Start Your Own Daycare Center
There's a definite need for day care centers
as more and more mothers of pre-school age children are forced
to find jobs outside the home. This is due in part to the
current economy, and unfortunately, to the high divorce rate,
which means mothers who
might ordinarily stay at home and care for their own children
must seek income to help make ends meet.
Many experts expect the demand to increase through the turn
of the century, and the popularity of this type of business
to continue growing from there. They base their forecasts
on the fact that more and more young parents have happy memories
time they spent in day care centers, and the learning experiences
they enjoyed. And again, there is the continuing need or desire
of young mothers to work outside the home.
Profitable day care centers are much more than glorified
baby-sitting services. Social researchers have found that
the most important years in a child's development are those
from one to six. Thus, the exposure to the world in which
he lives, the in struction he receives, and the habits he
forms during those years, definitely affect his ability to
learn and properly ad just as he progresses on through his
years of formal education.
For mothers of today - usually better educated than their
mothers - are more aware of these factors and wanting the
best for their children, are demanding the structured pre-school
education and learning stimulation offered by modern day care
centers. This is an honest desire of the mothers of pre-school
age children - even those who aren't forced to work outside
Another thing in your favor: Even though there seems to
be a trend for many large companies to finance and operate
day care centers for their employees in or close by their
factories or office buildings, studies show that most working
parents prefer to leave their children closer to home than
where they work. Thus, privately operated day care centers
in residential neighborhood areas should not be worried too
much about competition from the few company operated day care
The first step toward start-up of a profitable day care
center is to understand what makes them profitable.
There are a lot of day care centers operating with full
enrollments of 35 to 65 children, but just barely breaking
even. This is generally the result of regulations imposed
by the state government, causing exorbitant overhead costs
of operation. Basically, you'll need facilities to handle
150 to 200 children in order to realize annual profits in
the "before taxes" bracket of $100,000.
Check with your state and local government regulatory agencies.
Many states require day care centers to provide a minimum
area per child, both inside and outside the building, plus
at least one hot meal per day. A licensed teacher for every
15 to 20 children, and even a licensed nurse on the premises
may be required. Be sure to know the regulations in your area,
and then design your business plan to meet these regulations.
Actually, you can begin by operating a baby-sitting service,
by learning and expanding from your profits, and of course,
through the long-term benefits of establishing a quality image.
In fact, we recommend that you do start small - with a baby
sitting service - and build upon your progressive successes.
Unless, of course, you have half a million dollars to invest.
Once you're beyond the baby-sitting stage, out of your home
and backyard, beginning to build a real day care facility,
you might try locating in your church or one of your area's
civic club facilities. Also, you should check out the possibilities
of renting or buying a vacant house. A large ranch-style home
with a large backyard would probably suit your needs at this
stage. But be sure you have zoning approval from your city
council before signing a rent lease and finalizing your plans.
You might find, if you have your business plan in order,
that a church or labor union will sponsor your business, or
even offer financial backing. Arranging some sort of partnership
or sponsorship agreement with an established local organization
will solve a lot of problems for you, not only in the area
of space but in assistance with start-up costs and city-father
Incidentally, a day care center is perhaps the ideal business
for absentee ownership or a group of professional investors.
Keep this fact in mind as you organize your plan and seek
financing. See our business report, How To Raise Money For
Starting Your Own
Generally, a "shoestring entrepreneur" in this
business will do very well to locate in a vacant convenience
store, or even a vacant grocery store in a larger shopping
center. The zoning will be in your favor, plus you'll have
adequate parking space, and less expense in partitioning or
remodeling the building to suit your needs.
Ideally, your day care center should be located on a main
thoroughfare, with the building set back from the street.
You should be on the right hand side of the street as the
traffic heads towards the major business or industrial areas
of your community. In larger metropolitan areas, this would
be on the city-side of the "bedroom" communities.
In smaller communities, you can locate just about anywhere
except in the downtown area.
If at all possible, you should plan your facility similar
to a hospital or motel entrance. This would be a driveway
from the street to your door, usually under a covered drive-thru,
with the driveway continuing back out to the street. Your
long-term parking space would then be located in the center
of the "U" or between the driveway and the street.
You want to strive for the convenience for the parent in being
able to drive right up to your door. She can drop off the
child with only a few steps into your facility and easy access
back onto the main thoroughfare.
