Childminders care for young children in their own homes and there are strict rules covering the number of children they're allowed to look after. Read our in-depth practical guide to starting up and running your own childminding business.
- Research your target market
- Your working hours
- Setting your fees
- How many children
- Promote your business
- Childminding networks
Research your target market
Finding out about your clients
To help you to set your charges and estimate the level of demand for your services, it makes sense to find out as much as possible about families with young children in the local community. For example:
- is it a 'young' area with lots of young families, or are the majority of local people older
- are local people affluent
- what types of families are there in your area? For example, are there many families with two working parents, single parent families and so on
- what is the ethnic background of the local community
If possible, talk to local parents about their childcare needs. If you are a parent yourself you might have the opportunity to do this when you collect your own children from school or nursery, attend school events and so on. Give some thought as well to the different specialist services you could offer, like specialising in minding disabled children or providing care at unusual times of the day. There might be a lack of childcare available for older children after school. Childminders are now able to work up to half of their time in non-domestic premises - for example running a small after school club in their local school premises.
Think too about the geographical nature of the surrounding area. Many of your potential clients will want to use a childminder who is located either close to their home or near to their place of work, study or other day time activity. It's very important to make sure that there are enough people living or working in your locality to make your business viable, particularly if there are already other childminders and childcare establishments in the area.
You might consider approaching large employers in your locality to find out whether they would be interested in providing subsidised childcare for their employees.
Finding out about your competitors
How well are your potential clients already served by existing businesses and other organisations? Find out as much as possible about the following in your area:
- other registered childminders
- flexible 'sitter' services and 'home childcarers' that provide childcare in the child's own home
- playgroups, nurseries, kids' clubs, out of school clubs and so on
- primary schools that accept under-fives
- subsidised crèches and nurseries run by employers, colleges, co-operatives and so on
- government-funded children's centres
Some of these will be listed on Yell.com and other similar business directories. However, many childminders are not listed and rely on local advertising and word of mouth.
Finding out how much to charge
The Family and Childcare Trust publishes details of average childcare costs every year - this includes average childminder charges - but it's helpful to find out what your direct competitors are charging. Try to find out what the local 'going rate' is for different types of childcare. Both the Professional Association for Childcare and Early Years (PACEY) and the Scottish Childminding Association (SCMA) can give members guidance on the fees to charge. If possible, talk to local parents about whether they are satisfied with the childcare options currently available. As well as discussing the quality of the services on offer, try to get an indication of charges. This will help you fix your own fees.
You may well find that a friendly and co-operative atmosphere exists among local childminders, some of whom might be pleased to pass on business to you if they have no vacancies themselves. In many parts of the country there are formal childminding network schemes, which put new childminders in touch with experienced colleagues who can give support, advice and information. The government expects all local authorities to set up childminding networks that follow a national model.
In a recent development, childminder agencies have been introduced. These can provide a range of services to support childminders. They can give parents who are looking for childcare details of the childminders on the agency's books.
Research current trends, plus legal and tax issues
Your working hours
Many people are attracted to childminding because it offers a fairly flexible working environment and the potential to set your own working hours. However, in practice there will be certain times of each day during which the majority of working parents require childcare. If you intend to maximise the potential of your business then you will want to make sure that your working hours coincide with these periods of peak demand.
Many childminders offer childcare from about 8.00 am (sometimes earlier) to 6.00 pm between Monday and Friday. Some also work on weekends. You might, however, decide to offer more flexible hours to meet the demands of your clients. In some cases, offering flexible hours might be a good way of attracting business. Remember that a growing number of people regularly work shifts outside normal daytime office hours. Perhaps you will offer occasional overnight care if the terms of your registration permit this.
When you decide on your working hours, remember to set aside enough time for yourself and your family, particularly if you have children of your own. Similarly, decide whether or not you will work on Bank Holidays (many childminders don't) and weekends. Decide too when you will take your own holidays - don't forget to give your clients plenty of notice so they can make alternative arrangements.
