Step 1: Establish the Need (or Needs) for Starting a Preschool
First thing's first. Why should your preschool exist? Is there a need (or needs) in your community not being met already? If so, what is it exactly? Here are some starting ideas of needs; there may be others:
Pedagogy. Perhaps your community already has many preschool options, but lacks a particular approach. Maybe your community needs a nature-based preschool? Play-based preschool? A parent-run co-operative? A Montessori? Religious or spiritual teachings? Sports? Homeschool? Types of Preschools
Language Immersion. Perhaps your community lacks a preschool for Spanish speakers? Or dual-language families?
Location. Perhaps there is a large employer in your community, but no convenient nearby preschool for dual-income families?
Days & Hours. What kind of schedule do your prospective families need? Full-day, five days a week, or something less?
Community-building. The preschool setting is sometimes a place for growing families to build lifelong family-oriented friendships. Is that a goal for you?
Affordability. Never to be overlooked, affordability is key to many growing families. Perhaps your community lacks an affordable preschool option.
Demand, pure and simple. Sometimes, all local preschools are completely full, and the need is simply more capacity.
Sometimes, the initial idea for the Need(s) comes internally. A graduate student may have written a thesis on an entirely new approach to early childhood education, and wants to start a preschool around it. An experienced teacher may have a crystallized idea on how to start their own preschool. A group of Moms are not happy with the current options, and they decide to start their own.
Once you establish a hypothesis for the Need (or Needs), go out into the world and validate your hypothesis. Go out and talk with prospective families, and see if your idea resonates. Discuss your idea with other experienced teachers, and listen to their feedback. Look at all current preschool options in your area, and determine whether current options are able to meet your perceived needs. How will your preschool "fit" within the mosaic of available options?
Step 2: Write down your Need, and tape it to the wall
Write down the Need as precisely and concisely as possible -- you will be referring to it frequently! Examples of the Need may be:
A Montessori-based full-time preschool near the city park and a large neighborhood of growing dual-income families
A parent-run co-operative for members of our church congregation, located in the basement of the church, and also offering Sunday school
A state-subsidized preschool within a low-income neighborhood, that also provides education and community to parents
An outdoor preschool, meeting in the state park, three days a week during the morning only
A play-based, language-immersion preschool, to be located within the community center
The Need should be concise, precise, and fit within 1-3 sentences. If you collected data during the initial Need identification process (such as surveys, interviews with families, lists of current preschools, etc.) set that stuff aside to keep it out of the way.
Next, print out the page containing the Need, in a large font, and tape it to the wall on your workspace, onto the lid of your laptop, or some other place where it is always visible to you.
Everything you do going forward, as you start your preschool, needs to tie back to the Need.
As you write your "business plan", every single item needs to tie back to the Need. As you interview potential teachers or staff, visualize how they would fit into the Need (and if they don't, they're probably not a good fit). When you look for space, tie it back to the Need. When you design your policies & procedures, your curriculum, your marketing, everything... yep, must tie back to the Need.
However... the Need can evolve. Time and experience have a way of revealing truths and wisdoms. As you move forward in the process of starting and running your preschool, you may discover some of your initial assumptions of the Need were slightly off, or wholly incorrect. It's ok. You're allowed to evolve the Need. If you identify a necessary course adjustment, evolve the Need, reprint it, and then continue with the evolved Need.
What NOT to do: Avoid making decisions and investing time/money/energy in directions that don't tie into the Need. Evolve the Need first.
Step 3: Create a "business plan"
With a clear need in mind, it is time to think about how to fulfill that need. A "business plan" is a good way to organize your thoughts and create a blueprint for the preschool you plan to start.
A preschool can be started as a for-profit or non-profit entity (more on that later) and if a non-profit, it is reasonable not to want to think of it as a "business". Perhaps think of it as an "organization". Still, a "business plan" (or "organization plan" if you prefer) is essential to success.
A business plan does not need to be long and tedious, and you certainly shouldn't spend months and years writing it. Sit down one morning in a quiet room with a good cup of coffee or tea, open your laptop, and fire up your favorite word-processing app. Start writing down your thoughts into what will eventually be a document, several pages long, outlining the "blueprint" of the preschool you're setting out to start.
