Should we only be concerned about occupancy in the last quarter of the year?
Maintaining and monitoring occupancy is crucial all year round. Forecasting and monitoring occupancy levels benefits most centres if planned on either a three or five year time frame. Calculate your breakeven benchmark and set an alert within your forecast.
The benchmark set for early childhood environments to breakeven is 80 per cent occupancy, but with recent ratio changes, this benchmark is probably closer to 85 per cent. The recent findings of the Productivity Commission reported providers advising that 90 – 100 per cent occupancy was preferred to ensure financial viability.
There are some general tips for creating more awareness of your centre and your family day care environment, but every centre and every family day care scheme is unique and the communities they are part of are all different.
Improving occupancy levels within your centre requires an individualised plan that takes into consideration many aspects of your local community: as it is now, and how it will be affected by change over the next three to five years. Information nights and open days are a good starting point but are limited in what they can achieve, you need to think outside the box and you don’t require a big advertising budget.
Communication is a key factor in improving your occupancy levels, and creating awareness of the wonderful environment and care you are providing to the children within your community. Below are some steps that may assist you:
- Carefully identify your community.
- Expand that community.
- Reflect on how you can improve your communication and connection with your community to create awareness and stimulate enrolments?
Below is an example relating to online purchasing by early learning environments we like to use:
- Does your centre do their weekly food shop online?
- Does that online shopping program know what a high quality early learning environment you are providing?
We know it’s convenient and the preferred method of shopping for many reasons. Try changing your plan next week.
- Call into the local fruit shop and buy the weekly fruit and vegetables for your centre from your local greengrocer, another small business within your community.
- You have now entered the community of your local greengrocer, but now, you need them to enter yours.
- On your next visit ask if they deliver to your area.
- The delivery of the fruit and vegetables to your early learning environment allows them to enter and become part of your community.
- Ask for a flyer, offer to put it in the foyer, if you have a website, create a B2B (business to business) page, place advertising (with disclaimer) for the businesses you use and those that parents within your centre or scheme, own or are employed in, on your web page.
- You have now created a B2B link.
- The awareness you have created will ignite conversations and hopefully the positive commentary will lead to future enrolments.
You have connected and communicated within your extended community and your expansion plan for creating awareness of your service or scheme has commenced.
Examine closely what your newsletters and social media accounts, communicate to your community about you and your team.
Rethink your advertising:
- If your only form of advertising was word of mouth what would your message be to your potential customers?
- Have you told them about your experienced team of educators or your passion for early childhood education and the pride you take in delivering quality family day care?
- Do you mention the training and development you and other educators have undertaken?
- When you post a photograph of lunch on social media, add: vegetables supplied by the greengrocer we mentioned previously and tag the greengrocer in the post.
- Make your posts original and interesting. Try and refrain from reposting and sharing constantly from other people’s pages.
- Do you survey your parents regularly?
Analysing information sourced through communication and consultation with your families will allow you to think outside the box and find a niche that puts you ahead of your competitors.
There are some factors that affect your occupancy: a downturn in the economy resulting in people losing their jobs, a new early learning centre opening close by, or an increase in family day care providers in your area. Don’t stress about those challenges – they will have a small effect on your business but are beyond your control, just continue to provide the high quality education and care you have worked so hard to achieve.
There is no magic formula for improving occupancy. It is hard work and requires constant monitoring and awareness of the strengths and weaknesses within your business. Building and promoting those strengths and overcoming the weaknesses, consulting with your team, listening to your community, acknowledging their needs and delivering a service that meets all of the above will ensure that positive reviews will be delivered from every member of your community who walks through your door.
If you have already purchased a ticket to our Newcastle conference, or are intending to do so you will have the opportunity to liaise with a communications specialist prior to the day and on the day. If you are interested in this complimentary service please email us in advance and we will commence an analysis of your community and provide you with communication tips for creating awareness of your education and care service.