ChildCare Conversations with Kate and Carrie

Episode 172: Overcoming Fear in Your Child Care Business

October 17, 2023
ChildCare Conversations with Kate and Carrie
Episode 172: Overcoming Fear in Your Child Care Business
Show Notes Transcript

In this podcast episode, Kate and Carrie discuss the impact of fear on decision-making in their childcare business. They explore the concept of 'fear setting', a technique coined by Tim Ferriss, which involves identifying and evaluating potential negative outcomes. They discuss scenarios such as losing a valuable staff member, dealing with late parents, and making tough decisions that could upset teachers or parents. They emphasize the importance of not letting fear dictate decisions, addressing problems early, maintaining clear policies, and having supportive dialogues during fear-setting exercises. Kate and Carrie also touch on the importance of financial stability and not accumulating debt from unpaid tuition.

In conclusion, Kate and Carrie highlight the significance of overcoming fear in decision-making, emphasizing the need for proactive problem-solving, clear policies, and open communication, while also stressing the importance of financial stability in their childcare business.

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Marie (00:00:01) - Welcome to childcare conversations with Kate and Carrie.

Kate (00:00:06) - Why are we so afraid of whatever might happen? Carrie, let's talk about this. I know it's been on your mind. What is the worst that could happen?

Carrie - I mean, there are so many options. Um, you know, I could, you know, for me personally, I'm dealing with some health issues, so I could have something that means I'm not going to get to live until my 80 or 90 or, you know, 99, like my great grandmother. Um, and when you're running your business, there's a lot of. Well, if I make this teacher mad or I make this parent mad, then this thing and this thing and this thing and this thing is going to happen. Like the cascade effect that we have in our head whenever we have to make a decision, period, whether it feels like a momentous one or not. Sometimes we get caught up in the what-ifs.

Kate - Oh, the what-ifs. I love the what-ifs.

Carrie (00:01:07) -  I don't love the what-ifs. The what will drive you crazy and make it impossible for you to get any damn thing done.

Kate - So Carrie and are going to talk about the term fear setting. Sometimes folks will use it with goal setting. Sometimes coaches will use it when as a client you're stuck like you sit there and replay everything over and over. And we know as directors as we've been there, this has happened to you probably more than once. And I loved your first example about the parent. Do you want to share a story about either a parent or a staff person that you sat there the whole time going, should I, should I, should I? What if?

Carrie - So, I can give the first example that popped into my head is one in which I didn't let the shoulds get a hold of me, but it very easily could have. And I've seen many directors and owners face this similar kind of situation and absolutely go into the oh, I can't do that because this affect, this affect this effect.

Carrie (00:02:12) - So I want to go before we go forward, though, I want to give credit where credit is due for the term fear-setting. A guy named Tim Ferriss is the one who coined the term okay. And if you want more than what we talk about, just Google fear setting Tim Ferriss and you'll find more than you want. Um, so the situation that popped into my head is one that's in the book. We use it all the time. We talk about it a lot, which is I had a staff person who was very entitled and was sure that I had to do everything and bend over backwards in order to make her happy. And if I didn't, all the parents were going to leave the program.

Kate - Okay, so now I know we tell the story, but I don't know if we've often talked about the precursor of this. So the story that carries about to share, I want to make sure that we kind of frame it also in the fact that Carrie bought this center, this was not a staff person that Carrie had hired from the get-go, and that Carrie created this.

Kate (00:03:16) - Right. So Carrie bought an existing program, and this person was under the opinion that she was so invaluable to the program and that the success of her classroom depended on her.

Carrie - Not just out of the rest of her classroom, but because her classroom was the pre-K classroom. This was a 0 to 5 program, and her being in the building was why there was a waiting list for this school. Like her alone, she was the only reason. And we have teachers, and we build your teachers up all the time and tell them how wonderful they are and how important they are to the program, and how parents have come on tours because they heard of this teacher or that teacher. All of that is we're not saying don't do it. Absolutely. You need to do that. You need to pour into your staff. Help them to feel appreciated, honored, and valued because they are honored and valued. But in her mind, she was irreplaceable. I have talked to so many directors who come in as the new director, and there is a person on staff who views themselves as irreplaceable, and other people on staff have a similar view, and maybe some of the parents do.