Every detail of the business plan should tie back to the Need.
There are many ways to go about writing a business plan, and many books have been written about it. Here are some ideas of areas to think about, that apply specifically to starting a preschool:
If you're lucky enough to already have a space, great! For the rest of us, just know a creative teacher can turn just about any location into a thriving learning space for little ones. Locations to consider: Church basements, community centers, commercial retail/office spaces (including "2nd floor" spaces), and even homes. Remember to check local zoning laws to make sure preschools are ok.
Little ones do need to move their bodies, so consider access to a playground or park for recess.
If you're contemplating starting a nature-based preschool, be sure to scope out the park(s) during the time(s) you would be holding classes. Is it busy during those times? What's the backup plan for inclement weather?
What type of teachers/staff do you need? Consider your Need, and whether prospective candidates are a "fit" for your vision. For example, if you want to start a Montessori preschool, you should consider screening for prior experience in a Montessori setting. If you want to start a nature-based preschool, consider looking for nature-lovers!
Enrollment (Marketing) Plan
How do you plan to get the word out about your preschool?
Word-of-mouth is by far the most effective (and least costly) way. Does your Need contemplate a preschool where parents will be around other prospective parents, to help you spread the word? What can you do to encourage doing so?
What is your tagline? Your marketing message? It should be short, easy to understand, easy to remember, easy to convey, and should concisely convey your Need. Example: "Springfield Park's nature-based preschool"
Will you incorporate? (answer: in nearly all cases, yes!). In case you're wondering, non-profits are corporations that are converted into non-profit status.
Will you be a non-profit or for-profit? Look at your Need. Do you need governance? Grants? Volunteers? Will you need a volunteer Board? These are much more available to non-profits.
Will you partner with another person and create a co-owner partnership?
Who will be the leadership of your preschool? Will you need a separate Board?
What are the licensing requirements in your area, for the type of preschool you want to start?
What type of insurance will you need?
What are your initial costs? Think about initial facility expenses, initial staff expenses, classroom supplies, furniture, toys, books, teaching materials, basic supplies, safety equipment.
Where will your initial funding come from?
Beyond your initial funding, where will your initial families come from? How will they find you?
What are your ongoing costs? Think about payroll/staff and facility expenses (rent, mortgage, property taxes, etc.) first, as these will likely be your largest ongoing expenses. Don't forget to pay yourself! Then add an additional amount to cover maintenance, replenishing of classroom supplies, marketing, insurance, licensing, and other smaller expenses.
What are your ongoing revenue sources? Mainly this will be tuition fees paid by parents. This is the difficult task of setting your pricing. First, establish a "feasibility range" meaning what's the highest you can charge for tuition, and what's the lowest. Look at pricing of other preschools for guidance, and think about what parents can or are willing to pay (market-based pricing). Think about how many kids will need to enroll to "break even" relative to your costs (cost-based pricing). These two numbers will establish your "feasibility range". To make a final decision, look at your Need (for example, is affordability important?).
Be sure to meet all safety requirements as set forth by licensing and by your insurance.
However, above and beyond insurance & licensing requirements, what can you do to help keep the staff & kids & facility safe? Consider the risks of fire, trips/falls, injuries, choking, vandalism, abuse (sexual, emotional, etc.), neglect (failure to change diapers, provide water/food, leave kids unattended, etc.), transmission of disease (COVID, flu, etc.), medical emergencies (cardiac, concussions, significant injuries, sudden allergic reactions, etc.).
Consult with community experts as necessary, such as your local Fire Marshal.
Carefully consider each risk, and create a mitigation plan. Your mitigation plan should include periodic audits to review the mitigation plan, train & retrain staff, check safety equipment (e.g., charged fire extinguishers, unexpired 1st aid kits, AEDs), etc. Your mitigation plan should include readily-available and up-to-date emergency information, including emergency contacts.
Operations and Software Tools
How will you run your preschool day-to-day? Think about:
Class Roster management. Who's in class? Can you get emergency contact info quickly?
Attendance. Will kids/staff (and parents?) be signing in and signing out each day?
Tuition collection. How will parents pay (and be reminded of) their financial obligations?
General accounting. Who does the day-to-day bookkeeping? Payroll?
Registration. How do new families register? How do returning families register?
