Setting up your own Toddler group

Starting Up

Are you struggling to find a baby or toddler group in your area? Is there a gap in the market for a particular sort of baby or toddler activity session? Perhaps you are keen to create a brand new group to help ease demand on currently availability. Whatever the reason, if you’ve identified a need or feel you could attract the numbers needed to be successful, then read on for some top tips to getting your own group up and running.

Toddler and baby groups are loved by all, Mums and Dads often look forward to them just as much as their little ones do. The benefit of interaction with other children in a group setting will encourage children to become more social and confident while learning new skills. Parents will relish in the opportunity to get out of the house and interact with other parents who are at a similar stage on the parenting journey.

There are a whole host of baby and toddler activity groups set up all over the country. Some areas have a wide range of choice while others areas may be crying out for business minded Mums to set their ideas in motion. Your location is key when deciding on what type of group to set up, are you in a rural location where there may not be as many new parents ready to sign up or do you live in a more built up area where eager parents and carers are beating the pavements each day with their buggies, searching for the next best activity available to keep themselves and their little bundles of joy occupied.

The majority of groups are set up and run as informal session, with parents and carers joining in, supervising their children for the duration of the session. The possibilities are endless when it comes to deciding what type of session you want to run. Perhaps you want to provide simple group sessions to include singing, signing or rhyming, reading, messy play, soft play or interactive skills sessions. You may need to consider whether you will include refreshments as part of your offer.

Before you start getting serious about your business plan, you may want to consider every element of the group so that you can get the times, days, theme and length of session just right. Below is a checklist providing some key aspects to consider before you set up your group. These points will help to lay the groundwork for your group but it is still essential that you really consider every aspect involved in starting a new business, however small. You will want to consider venues, set up costs, legal issues and whether your fee structure makes the group a viable possibility.

Start-up checklist

Consider the following factors when doing your initial planning:

✔ How will you run your group, on your own or will you consider teaming up with another parent in a joint venture?

✔ What do your sessions offer, are there any basic start-up costs involved such as the cost of toys, props, or activity items?

✔ Do you have an advertising strategy, do you have a budget for this?

✔ Will you need to hire a venue, is the space large enough, what are the costs involved and what is included for the fee?

✔ Do you need insurance, this can be particularly important consideration

✔ How often will your group run, daily, weekly, bi-monthly or as a set number of sessions, only term-time or during the holidays?

✔ How long will your sessions be?

✔ How much will you charge to ensure you cover all of your costs and if needed, make a profit for yourself?

✔ Will you have additional costs for refreshments or recurring costs at each session?

✔ What are your aims in setting up a baby or toddler group?

These are just some very basic points to consider before going ahead and there are some more involved issues to consider which will be outlined further on in this guide. You may be wondering whether it makes financial sense to start out in the first place once you’ve considered all of the above. Don’t be discouraged. Your business is only limited by your own imagination and drive.

You may simply wish to set up a group that does not generate a profit, happy in the knowledge that as long as it creates a fun environment that benefits parents, carers and children in your community, you’ve achieved your goal. On the other hand, you may have big plans for your little group. There are some very successful franchised businesses out there that started out over a glass of wine and desire to gather tots and their parents or carers for some fun filled activities. Who says your idea won’t lead to a similar business opportunity at some point?

There is a lot of hard work involved as outlined above, the financial rewards are not always worth the effort involved. You may wish to consider other ways of generating revenue. Some councils may be prepared to help with set up costs so it is worth finding out what help is available.

If you feel there is a way to link your group to local businesses and charge them a fee for doing so, this again can help to generate additional income for the business. Spin off classes, holiday workshops and other opportunities can often arise so consider all options and how you see your group evolving, if you want more than to cover your running costs.

Social media is another tool which can have a huge impact on your sessions. Word of mouth is changing, a tweet, status update or comment about your class can mean that it won’t be long before you’re full to bursting. Plan ahead and decide what course of action you’ll take if the demand for your group exceeds what you can offer. Considering these aspects in advance and including them in your basic business plan will mean that you’re ahead of the game and ready to meet growing demand if that’s the route you want to follow.

Running your own group

Once you have put in all the hard work required to get your new venture off the ground, don’t get too relaxed, the work doesn’t stop there! You will need to be ready to manage the sessions and any eventualities that occur along the way. Do you have plans in place should you need to cancel your group due to illness, will you have someone who helps you with the set up or running of each session and how will you manage the flow of the session on the day. You will also need to consider issues such as health and safety (keeping registers of who attends so that in the case of a fire, you know all of your attendees are safe), how will you organise refreshments if you’re busy delivering the session? Good planning means this is all possible with some effort and attention to detail.

It is worth noting that less formal baby and toddler groups are not governed by health and safety rules in the same way as more formal settings such as nurseries or playgroups who impose strict rules and regulations due to their status as registered providers. As you will be working with young children, you need to give careful consideration to the safety and well-being of those who attend your sessions. Make sure that the venue is safe and secure and that there are not obvious dangers.

If you plan to use equipment or toys during your sessions, you will need to ensure that they are all up to safety standards and also ensure that they are cleaned and well maintained to ensure that they are safe for all to use as time goes on. Always check your equipment and environment before the start of each session. It is advisable to have a first aid kit on hand and basic first aid training is also essential.

Hit the ground running…

Once you’ve checked all the planning boxes and you’re ready to host your first session, keep these points in mind and you’ll be well on your way to running a successful group in your local community.

✔ Create a warm and friendly environment, welcome your newcomers and learn their names as soon as possible. Having a relaxed and inviting atmosphere will help to encourage people to return

✔ Keep a register and offer all new guests a welcome pack containing the terms and conditions of your group

✔ Keep in touch and manage your register, keeping contact details up to date so that you can keep in touch with those who attend and let everyone know if you make changes or decide to offer additional sessions

✔ Try to have some structure to your sessions allowing some flexibility as babies and toddlers tend to tire quickly so it can be helpful to let parents know that they are free to dip in and out of the session to meet their child’s needs as required

✔ If toys play a major role in your session, you may want to make an appeal to local parents, nurseries etc… for unwanted toys so that you can rotate and keep the sessions fresh and engaging

✔ Be sure to keep on top of your advertising and promotional opportunities. You may decide to offer an incentive to parents who introduce their friends or family to the group. A free session or discount would be a welcome reward

✔ Speak to local nurseries or childcare settings, you may be able to offer a free session within the setting (safeguarding checks will need to be carried out) but this can be a great way to introduce your session to a larger group of potential future clients

✔ Don’t forget to set out clear guidelines for the terms and conditions, illness policies (for example chicken pox etc…) as these are easily spread and may mean your wider group is at risk

Running a toddler or baby group can be a challenging and enjoyable experience. A wonderful opportunity for babies and toddlers to interact with others while at also giving yourself the opportunity to create a rewarding opportunity.

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