Also remember that some children will be dropped off early and collected late from time to time, lengthening your working day. You might decide to make extra charges for this unscheduled overtime. Bear in mind that your working day will probably continue after the last child has left in the evening, as you will need to plan play activities for the following day, maintain your business records, tidy up play areas and attend to other cleaning tasks. You may also spend time shopping for supplies and preparing meals and snacks for the following day.
Setting your fees
It is usual to charge for childminding services on an hourly basis, although in some cases you might negotiate a daily or even a weekly fee. Many childminders charge for a full hour even if the child is only being looked after for part of the hour.
When you decide on your charges you will probably want to find out what the going rate in your area is for a comparable level of service. Try talking to other childminders, or to parents who pay for childcare. Your local Family Information Service (FIS, part of the local authority) may also be able to advise you about typical rates. You can also find out more about average regional and national childminder fees from the Family and Childcare Trust Childcare Costs Survey. This is an annual survey which is available from the Family and Childcare Trust.
As a very rough guide, expect to charge somewhere between £4.00 and £5.00 per child per hour (perhaps around £6.00 in London), depending on the region you live in and the type of service that you intend to offer. Many childminders charge around £4.50 per child per hour.
What to consider when setting your fees
Think about the following when setting your charges:
- will your fees be negotiable or are they going to be 'set in stone'
- will you make a minimum charge - for example, five hours per child per day
- will your charges vary according to the age of the child or the time of day? Perhaps they will be higher for weekends and Bank Holidays, if you decide to work on these days. Fees are generally slightly higher for under-twos
- what will your charges include? For example, will they include food, nappies, visits to playgroups and other outings
- will you make any extra charges? For example, will you make a charge for overtime and late collection, or for picking up children from school
- will you charge a retainer for periods when a child is away, or when a new arrangement is not due to start immediately
- will you offer parents a discount if you look after more than one member of a family
- will you offer a rebate if a child is away because they're seriously ill
Are there any other factors that you should take into consideration when you set your charges? For example, perhaps you hold a qualification in childminding, or maybe you intend to provide a special level of service.
Remember that if you offer free places to two, three and four year olds your local authority may not reimburse you for the amount you would normally charge for these sessions.
Terms of business
Set out your charges, including any special rates and extras, in a written contract. Make it clear in the contract what you will provide as part of your fee - and what you expect the child's parents to provide. For example, it is usual for parents to supply food, milk and nappies and so on for babies.
Decide when fee payments will be due and set this out clearly in the contract. You might, for example, specify that one week's fees are payable in advance.
Your contract should also cover issues such as your working hours and days, notice required for termination and notice required for holidays (taken by both you and the child).
How many children
As a registered childminder working alone you will be permitted to look after a maximum number of children in your home at any one time. The maximum will be affected by the ages of the children. For example, at the moment the maximum numbers for childminders working in England are as follows:
- up to six children aged less than eight years, of which;
- usually no more than three children are aged less than five years, and;
- no more than one of these is aged less than one year (childminders with an appropriate level of training and experience may be permitted to look after two children aged less than one year)
Exceptions to the above limits may sometimes be made in cases where care is provided for children from the same family.
As well as the above, you are allowed to care for other children aged over eight years old. But if you do, this must not have an adverse affect on the care that you provide for younger children. You can look after a maximum of three children in the five to eight year age group. Remember that your own children count towards any maximum limit if you also care for them during your working hours.
In some cases, Ofsted might restrict the number of children that can be looked after as a condition of registration. For example, this might occur because you live in a small house. In Scotland, a similar limit might also be imposed temporarily if it is considered that you are inexperienced.