Depending on your city sign ordinances and your finances,
go all out with your sign. Advertise the name of your day
care center, the hours you're open, whether you accept drop-ins,
overnighters, or weekenders, and of course, your phone number
The sign makers and advertising people may strongly advise
you against so much wording on your sign, but in this instance,
don't listen to them. Your sign should state all essential
information, and serve to convince passers-by that you can
handle their child-
care problems whenever the need arises.
If you initially locate in, or through the sponsorship of
a church or labor union, these people can assist you tremendously
by including a mention of your services in their membership
bulletins, and by passing out circulars or flyers.
You'll need to decide on your regular day care hours. Generally,
these are from 6 a.m. through 6 p.m. You'll also need to decide
whether you want to offer breakfast for the children. If so,
you'll have to plan for a cook and food supplies for morning
meals. We'll discuss kitchen facilities and kitchen help later,
but the first decision must be if you will include breakfast.
You'll already be set up with kitchen facilities and a cook
because you will be serving a noon meal. If you do decide
to offer breakfast for those parents not wanting to feed their
children at home, you'll be able to add $8 to $12 per week
to their billing. By buying your food supplies in bulk, you'll
probably be able to realize some savings in overall food costs.
Mid-morning and mid-afternoon snacks are required in some
states, but even where they're not required, they are pretty
much standard fare in most day care centers. Fresh fruit,
cookies, and juice are the usual snack foods served in most
day care centers.
As mentioned earlier, you'll definitely be providing a hot
meal for the children at noon. This entails a cook, dishes,
planned menus, food supplies in bulk, and perhaps even small
size table and chairs. You'll also have to have kitchen help
and facilities for washing the dishes.
These are just some of the important overhead costs you
must plan for, and of course you will work to keep them as
low as possible. As you should know by now, the greater your
overhead, the more children you're going to have to take in,
and the more
children you take in, the greater your space requirements.
All profitable day care centers operate according to planned
routines. The day is broken down into one-hour segments, with
pre-planned curriculam, much the same as classes at a public
A typical day begins with a play period from whenever the
children arrive until about 9 o'clock. For this, you'll need
indoor sand boxes, toys and perhaps a family-sized television
set. From 9 to 10, the children are separated into groups
- generally by ages - and you hold a reading or story-telling
session. The mid-morning snack time is scheduled sometime
between 10 to 11. For the younger children, this might include
a mid-morning nap. After snack time, a learning session is
usually held. Typically, this is the time when guests are
invited in to speak or entertain the children.
Work with your Chamber of Commerce, civic clubs, and city
administration for guests. Children will especially enjoy
visits by policemen, firemen and others who talk to them about
citizenship, show films, and teach them about the things they
do in the community.
You can also get upperclassmen at your local colleges to
visit and demonstrate such things as drawing, working with
clay, building with wood, making things out of paper, and
hundreds of other talents or skills they might be learning.
thing is to bring "outsiders" in to talk to the
kids about what goes on in their world.
Noon to 1 o'clock is generally lunch time, and from 1 until
2 is another learning session. During this afternoon learning
session, you might offer the rudiments of reading, writing
and arithmetic. These teaching chores can be handled by college
students studying to be teachers, retired teachers, or unemployed
persons with teaching certificates. It's not so much a session
to teach proficiency as a time to stimulate interest in formal
education. The basic goal of most day care centers is to instill
within each child a desire to learn more about the world in
which he lives. Thus, each child should be full of plans for
"when I get to be six years old and start school, I'm
About once a week, your afternoon learning session should
be a tour or a trip to some place that might be interesting
as well as educational for the children. Again, you're making
the idea of learning not only interesting, but an exciting
ad venture as well.
These trips can be anything from a walk in your immediate
neighborhood to loading all the kids into cars or onto buses
and taking them to the zoo. Check it out first, but on the
whole, you'll find most businesses in your area will welcome
opportunities to show the children around their offices or
factories. The same thing quite naturally applies to your
city offices, fire department, police department, and radio
or television stations.
On days when you don't have a trip scheduled, your "learning
session" might be a film or program related to nature,
particularly animals. The advent of the Video Cassette Recorder
has opened endless possibilities in this area. Nap time and
snack time will fill a period for younger ones, and books
and quiet games will occupy older children who do not take
a nap. When the nap period is over, they're allowed to play
until their parents
come by to pick them up.
