Childminder Sam Dunn set up as a childminder in 2003, she has since expanded her business and now runs a childminding business across two sites in Norfolk as well as a pre-school. Sam employs 11 staff and has 100 parents across her business.
I worked on my own for eight years, but as I am sure most childminders find, it was an isolating role. Our circumstances changed in 2011, my partner had taken voluntary redundancy and we had an opportunity for him to become a registered childminder and grow our business – since then we haven’t looked back. We were joined by another childminder and then when my son left school he wanted to join the family business.
The business has continued to grow, my daughter now works for us, we have taken on students and now we have 11 employees and an administrator to manage staffing logistics and payroll.
Demand has always been high for our services, and when a house came up for rent across the road, we snapped it up as it allowed us to accommodate more children. Then in 2014 we were offered the opportunity to apply for funding for a pre-school to support 2-year old funding and Little Smiles opened in January 2015. We employ specific pre-school staff but by having a number of individual registered childminders it has really helped manage ratios across the three sites.
Our childcare on domestic premises and childminding businesses were set up to provide the flexible service that parents so desperately need. We open from 6am until 8.30pm but also offer overnight stays and weekends. I have such a wide range of professionals using our services who don’t work typical hours – all too often parents think finding a job is the hard part but finding childcare to suit their hours can often be even harder.
When I set up, I wanted a setting that treated parents how I would want to be treated, and cared for children in the same way I wanted my children cared for. That remains at the heart of our business. Logistically it is a huge challenge. We have children who are cared for across the settings, across a vast array of different hours but by being extremely organised we make it work.
“Funding wise we offer EYE at the pre-school, but it wasn’t financially viable to continue to offer 3-and 4-year old funding at the other settings. We do however continue to offer funded places for 2-year olds across all settings which works well. Our pre-school is only open 24 hours a week so 30 hours for us isn’t really an option unless we provide a stretched offering, which we may do, but we are waiting to see how the extended entitlement pans out before we make any decisions.
Through expanding the business it has allowed me to let other people take the reins from a practical point of view, while I can take a more strategic approach and run the business.
I went into childcare because I love working with children and love seeing they grow and develop. What keeps me motivated is seeing their progress – is about the children and how happy they are.
Whilst I am a business owner I am still at the heart of it a childminder and will always prioritise children in my care. You don’t go into childcare to be rich - you go into it to enrich lives. It allows us to work from home, to cover our living costs and we enjoy what we do. The early years is so important – it provides a chance to make a huge difference to small people’s lives and by instilling rights and wrongs at such a young age it will completely shape their future.
Sam's top tips:
- Build relationships with other providers – not only because being a childminder can be isolating but also because it is a great way to keep up to date with developments.
- Learn to say no – it is one of the hardest things to do but you need to accept you are not a superhero, you are a childcarer. Be assertive and don’t feel you can’t say no to parents or staff
- If you have a chance to expand, go for it – you learn so much and working with others offers huge benefits
- Online learning journals are a brilliant way of recording and sharing information – not only will you save money from printing but parents love the instantaneous nature of it and seeing how their child is developing
- Word of mouth and recommendations are key to business growth – don’t underestimate how important relationships with parents are.