Both Wales and Scotland operate similar rules for childminders to those in England. For details of the maximum limits that apply in Scotland, contact the Scottish Childminding Association. The Professional Association for Childcare and Early Years (PACEY) website has details of the number of children childminders can look after in England and Wales. For information about how many children you'll be able to look after if you're based in Northern Ireland, contact the early years team of your local health and social care trust. You can see contact details on the NiDirect website. You will be advised of the maximum limit in your region when you apply to register as a childminder, while your own registration certificate will outline any limits which apply specifically to you.
Of course, you may decide to set your own limit which is lower than the permitted maximum. You might, for example, want to offer a premium service where no more than, say, four children are ever in your care at one time. Or you may decide to limit the number for personal reasons.
If you employ a childminding assistant you will be able to care for more children. You could consider working in partnership with another childcare provider, like a nursery or another childminder, if you're planning to offer the new 30 hours free entitlement. You can read more about working in a partnership on the Family and Childcare Trust website.
When you estimate your income from childminding for the cash flow, remember that you may not always be working at your maximum capacity.
Promote your business
Think about ways in which you will advertise your services to potential clients.
The online business directory Yell.com includes a category for 'Childminders & Creches', but many registered childminders are not listed on Yell.com and advertise their services in other ways.
Some prospective clients will contact their local Family Information Service (FIS), which can supply a list of childminders in the area. Parents can contact the Family and Childcare Trust which works with the National Association of Family Information Services (NAFIS) to help parents find their local FIS. Parents might also contact a local childminders association (for example the Professional Association for Childcare and Early Years (PACEY), which has a number of regional offices) to obtain a list of members in the area. Consider ensuring that your name is on any lists that might be available to prospective clients.
If you're part of a local childminding network you may get referrals from other members of the network. Newly introduced childminder agencies also help match parents looking for childcare with available childminders in their area.
An increasing number of people search for services such as childminding using the internet. A number of websites provide a directory of childminders. Some of these are local sites, often including those maintained by local authorities, some are regional and some national. Some will list you for free, while others will want you to pay for a listing. You could advertise childminding vacancies with the My Family Care's Emergency Childcare service if you're registered and insured by PACEY or the Scottish Childminding Association (SCMA) or Morton Michel. Visit the Emergency Childcare website for full details. You might consider setting up your own website to advertise your services online.
Consider other ways that you might promote your services. For example:
- advertising in a local newspaper, business directory or similar publication
- placing a card on notice-boards or in the windows of local shops, libraries, doctors' surgeries and so on
- distributing a direct mail leaflet or flyer to the homes of potential clients
- using social media like Facebook to let parents know about your childminding services - remember not to post images of the children you look after without written permission from their parents
Remember that word-of-mouth is often a key method of attracting new business. Networking with local parents will help to spread the word about your business, while recommendations from satisfied clients can be one of the best ways of attracting new business. Once your business is established, you might consider approaching some existing clients for references and testimonials that you could include in your advertising literature and on your website.
Prospective clients in England can read your last inspection report online through the Ofsted website. The Care Inspectorate website includes latest inspection reports for childminders in Scotland. Parents in Wales can get copies of childminder inspection reports from their local CSSIW office. So it's worth bearing in mind that an inspection isn't just an irritating hurdle that needs to be cleared - it's a chance to show off the quality of your services.
Once you are registered as a childminder you might consider joining a local childminding network.
A childminding network is a formal group of registered childminders who are committed to providing a high quality, professional service to parents. The network is set up and managed by a network coordinator - this person is often employed by the local authority. They visit each member of the group regularly to make sure that they are providing a quality service.
Becoming part of a network can bring a number of benefits to your business. For example:
- you'll be able to demonstrate to parents that your childminding business is run to a high standard
- your network coordinator will help you with many of the practical aspects of running your business
- you will meet other members of the group to exchange ideas and experiences
- you can let other members know if you have any vacancies - they'll be able to refer parents to you if they are unable to accept any more bookings
You can find out more about joining a childminding network from:
- the Professional Association for Childcare and Early Years (PACEY)
- the Northern Ireland Childminding Association (NICMA)
- the Scottish Childminding Association (SCMA)