Sharon Foster, owner and operator of Bells Ferry Learning Center, joins Kris today for a conversation on how to build positive parent relationships, customer service, and how owners and staff can protect themselves during bad reviews or negative social media comments. Sharon and Kris discuss strategies on enforcing policies, the proper mindset regarding payment, and when it’s okay to respond to a negative review, and tips of what to say so you stay responsive and professional, yet firm in your own values and vision. Sharon also shares the ways she has had to pivot her vision as both a leader and business owner over the years to make sure her product was meeting the needs of the market.
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Here Are the Key Takeaways From This Episode:
- As a special thank you, Kris will be choosing comments left on the podcast page, blog or iTunes and mentioning them on this show! If you want your school to be mentioned, be sure to write it in the comment. You can check out the podcast page on the website here.
- Another special thank you gift! Just for listening to this episode, you can save $100 off when you use the code “rockstar” for the Child Care Success Summit.
- Sharon entered the field with Kinder Care in 1979 and became a Kids R Kids franchisee in 2001, and is now the owner and operator of Bells Ferry Learning Center, which has two locations. She is also working with a partner on a new venture called Georgia Afterschool Program. Sharon is the author of Ready? Set? Kindergarten!, a month-by-month guide for preparing your child for Kindergarten. She is currently serving as the President-Elect of the Georgia Child Care Association. Sharon’s schools are in the suburbs of Atlanta, within a four-mile radius.
- At the age of 12, Sharon volunteered at KinderCare, where her younger brother attended. She kept at it and was earning a paycheck by the young age of only 13. She continued on to other jobs but always knew that her heart was in child care. Flash to a few years later, when she became a franchise owner for Kids R Kids, which then became rebranded Bells Ferry Learning Center. Rebranding made a huge difference due to the location she was in, as many of her potential customers were intimidated by the prices of a large national chain.
- Sharon is a huge fan of the Zac Brown Band, has been to three different countries to see them, and celebrated her 50th birthday by seeing them in Austin, Texas!
- The tagline for Bells Ferry is “Love is Spoken Here.”
- Your message and product both need to match what your market wants, the results they are interested in, and what they are able to afford.
- The original location stays at about 175, year round, as they have three state-funded Pre-K programs that keep summer attendance up. The Marietta location is about 60% of their 198 enrollment.
- Sharon’s first coping mechanism for a negative review or feedback is to contact Kris. Finding a trusted colleague or mentor to rationally talk things over can help immensely.
- A common thread of Sharon’s negative reviews has been with the family has owed money. They may even try to use a bad review as a type of blackmail to have their debt lowered or erased. Sharon and Kris recommend enforcing the payment rule and continuing to work on the mindset that you deserve to be paid in full and on time.
- Surround yourself with the people that love you and your business, and they will help you through the negative reviews. Also, the energy around the reviews tends to dwindle off after about 48 hours.
- Sharon shares a story on how responding to one negative review ended up gaining her 12 new enrollments.
- Sharon does not try to spend time and energy online pleading the case of an invalid review. One suggestion of how to model good customer service language is to look at hotels’ responses that are proactive and positive towards their customer concerns and complaints.
- While Sharon jumps in and helps out in almost every aspect of the business, she focuses on the payroll, online advertising and supporting the directors and delegating the rest. She is always available to her staff as a sounding board but takes pride in setting them up to be self-sufficient and confident in their own independent leadership decisions.
- Sharon and Kris recommend being sure you have at least six months of operating capital and three cycles of payroll before starting the business officially. Start marketing earlier and more than you think to get a good flow of enrollment within the first six months.
- Sharon sees a rockstar as someone that dedicates themselves day in and day out to child care, no matter what position or level they are at!
- Sharon wrote Ready? Set? Kindergarten! with her teachers as a month-by-month hands-on activity guide for parents.