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Day Care Operator

The Real Poop

Quick, solve this riddle: Name a service career that provides you with a virtually unlimited pool of potential clients. The clients come to your premises for service, which means you're not a commission salesperson driving around town all day. Now consider that these clients may remain on your premises for several hours. They may sit, stand, lie down, run around, or throw things at other clients. Some of them may have bathroom accidents or instigate food fights.

Who's in charge of all this mayhem? Well, you've got the dictator, er, director. This autocratic authority figure doesn't act alone, as they generally have one or more assistants who help with mayhem control. Sometimes they entertain the clients with DVDs or outdoor recreation; sometimes they order the clients to lie down for a nap. Sometimes the clients are cranky and threaten to get out of control. Just when the director and staff think they can't take it anymore, a throng of people shows up to retrieve the clients and save the staff's sanity.

Can you name the career based on the clues we provided? (It would be pretty bad if you can’t, as it’s actually the title of this unit.) Okay, we'll spill the beans: You're a day care operator somewhere in the United States. You might operate an independent day care facility in a very small town or a large metro area. You may manage your own franchised day care business, adhering to your parent company's operational standards while providing quality service to your local clients. Finally, you might run a day care operation for a church or local charitable organization; or perhaps supervise a childcare or preschool program at a local school.

Before we get into the nuts and bolts of your day care operation, however, we need to examine the reasons day care is important (and often essential) to your potential clients. Here's an answer that works for both single-parent and two-parent households: The parents must work to make money, and they've got to do something with the kid(s) all day. That's when they go shopping for a day care arrangement.

Now we go back to your own day care operation, where you'll be running the whole show, perhaps with help from one or more assistants. Your center may be located in a stand-alone building, in a storefront, or on another organization's premises. You'll oversee the facility's physical operations, and keep your premises clean and sanitary in accordance with state and/or local health regulations. You may, however, rely on a landlord for maintenance-related duties.

Administrative tasks will also consume a good bit of your time. You'll want to meet with a CPA with small-business experience; as she can help you create a financial plan, budget, and fee structure for your day care operation. You need to tread very carefully with that fee structure, as you can shoot yourself in the foot by pricing your service too high. In a two-income household, for example, both parents will add their after-tax incomes, and then figure in the cost of the day care they must pay so both parents can work. They understandably want the best financial deal possible; and if your prices are higher than your competitors' fees—guess what: you lose.

Along with your financial structure, you'll need to decide on the image you want your facility to present to the larger community. Work with a marketing-savvy partner to help you develop and communicate that image effectively. For example, you might create a coordinated marketing plan that includes targeted print or online advertising, rack cards, or social media.

Perhaps most importantly, you'll need to maintain strict compliance with federal and local child care laws. These laws pertain to both the facility's physical setting and the staff you hire to help run your operation. Keep in mind that parents are entrusting you with their children. You simply cannot hire questionable characters who simply want to earn some extra cash; or who exhibit undesirable personal habits but are related to one of your staff. The safety of the young, defenseless children in your care is at stake—along with your reputation. And let's not forget the potential civil and criminal penalties. It's just not worth the risk.

If you've read this far, and are still hot and heavy to run a day care operation, take a deep breath and determine why. Do you love children? Hopefully the answer is “yes.” If you merely tolerate them—or they frequently annoy you—you're asking for many years of migraines and chewed-off fingernails by choosing this career. If you're a confirmed “Type A” personality with very little patience, a faster-paced job might be more your speed.

On the other hand, perhaps you've grown up with brothers, sisters, and cousins running through your house. You're completely at home with a roomful of noisy, rambunctious children. You would absolutely love to get down on the floor with a bowl of Play-doh or finger paint. Maybe you also want your day care center to provide a stable, caring environment where each child can feel at home—regardless of what their real home is like. You believe you can accept each child as they are, with their personal quirks and odd behaviors.

Well, maybe not this one.

Now let's touch on one essential question for anyone considering a specific career: What is the field's job growth potential? Will I be spending time and money preparing for a career, and have no realistic job prospects when I finish? Well, remember that if you're planning to operate your own day care center, you're approaching this question as an employer rather than as a job seeker.

There is expected to be considerable growth in this field over the next 10 years or so. It should grow faster than most other fields, which is certainly good news. After all, parents will likely keep working and/or going to school, which means an ongoing need for quality day care services.

Finally, you might realize by now that although you enjoy kids' entertaining antics, you just can't see yourself performing diaper or pooper-scooper duty. If that's the case, check out a few other kid-oriented careers that are, shall we say, a little more sanitary in nature. You might want to consider a career as an elementary school teacher, juvenile speech therapist, or physical therapist. A part-time gig as a lifeguard, party clown, or soccer coach might also provide you with your "kid fix." Look at it this way: if you want to stay out of the 9-5 office grind, any one of these will fill the bill nicely.