Marketing Strategies for Child Care Centers: What Works, What Doesn’t, & How Much Does It Cost? - Circle Social Inc

Marketing Strategies for Child Care Centers: What Works, What Doesn’t, & How Much Does It Cost?

Marketing any business is tough and marketing your child care can be extremely challenging if you haven’t done much marketing in the past, but it’s the only way you’re going to grow your center.

The first step is to make sure that you are marketing. We can’t tell you how many directors we’ve talked to that do no marketing at all and then they wonder why their enrollment numbers are always so low. Word-of-mouth is great, but it rarely produces enough business to fill a center.

The most successful child cares obviously provide extremely high quality care to children and families, but they also invest significant time and money in marketing. There’s a reason most people buy Huggies or Pampers diapers, and it’s not word-of-mouth, it’s marketing. Child cares are no exception.

So you know you need to market, but what do you do? There are a ton of options – radio, billboards, direct mail, community events, social media, online pay-per-click, email campaigns. And they all cost money, so if you spend it in the wrong place, you could be sunk.

In this article, we’ll break down all the different options and their pros, cons, and average costs.

Also, before we get started, it’s extremely important to understand that running one-off marketing campaigns do not work. The average person needs to see your business 7-12 times before making a decision to contact you for a tour.

For any marketing strategy to work, it must be long-term with the understanding that you’ll have to get in front of potential families again and again over a period of time before you start to see results. This means trying any given strategy for months at a time, not just once. They will never work if done just once.

For the average child care center with a capacity of at least 50 children, you should be looking at a yearly minimum marketing spend of $15,000-$30,000, which would be under 2% of total revenue.

Alright, let’s go over the options. We’ve gone through each in detail below, or, if you want to scroll to the bottom, we have them listed in easy-to-read table form.

TV Ads

We’ll just start here because this is a terrible option for a child care. Even KinderCare and Bright Horizons, two of the biggest and most profitable child care chains in the country, don’t do TV ads.

Unless you’re in a really small town with a local station, the cheapest ads will run around $1,500 for a 30 second TV spot plus at least another $1,500 to produce the commercial.

Knowing that you’ll have to run that commercial a large number of times to get results, you’re looking at tens of thousands of dollars in ad spend. You would never be able to recoup that cost. So let’s just forget TV ads.

Radio Ads

Radio ads reach a large audience as 93% of adults listen to the radio at some point during the work day, usually on the way to or from work.

However, you’re going to pay for that exposure. An average radio spot on a decent channel will run at least $1,000 per week and many stations have minimum buys of $8,000 or more before they’ll agree to produce and run your ad.

Like TV, this is simply too costly for the vast majority of child care centers.

Newspaper Ads

With newspaper ads, we’re starting to get into the price range that many child cares can afford. Ads can range from as low as $200 to as much as $1,250 per ad for most local newspapers. It just depends on the size, page placement, and color options of the ad. Running ads in big city newspapers and larger publications will obviously cost more.

This is still kind of pricey, but is affordable with a monthly spend ranging from $800-$5,000.

Newspaper ads can be an effective way to grow awareness of your child care center. Pro-tip:  If you put a coupon or special offer on the bottom of the ad, it may also lead to some new families coming in.

Community Bulletins

Community bulletins are any kind of ad that’s put out to a small, targeted group. Many big cities have special publications for parents. Here in Indianapolis, we have Indy’s Child, but you could also look at local Parent-Teacher Association (PTA) newsletters or even a local high school sports team that sends out a monthly newsletter to families.

There are lots of options here, you just want to find bulletins or newsletters that are sent to a lot of parents with young children. We’ve seen ad spots offered for as low as $25 per newsletter, so these are very economical. They just take a bit more time to find.

Due to the often low cost, it can be worth doing a lot of these for several months and just see which ones get you the best results.


Billboards can work great for location-based businesses, especially if you can get a billboard on the highway near your child care.

The problem is that they are still pretty pricey. Depending on location, a 4-week spot will cost anywhere from $1,000-$6,000 dollars. On top of that, like radio, they generally require a minimum number of purchases of usually 3 or more.

If your child care is located just off the highway on a light traffic road, this could be an option worth trying. Location is very important to the success of any child care in terms of visibility and convenience.

If most people don’t know your child care exists because no one ever drives by, you definitely need to grow that awareness and a billboard could be just the ticket, especially if it’s on a highway where many parents drive from home to work, making it convenient to drop off children on the way.

Direct Mail

Direct mail is another economical way to reach a large number of families. We generally recommend this approach over newspaper ads as costs can be similar, but you’re guaranteed to reach more people.

With newspaper ads, not everyone reads the paper and the distribution area can be quite wide. Direct mail campaigns, on the other hand, can target specific zip codes or mail carrier routes.

So, if you know you have a lot of families coming from suburb X on their way to work downtown, you can send out a direct mail campaign to just families in that area. This is called Every Door Direct Mail and is a service of the United States Post Office. Postage is as low as 15 cents per letter or postcard!

