How to Compete Against Child Care Centers

A new child care center just opened in your neighborhood. It offers care for a hundred children (toddlers through school-age) and has a well-equipped playground, a van to transport children, and sparkling classrooms with bright furniture and plenty of toys.

You start to feel desperate, wondering if you’ll ever be able to fill your two openings. “How can I compete?” you ask yourself.

In some ways child care centers have an advantage over family child care. They are easier to find, they have a full staff, their buildings are easily accessible to the public, and they can spend money on advertising.

Some parents are afraid to use family child care providers because providers are along in their home, and parents worry about what goes on behind closed doors.

For these reasons, providers need to work hard to counteract parents’ fears. Here are some suggestions for how to compete:

  • Visit your local child care center(s) and get copies of all written materials given out to prospective clients (rate schedules, special services, discounts, etc.). See what additional information you can see on their website and watch for any ads they may be running in local newspapers or online. Prospective clients contacting you may be comparing what you offer with what this center offers, so you need to be informed.
  • Look over the materials you have collected. Think about how your program is different from the center. What do you offer that the center does not? Your answer might include some of these benefits:
    • Small group size which allows for more individual attention to help children learn
    • Home environment where children can play in familiar, comfortable surroundings
    • Home-cooked, individually prepared meals
    • Healthy environment for children because fewer illnesses are spread in a small group
    • Longer or more flexible hours
    • Consistent caregiver (staff turnover at centers is usually high)
    • Mixed age groups, allowing siblings to be together
    • Accreditation or child care credentials

Remember, your program may never have everything a center offers, but you will always have some benefits that a center does not have.

  • Promote your program by highlighting your benefits.  Distribute door hangers or flyers in your neighborhood. Offer a discount on the first week of care.
  • Offer your current clients a finder’s fee if they refer a parent who enrolls with you.
  • Introduce yourself to the director of the center. Suggest ways you might cooperate. If the center doesn’t offer infant care and you do, ask if the center will refer parents with infants to you. Offer to provide backup care for the center for mildly ill children. Offer to provider drop-in care for center clients who need care after the center closes.

You need not fear the competition from a child care center if you can effective communicate the benefits of your program.


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Tom Copeland

I've been the nation's leading trainer, author, and advocate on the business of family child care since 1981. I'm a licensed attorney and have presented hundreds of business workshops for family child care providers across the country. I answer thousands of calls and emails each year to help providers, tax professionals and trainers understand complex business and tax issues. Call me at 651-280-5991. Email me at tomcopeland@live.com. Visit me on Facebook. From 1981 to 2009 I worked at Resources for Child Caring in Minnesota (now called Think Small), where I was director of Redleaf National Institute for 15 years. I've written nine books on the business of family child care published by Redleaf Press, a division of Resources for Child Caring. I was on the board of directors of First Children's Finance, a non-profit organization providing low interest loans and consulting and technical assistance to help family child care providers suceed as a business. They operate in Minnesota, Iowa, Michigan, North and South Dakota, Kansas, Missouri, and Texas. Here are some YouTube videos of me talking about my work with this organization and the business of family child care. I graduated from Macalester College (BA) in 1972 and from William Mitchell College of Law (JD) in 1980. I live in St. Paul, Minnesota with my wife Diane and two cats, Duke and Ella.