The Ultimate Guide to Starting a Daycare Business
Since most parents work outside the home, most preschool aged children receive some form of child care. While many are cared for by nannies, babysitters or other family members, nearly one-quarter (23.4%) of children under age five attend an organized daycare center.
This presents a world of opportunity for those looking to take the next step and start a child care business of their own. Starting a daycare center can be both personally fulfilling and financially rewarding.
Do you want to open your own daycare center in the U.S.? Follow along with this guide as we reveal the step-by-step process for opening a successful child care business.
Why Start a Daycare?
Opening a daycare can be intimidating, but it can also be incredibly rewarding. While there is no blueprint for success, many child care business owners find joy in the journey. So whether it’s your passion for kids or desire to serve parents in your community, there are many valid reasons to open a daycare.
What’s important is that you also need to consider your own unique reasons for wanting to open a daycare, as these reasons will then motivate you to follow through on your dream. Even though you will face obstacles along the way, the payoff of opening a daycare is certainly worth the struggles.
Advantages to Starting a Daycare
Starting your own daycare business can be advantageous on multiple levels. For one, you’ll have the personal satisfaction of starting your own care center from scratch. Then, there’s the joy of spending time with children and learning life-changing lessons along the way.
If you’re still on the fence about starting your own daycare, consider these likely advantages:
- Emotionally rewarding: Working with kids teaches you to be patient and enjoy the simple things in life. You’ll also have the flexibility of having your own business versus being confined to a traditional day job.
- Financial freedom: By opening a daycare, you’re in control of your income rather than reliant on a typical paycheck. You can maximize your earning potential and make investments back into your own business.
- Personal child care: If you have your own child, you can care for them while you’re running your daycare. This will save you money and give your offspring opportunities to make friends with other kids.
- Continued education: Opening a daycare can open the door to new opportunities in the field of child care. You may be presented with another job position or choose to pursue additional education of your own accord.
- Extra money: Rather than stay home and care for your own children for free (assuming the original plan was to be a stay-at-home parent), why not make some extra money by caring for other children at the same time?
- Tax deductions: As a business owner, you can write of certain expenses as business expenses, saving you money on your taxes. These expenses can include a portion of your housing payment (if you have an in-home daycare), your cell phone bill, your vehicle, child care supplies and more. See Tax Deductions.
These are just a few of the many advantages of starting your own daycare center. Now let’s address some common questions you may have about being a daycare business owner.
Can You Start a Daycare from Home?
Yes, starting a care center from your home is an option and may even be the more affordable option. This is because there are different options at the local, state and federal level that provide grants and funding to in-home daycare centers.
If you already have the space to run a child care business out of your home, it’s worth looking into Small Business Administration (SBA) loans to help you fund your endeavor. Remember, at the end of the day, you may be eligible for tax cuts and other benefits.
How Much Does It Cost to Start a Daycare?
According to small business website bizfluent.com, the average startup cost for a daycare center is $10,000 to $50,000. This can vary widely depending on whether you’re opening a home-based daycare or leasing a separate facility for your care center.
If you don’t have $10,000+ in your bank account, don’t worry. There are many grants and loans available to child care businesses. In fact, some local businesses will offer financial incentives to support budding child care centers. Consider reaching out to your community for support.
Now, let’s get to the good stuff: how to start your own daycare business from start to finish!
15 Steps to Starting a Daycare Center
Starting a small business in general is always a journey. While we’ve outlined a few steps to getting your business up and running, know that there is no one “right” way to achieve success. You’ll learn many lessons along the way and are likely to pave your own path.
That said, here are 15 steps to starting your daycare center, even if you have zero experience.
1. Learn About Daycare Licensing Requirements
You might have started off as a babysitter or a nanny, but in order to start a full-on daycare business, you need to meet the proper licensing requirements in order to be legal. That way, your daycare will be legitimate and you won’t run into any legal trouble accepting children into your care.
A good first step is to contact your state’s Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS) to learn about their specific regulations for child care providers. Another option is your local area’s child care licensing agency. You can usually find this information online.
To obtain a license to start a daycare center, you’ll also need a current CPR certification, a clean driving record and additional documents that prove your commitment to providing quality child care. Don’t be afraid to ask your local agency questions to ensure you’re satisfying all requirements.