Whenever possible, you should encourage the children to
be outside during play periods. If you have lots of playground
equipment, you won't necessarily always have to have organized
games, but you will have to have a playground supervisor -
to watch the children and see that they don't get hurt as
they play. You can hire part-time help for this chore, perhaps
from the local colleges, for minimum wage. If your city ordinances
do not cover the specific age requirements of a playground
supervisor, you might be able to hire students from your neighborhood
high school. Select all the people you hire relative to their
affinity with children and their dependability. Be aware of
today's climate of extreme concern in protecting children
in day care situations.
Your playground will require a fenced-in area. Drive around
and look at the playground equipment in the playyards of your
public schools and at day care centers in your area. You should
have the basic sandboxes, swings, slides and jungle gyms but
this area you can be creative and original, provided your
equipment meets safety standards.
Some states require that you have a registered nurse on
the premises, but generally, the main things needed are medical
information from the parents and a written procedure to follow
in case of accident or illness. Basically, when a child is
or be comes ill, you should take him to the nearest medical
center, while another staff person gets in touch with the
parents, and explains what happened. If the parent cannot
be present at the medical center, all information should be
passed on to him/her immediately it is available.
It's a good idea to have all your helpers indoctrinated
with basic Red Cross first aid knowledge, and have a well-equipped
first aid kit on the premises. As for any requirements relative
to a full-time nurse, you should be able to hire registered
who are either not working or looking for extra income. You
might be able to "hire the license" of a registered
nurse. You pay a small fee to hang her license in your office,
and she agrees to be available to serve your needs when you
Most day care centers are currently charging from $35 to
$65 per child for a five day week, plus $5 to $10 more for
the inclusion of breakfast, with another $l per meal when
they serve an evening meal to the child. If you do not receive
pay in advance, you can very quickly get "in the red."
We strong suggest setting up your financial structure and
clients' payment schedules with this in mind.
By having your customers pay in advance, you'll eliminate
a lot of bookkeeping chores and time, the problems of collections,
and you'll have operating funds with which to run the business.
A point to stress when asking for payment by the month, in
is that because monthly payments are based on only four weeks
of day care, they'll be getting a week of free service every
Every profitable day care center requires a sharp manager
or director. This person might be yourself, or someone you
hire for the job. Regardless, this person will be the key
to your success. The director should have an empathy with
people, be an excellent judge of people, be sales oriented,
and have an outgoing personality. As much as anything else,
this person must have the ability to listen to, and really
hear what other people are saying
without the influence of preconceived opinions, or making
snap decisions. This person has to have the success of your
business in mind at all times, which means building and maintaining
an impeccable reputation.
Your director will be responsible for the hiring and supervision
of your other help and the budgeting, scheduling and overall
day-to-day operation of the business. It is imperative to
the success of your business that you have the very best person
you can get in this position, regardless of the cost. A good
director for a day care center will command a salary equal
to teachers in your public schools, plus fringe benefit allowances
such as free enrollment for their children and perhaps medical
and dental insurance if you choose to provide group coverage.
When a prospective client calls to ask you about your services,
you should explain how you operate, and emphasize your invitation
for them to bring their child in so that the two of them can
be taken for a tour of your facilities.
Once in the center, your manager or director takes the parent
and child on a tour, all the while explaining to parent the
advantages of the center's structured learning and play program
as compared with everyday run-of-the-mill baby-sitting services.
It's important to have the child along, because as he sees
the other children at play, he will be drawn to them, and
this will greatly influence the parent in deciding that your
center is the
right place for his child.
After the tour, steer the parent back into your administrative
offices and propose enrollment of the child. Begin by asking
where the parent works, what hours and if he or she ever has
to work overtime. You then ascertain the hours they'll want
to drop off and pick up their child.
Strict procedures are absolutely essential regarding the
pick- up of any child. Frightening as it may be to contemplate,
we have all read accounts of strangers (or non-custodial parent)
kidnapping a child. Printed forms must be provided, and authorization
signatures must be compared when anyone other than the legal
guardian takes a child from your care. You will learn these
requirements from your licensing office. Our advice to you
is to follow them meticulously.
You should have a slickly printed, quality brochure showing
your rates, your services, an outline of the curriculum, and
a statement of your benefit goals for the children.
Check with a legally qualified person about the need for
a contract. The parent will probably simply fill out a questionnaire-file
card giving address, place of employment,
medical information about the child, and place he or she may
be reached in case of emergency.
