being able to send a message just to say ‘we need more nappies’ for example, and have people respond within seconds, is amazing. Communication with parents is so much quicker and easier.”
And it’s not just for notes about nappies, or daily updates from a romp in the garden. Early Buds use Famly when they need to get an urgent message out too.
“We had to shut a setting due to a Covid outbreak and the first thing we did was open Famly. We put a post out on the News Feed to all parents and it was so quick and easy,” Christina says.
This instant communication to the group of parents meant staff could focus on the children waiting to be collected, instead of having to spend time calling each parent individually.
But parental partnerships, as the name suggests, can’t be all one way. Luckily, the parents at Early Buds like Famly as much as the staff.
“They absolutely love it,” says Nick, “We tell every parent who comes to visit about Famly and think it’s amazing’. They can see what [their child has] eaten, when they’ve slept, and they can message us about how they’re doing”.
Especially since the Covid-19 lockdowns, Nick has noticed that parents starting at the settings are more anxious, as their children haven’t mixed with so many new people before. However, the Early buds staff can now quickly upload a photo of the children enjoying their time at nursery, to reassure nervous families.
“I had a parent come and tell me the app has actually saved dinnertime for them,” says Nick. “They said they don’t have to worry about making their child eat loads of dinner if they can see in the app they’ve eaten two bowls of food at tea time. It’s helped everyone!”
Christina loves using Famly so much, it’s now the only way she communicates with her team.
Being able to private message a staff member, contact specific groups or teams, or communicate with everyone in the business, all through Famly, means Christina no longer uses emails at all.
“Everything’s in Famly.” she says, “If I’m messaging colleagues, I have different groups in Famly, so all my managers in one group and all the admins in another. Or I can send out a News Feed post. And I can message parents from all our settings on there. As a group, we’re getting bigger so we need that all communication at the touch of a button.”
Christina also uses a Famly Newsfeed post to share her rotas, so everyone knows exactly where they need to be.
“[Famly is] the first thing I open in the morning.” says Christina, “It’s my job to know that everyone’s in the right place so I check the attendance and staff ratios… as soon as I open my eyes, really!”
And, when you’re in charge of ensuring that ratios are met, having it all at the touch of a button means you can easily contact staff to move people around if you need to.
No-one enjoys debt-collecting, so to make things as seamless as possible, the Early Buds team use Famly for invoicing their parents.
“It’s so transparent,” says Christina. “Parents can see exactly what they’ve booked and what they’re paying for. All around, it just worked for us really well.”
And Nick is now spending less time on the phone, as parents can log in to Famly and check their payments and invoices themselves, saving him over an hour a week. If fees are outstanding, or vouchers need to be added, parents can just check their balance in the app.
“I’m not having to chase them if something’s gone wrong,” says Nick, “They can see it for themselves because it’s all there in Famly. They prefer it.”
Before Famly, Early Buds were using spreadsheets, Xero, and then having to send all of the invoices out to parents via email. However, now they do the entire job in Famly.
“Before, it was very long-winded,” explains Nick, “Now it’s just a couple of clicks. It used to take the business manager half a day”
And now, as an administrator, Nick can make the changes to invoices that he needs to, without having to go through their business manager at all.
“I’ve used about three or four other types of nursery software,” says Nick, “And it’s always been a pain to set up term-time only bookings. But on Famly, we were able to put all our dates in, all the holidays and it’s worked well. We can easily invoice for term-time or full time, as we run term-time and full-time in parallel.”
Nick also uses the News Feed to gently remind parents about when invoices are due to be paid. A couple of days before fees are due, Nick posts to all parents on the Famly News Feed to remind them to pay on time.
“Parents often comment on the post thanking us for the reminder,” says Nick, “And it definitely helps with debt collection.”
The rest of the setting’s administration is easier too. No more paper registers to get an overview of attendance, and no more searching through filing cabinets for children’s records, everything is just a click away in Famly.
“It’s changed our whole company, it really has. Things needed to modernise and Famly’s a massive part of that. Everything’s at the touch of a button.”
Choosing a new software system can be daunting enough, especially if you need to roll it out to multiple settings. For Chistina and Nick, the support Famly offer is what makes the real difference at Early Buds.
“The help desk!” smiles Nick, “I feel like I’ve spoken to Alex before and I probably annoyed you so much asking so many questions!”
Luckily Alex O’Brien, Early Buds’ customer success manager here at Famly, was on the call with us so could reassure Nick.
“I used to work in support and I remember when you were setting up we had a few calls, but I don’t remember you being annoying!” she laughs.
Alex helped get the booking plans and invoicing set up at the first Early Buds site, so Christina and Nick could smoothly roll out Famly to all the other Early Buds settings.
And, when the EYFS and our Child Development app changed in September 2021, Christina took advantage of the extra training Famly offered.
“I joined all the webinars about the changes and watched them back multiple times. It was fantastic,” she says.
Early Buds also use the resources Famly offers for parents, too.
When new parents join Early Buds, staff make sure they have access to the Famly help centre article about how to sign up, so they can get started with Famly before their child’s even had their first session. This extra help means that practitioners don’t have to spend time teaching new parents how to use the app, and can focus on welcoming the new child. Christina is now looking to encourage parents to do more observations in Famly, so she was pleased to find that the help centre covers that too.
Support from Famly doesn’t end once you’re up and running.
During this interview, in fact, customer success manager Alex was able to solve a problem Early Buds needed help with, about setting up ratios for rooms with mixed ages.
Nick is also now part of a research project, working with our product team and Early Buds’ customer success manager Alex, giving feedback on the ‘Staffing’ part of Famly. “As part of our ongoing research into improving the app, we’ll be meeting monthly with Nick to hear his feedback, so we can see how the changes are working for our customers, in their settings,” explains Alex.
Please note: here at Famly we love sharing creative activities for you to try with the children at your setting, but you know them best. Take the time to consider adaptions you might need to make so these activities are accessible and developmentally appropriate for the children you work with. Just as you ordinarily would, conduct risk assessments for your children and your setting before undertaking new activities, and ensure you and your staff are following your own health and safety guidelines.