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14 min. read
Updated November 13, 2023
Do you love caring for children? Does spending your day finger painting, reading Dr. Seuss, and playing ring-around-the-rosie sound like something you’d enjoy doing? Then opening a daycare might be just the thing for you, and this guide can show you how.
To get a sense of how to start a daycare business, we talked with Lindsey Roemen, owner of Lindsey’s Family Daycare in Larchwood, Iowa, and Shalonda Owens, owner of Fruitful Trees Learning Center in Columbus, Ohio, about their experiences as daycare owners.
Lindsey says working from home and being able to stay home with your children are great perks to daycare ownership, but it also takes a special person. “You can’t go into daycare just to stay home with your kids,” she says. “You have to be a kind, patient person.”
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, daycare businesses will see some of the fastest employment growth out of all industries through 2020.
This means now is an excellent time for opening a daycare. An in-home daycare offers the obvious perks of working from home and spending time with your children, but even if you don’t have any little ones of your own, an in-home daycare can be a fun business for anyone who loves kids. Working parents will always need someone to look after their children, meaning a daycare business will never become obsolete.
You can skip a lot of steps of starting a daycare by purchasing a daycare franchise. But for most people, this option is cost prohibitive: The cheapest franchises start at $59,000 and can cost up to $3 million.
This guide will focus primarily on how to start a daycare center in your own home, which has many benefits: fewer expenses, more flexible hours, and convenience. Read on to learn the ins and outs of how to open a daycare.
The first step to starting a daycare is to contact your state Daycare Licensing Agency. “You have to call your state and see what is required of you,” says Lindsey Roemen. “Every state is different and has different guidelines. You have to weigh pros and cons and see if you can make it work in your home.”
Not all states require licenses, but you almost always need to complete a registration, depending on how many children you will be caring for. Daycare.com gives a comprehensive overview of each state’s licensing requirements, so one of your first tasks will be determining what kind of licensing your state requires, and how many children you plan to care for at once. Many states only require licensing if you’re caring for five or more children, so perhaps you’ll choose to avoid the licensing process and keep your enrollment low.
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“There are a lot of people who quit daycare or dropped their numbers down because they didn’t want to be registered,” Lindsey says. When you have a better idea of what your state requires, it will help you identify your own business plan.
Another consideration is your Home Owner’s Association, if you belong to one. The enrollment numbers at Shalonda Owens’ daycare, Fruitful Trees Learning Center, were limited by her HOA. “Where I live, my HOA will not allow me to have over six kids at one time,” she says.
Once you have read the licensing requirements carefully, you might want to make an appointment with licensing specialists to ask questions and review the procedure for obtaining your license (if you need one). It might be helpful for them to visit your home, as well.
Now that you have reviewed the licensing regulations in your state and determined if starting a daycare is a feasible option for you, it’s time to look at other daycares in your area. This will be your competition and colleagues.
This information will make it easier for you to decide these things when opening your home daycare.
Ask yourself: Where is the gap between community need and existing services? What needs aren’t being met? If there is a saturation in your area of facilities offering full-time care for two-to-five-year-olds during traditional, weekday hours, then maybe your home daycare could offer very early morning, overnight, weekend, or evening care, or specifically care for infants up to two years old. By identifying the existing daycares in your area, you can determine what your community needs and what will make your business successful.
Where is the gap between community need and existing services? What needs aren’t being met? If there is a saturation in your area of facilities offering full-time care for two-to-five-year-olds during traditional, weekday hours, then maybe your home daycare could offer very early morning, overnight, weekend, or evening care, or specifically care for infants up to two years old. By identifying the existing daycares in your area, you can determine what your community needs, and what will make your business successful.
In addition to knowing the competition, there are other benefits to knowing the other daycare providers in your area. In Larchwood, Iowa, there are six home daycare providers including Lindsey’s, as well as a daycare center. When Lindsey had surgery, all the home providers pitched in to cover for her and take her children while she recovered. “We back up for each other,” Lindsey says. “We get together once every other week and talk about what we’re doing.”
To obtain information about other centers in your area, you can contact your county licensing office, spend some time searching online, or even just browse through the Yellow Pages.
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You have a business idea and now it’s time to to turn that idea into a plan. This requires some specific decision making and research to nail down the details of your daycare.
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Here are some logistical questions to get you started:
How many children will you care for? Many states have strict rules about the maximum number of children of certain ages allowed in a home daycare. “Start out small,” Lindsey says. “I think it’s important to get yourself used to it. If you start out smaller, you’ll be more successful.”
What is the minimum and maximum age for enrollment at your daycare? At Lindsey’s Family Daycare, the youngest child is eight weeks and the oldest is nine years. “It just seems like parents typically around 10 years old start giving them more responsibility and letting them stay home,” Lindsey says.
What time will you open your doors and what time do children need to be picked up? There are a lot of options around timing, and it’s a good idea to check out your competition before making this decision. Some non-traditional options include after-school care (this also opens up the ages of children you can accommodate to include school-age kids), drop-in or demand care, or part-time care.
Will you provide food or do children need to bring snacks and lunches? If you will provide food, check out the Child and Adult Care Food Program (CACFP), a food cost reimbursement program available to home daycares.
Will you be hiring more staff? What about an accountant or bookkeeper? Shalonda encourages outsourcing for daycare owners when possible. “You need strong administrative skills,” she says. “I’m the type that I hire my weakness. I have a friend that helps me with newsletters and things like that.”
