Q: I've just obtained my certification to run an in-home child-care service. Do you have any advice on making my business a success? Also, I would like to know how to go about transforming my in-home operation into a day-care center if I ever decide to make that change.
A: If you love kids, this is a wonderful business to start-your start-up costs are minimal, and if you have kids of your own, it's a great way to watch them grow while also earning some money and being your own boss. That brings up another issue, however-you need to have a whole lot of patience to get into this kind of business, and you need to be happy staying at home for most of the day. While other types of homebased businesses-for instance, one that involves a great deal of sales-allow some flexibility in terms of getting out of the house, with an in-home child-care service, you'll generally be tied to your home with only little ones to chat with throughout the day.
If you're confident you'll not only have the patience for this type of business, but you'll also provide a stimulating and enjoyable environment for the children-in other words, you have a good understanding of child psychology, development and the like-then this should be an ideal business for you. You say you've been certified; you should also take some courses in CPR and pediatric first aid if you haven't already done so (even if it's not required). And don't forget about all the safety devices-smoke detectors, fire extinguishers, gates around pools and the like, first-aid kits and outlet covers are just a few considerations. Call in a professional if you want to be sure you've covered everything.
Next, of course, comes the fun stuff-the well-stocked toy chest, the books, the board games, the kid-oriented videotapes and cassettes, the pint-sized tables for coloring and drawing. Get a range of products, assuming not all the children you care for will be the same age. Think about ways you can make the day both fun and educational for the children-this will be a selling point with parents. After all, they're leaving their babies in your hands for the day-they want to be sure the child is developing properly and having fun at the same time.
As for promoting your service, this should not be difficult. Put together a professional-looking flier (or have someone else do it for you) describing your services, and post them on church bulletin boards. Run ads in church newsletters and in your local newspaper. Network among friends with children or friends who have friends with children. Make them your real-life testimonials. Parents who are looking into day-care services would much rather place their children in the care of someone referred by a friend than hand them over to a complete stranger. You can also target local businesses-send letters describing how you can benefit them by providing day-care services for employees' children.
As for transforming your business into a full-fledged day-care center, I would recommend starting small and working from there. See how you like this business before you think about taking on something larger. You would have far more children to care for, and thus would need a staff, both of which mean you'd have a great deal more responsibility. I am not discouraging you from taking the next step when you're ready-just be sure you are indeed ready.
Karen E. Spaeder is editor of Entrepreneur.com and managing editor ofEntrepreneur magazine.
The opinions expressed in this column are those of the author, not of Entrepreneur.com. All answers are intended to be general in nature, without regard to specific geographical areas or circumstances, and should only be relied upon after consulting an appropriate expert, such as an attorney or accountant.
Karen E. Spaeder is a freelance business writer in Southern California.