According to the latest research, only about 40% of daycare businesses currently have a website.  That means that 6 out of 10 of you reading this article right now have NO presence on the web.  In today’s “new economy” you simply MUST have a solid, well-designed website that generates prospects for you.

There are some great low-cost strategies for creating a lead-generating website, or improving your existing site if it needs a facelift.  But you need to clearly think through all your options, or you might find yourself with a website that’s cumbersome to update, or very costly to maintain.

The first step is to set the goals & outline for your daycare web site.  To do this, you need to get really clear about the what your site should say about you, and what makes you UNIQUE from all other child care programs in your market.  Write down your core values, adjectives that describe your center, and exactly what makes you different.  One good way to get ideas is to do a competitive website review of the other child care programs in your area, and make a list of what you do and don’t like about other people’s websites.

You’ll also want to have some ideas about the graphic elements you want on your site, like logo, photos, graphic art, etc.  If you want to use photos of actual children in your program on your site, you’ll need to get permission from the parents in your program to use the child’s image electronically.  An example permission form for you to use is enclosed with this newsletter.

Now that you have an idea of your content and page layout, you need to give some thought to how you’re going to keep the site updated and maintained.  The least costly option is to update the site yourself, or have someone on your staff do it for you.  Most web companies have a template-based approach that allows users to log into a tool and make updates fairly easily.  Another option is to use a software tool like Dreamweaver or Front Page to make your updates.

If you’re not technical at all, and you don’t have staff that can help, you’ll want to negotiate a fair rate with your web company for doing updates.  Most companies charge $40—$60 per hour to make updates and changes to your site.  If you work with a local “mom & pop” shop, you might be able to get a junior staffer to do updates for $25 per hour or less.

The next step is to  find a website developer who meets your needs and your budget.  There are many different considerations when choosing a website development company.  Here are the pros and cons of the most popular options:

1) Choose a local website company.  Ask around at your Chamber of Commerce or other colleagues, networking groups, etc.  You’ll start getting referrals and learn a lot about local options.  Verify the quality of their work by going to their website.  If you don’t like it, and it’s hard to navigate, avoid this company.  You should also be able to view a portfolio of their past work.  Check these out and make sure you like what you see.

2) Choose a national company that specializes in child care websites.  One of the top providers of custom websites for child care centers is www.OnCareServices.com.  Not only does OnCare create custom websites exclusively for child care centers around the U.S., they also provide other services that can tie into your site and provide extra value to staff and parents, such as online Tuition Pay, food program administration software, and other center management tools.

3) Choose a more generic option that’s tied in with your Hosting provider.  Most web firms provide both hosting and creative design.  You can use a national web-based service such as GoDaddy.com or 1and1.com to get a good, template-based website for a relatively low price.  The only drawback may be a lack of local customer support, and a more generic-looking template design.  If you want a really unique, custom look to your site, you may want to consider a different option.

After you get your daycare website created, you’ll want to work with your provider to make sure the site is optimized for local searchers to find you.  You can use a free tool called GetListed.org to list your site with Google, Yahoo, and MSN’s Bing.com, so more local searchers start finding your site.

You’ll also want to ask your existing parents and others for feedback on your site’s usability and design.  Is it easy to navigate?  Is it clean, uncluttered and easy on the eyes?  Using these steps, you should be able to get started, and soon be well on your way to a great-looking website that brings new prospects to your child care program.

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