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Is Becoming A Nursery Owner Right For You?

It’s vital to understand the challenges that come with opening an early years business, but don’t let the hard work deter you, says Tricia Wellings

  • Is Becoming A Nursery Owner Right For You?

What attracts you to owning your own business? Knowing what your motivation is may just help you to decide whether early years is the sector for you – because this industry is like no other

With everything being reported in the press at the moment, it’s tempting to wonder why anyone would choose to open a nursery today. From the underfunding of the government’s free hours to the incredible amount of legislation to contend with, there’s no shortage of challenges – and when you factor in the responsibilities of being an employer, current austerity measures and economic uncertainties, it’s doubly hard to see the appeal!

For me it was a decision I made some 20 years ago, having worked in a variety of sales and service jobs within industry. I wanted to get out of my ‘nine-to-five’ role and do something that was more rewarding, didn’t require me to meet constant targets set by others, and gave me some control over my own destination.

Did I achieve this goal? On reflection I would have to say yes! Was it worthwhile? Definitely! I’m certainly not working nine to five (more like seven till seven), and it was probably more out of the frying pan and into the fire than sailing off into the sunset, but it’s been a great journey that over time has reaped many rewards for me, my family, my staff teams and the hundreds – in fact thousands – of children who have been through our doors.

Starting out

So why early years? I had no background in childcare. However, like many others who start up or buy their own nursery, I chose to enter the sector at a time when I was starting a family, and it seemed a natural progression to combine my business expertise with what would be my new parenting responsibilities.

In fact I passed my first early years exam just four days before giving birth to my first child – this set a bit of a precedent as I opened my first nursery, five years later, six months before I achieved my first full early years qualification! But not being qualified hadn’t stopped me from pursuing the goal of owning my own setting.

Whilst this route might suit some, it won’t suit everyone. You will need to ensure you have an experienced early years expert on board at some point, as with the current registration and legislation requirements, owners or company directors ultimately have legal responsibility for all aspects of service delivery, and therefore need to know and understand what that entails.

A rewarding role

If you have no previous experience in the sector, you will probably be shocked by the number of different hats you’re asked to wear each day. Even colleagues coming in from a primary or secondary teaching background find the amount of work involved in not only running the setting, but also running the business, far greater than they expected.

As I’m a great believer in leading from the front, I would always recommend that you do your research and find out exactly what you’re letting yourself in for, as it really isn’t all plain sailing and does require a lot of hard work, concentrated effort and dedication from those involved. 

But once you get over the steep learning curve, once you become familiar with all the quirks of running this type of business, have a great staff team in place and parents are flowing through the door – then you can start to enjoy that sense of pride in what you’ve achieved, the sense of pride that comes from providing a high-quality, rich learning environment for young children and developing your staff. 

Provided you have empowered your team, trained them to deliver good and outstanding leadership and management, and have put in place the right systems and processes, you can then choose the role you want to play in the business.

I have colleagues who just love being with the children – it provides them with all the rewards and satisfaction they need, alongside a good income. I personally love the business side and making sure we are run in an efficient and sustainable way, thereby ensuring I can continue to provide the best environments and resources, by getting my numbers right. This also now affords me the ability to pursue other avenues such as training and consultancy, whilst maintaining an income stream. 

Money matters

I can’t gloss over the impact that government underfunding is having on the sector. Many nurseries and preschools are closing, though some of this is more to do with a lack of astute business practice than a lack of children or paying parents. Let me be clear: if you’re opening a nursery, you must consider the financial realities. Providing care for children has its emotional and social rewards, but that doesn’t pay the bills; you need to know it’s a business you are running.

Once you have that clear in your mind then I can thoroughly recommend this choice of career. It will be a journey full of challenges, excitement and discovery, with no two days ever being the same. But then nothing worth having is ever going to be easy.

Seek support from others in the industry – we’re a friendly bunch once you get to know us – and don’t be afraid to call your next nearest nursery and invite them out for a coffee; you may just become the best of friends and find each other a useful source of support.

Failing that, give me a call or find me on Facebook – I’d love to help and support our next generation of nursery owners to become thriving businesses!

Tricia Wellings is the owner of nursery group Bright Kids and MBK Training.

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