Most day care centers accept all children between two and
six years of age. And there are many nowadays who take infants
from six weeks. Of course, your personnel in this situation
will be thoroughly oriented in infant care, and you must ascertain
if these babies are well when brought in to you. Otherwise,
you put yourself in the position of "hospital" care
instead of day care.
Generally, children aren't allowed to bring toys from home.
You may want to allow the children to bring their own blanket
from home for nap time, but if you allowed toys from home
you would be opening "Pandora's box" of possible
problems relating to sharing and ownership. In light of this,
you will want a full complement of appropriate toys and play
items in your center.
If you decide to include short-term baby-sitting services,
a good idea would be to include within the layout of your
facilities a small one-bedroom apartment for a live-in or
couple. An older retired couple would be ideal, with the husband
serving also as maintenance and handy-man.
Around-the-clock baby-sitting services, in addition to your
regular day care center, can add tremendous and immediate
cash-flow profits to your business, but correspondingly increase
your payroll for qualified personnel. Such services would
enable the parents to drop their children off in the evening,
and leave them around the clock or over the weekend. There
will generally be no need for any planned program because
these children will be sleeping during most of the time they're
in your care.
As you establish the image and reputation of your day care
center, the parents in your area will be much more inclined
to leave their children with you for baby-sitting duties.
And because you are considered tops in the area of responsibility
, you'll be able to charge the very top rate of the baby-sitting
fee structure. Keep current with fees charged by other quality
businesses similar to yours.
The demand for unplanned or emergency baby-sitting services
is very large. Not too many day care centers are aware of
this potential for extra profits yet, but the ones that are
find that their incomes can increase by 30 percent or more!
recommend consideration of this idea for anyone involved in
a day care service.
Another area that could mean enhanced profits for you is
bus or van pick-up service for the children. Of course, this
would increase your operating costs (and consequently your
fees) but the convenience of pick-up is gaining in popularity.
You'll need a custodian for indoor and outdoor cleanup, and
if you have access to a bus or van, he could be assigned additional
duties as the driver. Some day care centers offering pick-up
service for their children contract with local transportation
services to provide this service. Be certain of the driving
experience of your driver if you contract for this transportation
Most day care centers open with very little fanfare or advertising.
Generally, even without advertising most are reporting 90
percent capacity enrollment within six months.
With grand opening fanfare, and a strong advertising campaign,
you should be able to be at 90 percent capacity within your
first six weeks. In an area where a severe short age of day
care facilities exists, and with the right advertising and
promotion, even sooner.
Your first step should be the door-to-door, hand-out distribution
of a quality informative brochure. To save on costs, you can
hire students attending advertising classes in your area colleges
or even a free lance advertising copywriter to help you with
the design and writing of this brochure. However, the bottom
line should be that you have a good commercial printer do
the printing on the best paper you can afford. All of this
has to do with the image you're wanting to create, and the
quality of the service the "buyers" feel they're
getting for the prices you are charging. Don't skimp on your
brochure - you're aiming at people looking for the best place
for their children.
You should place at least a two-column by four-inch grand
opening display ad in your local newspapers. At the same time,
you should place similar ads in the local magazines and other
publications catering to the working mother. Send along a
picture of your staff, and a story about your services with
your advertising order. Phone the editors at your local newspapers,
radio and TV stations and invite them out to your grand opening.
Be sure to place a "service information" ad in
the yellow pages of your telephone directory. This should
be the largest size you can afford. And remember that you
need to make contact for a yellow page ad well in advance
of the release date of the directory.
After your grand opening, and until you attain full capacity,
continue to hand out your brochures at the entrances to the
office buildings which house companies employing working mothers.
Continue to run ads in your local newspaper, although these
needn't be quite as large or run as regularly as the grand
opening ads. Run an ad in the classified section describing
your baby-sitting services.
At your grand opening, offer free refreshments for everyone.
Coffee and punch for the adults, with juice for the children,
and cookies for everyone. You should have members of your
staff circulating among the parents to answer any questions
and hand out
brochures about the center.
You can begin small, and expand in stages with your profits.
However, you must draw up a long-range plan detailing exactly
what you intend to do, and each milestone you'll have to pass
before proceeding to your next goal. In this way, you c an
attain not only the ultimate business, but also the kind of
profits planned at the start.
The basic, and bottom line secret to success with your own
day care center will be your ability to hold your costs in
line while achieving maximum capacity enrollment. You've got
the plan, and my best wishes for success!