In business, keeping current customers or clients is always easier, and less expensive, than marketing and reaching out for new customers who don’t have a history with you.
In-House registration is an internal marketing time where you provide currently enrolled families the opportunity to re-enroll for the next school year before opening the available spots to the public or to a wait list.
Current families are your first line for increasing preschool enrollment for next year!
Why? Current families already know you, your program philosophy, your team and – they love what you provide (or they wouldn’t be there!!).
This history makes your current families your first and best option for successfully filling many of your open spots now for next year.
I recommend holding this registration early in the school year and BEFORE the December holiday season!
I suggest November as THE month for In-House Registration. December is a difficult financial month for many families as they try to spread out their funds for Christmas and other holiday gift purchases throughout the month.
In addition, they are (as we are as well!) in the mindset of holidays, not tuition and certainly not NEXT year's childcare enrollment!
1. Offer an Incentive
As we saw earlier, your current families are your love you! It’s why they are in your program! Reward that loyalty with a discount. Some suggestions would be half off the registration fee if they enroll their child by December 31.
Additionally, consider waiving the registration fee if they pay their first tuition payment for next year by December 31st!
2. FOMO! Have a Deadline
Have a deadline for your incentives! They receive the reduced fee only if they take action by a certain time (December 31st in my example above). Deadlines in marketing terms are a technique called “creating scarcity”. Scarcity creates FOMO: Fear Of Missing Out.
And it works! You and I have seen it and responded to it with companies who advertise things like:
“Doors close at midnight”
“Price increases in 24 hours”
“Sale ends Saturday night”
We have all responded to something like this at least once because we wanted the product or service AND we wanted the deal!
A cautionary note:
Don’t use scarcity unless it is true. The goal, in this case, of a January 1 deadline is that you will be opening registration to the public and want to give them an incentive and a bit of a break before then.
Your word is your word. If you state that the registration fee goes back up on January 1, it goes back up on January 1.
Can you make exceptions? Sure! It’s your call! However, remember:
• The purpose of a deadline is to cause action by that deadline.
• People talk: If you let families have the incentive after the deadline, other families, who DID take action before the deadline, will feel slighted. And angry. They followed the rules and they possibly made sacrifices (i.e. paying a month’s tuition early) even though it was difficult. If they knew you would have accepted the payment and/or fee later than the deadline, they would have waited, too.
Unless a family made arrangements with me prior to the deadline, I did not make the exception (unless in a true emergency).
3. Notify Your Current Families
Notify all your families of your early registration time that is just for them! I recommend doing this in three ways. Yes, notify EACH family in all three ways!
A. Place the letter and registration form in an envelope in the child's backpack
B. Send the letter via email (and attach the registration form) AND
C. Mail a letter with the registration form to each family's home!
As we know, many notes sent home, newsletters and even field trip permission forms never leave the deep, dark bottom of a child's backpack! So don't depend on all families seeing that one!
Email will be great for those families who check their email regularly. There are those who don't check email (and their email becomes so full they 'delete all' and start fresh!).
Follow up with a letter mailed home. Families WILL open a letter mailed to their home from their child's preschool!
4. Sign! Sign! Everywhere a Sign
Did you just sing that heading? No? Okay, I likely just dated myself referring to that song! ;)
But seriously, Post. Signs. EVERYWHERE!
• Post a sign that In-House Registration is currently going on and what the deadline is!
• Post one on the door families use to enter and exit the building.
• Post one on the door to each classroom.
• Post one on the Parent Communication/Bulletin Board, if you have one.
• Place one on the attendance clipboard that parents use to sign their children in and out.
5. Keep Track of Early Enrollment
There’s nothing worse than filling a spot – twice! Keep track of each registration form & fee that comes in. Document the date you receive it (not the date of the check or the date of the signature on the form).
If a piece is missing (form or fee), let families know immediately and that you need the missing documentation. Give them a deadline for this as well. A registration form without the registration fee means their child is not registered and vice versa!
Let them know the deadline they have for getting the remaining information to you (i.e. the end of the day or by Monday).
I know this can be difficult. We don’t want to sound “mean”. You are NOT being mean: you are placing boundaries on the registration process you have in place.
Families do not necessarily understand the business side of enrollment nor the impact of it. What difference does it make if their one child does not return? It’s not going to close the program, right?
Well, typically that is true. However, if half your families did not return, it might!
Many a program has had to reduce staff at the beginning of a school year because the families who told the Director or Teacher that “they’d be coming back in the fall” did not, in fact return. Maybe they moved. Maybe they found a different program and didn’t let you know. Maybe they are homeschooling.
And when do you find out they are not coming back? Uh-huh- at the Open House or on the first day of school.
Filling out the registration form and paying the fee gives them a sense of commitment or, as many would say, some “skin in the game”. We pay attention to what we pay for. It is the one and only reason we have had registration fees: for financial commitment.
In addition, if a family does not come back, their non-refundable registration fee is what helps us pay for some last minute, potentially expensive, outreach and advertising to fill that spot.
There are meanings behind your deadlines – explain them to families when needed!
“We are opening registration to the public on January 1. Fully registered children will have spots held for them for the new school year. We will not advertise for any spots where a child is fully registered. I see that Joey is not fully registered for next year. We are missing the ____ (fill in the blank: form, fee, etc.). Did you want to register him now? We will need that by ____ (enter a date) in order to hold his spot for the Fall.”
This is worth repeating: You should be actively marketing - publicly - for your open spots in January. Decisions about staffing, classroom changes and more depend upon enrollment. It takes time to reach people with marketing. That is why you should begin in January for the September school year.
Holding an In-House registration for current families allows you to give them first choice at spots AND lets you know how many spots you need to fill outside of your current families. Don't wait too long to obtain their commitment for this!