Here is some advice for running your new childminding business from me - and from members of the Childminding Forum and Independent Childminders Facebook group (links at the end)...
- It is your business and your rules – set them out clearly from the start. If you want to work in a certain way, be true to yourself.
- Your family and child/ren must always come first – for example, if your child doesn’t get on with a childminded child you should, of course, try everything you can to improve the situation but if things are not improving give notice – it’s your family home first.
- You can say ‘no’ - don’t feel that you have to take on every child whose parents want them to come – be choosy. The worst time to take on a new child is when you have a feeling it might not work out but you are desperate for business - take them on because you feel the match is right.
- Don't take on too much – if you can’t do something or it would make you too busy eg collecting from 2 schools that finish at the same time, say no.
- If parents need an urgent space ‘tomorrow’ there is usually a good reason why you need to slow things down, request an ‘introduction’ type meeting with them plus a paperwork meeting and insist on at least settling in visit with the child.
- Trust your gut instinct especially when new families come for interview – it is rarely wrong.
- Take a breath and think before answering ‘yes’ to something you will regret later. Get into the habit of saying, ‘let me check my diary and come back to you’.
- Never take on a child until you have met them and seen them in action without parents around. Yes do the paperwork including contract, that’s a must (don’t ever work without a signed contract and permissions) – but plan a couple of short settling-in sessions to make sure the child is a good fit with your family and other childminded children before committing.
- Be firm about your rules – if a child is sick (for example) home they go!
- When asked to do ‘nanny’ things (no disrespect to nannies) eg put the child to bed at 1pm in a darkened room for 2 hours – it’s ok to say to parents ‘I will do my best to follow your wishes – but there are a lot of children here and our days have to be flexible – sometimes we go out’.
- Think very carefully before agreeing to childmind for friends or family… it rarely ends well.
- You will read lots and lots of information on childminder groups – other childminders might seem to be doing more than you and you might feel pressured to keep up. Don't feel like you need to compete with other childminders and do everything that they are doing – we all work in different ways and putting yourself under pressure is not why you are doing the job.
- Think about your unique selling points – the things that make your provision special – and make sure you toot your own trumpet!
- Don't be afraid to admit to the children if you are wrong about something or if you don’t know the answer – you can always look it up together.
- Organise your resources and equipment so it’s not intruding on your family space – remember it’s your house first – find your local Ikea!
- Keep on top of your paperwork - keep it simple, don’t duplicate, don’t do too much. There is lots of really good advice out there but if you over-think it you will end up drowning.
- If someone from your Local Authority comes round to ‘help’ you and over-complicates everything, nod and smile and say ‘thank you for your support’… then carry on doing what works for you.
- Try and access local training – or online support – it’s invaluable for networking as well as staying up-to-date.
- Join your childminder local support group and go to children’s groups that are run by childminders so you get to know others in your area. They can be invaluable when you are looking for work and only they really know what you are feeling when something goes wrong.
- Don't gossip with other childminders about other childminders or undercut your local colleagues prices – you might need their support one day.
- Sign up for email updates from Ofsted and Foundation Years so you don’t miss anything new.
- Be friendly with the families you work with – but remember that parents are rarely your friends and (yes I know I am being cynical here) will drop you in a heartbeat if something better or someone cheaper comes along.
- Make sure you take holidays – you are not superman/woman and will break if you don’t spend time resting with your family. Book your holidays early in the year – take at least 4 weeks – even if you don’t leave the country.
- Set alarms on your phone – school pick up, nursery drop off, dinner reminder etc – the days can fly past so quickly.
- Write a menu – it helps keep the shopping budget on track. It’s also a good way of sharing information with parents and cuts down on how much information you need to give them day-to-day.
- Keep advertising / marketing even when you are full – you never know what parents are planning and they can drop ‘change of circumstances – sorry we are leaving’ on you without any warning. It’s best to have a waiting list.
- It can be nerve racking when a parent comes to see you but remember that they are probably nervous as well. Pop the kettle on and relax to start with – and remember that you are interviewing them too!
A lot of childminders, not surprisingly, wanted to share advice about contracts and payments –
- Never sign a contract without taking a deposit – it is normally paid back at the end of the contract against the last months’ fees but can also be used in the case of non-payment.
- State clearly that if parents do not take the space the deposit is non-refundable.
- Always request money in advance – not arrears – no matter how much parents beg. If you are not paid on the day it’s due, withdraw care until parents have been to the cashpoint – with their child –and withdrawn your cash.
- Don't offer sibling discounts - a space is a space and siblings can be hard work.
- Think carefully how you charge for older children – they eat more, use more resources, have to be collected, take up a lot of time and are tough on toys.
- Start as you mean to go on – if parents pick up late add a late fee from day 1.
- Think long and hard about taking Local Authority funding - it is often less than your hourly rate and you cannot top it up with payments from parents. It might be worthwhile if it means you retain a full-time child rather than lose them to nursery or pre-school – but if a family only want the 15 hours you might find you are losing a lot of income.
You can access lots of support online including –
Independent Childminders Facebook group –
Independent Childminders website
I hope you find our advice useful. Sarah | Knutsford Childminding