Carrie (00:04:37) - This person is the pinnacle of your program. They are the icon, whatever, and we want to keep them happy as long as they're doing what they need to do at the school. But this person had veered off of that and was like, I needed to increase her pay by the equivalent of $12,000 a year. And she wasn't going to do anymore. Actually, she was going to do less. So she was going to work less and get an additional $12,000 in pay and benefits for working less hours and being less available to anyway. And my response was, uh, that's not going to happen. And she and I had a conversation and I thought everything was fine, but she was not fine. And she went and told parents that I was making her quit. Um, and so if I had gotten in that fear cycle that we all get into of, oh my God, her classroom has 26 children enrolled in it, and if even half of the kids in that classroom leave, it is going to demolish my revenue stream for that school like that class is helping to support the infant staff, the toddler staff, because it was 26 kids.

Carrie (00:05:56) - So that meant that it was leveraging everything. And so if I had gotten wrapped up in the thought that, oh my God, this person's going to leave and then with them is going to go 20 of the 26 kids, that means I have a loan on this business. I have a loan on another school. I'm not going to be able to make payroll. I'm not going to be able to pay my taxes. I'm not going to be able to tour anybody. I'm going to have to lay people off. You know, it's a very easy track to go down when you've got, especially a staff person who says that they're going to cause bedlam, but we have to fire people who need to be fired.

Kate - Okay. So okay. Hold on. All right. So let's talk a little bit about two of the two. You said two things that I want to just pull us back into. And the first one is because I know that not everybody thinks this way or understands. Right. So one of the catches that you said is that that classroom basically helped keep the budget for the rest of the program.

Kate (00:06:55) - And I'm going to beg to differ that really that was your profit margin. So we want to make sure that all of your classrooms should be self-sustaining. And so really it's that profit piece. But let's let's do a little fear. Let's do a little fear setting on that piece. Right. So if she did leave and she wanted to start her own registered family home, how many of those families could she realistically have taken with her Carrie?

Carrie - Well, and in that particular situation, because she had two children and she was she could only have taken two kids, right? This is the realistic answer. Um, she could maybe have taken three. Maybe. But, you know, well, what if instead of a registered family home, let's go ahead and do the fear setting, like, what is the worst thing that can happen? She leaves, she starts her own school. She takes all 26 of these kids. So that means she's got to find a location. She's got to go through the licensing process.

Carrie (00:07:54) - She's got to get her health inspection, her fire inspection. She's got to get her certificate of occupancy. She has to have done whatever remodeling needed to be done. That's not going to happen in a month.

Kate - Okay. So let's let's also I'm going to pause because I still know things that haven't come out in the story. So she was pregnant with twins.

Carrie - Yes.

Kate - Yeah. So even if she started her own program, she wasn't going to start at right after her due date.

Carrie - No.

Kate - And she was going to need a place for those infants so she was going to need to have an infant room and a pre-K classroom. Um, so we're talking a different-sized building, and would she have probably had to have it in the same general part of town?

Carrie - Yeah. So the fear setting is the process that we're trying to think we're kind of jumping around a little bit because Kate wants to get all the elements of the story, and I can get kind of wrapped up in the story is you take the thing that you're afraid of, she's going to leave, she's going to start her own program, and she's going to take all of my kids from this classroom.

