This couple moved from business to employment

Armed with two degrees and diplomas in education, Lydia Irungu and Joseph Watoro soon discovered that running a daycare centre was not kid’s play

Lydia Irungu and Joseph Watoro are professionally trained early childhood teachers. Both have postgraduate diplomas in Montessori Pedagogy from Montessori Centre International and undergraduate degrees in education, specialising in early childhood teaching.

While Mr Watoro managed to score second honours upper, his spouse took home a first class honors. Immediately he graduated in Montessori in late 2013, he was lucky to be employed by one international bank – apart from being an educationist he is also a certified public accountant.

Upon graduating they were expecting their first-born child and Lydia became a stay at home mum. That’s when she decided to test an idea they had since college days at University of Nairobi came to see light of the day. Targeting the working class, the couple worked on a proper business plan and from their savings embarked on opening a daycare centre in Kiambu County.

The greatest advantage for the couple was their background in education and a burning passion for this kind of venture.  “We had identified the need for day-care in Kiambu since the existing ones had challenges in hygiene, security and space,” says Mr Watoro.

When you decide to go that line (day-care business), it is wise to be better prepared especially as far as expenditure is concerned. The Watoros had budgeted for Ksh300, 000 but the expenses doubled. They shelved the idea and went back to employment to raise more funds.  “Starting a business is crazy and you got to have a business plan,” he says. “I moved onto employment though will still go back to day-care business once I accumulate enough to build a school.”

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Although they recruited a nanny for every five kids (for a centre which was on hold), so that quality is not compromised, nothing gave the couple sleepless nights more than the usual day-to-day challenges of running a business. “We encountered challenges in licensing since the ministry only registers from class one and the county government didn’t have the right infrastructure,” he recalls, pointing out that getting children at first was another challenge. “We did a lot of marketing to counter that and word of mouth really worked for us.”

A day care centre needs the right learning aids and environment to make sure children are safe and get the right skills for their age.

Trends where individuals move from entrepreneurship to get employed are rare. It is always the other way round. More and more individuals are making entrepreneurship look colourful by creating an arguable impression that to be successful, employment should be mixed with let’s say, a side business.

But that notwithstanding, what are the dos and don’ts when it comes to running a day-care centre?

Who wants to be an entrepreneur?

First, make the house look like a daycare. Some of the vital things include painting, stickers, carpets, sleeping areas, CCTV, Wi-Fi, fridge, microwave, room heaters, miniature seats, toilet seats for kids as you do potty training, music system, PVC, bowls, cups, toys, wardrobes for keeping toys, marketing materials, first aid kits, fire extinguishers, potties, plastic seats and tables, among others.

Second, identify a market. This is important, as it will determine your pricing and level of start-up capital. For the Watoros, working professionals with kids were the main target market. And since the couple was treading carefully, sort of, and didn’t want parents calling every minute, investing on a CCTV and Wi-Fi to enable them view online how their kids were fairing, came in handy. Further, he had to set up a nursing room for parents who would ‘pop up’ to breastfeed their children.

Once they identified their market, they sourced for a premise, pointing out that it is always wise to put into consideration accessibility and space. They then sourced for two caregivers (at the initial stage).

Always make sure to have rental agreement and the landlord too ought to know from onset the nature of business. Go for licensing from county government, fire department and public health. Scout for a good insurance for a group cover for the kids, always protect yourself and staff from litigation.

Also of importance is putting word out there letting potential clients know once the day-care is set up. This is perhaps where the real stress kicks in, according to Watoro, and unless you get it right here you could close down. Print business cards, fliers, banners and posters. You can go office-to-office talking to prospective clients, talk even to men and invite people to visit. Offer freebies and assure parents they don’t have to pay the first day if their kids don’t like it.

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Offer discounts on few slots remaining. Invite your friends, neighbours kids for one-week to get a feel of the place. There is nothing demoralising like a client coming to check out and say “there are no kids?” Once you have a good number of kids you can now win those you had taken on for free. Clients will be keen on the ratio of kids to caregivers.

Above all, cleanliness is vital. Ensure that all carpets are cleaned and changed every week, and delve into general cleaning twice a week. Remember your caregivers are your important investments too, treat them well but be firm.

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