Building a business
10 Ways to improve your business reputation
“It takes 20 years to build a reputation, and five minutes to ruin it. If you think about that, you’ll do things differently.”
Jennifer stands in the checkout line at the local grocery. Her 12-month-old daughter sits perched in the basket, swinging her legs back and forth.
“Jennifer!” Hearing her name, she turns around to find her friend Margaret. After exchanging greetings, Jennifer says: “I’m planning to go back to work in September. Do you know anything about the child care in this area?”
“Until he was 3, Stefan was in a home-based program around the corner from our house,” Margaret says. “Then I enrolled him in the preschool that’s a few blocks from the park. They had great teachers, and the other staff were friendly and caring.”
“Do you mind giving me the names and numbers of both?”
“Not at all,” Margaret says. “And you’d better call them right away. They both probably have waiting lists.”
Nothing beats a client referral like word-of-mouth from a trusted friend. In child care, as in other businesses, reputation is gold. It’s a reflection of your character and business principles.
Some ideas for building and maintaining your program’s reputation:
Keep up-to-date on all licensing and regulation requirements. Correct any shortcomings found in inspections as immediately. Parents’ main concern is the safety, health, and well-being of their children.
Expect teachers and staff to be friendly, helpful, and respectful. Invest in their professional development and engage them in ethical decision making.
Remember that communication is two-way. Listen to parents’ needs and concerns. Speak to parents face-to-face when possible, and be clear about your expectations. Spell out your philosophy and operating procedures in a written handbook. Keep in touch informally with social media, but don’t inundate parents with reminders and suggestions.
Be honest. Avoid passing blame and making promises you cannot keep.
If a parent voices a complaint, respond quickly. Acknowledge the concern, and offer to help resolve the issue. Be calm, respectful, and professional. Look at the complaint from the parent’s point of view. Remember, one angry parent can generate lots of negative comments on social media, ruining your reputation overnight.
Admit your mistakes. Use them as learning opportunities.
Keep your clients’ private matters confidential. Avoid telling other teachers or parents about someone’s relationships, work, children, and problems. It’s gossip. How can they trust that you won’t gossip about them?
Avoid belittling your competitors. When you disparage other child care programs, you are hurting the entire early childhood education profession.
Avoid talking about politics, elected officials, and candidates. Keeping mum will avoid bad feelings and arguments. Parents who do not share your views may doubt your intentions and look elsewhere for child care.
Look for ways to improve your program. Set goals for improving quality of care, recruiting trained teachers, involving parents in their children’s care, and serving the community.
How to give a tour of your program
Parents in the process of choosing care and education for their children generally want to see a program first-hand. How do you plan the tour? What will you show them?
In fact you may have other purposes for giving tours, such as recruiting staff, getting press or TV publicity, and sharing information with peers as part of a professional conference.
Regardless of the purpose, tours require attention to dozens of details before, during, and after the actual walk-through. Some tips:
Before the tour
What is the objective of the tour participants? Parents likely will want to know about safety, health, curriculum, and teachers in order to decide whether your program is a good fit for their children. What do you want them to leave with?
What is the age of their child? Do they want to see the infant room or the classroom for 3-year-olds?
When will the tour take place? If the day and time depend entirely on the parents’ schedule, you will have to be flexible. If you can set the time, you might suggest mid-morning or mid-afternoon when children are engaged in active learning activities.
What questions will they ask? Anticipate as much as possible so you can direct their attention.
Who will lead the tour—the director or another staff member?
Who needs to be alerted in advance? A teacher may want to adjust the schedule—shifting circle time to free play in learning centers, for example.
During the tour
Where will the tour start? The usual starting point is the entrance or office, giving visitors the opportunity to meet the director and get a program overview.
How will you ensure effective communication? Classrooms can be noisy, and trying to make yourself heard above the din can not only be ineffective but also disruptive to the teacher and children. Arrange to stop occasionally in a quiet room or hallway.
Where will you stop along the way? No, it’s not necessary to see every room, but parents will probably want to see the kitchen, restroom, and play yard. Remove potential safety hazards (as you would every day), and make sure there are no offensive odors.
How will you describe your program? Explain how children learn through play, and point out licensing and accreditation credentials.
How can your program fulfill their child’s special needs, if any, such as food allergies, learning disabilities, or physical limitations?
After the tour
How will you express thanks—to the visitors and the staff?
Have the visitors thought of other questions to ask?
Are the parents ready to fill out or sign their applications?
Have you given them a copy of the parent handbook, or the address of your website (which contains the handbook)?
What could you have done better? Each tour may suggest improvements for the next one.
Leave responsibility where it belongs: A lesson
“Aren’t we due for a board meeting in September?” asks Miriam. “I haven’t gotten an advance agenda or anything.”
“I haven’t either,” says Zoe, the former president. “I gave our new president all the files in May after she was elected and told her about the 30-day advance notice for the agenda. I’ll send her a reminder.”
In response to the reminder, the new president asks Zoe to send the notice and preliminary agenda.
“No,” says Zoe in reply. “Our bylaws state that you as president must send a notice and preliminary agenda 30 days in advance. That gives other board members a chance to add agenda items before the meeting. It’s about transparency, keeping everyone informed and seeking their input.”
A week later Zoe, Miriam, and the other board members receive the 30-day notice from the new president with her apologies for the delay. Significantly, the agenda includes a request for clarification and discussion of the president’s responsibilities.
It’s tempting to rescue colleagues when they forget or disregard a responsibility. We may excuse their behavior by thinking, “She’s so busy, she doesn’t have time to read all those bylaws and operating procedures.” Or “Somebody has to do this; otherwise it will hurt our organization.”
But the fact is that a person who takes a leadership role is ethically bound to understand the responsibilities that go with the role and execute them. Those responsibilities include managing the overall resources and operations of an organization and developing the strategies for meeting the organization’s goals. A leader may delegate tasks but is ultimately responsible for how they are carried out.
In some cases, especially in small organizations, election or appointment to a leadership role is understood as on-the-job training. The more experienced leaders guide the new leader in the early stages and more difficult tasks until she can manage on her own. This kind of training may not be easily available elsewhere, and it expands the leadership competence of an organization.
Ordinarily when colleagues bail out or cover up for a leader, they rob the person of a learning opportunity. Leaders need the dignity of experiencing the consequences of their behavior, whether that’s recognition and praise or discredit and criticism. Colleagues may suggest some initial coaching and, if that fails, relinquishing the position.
Women-owned businesses increasing
Over the past 20 years, according to the latest report by American Express, the number of women-owned companies in the United States has grown more than 2.5 times the national average: 114 percent compared to 44 percent.
Women-owned businesses are defined as businesses that are at least 51 percent owned, operated, and controlled by one or more women.
As of January 2017, the estimated number of women-owned businesses in the United States stood at 11.6 million. Half of these businesses are in three industries:
health care and social assistance, including child care and home health services—1.8 million;
professional, scientific, and technical services including lawyers, accountants, public relations firms, and management consultants—1.5 million; and
other services such as hair and nail salons and pet care—2.8 million.
According to the report, women of color turned to entrepreneurship at four times the rate for all women-owned businesses: 467 percent compared to 114 percent. They reported becoming entrepreneurs out of financial necessity but still experienced a greater pay gap than non-minority women, which many observers consider a disturbing trend.
Source: The 2017 state of women-owned businesses report, commissioned by American Express, summary of key trends, http://about.americanexpress.com/news/docs/2017-State-of-Women-Owned-Businesses-Report.pdf.