Carrie (00:08:51) - Okay. What is the worst version of that? That's the worst version. Okay. What happens if that happens? Well, it's going to take her some time to find a building, get it ready, and get it licensed. What is the shortest amount of time that could take, three months? Okay, so I've got these families for three months. I know I've got this much tuition for three months. What can I do with that? Like, what if three months from now, all those families leave? What would I do? Like what happens then? Right? The story and the fear setting is you basically become a novelist and what is the story? So if three months from now I'm going to lose 20 kids, I've got three months to fill up that spot and I've got three months to hire a new person. In this case, it would have been more because there was the pregnancy and all of that. But so I've got three months to hire. I have three months to contact everybody on the waiting list.

Carrie (00:09:46) - Is that the worst thing that could ever happen? No, because I was paying this person about the equivalent of $60,000 a year, and this was a decade or more ago. So this person was being very well paid. Could I find somebody who would engage with parents really well and be able to be a marketing asset at my program in three months if I've got that much of a budget?

Kate - Okay. Yes. And do you really want to do the math? Because it was almost 25 years ago.

Carrie - Don't say stuff like that. I don't need I said, more than a decade. It was more than a decade. Um, but when we're looking at it, you know what? Let's tell the whole story. Because what we have a tendency to do when we're scared is we do the headline of the story. I'm going to lose 20 kids, and she's going to start another program and she's going to be competition. I have more resources than she does, and I've got a three-month window, so we've got to go through the whole story.

Carrie (00:10:51) - What's going to happen for her, what's going to happen for me, what's going to happen for the other people in the program? We just keep asking what if and what next. And that way we can take the scariest version of the story all the way to its end point and go, I could survive that.  so almost all of them you can survive. So let's ask this question a different way if you are the director.

Kate - So if you're the director, I want you to ask yourself this question. How do you feel and what does it look like? It's one thing for Carrie to say it out loud. It's one thing for somebody else to tell you, but you need to stop and articulate it, not just let it stew, but tell somebody what the worst thing is could do. Because the worst thing you can do is have it sit there and play in your head, because then you're not sleeping right. You probably are a little on edge and you haven't actually sat down and written the story.

Kate (00:11:45) - You haven't actually said it out loud. And one, this is a great example, but it is kind of almost an extreme example. And the fact that the worst-case scenario was related to a teacher leaving mean there's the ones that we fight with every single day, which are the parent, you mean?

Carrie - Okay, so let's do it with a very basic one. Let's do. We've got a parent who is chronically late picking up their kid. Okay. So Kate.

Kate - oh would have was I was I was all prepared to go with chronically late paying the bill because that's an easy one.

Carrie - No, we're we're going to take one that people worry about. I don't I don't know that people worry about what we'll do both of them eventually. But let's let's go through the late pickup parent. And the director doesn't want to say doesn't want to have a conversation because what are they afraid of with having the conversation with the parent who is chronically late? What is the scariest version of that would say?

Kate - For most directors, the scariest version is that they think that the parent is going to be upset with them and that they're going to hurt the parents feelings, and they forget that they're the business owner and that they've got

Carrie - no, no, no, we're doing we're doing the fear setting exercise.

Carrie (00:13:00) - So the worst version is they're going to be mad at you and you're going to have an uncomfortable conversation, right? Um, it might be that they're going to pull them their child out and they their cousin is also there. So you're going to lose three kids, so you're going to have an unpleasant conversation and lose three kids. What then what's the next step? What happens after that?

Kate - Well, what happens after that is you replace that family then

Carrie - but you have so hard to get families right now, Kate. How? Can't just get them out of thin air. Where do I get them from? Tell me the story. See?

Kate - I'm not I'm like, that was not where I was going. I was not trying to to to to be the person. Um, no.

Carrie - Tell us the story. How mean? Like how long is it going to take to replace three kids in a program?

Kate - Well, it depends on the program, but mean for most programs. Hopefully you have a waiting list.

Kate (00:13:51) - If you don't have a waiting list, then you and I need to have a chat.

Carrie - Please call Kate and get her to help you get her to coach you on building your waiting list. If you don't have one,

Kate - if you were sitting there and you're struggling and you're sitting here going okay, so the worst case scenario is, you know, now I've lost three families. They've even, you know, they've written a negative review on social media or on some sort of review platform. First of all, if they do, you need to write a response

Carrie - immediately within 24 hours. Yeah. And they'd have a Google alert.