With an every door direct mail campaign, you’re probably looking at about $1,300 per campaign, which includes the cost of designing and producing the postcards or newsletters. For a bit more expensive direct mail campaigns, but with super easy-to-use design services, you can try Vistaprint or just check with your local marketing agencies and print shops.

Social Media Marketing

Social media marketing can mean a lot of things. It could be on a range of platforms like Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and Snapchat. If could be organic marketing or paid digital ads. There is a tremendous amount of variables and options. While many of the above traditional marketing options are quite straightforward and only require a limited amount of information to learn, social media is the opposite.

The biggest drawback with social media marketing is its complexity. Most people don’t know where to start and the learning curve for each type of platform and each type of campaign can be long and arduous. On top of that, social media marketing changes constantly. There are always new platform updates, rules, and options.

One of the biggest mistakes we see child care directors make is they think somehow posting to social media will bring in families. Using social media to drive business results is a far cry from posting what you ate this weekend on your personal Facebook page.

Just like being able to shoot a video with your phone doesn’t mean you can create a TV ad campaign that works, having a personal account on a social media platform says nothing about understanding how to drive traffic, gain leads, and build trust online.

Social media also has a very wide range of pricing options. You can find automated software that will automatically post for you for as little as $100 a month, to fully managed campaigns by agency teams that range up to $10,000 a month. To get a fuller understanding of what different price points offer and why, check out our free e-guide The Real Cost of Hiring a Social Media Agency.

The $100 option is junk. Just like you’ve probably already learned, simply posting to social media doesn’t drive business results, so having a software robot do this for you won’t make a difference.

You’re looking for something in the $1,000-$3,000 dollar range per month. That will ensure you have live management of accounts that include a good mix of organic growth, paid campaigns, and focused interaction.

The main advantage with social media marketing is that it is highly targeted and it’s interactive.

Unlike most of the options above that just go out to everyone and their mom, regardless of whether they have children or are interested in child care, you have the ability on social media to only target your ideal customers.

You’ll know where they live, how old they are, whether they have children, what they like to do, etc. The targeting options with digital marketing are almost unlimited, so it can be a much more effective marketing spend.

In addition, unlike the above, it’s highly interactive. You actually have the ability to build relationships with potential families by communicating and sharing. That’s something you just can’t do with the static nature of traditional marketing.

Search Engine Optimization (SEO)

SEO is not as much a market strategy as it is a strategy to ensure customers can easily find your website online.

Most families these days do extensive research online before reaching out to connect. It’s estimated that 60% of their decision has already been made by the time they contact you. If they do contact you, it’s because your center has made their shortlist of the top 3-5 options in their mind.

That’s important to understand. The majority of families are making decisions about whether or not to contact your child care without even talking to you or scheduling a tour. This is why online reputation and outreach is so important.

SEO work takes a lot of time, can be somewhat technical, and depends a lot on creating a web presence through consistent content creation. This can get very expensive very quickly and there are no guarantees of results.

Your average cost will be at least $750 a month for any decent service that’s likely to get results. Unless you’re in a small town without a lot of competition, SEO is not just something you can set and leave.

Google wants to see fresh content and regular updates. On top of that, competitors are always updating their SEO practices, so you need to do the same to stay on top. That means monthly focus and monthly cost.

When first setting up a website or a redoing an old one, you want to ensure current SEO best practices are being put in place. However, unless there exists a highly competitive market in your area, other strategies may prove more cost effective.

Pay-per-click (PPC) Ads

If using SEO to get to the top of Google results is not the best option, paid ads might be. You’ll notice that the top 3 results on any page are always ads. You can run paid ads on Google, which will then help your business appear up on the top of the first page regardless of your site’s SEO.

Google ads can be expensive and hard to predict. We’ve seen ads as cheap as 50 cents a click to as expensive as $20. It all depends on the popularity of your keywords, how competitive your market is, and the relevance of your ads.

As a digital strategy, the advantage over traditional marketing is that you only pay per click. So you’re only paying for people who actually expressed an interest in your ad rather than just everybody and anybody like a newspaper reader.

There are also pay-per-click options on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and pretty much every social media platform out there. In terms of bang for your buck, Facebook is usually your best option and can be much cheaper than Google PPC.

However, running successful Facebook ads still require a lot of time and knowledge. There are a ton of options and you have to continuously test different ads and different audiences to find out what gets you the best return on investment. To really get a strong campaign running, you’re looking at a dedicated 2-4 hours a week plus $250-$500 per month just in ad spend.

Email Marketing

When done yourself, email marketing can be quite cheap. Sometimes people are tempted to buy lists of email addresses from local advertising agencies. We strongly recommend against this. Basically, you’re violating the CAN-SPAM Act if you send unsolicited emails. People should always opt-in or request to be added to your email list.

So, with that in mind, email marketing is all about building a list, which takes a ton of time. Your current email list is probably just families who have enrolled at your center. Other ways to collect emails are from community event sign-ups, social media marketing, opt-ins on your website, or pay-per-click ads.

