There's nothing like a referral from a trusted source.
Asking a friend if they know someone for a job or service is often our first port of call before we even think of Googling it. And, many parents start their search for childcare providers or Early Years settings exactly the same way, through referrals from friends. So how can we make the most of it in the Early Years?
It starts with running a great setting, where children are happy and thriving. The better the early education you provide, the more parents and carers will want to recommend you. But there are plenty of other steps you can take as well.
Here are four of the best ways to increase your referrals and get that occupancy rate rocketing.
Traditional marketing methods have their place in getting your name out there but, for prospective families, there's nothing like seeing your setting live to really get a feel for it. Why not hold a special event, where your current children and parents can invite their friends and families with younger children?
Your target audience is families with nursery or pre-school aged children, so consider what kind of event would attract those parents. The aim is to show off the best of your setting but without the pressure or perceived commitment of a show-around. Consider relaxed and fun events like:
Consider what makes you special. For example, if you have a forest school, why not hold a forest-school open day event for families in your local area?
You’re giving new parents an opportunity to see your nursery at its best, with people they’re comfortable around. Just make sure you have some leaflets and contact details to hand for curious prospective parents.
You may already have plenty of happy parents, who're willing to recommend you to their friends, but perhaps you're just not making it easy enough for them.
Have a supply of leaflets in a high-traffic place, such as near your main entrance, so parents can pick easily one up to give to a friend. You could also create a one-page PDF with some basic information about your setting. This should include:
The easier it is to find this information, the easier it is for parents to sell you to their friends.
A website is almost essential for any business and can be incredibly valuable to Early Years settings. But you've got to do it well.
You certainly don't need a degree in digital marketing but you should make sure that your website has easy access to information about your setting, including how prospective parents take the next step. That might be a sign-up form for a show-around or an open day, or simply making sure that all your contact details are easy to find.
You can also attract parents through social media, such as via Facebook advertising, or simply posting on local groups.
Word-of-mouth marketing is as old as business itself and is a great way to increase your occupancy, so don't be afraid of asking parents directly for referrals.
Simply tell parents that more sessions have recently become available, and if they know anyone on the hunt for an Early Years setting, let them know. This approach might even lead to your existing parents signing up for more sessions throughout the week.
However, do consider the timing of your request. For example, if you've just let your existing customers know you're going to be increasing fees, they might not be as willing to sing your praises. On the other hand, sending a message out after some good news, such as a great Ofsted inspection or after your annual summer party, can mean that the parents are more likely to answer favourably.
What’s more, if you’re asking people directly, see if you can make it worth their time. A small, one-off discount on fees could be a good incentive for parents.
If you’re asking for referrals you need to be open to feedback too. After all, if your parents aren’t recommending you to their friends, it's better to know the reason why. You might not be able to resolve the problem immediately, but it can be just as powerful to explain why your setting does things in a certain way.
Giving parents a clearer view of day-to-day life at the nursery, keeping them updated on events, and opening up better channels of communication could make all the difference when that friend asks “What nursery does Emily go to again?”.
Referrals don’t have to come from parents. Chances are, there are loads of other opportunities in your area to set up complimentary referral schemes.
Libraries, museums, or children's activity centres may allow you to leave some flyers with them if you pop some of theirs on the notice board at your setting too. And, when the children from your setting visit these places on an outing, don't forget to let them know who you are.
It might be worth getting friendly with a local estate agency too. Estate agents regularly advise new families to the area, who may be looking for a home near good schools and Eary Years settings (yours being one of them). Not only that, but estate agents could give you the inside scoop on any new housing developments, bringing an influx of families with them.
All in all, putting your name further out there into the community is unlikely to ever be a bad thing.
For more occupancy advice, why not check out our complete guide to marketing your nursery.
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.