Kate - Yeah. This is not an ignore. Please don't ever ignore these things. However.

Carrie - Okay, so now everybody knows. Everybody knows that this person thinks I'm a mean evil whatever. And nobody's ever going to bring their kid to me.

Kate - But is that really true? How many kids do you currently have?

Carrie - I mean, more than the three.

Kate (00:14:49) - So you probably do have more than three. So and hopefully those three are not the difference on whether or not you can pay your rent. Because again, if that's the case, you and I should have been talking a long time ago. So. Let's just presume that these three still are marginally related to whether or not you're making a profit. Okay, so maybe there's a bill that maybe won't be able to be paid immediately. So if you're the one who's actually ending the agreement. So that's where you've got to look at a couple of things. Are they quitting because you basically stuck to your boundaries? And if they're quitting you don't owe them any money. So if they've paid in advance, again,

Carrie - remember what that whole last month's tuition is for is for the parent who takes their cookies and goes home because you told them they owed $15 because they were late picking up. So you're not out any money this month. Wait, I'm not out any money this month?

Kate - No money.

Carrie - Okay. They left me the horrible Google review.

Carrie (00:15:44) - How do I respond to that? You said I have to write a response. What else can I do? What happens next? What's the next thing after you write a response,

Kate - After you write a response, hopefully, you've reached out to everybody who's on your waitlist. You've notified the parents in those age classrooms so that they can also perhaps find another person, a friend, or some neighbor kid who is currently looking for a place. And I always like to follow up Google bad Google reviews with good ones. And so wherever that review source was, reach out to some of your parents and specifically ask them for a review. And if you have to, you might even know. Let them know what you would like them to touch on. So if this person really bashed about maybe your flexibility, you could always encourage a family who you know really respects your time to talk about how you know you do a great job.

Kate (00:16:50) - You're very loving with the children and that you that they, as a parent, really feel that their time is respected or that you're fair.

Carrie - Talk about how they're you're fair, especially if your response says, I am sorry that you were upset that we enforced our late policy. We enforce it with everyone. And then if the next review talks about how fair you are applying all the rules to everyone, then those are talking to each other. Okay, so I've called the people on the waiting list or emailed them or sent them a message on Messenger or WhatsApp or whatever I've done, I reached out to those people. I've talked to the parents in the classroom and say, hey, I've got one more spot. If you want to get any of your kid's playmates in, this is the time because, you know, we have a waiting list and usually I can't get them in. And we've followed up and gotten better reviews on the review site. So what we didn't deal with is the I had to have the uncomfortable conversation.

Carrie (00:17:50) - So what happens after you have an uncomfortable conversation? What then?

Kate - So at that point in time mean you had the conversation? Be excited that you had the conversation because there's a lot of people who won't who will avoid having the conversation. If this is the first time you've ever addressed this issue, I would also suggest that you make sure that in your school handbook and in staff handbooks and any sort of standard operating procedures that you have, that you have it very clear exactly what it was that you did or that that's that's the guideline that you followed, depending on which came first. Right? So if it's a if it's a policy and you didn't have an SOP, write yourself one up so that the next time you go, haha, I know exactly what I'm going to do. You might also want to follow this up with some sort of document in writing if you feel either you or the parent needs it. Um, again, some of us feel like we've got pretty good relationships with folks, but it's always worth you writing and putting in the the family's file.

Kate (00:18:55) - That's for your eyes only. This is not, you know, a licensing file, but in your files, just in case they ever come back and try to say something or, you know, they get really nasty and do something they really, you know.