2. Consider Taking Early Childhood Education Classes
While you don't need to have professional child care experience to start a daycare business, having some understanding of early childhood development is strongly encouraged. You’ll be caring for young lives, so you need to know how to provide the right kind of support and care.
Getting a degree is early childhood education is a good place to start. You can typically find classes in-person at your local community college or online. Through this degree, you’ll gain a greater understanding of how children think and behave, and what they need in order to be properly cared for.
Beyond that, you’ll have the skills to set your business apart from your competition. You’ll be better prepared to offer the services parents are looking for and keep them coming back time and time again.
3. Create a Daycare Business Plan
In starting any type of small business, it helps to have a business plan. Having a business plan helps you set tangible goals for your business, organize your business structure, outline your services and so much more.
In your daycare business plan, you’ll define your daycare’s mission statement, operations and procedures, staffing and budget. This business plan works to keep you on track and striving toward success.
Consider how you want your business to be organized for you plan. Will you be solo or hire staff? How will you secure funding? Will you offer services beyond child care (like tutoring)? For help in creating your business plan, check out this detailed guide from the U.S. Small Business Association.
4. Find a Location for Your Daycare
If you plan on running your daycare out of your home, this step should be pretty straightforward. If not, you’ll need to find a location for your child care facility.
Many recreational centers, churches, local businesses and even schools have space available to host a daycare, typically for a monthly fee. Search online, in your local newspaper and within your network to find options in your area.
Once you’ve found a good fit, you need to check your city’s zoning laws and licensing guidelines to make sure your chosen location is compliant. That way you can avoid some legal headaches down the road.
Ideally, you’ll need to find a location that’s centrally located, easily accessible and child-friendly. Consider what children and their parents will be looking for in a child care center. You might not find the perfect option, but you can make it work with a little TLC.
5. Get Insurance
Most daycare centers need several types of insurance in order to keep children (and their businesses) protected. These policies typically include liability coverage, property, workers’ compensation and business insurance.
Not sure what type of insurance you need? You can always check with your local child care provider licensing office for guidance.
6. Seek Out Grants and Funding
As we covered already, there are certainly costs associated with starting a daycare. If you don’t have the money you need to cover your initial startup costs, you’ll need to get creative when it comes to acquiring funding.
There are many grants available to help you cover your startup costs. You might also consider taking out an SBA loan or doing community fundraising. Know that the goal is to use these funds as an investment that will yield profitable returns in your business.
Costs Associated with Starting a Daycare
There are several things you’ll need to buy or lease in order to get your business up and running for day one. These expenses include but are not limited to:
- Renting a daycare space
- Indoor and outdoor play equipment
- Art supplies
- Cleaning supplies
- Child care supplies (like diapers and wipes)
- Business laptop
- Licensing fees
- Food (for snacks/meals)
- Bottles, cups, plates, utensils, etc.
- Car or reliable transportation (optional)
You might think of some additional items you’d like to have at your daycare. Over time, you can use the revenue coming in to help cover these expenses and invest in better equipment/supplies. It’s OK to keep things simple and then scale your way up.
7. Prepare Your Daycare Center
Once you have a location secured and the proper materials and equipment in place, it’s time to prepare your daycare center.
First, clean your facility and sanitize with an effective disinfectant. Then, take the needed steps to childproof your daycare according to the ages of the children you will be caring for. Follow this childproofing checklist for help.
Finally, set up play equipment and lay out toys. You might decide to use storage boxes to keep everything organized. You can always rearrange your layout according to your needs.
Is your daycare ready for service? Give it another once-over and you’re ready to open your doors for day one of business!
8. Draft up a Contract
As a small business owner, having a contract is always a good idea. The parents that come to your facility are essentially your clients, and you want to have a solid contract in place to protect yourself from any legal issues.
We recommend seeking out a trusted contract lawyer to draft up a contract according to your needs and unique business requirements. Your contract will then be used to outline your expectations for your clients and their children.
Here are some important questions to consider when creating your contract:
- How do you expect to be paid?
- How will you handle late payments?
- What time should parents pick up their children?
- Are there consequences for late pick up?
- What services will you provide?
- What is your policy when it comes to sick children?
- Do you offer refunds? If so, under what conditions?
- What happens if a child is injured at your facility?
Whether you seek help from an attorney or write the contract yourself, you should have a contract in place before accepting business. Once signed, you can then send professional daycare invoices to get paid by your clients.
