Setting up shop: Web Site

Setting Up Shop: This series is intended for educators and directors. These posts highlight the successes, short comings, and methods to setting up a child care business.

I began my business plan before doing any tangible work. In the beginning, there was research.

While researching local child care websites, one thing that I noticed was the lack of objective information. Many had testimony to their abilities to care for and educate children, but lacked information like cost, payment schedules, or an ongoing information feed.

This was quite frustrating. This is the age of information! The Internet allows instantaneous sharing. There are companies that provide ~FREE~ hosting sites for blogs, web sites, business listings. There are even companies that will build an entire site for you; all you have to do is supply the information.

So, why was finding information on other providers so difficult? 

There were few that had information on one of the most restricting factors for families: cost. This information was mainly reserved for government facilities and a few large corporations. That information was useful, but what I really needed was to know what family child care providers were charging. I had to email or call each individual provider to find out what they charged. A family looking for child care would have to do that same legwork, which could lead to confusion, frustration, and disappointment.

Another piece of the child care puzzle is knowing what the payment contract will look like. Almost no websites that I viewed had information about payment schedules, payments when the schedule changed, or information about sick days. Admittedly, my site and handbook did not have any of that information in the beginning. 

That actually led to a family that didn't pay for their unused days AND it was what their payment contract read, so I honored it. I lost out, because the information was not presented in a transparent and easily available manner. Changes were made to the handbook and contract to accurately define the attendance and payment policy. 

Why do providers charge for unused time? 
Providers charge for unused time to "hold" a child's spot in the program. A provider expects that a child will be attending during those unused days, then does not enroll additional children. That would be double booking and could cause a big problem if both children were to attend. It is similar to a non-refundable deposit on a hotel room. The hotel charges the deposit to "hold" your spot, then does not reserve the same room to another person.

The last piece that got my attention was that many of the sites were static. They looked as if it could be any time, any location, any group of children and care givers and the experience would be exactly the same. If you have spent any time with children, then you know there are changes constantly. I wanted to know how other providers moved and changed with the needs of the children.

In order to make fact finding easier for families and other providers, I decided it would be best to do a blog with informational pages. Tools that are automatically connected to my Google account made it simple to merge many aspects of the business onto one website.

My blog is set up in Blogger. When you are logged into a Google account, there is a drop down menu on the upper right. You can access Blogger this way and begin. A new blog needs to have a title, which will become part of the web address. There are a series of choices for setting up the style, layout, and theme of the blog.

My informational pages are a subsection of the blog. These are permanent links (currently on the right side of the page) that are always available. There is an option in the Blogger Dashboard to make a "page" - this is where you can write text, post photos, or even embed a video or calendar.

Pages that I created were:
Program Information
Meals & Snacks
Hours & Fees
Enrollment Packet

Another simple step that has a small fee attached to it, is buying a domain name. I bought the domain name of my business and have it set up to redirect to the blog. A link that redirects means: when someone types the URL or clicks an active link, the next page that loads will be different then what was actually clicked. I was able to use all of the free and simple tools provided in Blogger, link it to the domain name, and didn't have to do any real programming.

The entire enrollment packet is available online. This includes the handbook, forms, contracts, and permission slips. Providing these items online allows families to easily view the information, thus helping them to make the best decision for their family, and gives me a way to share documents without wasting paper & ink. Printing costs can run high for a small business when you have to share large amount of written text with potential clients.

I used another Google program to create my documents. Within Google Drive, you can basically do anything a regular computer does. One perk is that it is automatically backed up to the cloud and you can access it on any computer when you log into your Google account. That means I can easily print at the library or an office supply store. It did take a little getting used to, but the document and spreadsheet programs are similar to those commonly used in the past.

Since these documents are already uploaded and part of the cloud, sharing them with others is a breeze (get it? cloud? breeze?). On the upper right there is a "Share" button. You can choose to email a document to someone, use a social networking site to share, or create a link. To add a document to your website, you create a link. Make sure when sharing a document that the permissions are set up as you need. It is possible for others to modify your document if those settings are chosen. To ensure that people are not modifying what you have created, use the drop down menu to change the permissions to "View Only."

The menu was added in a similar way to the forms. I created the menu in Google's Calendar program. Again, if you are logged into your Google account, there should be a drop down menu in the upper right. Choose "Calendar" to view; once on that page click the drop down menu "My Calendars." From there, you will be able to create a calendar for whatever your needs are.

To share the calendar on your website, you will need to "embed" the calendar. That means you will copy and paste a section of programming code (computer language) onto your page. To do this, you will need to have a page open that you are editing. Within the text box (where you type what the page is going to say), you will paste the code provided by Google. Make sure to do a "preview" of the page before sending it out. Codes usually have multiple lines of text and you want to make sure it works properly before making it public.

I know this was a brief intro to adding forms and calendars to your site. I will work on (a) writing more detailed tutorials (b) finding detailed tutorials that are easy to understand. Check back later for more - OR - If you find a really awesome resource, please share it below.