Carrie - Yeah. And another thing is, if you know, you're going to have a hard time emotionally having that conversation, plan something that is going to make you feel good to do afterwards. So if you know that having this conversation is going to make you feel like a mean, you know, like the witch out of Hansel and Gretel, then plan to work in your favorite classroom for 15 minutes in the classroom where all the kids think that you are a queen. Go work in that classroom for 15 minutes. Um, a director friend of mine has a blow-up unicorn costume. One of those Halloween blow-up costumes, you know, most famous for the Tyrannosaurus rex. But she has a unicorn. And I'm sorry if I was having a conversation that I knew was going to be a.

Carrie (00:19:59) - Emotionally taxing on me as soon as I'm done with that conversation. If I had a blow-up unicorn costume, I would put the blowup unicorn costume on and go walk around the school and get the kids all excited. So if you know you have a parent who's having a problem with lateness, schedule the meeting and do what you need to do to prepare for that meeting because you know you can survive the worst-case scenario.

Kate - Okay, so I just want to talk real quick. I know it's not what this call with this particular example was about, but it kind of falls into a lot of these worst-case scenarios is addressed them as soon as they come up. So here's a tip, you know, so that you never find yourself in the worst-case scenario, address them immediately. Because the reason it became a problem is that it sounds like, at least when Carrie told the story, that perhaps, maybe this was a family whom this was not their first time, and it became a problem where you had to have a conversation that was just kind of like their converse anymore, right? That difficult conversation.

Kate (00:21:04) - So have the conversations before they get difficult

Carrie - attack it when it's a molehill or an ant hill, not one. It's a mountain.

Kate - Yep. And always make sure that if you and again you know, handbooks are and standard operating procedures are there to make your life easier and you need to know what's in them. And so if your handbook says that there's an X amount every time you're late, make sure that the staff know that they have to collect that fee. You know, make sure that you have helped your staff feel that it's their right to ask for the $30 in late fees when they pick up the child. Um, and so be there to have your staffs back and make sure that your staff understands why it's important for them because you're not always there at closing every day.

Carrie - Yeah. And, you know, make it easier for the staff. Create a QR code for the school's Venmo and the parent pays the Venmo before they get the kid. And then you get the Venmo notice and you give half of that Venmo to the teacher, which is what I recommend is that you give half of the late fee to the staff person because they're the ones who were inconvenienced, and it incentivizes them to actually have the conversation, because then they're going to get a little bit of mad money.

Kate (00:22:21) - Absolutely, absolutely. So make sure you know what's in your handbooks. Make sure you know what the standard operating procedures are. If you have a scenario where it happens the first time and you've had to write an email, print up the email, stick it with your standard operating procedure. Don't make this one of those things that you have to remember every time how that worked. And if you're not really sure that those are your strong points, you know, reach out to another peer or even testimony. You know, if you've got a staff person who's an assistant director who seems to be really good at integrating everybody, have them review the email. This doesn't mean that you talk to them about the process. This isn't a gossip setting. You know, if you're having issues with parents or teachers, take it up. And if you are the owner, so there's nobody above you, you need to find some peers or if nothing else, call Carrie or I or call somebody like us so that you have somebody who you can bounce those ideas off of.

*Carrie (00:23:23) - I want to I want to circle back to the when you're doing the fear setting exercise, it works best if you have someone you can dialogue with who will ask you the okay, what's next? Tell me the next step in the story. What does that mean for you? What does it mean for the other person in the story? If you do not have that person, or if you are super shy about admitting your faults, which a lot of us are when we're new leaders, we don't want anybody to know that we do anything wrong when we're new into a leadership position. I will tell you, if you set up these ground rules with ChatGPT, ChatGPT can go through this process with you. It is better if you have a superior or a colleague or a coach that you can go through this with. I'm always going to suggest you have a coach and some mentors, but if you are so early in this that you don't have a coach and you don't have mentors, good lord, just explain the rules to ChatGPT and use them.

Cariie (00:24:24) - We've got to be able to use AI for something, and in this case we're using them as an emotional support dog.

