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How to Open a Childcare Center Part 1: Business Plan, Location & Enrollment

March 11, 2019

Are you considering opening a new preschool or daycare center? Maybe, just adding another location to your existing center? Well, if so there any many things to consider along the way and yes, you have your work cut out for you!

In the last 6 years, I have assisted with the opening of three child care centers. By no means am I the expert or that I know all there is to know. I do have however have some experience and if you are like me, you understand that experience is often worth more than any text book.

Today, I would like to walk you through some aspects of opening a new childcare center. We are going to look at everything from the planning to the enrollment process to outfitting your center. Whether you are starting a new center with no experience at all or have opened many centers before, I believe you will benefit from this blog post and the process listed below.

Business Plan

The first step to starting any successful business is to write up a business plan. Although a business plan might seem overwhelming to you, like it was for me, they can be pretty simply to put together. When beginning your plan, you will want to think of where you want to be located, who your customers will be and what will set your center (business) apart from the others.

Below is a list of topics we covered in each of our business plans. If you work on each area, research and dream up your center, I promise it will pay off. This is the beginning stage and when it’s missed, you can find yourself in big trouble.

  • Mission/Vision
  • Summary of your Business
  • Hours of Operation
  • The Customer (who is your customer)
  • The Competition Market
  • Market Strategies
  • Design and Development Plan
  • Keys to Success
  • Ownership/Management
  • Personnel
  • Financial Data - Source and Application of Funding
  • Start up Summary
  • Monthly Fees

As you can see, this is not an all inclusive list but it’s enough to get you started. As you begin to write about these topics it will ignite the creative process as well. My biggest advice is, do your research. Spend some time on “The Competition Market” and really see what you are competing against. Find out what they are charging, and what they offer. Think to yourself, how can you set yourself apart, and include this in the “Summary of your Business” section.

Mission and Vision - Not to be missed

I listed it in the business plan above, but didn’t want to overlook the MISSION and VISION aspect of your new center. This is something you want to spend some extra time on. Have your mission be something that is inspiring to you and others around you. This is the single thing that will keep you on track throughout this crazy process. KNOW YOUR MISSION AND VISION and LIVE IT OUT ALONG THE PROCESS.

Location & Building Planning

Once you have your business plan started, it is a good time to start thinking about securing a location. After studying the competitors in your area, you will also have an idea of where the market is saturated and where the biggest need for a childcare center is in your area. When choosing a location or building, make sure that it aligns with your local licensing regulations, if you desire to license your program. A common problem people make is purchasing a building that doesn’t have the right building code for childcare, don’t make this mistake.

Once you have secured a location, the “building” planning phase beginnings. Building is defined in the dictionary as “The art or business of assembling materials into a structure”. I don’t mean actually building your center, unless that is the route you want to take. I mean assembling the materials and creating a business you have designed to build a child care center. In order to do this you will need boots on the ground running.

This is the phase where you take all of your visions and dreams of your center and make them into a reality. Count your classrooms, project enrollment numbers, begin licensing, and create a big picture supply list. This is where someone with a type A personality and a check-list come in handy. We move from talking about it, to actually doing the work! This is personally my favorite part!

In the building planning phase you will do the following:

  • Licensed?: Decide if you want to license your center (if so make sure to check your building code first to see if it is even possible - do this before you purchase or rent the building)
  • Blueprints: Get ahold of your buildings blueprints. You’ll need these to know classroom size and especially if you are pursuing licensing. This is helpful when projecting enrollment numbers.
  • Make a Plan: Choose which rooms in your building will be used for classrooms. It’s wise to think “max capacity” first, although you might not hit that for the first few years. Always plan towards that when you are in the planning phase.
  • Design: This is where you will create a list of “big picture supplies”. This will include items like furniture for your classrooms, office, lobby and other spaces. I would hold off on the art supply and activity supply list until you hire your team. Teachers love to pick this stuff out on their own anyways.

The unique thing about the building phase is it is never really finished! This phase will go from the time you have the building until the building is perfect. If you own a home, you understand this process is never really over.

Enrollment

Once you have a location and know your capacity, you can beginning to think about starting the enrollment phase. The beginning of the enrollment phase includes creating information, calculating tuition, and choosing a software to manage your center. This phase is very important and is best to get help if you have no prior experience. You want to make sure that you are all set up and don’t miss a beat. Enrollment is one of the most important aspects of the process, you want to make sure it is done right the first time.

Here is my quick list:

  • Create an enrollment packet (information about your center and enrollment information)
  • Purchase a childcare management software (this will help with things like billing, enrollment, child files, and staff management - I used Sandbox Software)
  • If using an childcare software, have your online enrollment forms built out and post a link to your website (when you are ready)
  • Host an Open House Event to kick off your open enrollment period
  • Begin accepting enrollments!

The enrollment phase is my favorite. It is where we experience the fruits of our labor. You might think that you shouldn't start this process until after the building is all set and furniture and supplies are ordered, but in fact in all the cases I listed above we started enrollment way before that. We actually started enrolling in January or February for a start date of the following September. It will take time to build your enrollment, so don’t wait, start this process early and get help if you need it!

Final Notes:

Once you have written your business plan, secured a location, and have started designing your enrollment process, you have a great start to your center. The biggest key is to make sure that you are having fun and being diligent. Opening a new center is no small task and only the “strong” will survive. If you put in the hard work and stay focused, you will look back at a beautiful center that you have built for young minds to be filled.

Stay tuned for part 2 of “How to Open and Childcare Center”!

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Julia Erman
Customer Advocate
Julia Erman was previously a Director of School Programs. She is now working with Sandbox as a Customer Advocate to help centers grow and reach their goals with the help of Sandbox.
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