Prime candidates who need full-time child care are parents with infants to 5-year-olds. Parents with children over 5 are good prospects for after-school care programs. The market segments most likely to use child-care services are dual-income families and single-parent households in most income brackets. A number of government programs help low-income families pay for child care so the adults can stay in the work force.
Within this very broad market is the more narrow group of clients you'll serve. Use market research to figure out who these people are and how you can best attract them to your center. Lois M. says the primary market at four of her six locations is parents who are upper-income working professionals; the other two centers serve a number of middle-income families as well as those being subsidized by public funds. Janet H. says about half her clientele consists of dual-income families, and the other half is single mothers who receive government assistance as they work through programs designed to get them off welfare.
The goal of market research is to identify your market, find out where it is, and develop a strategy to communicate with prospective customers in a way that will convince them to bring their children to you.
When Lois M. opened her first center, her demographic research revealed that there were 9,000 children from infant to 5 years old within a 5-mile radius of the site; half the preschool children in the area were in day care of some sort because their mothers (or both parents) worked; and the number of households in the area was expected to double within a decade. Contained in that 5-mile radius were six child-care centers serving approximately 800 children.
Brenda B.'s research wasn't as sophisticated. Living in a small town, she knows just about everyone and is well aware of the lack of child-care services. "There's such a need for day care," she says. "I go through periods where I'll get as many as five calls a week from parents needing care, and I don't have room for them. I've had families on my waiting list for up to two years."
Types of Services to Offer
Before you open your doors to the first child, you should decide on the services you'll provide and the policies that will guide your operation. To simply say you're going to "take care of children" is woefully inadequate. How many children? What ages? What hours? Will you provide food or ask their parents to? What activities will you offer? What sort of price and payment policies will you have? And the list goes on.
Your first step is to check with the appropriate regulatory agencies to find out what's involved in providing particular services. For example, each state has its own guidelines for the maximum number of children and maximum number in each age group in a family child-care facility. States also have guidelines regarding the number of caregivers required per number of children in each age group for commercial facilities. There will likely be other requirements and restrictions, depending on the type of facility you run.
Decide what services to offer based on your own preferences and what your market research says your community needs. Your choices include:
- Full-time care during traditional weekday hours
- After-school care
- Nontraditional hours (very early mornings, evenings, overnight care, weekdays and/or weekends)
- Drop-in or on-demand care, either during traditional or nontraditional hours
- Part-time care
- Parents' night out (weekend evening care)
- Age-based care