Marketing manoeuvres

NMT takes the temperature of the early years market and offer tips for marketing, launching a new nursery, and utislising artificial intelligence

The early years sector is constantly moving forward and harnessing innovative technologies has become key for business growth and staff support.

According to Christie & Co’s ‘2024 Business outlook’, competition across the market is set to heighten and continue throughout the year. Therefore, those running and/or acquiring nurseries have to level up their offering to attract more parents.

The demand for childcare places remains strong, however a recent survey from the Early Years Alliance revealed that more providers are unable to meet demand for new places under the extended entitlement offer.

So, how can technology play a supportive role for settings as they navigate the new changes while also delivering a continued service of high-quality childcare?

Marketing to attract prospective parents

Attracting and retaining parents and children is essential for the continued success of early years settings, as they rely on a frequent turnover of children.

AI powered tools have revolutionised the landscape of customer engagement, offering unparalleled benefits for nursery owners seeking to streamline their marketing efforts and enhance their appeal to prospective parents.

Using AI in marketing has proven to be an effective strategy for digitally engaging in personalised conversations with parents, addressing their specific queries and concerns in real-time. By offering tailored responses and recommendations based on individual needs and preferences, nursery owners can create more meaningful interactions, fostering a sense of trust and rapport with potential and existing families.

Gareth Degenhart, founder and managing director at The Lime Trees group commented on his team’s use of digital marketing since the announcement of the new entitlement offer: “We’ve embraced the change and made sure we have a clear and precise marketing strategy. We’ve focused on our digital marketing and our social media platforms to maximise coverage and visibility.

We’re mining our current databases and reenergising our referral schemes, reaching out to existing clients and utilising direct marketing. We are testing and measuring our activity to capitalise on the opportunity and make sure as many parents as possible know they can access the scheme, how we can accommodate, and know who we are as a business.

“As a rapidly growing business, one of our greatest challenges centres around communication. It’s vital our communication is fast and effective with genuine synergy.”

Today, people want information quickly and unlike traditional marketing channels that operate within set business hours, AI-powered chatbots and tools are available round-the-clock, ensuring that nursery owners never miss an opportunity to connect with prospective parents or have their information viewed.

If the budget allows, teaming up with a software or marketing early years supplier can support enrolment. Famly, a childcare software app, understands the importance of using tech to maintain and improve capacity and it has all its features in one place making it easy for parents and staff to navigate through.

When you’re trying to communicate and coordinate across a variety of platforms – a WhatsApp group chat, email chains, a Facebook group and paper handouts – it’s easy for key details to slip through the cracks.

Launching a new nursery

Launching a new nursery business can be a daunting prospect, especially for new and small sized groups. If you’re in this category then more often than not, your setting will be a local business. If you drive down any road in your town, you might see several nurseries, making it difficult for parents to choose the right one for their children’s needs.

Some of the most effective marketing tools and strategies to use for scaling and supporting your nursery are:

  1. Increase online visibility: If people aren’t visiting your website, it can’t support you in generating more leads. Therefore, you must increase online visibility. You can do this by investing in search engine optimisation (SEO) and artificial intelligence tools to boost website engagement
  1. Social media marketing: This is where AI can really play a huge part in decreasing workload. Social media channels like LinkedIn, Facebook
    and Instagram are free and easy apps to use to get your marketing out. But there are also a number of applications that streamline the process. For example, use Hootsuite to schedule posts once they have been created, Canva to generate visuals or infographics and ChatGPT to help create new content
  2. Send a newsletter: Email newsletters can help you attract parents by providing them with information on a set schedule and you can share relevant business or nursery information that could convince parents and carers to book a tour. Hubspot, Mailchimp and Flodesk are some of many that can make the process smoother.

AI for managers

Time is the one thing that nursery leaders and managers are usually lacking. The good news is that AI can help, by taking on time-consuming admin tasks and freeing managers to spend more time supporting their team to deliver high-quality early education and childcare. US research published last year found that tools such as ChatGPT can speed up a wide range of business tasks by 37%.

“I am determined that managers don’t work into the night and weekends to do all this admin work,” says early years consultant Alison Featherbe who provides training on AI for nursery leaders. “Our leaders and managers need to be freed up to be role models to their team.”

Managers need to get their heads around AI now to prepare for the future, according to Featherbe. “Everyone is going to have learn to do this, it is not going to go away,” she says. “We have about five years before it becomes part of everyone’s life.”

Free AI systems include ChatGPT, Google’s Gemini, which was previously known as Bard, and Claude, an AI assistant from Anthropic. It’s worth having a look at all three, as they often return different results. When using AI assistants make sure you give as much information as possible for the best results.

Managers can let AI take the load in a number of ways including:

  1. Writing policies: Most nurseries will have a raft of policies on everything from admissions, sickness and complaints to safer recruitment and ‘promoting British values’. AI assistants can write them in the blink of an eye. It is absolutely vital, however, that managers bring their knowledge and experience to the table, checking the final result thoroughly and adding
    or removing information where necessary. The AI saves a lot of time, but it can’t replace the expertise of the manager
  2. Training: AI assistants can produce bite-size training courses, or even quizzes, on any given subject. Again, managers should ensure that they have checked the information given is correct
  3. Recruitment: Use AI assistants to generate job ads, create interview questions, and even induction packs
  4. Observations: AI assistants can take practitioners’ notes about the children they are observing and create a short paragraph for parents telling them what their children have been up to during the day, with correct grammar and spelling
  5. Rostering: Flexible working contracts are necessary to attract staff, but a nightmare for managers who have to create a rota that meets the needs of both workers and children. Rostering is particularly complicated in the early years sector given the ratio demands of the EYFS. AI assistants are not currently great at rostering, although given how quickly technology is moving it’s worth keeping an eye on how they are doing, However, commercial systems are increasingly adopting AI to meet the demands of the sector, and nursery groups are looking to the future.

“We want to leverage automation as much as possible so managers can spend their time on tasks that require a human touch rather than repetitive administration,” says Mark Hassan-Ali, chief people officer at N Family Club, who is excited about what the future might hold. “When you think about rostering, there is a mix of ages and ratios, some supernumerary people, some people off sick or training – AI will take on all of that data, learn how we run our business and support our planning in critical business areas.”

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