Why She Started Her Business 

Child-CareE Provider

Name: Karen Potter
Location: Houston, Texas
Family Facts: Married, two children—Mike, 13, and Amy, 10
Business: Learning Train

Why She Started Her Business

KAREN STARTED out as a geophysicist processing seismic data for petroleum companies. But in 1986 she decided she wanted to work at home so she could be with her kids. The decision to stay at home wasn’t an easy financial step. “It was a major drop in pay. We lived off our savings until we got the business going.”

Starting Her Business the First Time Around

KAREN ADMITS, “My first attempt at child care was a major flop.” For the first year, Karen approached her business as if the parents and the children in her care were her employers. She had no written ground rules. It was as though everyone was running Karen’s business but her. This led to a very bad consequence. One of the toddlers Karen cared for was using a bottle with a very old nipple. Karen mentioned this to the parents, but they paid no attention. Soon after, as the little girl was drinking from her bottle, the tip of the nipple broke off and lodged in her throat. Fortunately, Karen was right there and saw everything—but not before the child turned blue and had to be given the Heimlich maneuver for children.

Giving It a Second Try

FOR SIX months Karen quit the childcare business. She looked into working for a large day-care center, but she didn’t like the idea of her children being separated in- to different age groups. She felt that sharing common experiences is part of being a family.

After careful thought, Karen decided she would give child care in her home another chance. Only this time it would be different. First, she joined her local child-care association. “I made a lot of phone calls to other day-care providers to see what they were charging, what their guidelines were, and what types of services they offered families.” She took a survey of everyone’s policies and adjusted them to fit her business and her family.

This time she wrote up all her policies and had each parent sign them. She had medical release forms, forms required by the state, and an ID for each child. She had insurance forms, general consent forms, an outline of meals served, and her own personal child-care philosophies written out. She outlined the types of products she used, right down to diaper cream. A parent who wasn’t comfortable with the product could specify something different and bring it.

Qualifications

STATE REGULATIONS differ. Some states require child-care operators to have a high school diploma. Depending on the requirements of your particular state, each year you may be expected to complete 20 hours of continuing education. This can include CPR, first-aid training, and workshops given by the child-care association. It’s certainly important to have an understanding of children and child development, as well as a fair amount of patience. Karen says, “It takes self-discipline to leave the TV alone and pay attention to the kids. We are talking child care here, not baby-sitting.” It’s very important to have some sort of support network, particularly another day-care provider.

Equipment

SOME STATES require safety equipment. If you already have children, you may find you have already taken care of many of the requirements. All family members and pets have to have their immunizations, and family members over the age of 18 will need to undergo a criminal history background check.

Marketing

INITIALLY, KAREN put up flyers about her child-care business in grocery stores and at schools. Today, most of her business comes from referrals, and a few years ago she stopped advertising altogether. She usually has a waiting list of one to three families.

Tips

Karen recommends the importance of joining a day-care association. “I probably wouldn’t have made it without the association.” If you don’t have an association in your town, start one. “Even if it’s three ladies who meet once a month to have coffee; that’s all it takes,” says Karen.

Put your policies in writing and adjust them to fit your family’s needs. For example, when Karen’s husband came home from work, he wasn’t able to park his car in his spot because it was usually at a busy time when parents came to pick up their kids. So Karen added in her policy that no client was to park in that parking spot. It hasn’t been a problem since. “If there is something that is bugging a family member, adjust your policy for your family. This business is so you can be home with your family. Don’t make your family pay for it.”

Keep good tax records. “You can deduct a percentage of your gas, electric, water, and trash bill. Talk with your accountant about a time-space percentage.”

Every day Karen sets a goal to spend special time with each child who comes through her door. “I make it a point every day to spend quality time with every child in my care, whether that means clipping their fingernails, reading them a book, or patting them on the back when they’re trying to get to sleep. Sometime during the day I have at least five minutes of one-on-one with every child.”

Each state has regulations you need to follow to run a qualified child-care center. Some states have many rules, whereas others have very few. Try to make it your goal to go above and beyond the call of duty. If your state doesn’t require you to have a background check, get one anyway. State in your brochure that you have done everything possible to put the parents’ minds at ease.

Offer child care during times that other providers usually close, such as at night or on the weekends.

Offer a program specifically for the stay-at-home mom who needs to get out a few days a week for errands or to just get some work done at home without children. Have the kids meet three times a week for a three-hour session that offers games, crafts, and interaction with other kids.

Mixing Kids and Business

WHEN YOU’RE running a child-care business, you can’t forget your own kids. Most of the children Karen cares for are very close in age to her kids. Karen’s rule is that all child-care children stay on the first floor of her two-story house. If Karen’s children want to be alone, they can go upstairs and play. She also provides a special snack for her kids after school that they take to their bedrooms.

Rewards

KAREN SAYS, “I don’t think I could ever work for someone else. It would be hard to go back to work and be a geophysicist again. [I don’t miss] the politics, back-stabbing, and ladder climbing. You’re the boss. There’s nobody higher. If a parent really gives you a problem and you can’t work it out, you can give them two weeks’ notice.”

Karen’s Advice

Look at what you like to do and what you want to do for the rest of your life. If you could do anything and money was not a concern, what would that be? Then try to find a way to turn that into a business.

Contributed by:
Liz Folger
The Stay-at-Home Mom’s Guide to Making Money from Home

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