The demand for childcare will likely hold steady or increase, as two-income and single-parent families are on the rise, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. And Washington, D.C., with its host of parents working in federal government, political or non-profit jobs, is sure to be a hotspot for childcare providers. Similar to starting any type of business, opening a daycare in The District requires research, funding and networking. You have the option of opening an in-home daycare or housing your program outside of your home.
Research existing daycare centers in Washington, D.C. Learn how many in-home and out-of-home facilities exist in your neighborhood, how full they are (is there a waiting list?), what their schedules are (full-day or half-day) and how much their rates are. You can find information by contacting the D.C. Department of Health's Attorney Advisor (address below). Their report will let you know how many licensed childcare providers are in your ward. Visit Daycareindc.org, too, for listings of daycare centers and more specific information about their services, as well as resources for daycare providers. Then, find out what people are saying about these providers at sites like Childcareratingz.com and dc.kudzu.com (see Resources section), which list many D.C.-area childcare providers and allows users to rate them.
Health Regulation Licensing Administration 825 North Capitol Street NE, Room 4121 Washington, DC 20002
Make sure you meet the requirements for the District of Columbia Department of Health Health Care Regulation and Licensing Office. The Child and Residential Care Facilities Division-Child Care Licensing Branch of the Department of Health is the city's governing body for childcare facilities. Visit their website, which lists detailed requirements, like being over the age of 18, completing high school and earning at least nine hours of child development education training (see Resources for a link).
Secure a venue. Whether you plan on operating your daycare out of your home or out of another building, the facility will need to meet the D.C. Department of Health's regulations (see Resources for a link to the PDF file). The main requirement is an established emergency plan for the building. A commercial property will probably already have this, but you may have to work with your neighborhood fire department station to establish one for your home.
If you are interested in a daycare building, speak to churches, other daycare centers and commercial property owners about renting space. If you are working with a small budget you may even be able to find a small apartment or studio to rent for your business. Also consider Washington, D.C. suburbs that may be accessed through the city's Metro stations, like Takoma Park, Maryland, Silver Spring, Maryland and Arlington, Virginia, which may be slightly less expensive than buildings in the city.
Fund your daycare. Regardless of where you choose to host your new business, you will incur start-up costs. If you do not have savings to use, consider speaking with your local bank branch about a small business loan. Banks based in the area, like The Adams National Bank and Sandy Spring Bank may be more likely to help fund your daycare, since it is local. Also, The Washington DC Small Business Development Center specializes in helping local start-ups succeed. They offer training on funding in short sessions that cost about $15 to register (see Resources for a link).
Advertise your services. Contact proprietors of local websites like Daycareindc.org and DCurbanmom.com to get your business on their lists. If you have an advertising budget, consider buying classifieds with The Washington Post, The Washington Times and Washington City Paper. Generic online classifieds like Craigslist (particularly the childcare forums) might also be a worthwhile way to let people know about your childcare services. Magazines like Washingtonian and Washington Parent charge a pretty penny for their ads, but, if you have the funds, they reach wide numbers in the metropolitan area.
Also, don't discount word-of-mouth business. With your love of children, you've probably sat for lots of families in the past and now is the time to reach out to them. Call or email parents that you worked with and let them know you're open for business. Send fun emails out to your network (including fellow baby-sitters, nannies and teachers!) announcing the daycare and ask recipients to forward to their friends and family members. Another unconventional way to get the word out is contact businesses that cater to parents, like the Maryland Youth Ballet in Silver Spring, Md., Willow Street Yoga in the Takoma Park neighborhood of Washington/Maryland (they are one of the only area studios that offers baby/toddler yoga courses), and the McClean Youth Soccer Association. If permissible, put up flyers in their buildings for your services. Plenty of parents are sure to see!
- National Resource Center for Health and Safety in Child Care and Early Education: D. C. Regulations
- District of Columbia: Department of Health
- Washington DC Small Business Development Center
- Childcareratingz.com: Rated and Unrated Daycare Centers in DC
- Dc.kudzu.com: Kudzu Readers Rank DC-Area Childcare Providers
Whitney Elaine is a freelance writer in the Washington, D.C. area. Besides contributing to Web sites like BusinessWeek.com, AOL and Parents.com, she's worked for magazines like "Essence," "Heart & Soul" and "Sister 2 Sister." She holds a Bachelor of Arts in print/online journalism from Howard University and has been writing for since 2004.