Recent Ofsted statistics indicate that the number of childminders in the UK has dropped from almost 60,000 in 2012 to 43,500 this year. I suspect that if you asked those who have left what was behind their decision, it’s not because they don’t love looking after children, it’s because of the challenges they’ve encountered dealing with the business side of being a self employed practitioner. With 30 hours on the horizon, childminders are facing more business challenges ahead so being able to manage this aspect of a childminding setting is an essential skill.
Like people in any industry who have become self employed, childminders take that step because they want to do something they’re good at doing; they love working with young children, and perhaps it also suits their personal circumstance and lifestyle needs. But regardless of that, as a childminder, you are actually running a small business. And the implications of that are that the business has to be managed effectively as well as the childcare provision.
I often talk about being a childminder as being a bit like a three-legged stool. What you do has to meet the needs of the children, it has to meet the needs of parents and it also has to be ensure you as the childminder are making a living. If any one of these three legs is a bit shaky, the whole thing topples over. So that means focusing time and energy on making sure that all three of these aspects is strong and healthy.
I’m going to make an assumption that, as a professional childminder, you know what you need to do to make sure you’re providing high quality provision for the children in your care.
So let’s focus for a moment on parents. Focusing on parents means designing your service (your hours, specific things that you offer e.g. organic food or Makaton etc) based on a really thorough understanding of what parents in your area want and need. What are their working patterns? Do they need you at weekends? Do they need very flexible provision? What are they passionate about? It’s about finding these things out first then designing your business model around those needs. I find that childminders often do this the other way round – deciding what they’re going to offer because it works / matters to them and then going out to try to find parents who might happen to want what they’re offering. You might be lucky and find you’re discovered a niche that no one else has, but you might find that what parents want doesn’t match exactly what you are offering.
The third leg of my stool is about business management. Good business management will ensure that you deliver your services to parents in a way that is financially sustainable. It starts with business planning. Many childminders shy away from this, imagining that writing a business plan means creating a huge, complex document. My recommendation is always to keep it simple. A couple of pages where you set out clearly what you’re hoping to achieve and how you’re going to achieve this is all that you need. The key then is to refer to this plan regularly (I encourage childminders to stick it on the wall rather than file it away in a drawer) and use it to keep you on track. In this way your business plan becomes a sort of sat-nav for your childminding business. Not only will it keep you on track, it’ll also help you to make decisions, enable you to monitor your progress and to take swift corrective action if things aren’t going to plan. And just like having a sat-nav in your car it can take away the stress and worry about the business aspects of your work, allowing you to focus your attention on the children.
So a few tips to help you get started on your business plan:
- Do your customer research and make sure you really understand what parents in your area want and need, and find out how what you offer compares with what else is available through other settings
- Write a short, simple business plan where you state clearly what you’re hoping to achieve over the next couple of years
- Identify actions you should take to help you to achieve your goals (actions around marketing, finance, quality, personal development etc)
- Don’t be afraid to adjust your plan as you go along – things change and so should your plan
- Stay focused on all three legs of your three-legged stool – children, parents and your childminding business.
About the author
Jacqui Burke established Flourishing People in 2001 and specialises in supporting the growth and development of early years businesses including childminders, creating a business environment where practitioners and children can flourish. She delivers business, leadership and management skills training designed to build the competence and confidence of setting owners and managers who need to become as competent in managing the business aspects of their setting as they are in managing the quality of childcare.
Jacqui is also the author of Building Your Early Years Business.