How to thrive as a childminder

Liz Clarke, Bracknell Forest

Liz has been working as a childminder for ten years. She is an Outstanding graded childminder and has previously worked in pre-schools, as a nanny and as a maternity nurse. As well as running a very successful childminding business she works as a ‘buddy’ to childminders in her area, supporting and offering advice to new as well as existing childminders. Here she shares her top tips for how to thrive as a childminder.

There is a lot of talk at the moment about the pace of change that we’re experiencing in the sector, in particular with the 30 hours policy. But to be honest, in the ten years I have worked as a childminder, we have constantly had to be flexible and adapt to new challenges, whether this is the changes to EYFS, introduction of Prevent duty and SEND changes. What matters is working out what you really need to do so that you stay in control and don’t feel overwhelmed by changes. One of the most important things I tell new childminders is – don’t feel pressurised to do what everyone else is doing to do a good job. Talk to others and gather advice from those you trust – but at the end of the day it’s your own business, so be confident and do it your own way.

Don’t drown in paperwork

When I hear of childminders quitting the profession, the reason I often here is because of increased paperwork. My challenge back would be – ask yourself has this really been imposed by Ofsted or your local authority, or are you taking on more than you need to? Perhaps the childminder you meet at the toddlers group has a shelf of files full of printed policies – but do you really need all of them? I am fortunate in that our local authority is great and is always happy to answer any queries.  They have produced a handy summary of the policies you really need – you might need fewer than you think.

There are always shortcuts you can take in updating your parents of latest changes in policy. I have a private online page for my parents and update policies there so parents can comment to say they’ve seen it. This is much more efficient that printing them all out every time and getting them to sign. Every so often I will give parents a list of the latest policies and ask them to sign that – it saves everyone a lot of time.

Also don’t be put off by tales of “Ofsted need to see so much paperwork”. Ofsted have recently announced they are scrapping the self evaluation form. And don’t feel that you need to spend hours every day writing up everything you did during the day. For some, electronic learning journals can make keeping track of children’s progress easier, others prefer a paper-based approach, but whichever method you choose, it’s high-level summaries that is the key – not dissertations.

Make your business your own

As a sole business owner it’s really important to take a good look at your business plan and vision before you start to market yourself to local families. I always advise new childminders to think about what kind of business they want to create and how this fits alongside their other commitments, as well as what will work within their local area. Do your research about what others charge, but think about what you offer that’s unique before setting your rates. PACEY’s information on drawing up a business plan is really helpful .

I have really enjoyed building up my childminding business and as siblings came along I was keen to care for them as well so I now have two assistants who work alongside me. This means I have greater capacity to offer extra places and it also gives me added flexibility too. However, you do really need to do your maths carefully before employing an assistant. The increases in national minimum wage mean that for many childminders, taking on extra staff needs careful planning. Again, having a clear idea of the kind of business you want to build will help.

Making EYE funding work for you

Let’s be clear – 30 hours funded childcare offered flexibly across settings is fantastic news for parents. But it has been a challenge for providers with the rate of funding in many areas being significantly under their private rate, and also problems in administration. My advice to new childminders is to be really clear on how many places they want to offer, if at all. Some locally have decided to concentrate on younger age groups and not offer funded hours, but I have seen the huge value to children and their families in offering continuity of care so I have tried to be as flexible as I can, even though the local authority rate is less than my private rate. Use PACEY’s cost calculator to get an idea of what the cost of providing a place actually is and compare this to your local authority rate before deciding what to do.

Being really clear from the start in your dealings with parents will help – make sure that they know they have to register - and can’t claim back through you if they miss the deadline. Building a good relationship based on trust is really important – if you can set the groundrules for being open and direct early on this will avoid awkward conversations later. I don’t charge extra for meals, nappies and other sundries, but for some childminders this is important for them to be able to offer funded hours. For me, a good look at my finances helped me to realise that by asking parents to bring in packed lunches for their children during the school holidays saved me £4,000 a year – and it makes it really handy for our holiday schedules when we are often out and about!

I have really enjoyed my career as a childminder – there is always more to learn and I feel that I have created a big happy family. Many of the children I have looked after stay in touch and that’s really rewarding. I am keen to keep up with my training and personal development in the early years and aim to do my PTLLS training course so that I can be a childminding trainer in the future.

Staying focused on what’s really important is the best way to ensure you build a thriving childminding business.

Liz’s top tips:

  • Check what paperwork you really need – it may be less than you think
  • Don’t get overloaded with policies – sending them to parents online and providing a written checklist for them to sign can help minimise paperwork
  • Decide your policy on funded hours – and stick to it. Be clear with parents what you offer and whether you charge for extras. Setting the ground rules for being open and direct early on will avoid awkward conversations later.
  • Be clear on your business model so you can build a business that works for you – and you alone.
  • Do seek out support from other childminders through groups or social media – ask if your local authority has a buddy system which can be really helpful.