9. Establish Policies and Procedures
Establish policies and procedures for the families that attend your daycare and your staff. These procedures may include an emergency plan, safety procedures, privacy protocols and rules for your facility.
Having these procedures in place will help you keep the children safe and protect yourself from liability (in some instances). In establishing your policies, be sure to review your local child care licensing requirements to ensure compliance.
10. Research Possible Tax Credits
If you’re opening an in-home daycare, you may be eligible for certain tax reductions based on the fact that you’re using your residence for business purposes. This means you can essentially write off a portion of your housing cost. This can be the case even if your daycare space serves as a family room after hours.
11. Hire Staff as Needed
When you’re first getting started, you may just be a company of one, as you might want to save the cost of hiring unnecessary help. But over time, you may need to hire help to take care of the kids during the day.
This is especially true if you find yourself running up against the required ratio of staff to children, as outlined in your local daycare licensing requirements. Be sure to review these to make sure you have enough staff for the number of children you plan on caring for.
Also, make sure all child care staff undergo criminal background checks and provide references to ensure the safety of the children. Make your hiring decisions carefully to keep your facility safe and maintain a stellar reputation.
12. Market Your Daycare
You have your daycare set up and open for business, now how do you get families in the door? As with any small business, you’ll need to market yourself to attract potential clients.
There are many ways to market your daycare. One method is to create flyers and post them around your local community—at businesses, schools and coffee shops. You can also run paid ads on Google or Facebook to draw in families from your local area.
To establish your daycare as a professional business, consider building a website that provides more information about your services. A basic website can cost anywhere from $10 for a WordPress template and set up, to $2,000 or more for a custom design.
With a website, you can then use search engine optimization (SEO) to attract organic traffic from Google. That way, when families search for a daycare near them, your business is likely to show up in the search results.
13. Promote Your Daycare on Social Media
Another effective marketing tool for daycare centers is social media. Platforms like Facebook, Instagram and LinkedIn can be used to promote your business and draw in potential clients.
Create a business Facebook page to post more information about your daycare, collect client testimonials and keep families up-to-date with events at your daycare. You can also post on Instagram and LinkedIn, with targeted hashtags, to attract families in your area.
As your business grows, you might decide to invest in paid marketing services. A digital marketing agency or consultant can help you increase your business’s presence online, outrank your local competitors and attract new clients.
14. Provide Top-Quality Care
The success of your daycare depends on you providing top-quality care to your families. If the kids at your facility are properly cared for, and, even better, enjoy coming to your daycare, you’re likely to attract more referral business.
Positive reviews can work wonders to attract new clients. Ask families to review your business on Facebook, Google, Yelp and other review sites to improve your daycare’s reputation in your community.
Always look for ways to improve your daycare. Ask families for feedback, invest in additional education and hire fantastic staff to make your daycare the obvious choice for families in your area.
15. Manage Your Business Finances
Many small businesses fail due to poor money management. If you want your business to succeed, you’ll need at least a basic understanding of business accounting and how to manage your expenses.
Staying on top of your business finances is more than just tracking revenue in and expenses out. You’ll need to plan for taxes—typically around 30% of your revenue, after expenses—and make informed decisions when it comes to how you’re going to allocate your funds.
Professional daycare accounting software can help you send invoices, track revenue, manage expenses and more. It can even send reminders to parents for late payment and accept credit card payments with ease.
The more you know, the easier it will be to make smart financial decisions. Stay on top of your business finances so your business is not only surviving but thriving.
Resources for Daycare Owners
Congratulations on taking the first step to starting your own daycare business—reading this guide! By now you have a general blueprint for how to start your own business and get up and running.
Need more help getting started? Check out these reliable resources for aspiring daycare business owners:
- Child Care Aware of America: licensing guidelines for child care and daycare providers
- United States Department of Health and Human Services: childproofing checklist
- Early Childhood Training and Technical Assistance System (ECTTAS): child care resource guide
- Office of Child Care: list of state licensing agencies
- Child Care Resources Inc.: early educator training
Starting a daycare business can be challenging but also incredibly rewarding. The process is made easier by having a general roadmap for how to get started. Hopefully, this guide has provided some guidance on how to get started, plus inspiration for you to finally launch a business of your own.