Paperwork. Beyond registration, think about immunization forms, questionnaires, family contracts, and any other paperwork required by your preschool or by licensing
This is an area where a software tool such as Jovial can save you many hours each week of administrative time, and help you run your preschool much more professionally.
Jovial offers complete preschool management software, and is available at no charge to qualified preschools.
Although converting from a paper-based system to Jovial is easy, it is far easier to start from day 1 with a preschool management software system such as Jovial.
Step 4: Iterate the Need and Business Plan
How does everything look when considered together? Does the Need still fit? Does the Business Plan fit the Need? Do all the pieces work nicely together?
This is a good time to go back out into the world, and collect feedback. Talk to prospective parents. Take another look at existing preschools. Ask yourself, your family, and your significant other, how does this endeavor fit into your life? Will embarking on the journey of creating a preschool, as detailed by your Need and in your business plan, take you to a happier place?
Go back and make any adjustments as you go through this reflection/feedback period. It's much easier to make adjustments now -- simply a matter of editing a document! If you do make adjustments, just make sure all the pieces continue to fit together.
Step 5: Ready, set, go!
With the Need and Business Plan in place, it's time to get started! Just follow your Business Plan to:
Establish your corporation (non-profit or profit)
Open a bank account and raise your initial funding
Start the licensing process as required by your locality
Setup your accounting system (including a bookkeeper if needed)
Setup your preschool management system software -- consider Jovial
Develop a first draft of your policies & procedures manual
Get location (lease/purchase)
Enroll your initial families
As you setup, you will undoubtedly encounter additional decision points not contemplated by your Business Plan. Remember, as you make each such decision, refer to your Need and to other points within your Business Plan. If major adjustments are necessary, stop briefly to make them.
Step 6: Setup your space! Establish curriculum and flow, and basic procedures & logistics
Think about the flow. From signing in, to what happens when. Once you have a basic idea, actually go through it physically, and fix/adjust any issues you might identify. Try it with different scenarios, and try it with willing friends & family.
As you do this, update your curriculum, policies & procedures manual, etc.
Step 7: Involve and train your staff
Once you have a basic curriculum and flow, and a basic policies & procedures manual, it's time to involve your staff. Do the flow walk-through with them, ask for their feedback, and make adjustments!
Spend the time to make sure you and your staff are in full alignment on all the fundamentals. Make sure they know the "door is always open" to make improvements and adjustments as warranted.
With your preschool up & running, it is time to think about sustainability. Here are the key areas to consider:
Make sure prospective families can find you. Create a clean & clear website, with a concise marketing message tying back to your Need. Think about how to inspire "word of mouth" from existing families, and from other businesses/providers. Paid advertising is ok, just be cautious about relying too much on it.
Check your safety plan periodically. Retrain/refresh staff on safety procedures. We suggest implementing a periodic "audit" for various items; for example, how often should fire extinguishers be checked? How often should staff be re-trained? How often should the overall safety plan be revisited?
Early on, establish a mechanism to listen to staff, parents, etc. Continuously listen for feedback, and make improvements as needed. Update your policies & procedure manual as changes are made.
Constantly look for ways to reduce the administrative burden of running your preschool, while maintaining absolute professionalism. For example, if you're using Jovial, consider looking at our electronic forms, which can virtually automate the compliance paperwork between families and your preschool. Consider automating tuition collection using Jovial's e-payment system.
Recurring legal/financial obligations
Timely file your tax returns, renew your business license, submit required licensing reports, renew your insurance, etc. We suggest creating a yearly "compliance calendar" with all the important dates, and taping it to the wall (perhaps near your Need?)
Consider accreditation(s), both as a source of validation to prospective families, and as a way to improve the overall quality of your curriculum.
Governance, Leadership, and Key Positions
Do you have a Board? Do you need a Board?
Is there a plan to gradually train existing staff for key positions, should an unexpected departure occur? Think about lead teachers, director, etc.
Finally, the Mission Statement
Remember that pesky Need? Well guess what, it's the foundation of your Mission Statement! Once your preschool is humming along and you've made adjustments, really found your groove, it's time to put the final touches on your Need and transition it into a Mission Statement. During this process, be sure to involve all of your stakeholders -- co-owners, staff, families, and community.