When I first started thinking about opening my own childcare setting, it was because I had been disappointed with the nurseries in my area. I’d spent hours looking at nurseries and none of them ticked all the boxes. In fact most of them didn’t even have a box to tick! I knew I could do better.
Armed with that belief and a list of values, expectations and visions as long as my arm, I started planning my venture. After about two years of drawing up plans and models of my perfect childcare business, I finally got myself into a position where I could embark on my dream. I spent months and months searching for premises in London, but I either couldn’t afford the rent or the premises were not suitable. Before giving up and deciding to spend the money on a trip to Barbados and a Maserati, I settled for buying an already established setting outside London, believing I would soon turn it into a place I would send my children to. Although it looked like a sound business move, I couldn’t have been more wrong.
From day one I struggled to cope – both financially and emotionally, for a variety of reasons. I looked to the local authority for help, and I had been jumping through hoops with the vain hope that they were going to help save my nursery. I was so incredibly wrong. I had severe staff problems and within 18 months of having embarked on my dream venture, it had all gone to pot.
I spent months, even years, reproaching myself for my failure and paying off my debts. I felt that I had let a lot of people down.
It’s only now that I realise that although I made mistakes, I didn’t actually deserve to be in the position I was, and that I should learn from the experience and use it to make me a stronger and wiser person.
Now a few years further on, we are in the middle of a recession and small businesses are struggling to survive. Everywhere I turn, private nurseries are cutting back on staff, which is impacting on standards, and ultimately leading to setting closures.
Even public sector settings are having a hard time and the impact on schools is tremendous.
So what do you do when you can’t carry on opening? When you get to the point where you have to close, and you haven’t got a clue what to do next? Here are seven key points I considered as essential to share:
Firstly, notify OFSTED. You will be paying a yearly fee and if you don’t notify them that you are closing, you will still be charged, and they will chase you for the money. Also ensure you notify the Local Authority Childcare Service, Inland Revenue, landlords, creditors, suppliers etc. – basically anyone you owe money to or have dealings with.
Speak to Staff and Parents
Speak to staff and parents as soon as you possibly can, giving them plenty of notice so that they can make alternative arrangements. You’ll be surprised at the level of support they can offer – but also be prepared for some fallout. Also try and give parents details of alternative settings.
ACAS a Great Resource
Speak to ACAS about any staffing issues. Make sure you are aware of what your obligations are as an employer and reassure staff that you will give them references. Again, be prepared for some confrontation and fallout as they face unemployment.
Sell Assets and Stock
Make provision to sell your assets/stock. You will obviously need to pay any creditors, but any stock you have that is in good condition will go very quickly as nurseries are always looking for a bargain. We are in a recession after all!!
Seek legal advice if you need it. When I closed my business, a member of staff took me to an industrial tribunal. It was a pointless exercise and they lost, but it’s not a nice experience and you need to know where you stand legally.
Friends and Family
Don’t lose hope. It’s an experience that will leave you feeling drained and at times lost; however you can move on and you will survive. Make sure you turn to friends and family for support as they will help you get through it. And remember: you’re not a failure as you had the courage to try and follow your dream.
A New Me
Learn from the experience. I have taken the experience and while I wouldn’t say I’ve embraced it, I have let it contribute to molding me into the person I am now. I have gained so many important skills and knowledge that I am very, very employable.