Kate - So one other scenario I just want you to think about and that is the late pay parent. Because to me, this is another one of those really popular issues that people are like, oh, I don't want to let them go. And part of it's because as directors, we probably got into the field because we care about people. And I know that people have, you know, things come up, the car dies. This you know, there's a reason why they can't pay. Are you this week or this month? But you know what? I'm hoping that you're listening to this and not only thinking through the fear piece, but also remembering that you're a business and your boundaries, and you are important. And so do not ever feel bad about letting a parent go who couldn't pay you for the job you did. If they have to have car work done, I don't know.

Kate (00:25:23) - Carrie, is the dealership going to let you just pick up your car and take it so you can get to work so you can make the money, or you gonna have to pay them

Carrie - I mean I had to pay them. And they kept my damn car for a month. So, I mean, you are providing a service. The people who work in the car dealership love cars, and they love to have people have cool cars, but they need to be paid to fix the car. You need to be paid to provide child care. And if a parent isn't paid their tuition, they cannot bring their child. And sometimes that is an incredibly difficult conversation. And we're like, well, but then that classroom only has three kids, and I might have to close the classroom or combine the classroom with another one. Okay, you should be doing that anyway. If you only have the money for three children, like the fact that there's a fourth child does not affect what's happening financially if the parents not paying you.

Carrie (00:26:19) - So what is the worst thing that happens if you tell a parent, I'm sorry your child can't come on Monday because you haven't paid tuition. Worst thing is, the parent doesn't come on Monday because they can't pay tuition. Well, they were already not going to pay you tuition. Um, and yes, you might get not get them the week after, but you also aren't going to end up with. I talked to a program last month that a new director came in, and there were three families with over $6,000 in debt to the school. Excuse me, how many staffs paychecks is that? Like, how is this a thing? So you're not going to end up with $6,000 in uncollected money and have to go to small claims court or at 6000, I don't know, that might be regular claims court, not even small claims court. You need to be willing to take people to small claims court, but you shouldn't get to that point because you never let them go past what you have as the last week or last month's tuition.

Carrie (00:27:24) - So you've always got payment for if they didn't pay on Friday, they can't come on Monday. I already had a week, which was their last week's tuition in the box, so I haven't lost out on anything. If it's only one week and they could have pulled out at any time anyway.

Kate - Yeah, yeah. Don't ever, don't ever feel guilty for, um, you know, following your policies and procedures. Right. That's that's if you have gotten nothing out of today's what-the you know or why what's the worst case, you know, remember that you're important and you deserve to be paid.

Carrie - Absolutely. Again, I want to refer you back to Tim Ferriss. He did this fear setting as a Ted talk. If anybody knows me well, they know that I'm addicted to Ted talks. This is not how I originally heard about it, but I have watched this Ted talk about three times. It is a great Ted talk. Do fear setting, especially if you are a person who feels like you're living in fear.

Carrie (00:28:23) - Investigate it, interview that fear, and see where does that story take you? Because very rarely does it take you into, you know, Dracula's dungeon. Like, again, it's that time of year. That's where my brain is. But, you know, very rarely is it going to take you into a horror movie as you interview it. It is. I'm going to have to have some uncomfortable conversations. I might have to tighten my financial belt a little bit, and I might make somebody unhappy because I'm setting boundaries and following the rules. Well, that's how the world works, is we set boundaries and we follow rules. Some people are mad that you can't drive in other people's front yards, okay, but that's a boundary. You cannot drive your car in my yard, and you can't bring your child to my childcare center if you're not paying me. It's the same kind of thing. You can't drive your car in my yard, and you can't bring your kid if you're not going to pay for the service.

Kate (00:29:21) - Don't expect it for free. Thank you so much for listening to today. If you've liked what you've heard, share the podcast, write a review. We look forward to hearing from you and seeing you all next week.

Marie (00:29:33) - Thank you for listening to Child Care Conversations with Kate and Carrie. Want to learn more? Check out our website at TexasDirector.org and if you've learned anything today, leave us a comment below and share the show.