A lot of these answers will be provided for you by your regulations, but some of them will be entirely up to your personal preference and the limitations of your space.
The name of your daycare will become your brand. You may want to include your personal name, as Lindsey did with “Lindsey’s Family Daycare,” or you may want to choose something completely different, like Shalonda Owens’ “Fruitful Trees Learning Center.”
Choosing an educational philosophy might help you create a name for your daycare. There are plenty of philosophies to choose from—Montessori, Waldorf, and Reggio Emilia, to name a few. If you don’t already have experience with these, research online to find out what resonates with you. Lindsey uses a play-based philosophy at Lindsey’s Family Daycare. “I’m structured as far as when we have breakfast, lunch, snack,” she says. “But I’m a strong believer in the free childcare and letting them be themselves through free play.”
Once you have identified a philosophy and name, organize a program: times for meals, outdoor play, and naps, as well as prepared activities and lessons based on your curriculum.
[see-also]The Complete Guide to Registering Your Business Name[/see-also]
You will need to have plans for emergency evacuation, sickness prevention, and accident procedures. Many licensing departments require you to do fire and/or tornado drills regularly.
Create a contract for parents to review and sign when they enroll their child.
This will have information for them about payment, any additional fees for supplies or late pickup, and a sickness and inclement weather policy.
It will also request information from them, such as a child’s allergies or medical conditions, emergency contact numbers, immunization records, and a list of people who can pick them up.
This 211 Childcare website provides guidance on forming a contract and also offers a sample PDF.
A major part of any business plan is an organized, well-considered budget. “You have to be able to budget yourself,” Lindsey says. “It can get away from you. You have to be willing to treat it like a job.”
When starting a daycare, it is important to begin with enough money to cover your startup costs and the operational costs for at least the first 90 days. Remember, it is unlikely your daycare will start off with full enrollment, so don’t rely on enrollment fees for children unless they are already registered.
“You need to have a startup budget, but you can start up with the bare minimum,” Lindsey says.
Another consideration in your budget is how much you will charge your clients.
One way to get an idea of how much you will charge is by referring to the information you collected on daycares in your area. Your rates will depend largely on your location; in Iowa, Lindsey Roemen charges a flat rate of $25 per child, per day, with a discounted rate of $17 per day for siblings. She and her fellow in-home daycare providers in the area try to keep their rates the same.
Shalonda Owens has a more complicated system for fees at her in-home daycare in Ohio. Her weekly rates are $160 for infants (six weeks to 12 months), $150 for “early toddlers” (13 months to 23 months), $145 for two-year-olds, and $135 for preschoolers (three to five years old). Before and after school care is $7/hour.
Another factor to consider is how and when you will accept payment. You’ll also need to establish a deadline for payment and penalties for late payments. Lindsey’s clients write her a check every Thursday at pickup, and Owen’s clients pay every Monday at drop off. In addition to tuition, many daycares charge a one-time enrollment fee to cover the extra time and paperwork you will need for each new child.
Include anticipated tuition in your projected income for your budget, but don’t rely heavily on it. “You have to be wise in your spending,” says Shalonda. “There are times where your enrollment may decrease and you have to be able to manage things for a long period a time.”
Luckily, for an in-home daycare, it is likely that your startup costs will be low. But should you find yourself needing some startup cash, here are your options:
Private: Ideally, your startup costs can be covered by your own funds or that of a friend or family member. This reduces the time you will spend looking for additional funding and there are no finance charges.
Commercial: Commercial banks offer short-term and long-term business loans at prevailing interest rates.
Government agencies: Contact your Small Business Administration office for information on federal loan programs or your state’s economic development office for information on state loans and grant programs.
Tax credits: There are several home business tax write-offs that can offset your expenses when you are running a daycare from your home. This includes 100 percent deductible expenses like food, toys, and equipment, as well as partially deductible expenses like home insurance and utilities. The IRS has a guide for figuring and claiming the tax deduction for business use of your home.
Now that you have a plan, it’s time to set the wheels in motion.
Picking the location for your daycare may be necessary if you don’t plan to run it out of your home. For more information on picking your business location, check out our article, How to Choose Your Business Location.
Purchase any equipment needed for your daycare. In addition to toys, you may need sheets, mats, blankets, child-sized utensils, plates and cups, high chairs, step stools and booster seats.
Education.gov has an exhaustive list of child care equipment and materials that you can consult.
Insurance is vitally important when starting a daycare. You need property insurance to cover your business equipment and liability coverage in case you are sued. For help finding an agent and purchasing insurance, contact your State Insurance Department.
For both Lindsey Roemen and Shalonda Owens, marketing was never a part of the process of opening a daycare. Word of mouth filled up their enrollment numbers and waitlist so quickly that they never had to market. The same might be true for you, but if not, marketing is an important step for ensuring your home daycare thrives.
You gathered a lot of this information earlier when first formatting your business plan; now, you can use it to help you target your marketing. Put up fliers in your community, create social media pages (Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn) and be sure to include testimonials from previous clients whose children you have cared for. Recommendations inspire trust in potential clients.
Once your daycare is operational, continue to seek out accreditations like the National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC) or National Association for Family Childcare and other professional development opportunities to improve your knowledge base and your reputation as a child care provider.
Be sure to continue collecting feedback from your clients. Use the positive reactions in your marketing and handle any criticisms swiftly and professionally. With the proper foundation for your home daycare, you are sure to have more positive feedback than negative.