As a child care business owner, you know that growing your center enrollment is the key to running a successful business. All other aspects of your business depend on having (tuition paying) families to serve, so you naturally want to get the word out about your school to as many people as possible. Strategic, paid advertising is one way to accomplish this, but there are many other ways of marketing, or generating publicity for your school.

Getting publicity is different than paying for advertising. Publicity happens when your business does something buzz-worthy and causes others to notice you. When they notice, they talk, and when they talk, more people learn about your school.

You don’t generally pay directly for publicity, but efforts that lead up to what gets you the publicity may have costs involved. For instance, if you hold a free kids carnival for the community, you may have to pay for carnival games, prizes, and printing costs for flyers. However, when a local newspaper runs a story about your event, the story is not something you paid for.

There are many reasons why generating publicity in your area should be a part of your overall marketing plan, but the biggest is just to get your community to notice what you are doing and create that positive “word-of-mouth” buzz.

With all of the “hats” that you need to wear as a business owner, it can be challenging to keep up with the latest trends in PR, let alone creating and implementing a plan that will regularly create “natural” opportunities for your community to take notice of you. Luckily there are many simple, low-cost, and even free, ways to easily generate positive publicity for your center. The key is making a plan and putting it into motion. Here are a few ideas to get you started:

Send Out a Monthly Newsletter

Sending out a monthly newsletter via email can be looked at as a “fun” monthly press release (of sorts) about all the happenings at your center. Your newsletter should include all relevant news that your families need to know, as well as fun information and photos to keep them engaged and looking forward to reading it each month. Including photos of children and activities from the previous month is an easy way to ensure parents open your emailed newsletters because they will be excited to see if their child was featured in it.

Also, don’t limit yourself by only sending it to families that are currently enrolled! Be sure to also include any past families, potential leads, and as many members of the community as you can! Having an email from your center appear in the inbox of any leads will put you at the forefront of their mind. Sharing your all your center news with as many people as you can in the community will help generate word-of-mouth publicity for your center. It also helps families get to know you, like you and trust you…..all essential factors for building a great reputation and getting more enrollments.

Stay Active on Facebook

If your center doesn’t already have a Facebook business page, make sure to get one! Facebook is a free tool to help you generate conversations and engagement amongst families and your community.

It is a platform that allows you to demonstrate (by posting photos, videos, and relevant articles) the quality of your program, the services you offer, your expertise in the child care field, your community involvement, your

happy families and children, and so much more. Consistently posting relevant “sticky” content and fun photos &videos will keep your followers engaged and more likely to share your posts – which puts your center in front of a larger audience!

If you still need to be convinced to maintain an engaging Facebook page, according to Hootsuite, 82% of 18-29 year olds and 79% of 30-40 year olds are active on Facebook. Everyday, for free, you can be posting content to get your center in front of the eyes of your target market –  parents of young children! You will need to be sure that your content is interesting and engaging to your audience so it is shown to more of your audience.

If you’d like some post ideas, CLICK HERE to download our social media cheat sheet: “51 Ordinary Things That Happen at Your School Everyday That You Should Be Sharing on Social Media.”

If you want to reach an even larger audience beyond your organic followers and shares, Facebook offers relatively low post boosting and advertising costs. When doing this, they even allow you to specifically target the type of customers you are looking for – just choose some demographic info when setting this up so your ads/posts are shown only to your ideal prospects.

Ask for Reviews

Whether you prefer Google, Yelp, or Facebook make sure to ask the families that love your center to write an online review for you! According to Forbes, 84% of people trust online reviews as much as a personal recommendation. This means when potential families are looking up your center online, they need to see several glowing reviews before they will even consider you! People look at reviews when making almost any online purchase. If people want to see reviews before purchasing impersonal things like vacuum cleaners and bed sheets, how much more important do you think reviews are for a child care center?

