Increasing Occupancy
How to get more referrals
Grow those referral numbers, and set your occupancy rates soaring.

It’s nice to think that referrals just happen. Provide a good service and those referrals will take care of themselves. Right?

Yet if you’re struggling with your occupancy, it might not be that simple. Of course it starts with running a great setting that people want to recommend. But there’s plenty of other steps you can take to increase the amount of people talking about all the good work you do.

Events

Rather than asking your parents to directly refer friends for a tour or an enrolment, why not set up a family and friends event instead?

Organise a breakfast or weekend event, and encourage parents to bring family and friends with children. Whether it’s a coffee and cake morning, or a full blown event with entertainment for the kids, you’re creating a softer, less pressurised environment to generate referrals.

You’re giving new parents an opportunity to see your nursery at it’s best, with people they’re comfortable around. Just make sure you have some leaflets and contact details at hand. Oh, and don’t forget to run the hoover around.

Make it Easy

Many nurseries have plenty of happy parents, far more willing to recommend to their friends than you might think. You just aren’t making it easy enough for them.

Happy parents informally chatting about your setting over a coffee is one thing. But unless there’s a simple path to find out more information, then it’s unlikely that they’re going to actually take the next step.

Make sure that your website has easy access to information about the nursery and how to take the next step. That might be a sign up form for a tour or open day, or simply making sure that all your contact details are easy to find.

Another good idea is to prepare a small, one page PDF with some basic information about the nursery, including some strong selling points and how to move forward. That way, parents will have an easy document to show friends or family that are keen for more information.

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Timing & Incentives

You needn’t be afraid of asking parents directly for referrals. They may not even know that you have free sessions, and many will be happy to help.

It’s pretty important that you get the timing right. You want to ask for referrals when the nursery is at it’s best, and try to avoid sending requests out to parents who you’ve been having difficulties with. Sending a message out after some sort of parent engagement event where parents are feeling part of the nursery community is always a good bet.

What’s more, if you’re asking people directly, make it worth their time. It’s not about offering wild discounts in a fit of desperation, but about making it clear that you respect their time and effort in reaching out to a friend. Plus, if you get a new enrolment as a result, a small, one-off discount on fees will be a drop in the financial ocean.

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I’m not desperate

When you write to parents, bear in mind that you don’t want to look desperate. If people know that you’re struggling to fill places, they might worry that there’s a problem that could impact them too.

Instead of:

“If you know anyone, please let them know we have places available”

Think:

“Some more sessions have recently become available, tell your friends!”

This approach might even lead to your existing parents signing up for more sessions throughout the week.

Encouraging Feedback

Nursery managers and teachers run a busy schedule. As a result, it’s easy to be fearful of increasing parent communication and suddenly spending all your waking hours trying to bend to the will of 20 different parents.

But the truth is, if you’re asking for referrals you need to be open to feedback. If your parents aren’t recommending you to their friends for a reason, isn’t it better that you know why? You might not be able to resolve the problem immediately, but it can be just as powerful to explain why your setting does things in a certain way.

Giving parents a clearer view of day-to-day life at the nursery, keeping them updated on events and opening up better channels of communication could make all the difference when that friend asks “What nursery does Emily go to again?”.

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Think outside the parent box

Referrals don’t have to come from parents. Chances are, there’s loads of other opportunities in your area to set up complementary referral schemes.

Whether it’s libraries, activity centres, or even local estate agents, why not approach them and ask if they’d be interested in referring any of their customers? Even setting up a scheme where you swap flyers, or offer staff pricing incentives could help them to remember your nursery when a new parent asks the question. Putting your name further out there into the community is unlikely to ever be a bad thing.

For more occupancy advice, why not check out our complete guide to marketing your nursery.

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