The Great Experiment

I love social experiments.  Hence, my undying fascination with reality tv shows.  That’s why I try to avoid them.  They’re like an addiction for me.  But that’s not what “The Great Experiment” is about.

As you probably already know, I am a home daycare provider in a tiny little town in Ontario.  I’m doing it to contribute to the family finances while also staying home and being (mostly) available for my own kids.  I do it because I love kids and I enjoy providing an educational, loving environment for the little ones that spend my days with me.  However, I run my home daycare like the business it is.  I have contracts and policies and invoices.  I started out with a business plan, knowing exactly what kind of service I wanted to provide, what that was worth in this community, and what kind of clientele I wanted to attract.

But it’s starting to look like I was completely wrong.

A colleague and I have worked closely over the past year or so to align our home daycares, discussing rates, policies, procedures, menus, curriculum, and more.  We both work hard at providing the type of environment that we would want for our children if they had to be in daycare 50-60 hours every week.

Through interactions with a few other members of our community familiar with the world of home daycare,  we’ve come away with some interesting revelations.  It seems that a number of other home daycare providers in our area depend largely on tv and convenience foods (ie. not-so-healthy foods), and are not concerned about legal limits on the number of children in care.  That much we already knew.

What we weren’t aware of was that these other home daycares charge the same weekly rate that we charge.  The solution: to raise our rates to reflect the level and quality of care that we provide.

But, we surmised, if our care, in our own opinion, is in fact higher quality for the same price, why aren’t parents seeing that when they set out to look for care?   When you’re shopping for a car or any other large purchase, most people will look for the most bang for their buck.  The more bells and whistles for your dollar, so to speak.  So if we’re offering a daily curriculum, lots of outdoor play, providing healthy foods, etc, etc, for the same amount as a provider that is watching too many children, who depends on KD and hot dogs to feed the kids, who has the tv on all day, and who rarely takes the kids outdoors, why is that provider full while we are searching for weeks to fill our spots?

Another provider gave my colleague some insight into our advertising methods.  She said that our online ads are too complicated.  Too many details and pictures.  Keep it simple, she said.  So, we devised “The Great Experiment”.

We each placed two online ads for the available spots that we have.  One was the usual ad, with details about the care we provide and pictures of activities and the playroom. My ad reads:

Doodle Bugs Daycare
currently has
One Full-Time Spot Available!

Your infant or toddler will enjoy:
-lots of outdoor play time
-a tv-free and smoke-free home environment
-early potty learning
-curriculum specifically designedfor ages 6 months to 36 months
-daily Circle and Craft Times
-trips to the playground and splash pad

Care is provided by Megan, who holds a Bachelor’s Degree in Education, has experience working as a nanny, in a daycare center, and in Children’s Ministry, and who is mother to 3 children of her own.

Visit the Doodle Bugs website for more information, or to book your interview now!

The second was a bland, simple ad.  It reads:

  Mother of 3 offering full-time child care.

Reasonable rates, food provided.

That’s it.  No pictures, no phone number or website listed.  Not even my credentials.

I’ve been keeping a running tally on how many views each of my ads has had.  Guess which one is in the lead?

The simple ad.

That other daycare provider was absolutely right.  My first impression was that perhaps I should save myself some money.  Stop buying curriculum, start buying KD, and put a tv in the playroom.  Less work for the same amount of money, because that SEEMS to be what parents are looking for.

However, I then started to think that perhaps parents are intentionally looking for the more basic ads, assuming they will be less expensive than a more detailed ad.

Little do they know, those home daycares are not less expensive, and may even be operating illegally with too many kids in care.

The solution?  I’m not sure.  I have come to the conclusion however, that I need to stop spending so much time working on my ads.  Based on this little experiment, a simple, concise ad will direct more people to my website, which will fill them in on what kind of value they really will be getting for their money.

The question then remains: Am I looking for the kind of parent that picks a daycare provider based solely on her rates, or am I looking for the kind of parent that balances cost with the quality of care?

In a world without bills, the latter, without question.  But there are bills in this world, and I need to balance the quality of parents with the necessity of a paycheck.

And so, I suppose, my business model needs to change.

Back to the drawing board!


  1. July 29, 2012
    I think the reason your simple ad got more interest wasn’t only because it was simple but because it started out with the most important thing mothers are looking for when they need to give their kids to someone else: ”Mother of 3”. The honesty, simplicity and security of that one statement has got to encompass so many things about what people are looking for or assume they’ll be getting with a daycare. It’s pretty cool to see you go through this and break it all down! 🙂

  2. July 30, 2012
    I guess I’ve seen too many parenting styles to put much faith in the “mother of 3” qualification, but for first-time parents, perhaps you’re right — maybe that’s all they need.
    Having spent so much time with so many different kids, and seeing so many different parents interact with their kids, it’s hard to remember to back when I was a first-time parent. And market research isn’t terribly easy to come by in this field of work, since each community or town is so different.



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