Posting a review on Google, Yelp, and Facebook is free to do. However, sometimes families need a small nudge, or incentive, to actually take the time to post one, and that is okay. Get creative and come up with an incentive program, such as an entry into a raffle for a big prize. (Be careful not to “buy” reviews, though.) Also, always be sure to thank them for their review by replying online, AND write them a personal thank you note for taking the time to share their experience with others. You are more likely to get thoughtful and positive reviews from your families when they feel like their efforts are being appreciated by you.

Constantly Hand Out (Inexpensive) Promo Items

This idea might be harder to track your ROI, but it will definitely help you with general brand recognition in your community by getting the name of your center in front of as many eyes as possible. The more people that become familiar with your center, the more your center becomes trusted, and the easier it will be to gain enrollments in the future.

Providing something as small as a free (branded) pen to parents when they fill out paperwork or drop off their child in the morning will be viewed as a polite gesture. Then, that pen will most likely be kept in the purse or briefcase of that parent, and they will later use it out in public or accidently leave it in a public place (and more people will see it). You never know when that pen will serve as a conversation starter, or plant an idea in the mind of a prospective parent that is becoming unhappy with their current child care situation.

You can also task your staff members with “accidentally” leaving pens around town at banks, post offices, doctor’s offices, etc. If the promo item is useful, it will get picked up and used around town.

Other low-cost items that are useful and easy to distribute throughout the community are magnets, paper pads, and chip clips.

Create a Company Blog

Yes, there are already a ton of popular childcare and parenting blogs out there, but the purpose of your center’s blog isn’t to be the most popular one. The purpose of it is to be viewed as an easily shareable, credible resource within your network and your community. It also sets you up as knowledgeable, “expert-level” child care professionals, which helps your prospects and clients to trust in you even more.

Following a posting schedule of relevant, fun, visually appealing content will make readers excited to visit weekly. Make sure to remind followers about new posts through an optional mailing list, include links in your newsletters, and share your latest blog posts on your Facebook page.

Maintaining a blog gives you the opportunity to show off your school’s personality through the content and branding that you post. One thing to remember with blogging is to stay consistent with your messaging and branding to ensure you maintain the trust of your readers.

Host a Free Event

The economy, these days, has families watching their budgets very closely. It’s difficult to make ends meet, so parents often don’t have extra cash to take their kids on extravagant fun outings. So, when your center offers free, family-friendly events like a kids carnival, children’s concert, or art class, you are likely to draw in families with young children that are looking for ways to have fun together without breaking the bank.

When these families come and have a great experience at your event they will inevitably talk about it with their friends and family, even if it’s months or years down the road. So, even if they aren’t in the market for your services now, you will gain future enrollments from the positive experience that you created for them today.

You are also likely to get a newspaper to give you a free local listing or article, or receive a radio mention when hosting a free event that is open to the community.

Organize Donations or Volunteer for a Local Charity/Non-Profit

It’s harder to get publicity when you are just wanting to toot your own horn. Nobody cares how great YOU think you are.

But when you shift your focus and organize a donations drive or a spaghetti dinner to benefit the local women’s shelter, people will take notice. They will want to talk about the good work that is happening to benefit the charity, and get more people to donate. Word will get around.

Your school will be mentioned in the process, as the host or the sponsor. And even if there is absolutely NO MENTION of the services you provide, people will remember you. Your actions just demonstrated that you care about and are involved in your community. It leaves a good feeling with people and builds trust.

Partner with a Local High School or Community College

Do your part to help train the next generation of preschool teachers and caregivers by inviting students in to gain experience at your center. Partner with a local high school or community college to create an intern or work study program.

This benefits the educational establishments with real world experience for their students. It helps young students be more prepared to enter into the Early Childhood Education field.

It benefits your program in so many ways as well. You create collaborative relationships with respected educational organizations in your area. You get the benefit of an enthusiastic caregiver assisting your core staff. It adds a level of credibility to your school to have this established partnership. AND, it gives the high school, college, students (and their parents) reasons to talk about your preschool in their conversations.

We hope we’ve got your creative wheels spinning and given you some ideas for generating some free or low-cost publicity for your school. If you have additional ideas, please leave them in the comments below. We would love to hear what has worked for you!