For email marketing to really work, you have to spend a lot of time creating good content, segmenting your lists so that relevant content is sent to each, and looking over your analytics in terms of open rates and click-through rates to see what’s working.

For most child cares, setting up a drip campaign for new leads is probably the most effective strategy, over and against, say, a newsletter. A drip campaign is where you set up a series of emails that reach out to new families over a specific length of time. For example, an introduction email and request for tour day 1, a follow-up email day 3, and second follow up 1 week later, and a final follow up 1 month later.

Done old school, you could try to do this with self-created email templates and by setting calendar reminders. Or you could use an email client like Mail Chimp or Constant Contact, which will manage it for you automatically and give you analytics to help you optimize campaigns.

Community Events

Community events are a great way to meet with potential families and get the word out about your child care. In many cities, libraries will run preschool fairs as a service to the community and some don’t even charge to set up a booth!

For bigger community events, you may be looking at $200-$500 for a booth space. We’ve found that centers can generally collect between 10 and 70 leads per event depending on the size of the crowd and length of the event.

The other large benefit is that they are interactive. You’re not just pushing out an ad and hoping for the best, you’re getting to know people and starting to build a relationship. This can be extremely beneficial in gaining leads for potential families.

Which Route to Go?

There are definitely a lot of options and many things to think about when choosing a marketing strategy. The main thing is to try several approaches and find out what works best for your child care. Each center is different and what works for one gives not guarantee it will work for yours.

The most important thing to remember is that you have to spend money to make money, but, when working right, you’ll make far more than you spend. Also remember to try something multiple times. Maybe it didn’t work because you were reaching the wrong people, or you had an unattractive picture, or your messaging was uninspiring.

You need to test a lot of different elements in each marketing channel to see what really works or doesn’t work for that particular avenue.

Marketing Channel Pros Cons Ballpark Cost
TV Reaches a ton of people, video ads are engaging. Extremely expensive, lack of targeting, pay per view. Minimum $10,00 per month.
Radio Reaches a large, local audience, cheaper than TV, build brand awareness. Expensive, lack of specific targeting, pay per listener. $3,000-$8,000 per month.
Newspaper Local audience, can be cost effective, coupons or offers can drive calls, builds awareness. Not as widely read as in the past, pay per reader. $800-$5,000 per month depending on size of ad.
Community Bulletin Extremely cost effective, can be highly targeted with specific group, community focused. Small audience. $25-$100 per month per bulletin/newsletter.
Billboards High visibility, can drive action for families passing by the location often. Cost, only work well if billboard is near your child care. $1,000-$6,000 per month.
Direct Mail Location targeting, fairly cheap, reaches a lot of people in one area. Paying for all delivery, even if they aren’t people with children, not everyone reads “junk mail”. $1,000 per month.
Social Media Highly targeted, interactive, most people are on it, cheaper than most traditional media. Complex, time-intensive, operates in real-time, so little time to plan. $100-$4,000 a month depending on level of service desired.
Search Engine Optimization (SEO) Increases visibility online, creates content and links so you can be found easily from other sites as well. Complex, time-intensive, no guarantee of results, without a good website, may not work. $750-$1,250 per month.
Pay-per-click (PPC) Highly targeted, only per per click, not view, usually much cheaper than traditional media. Lots of testing to find out what works, so time intensive, auction-style bidding means cost may be unpredictable. $250-$1,500 a month depending on market, amount of ads, and whether or not you manage it yourself.
Email Potentially free, interactive, reaches people who have requested to be contacted. Very time-intensive, requires the creation of a lot of content, can’t just email anybody. Only time if managed yourself or $250-$500 a month if outsourced.
Community Events Highly targeted, relatively cheap, interactive, grows community presence. May take a lot of time if an all-day event, potentially small reach. Free to $500 per event.


Need some help using your website or social media to actually drive tours and enrollments? Email us at or call 800-396-9927 for your free strategy call.

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About the Author

Nick Jaworski is the Chief Growth Officer of Circle Social Inc. Seeing a real need for innovative, ethical recovery center marketing and growth, he launched Circle Social to help the best addiction treatment centers connect with people who needed their help the most. He is also the proud father of the most beautiful girl in the world. You can most often find him sharing thoughts on digital marketing and cracking jokes on Twitter or Snapchat as @NBJaworski.

Elyssa McGregor - February 3, 2017

Hi Nick! Great article packed full of marketing strategies! I’ve always agreed with that saying, you have to spend money to make money. So true. You seem to be very knowledgeable at what you do. I’m a home daycare provider without a marketing budget but would love to follow you and your work!

    Nick Jaworski - February 4, 2017

    Thanks Elyssa. Let’s say I’ve had a lot of practice :). Marketing is not easy, but it’s the only way to effectively grow a business unless you have great a great location that leads to extensive drive-bys. I see so many daycares struggle because they spend no money on marketing. Then they wonder why they can’t fill their center. Sometimes, even the simplest efforts can lead to 5-10 new tours a week.

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