Alternative childcare

Fancy having your child looked after by a Swedish or Japanese speaker or booking a nanny to help with getting your baby into a regular sleep pattern during the night?



Lucia Borraccino’s Nanny Network is a childcare business which caters to the growing needs of a more flexible workforce, particularly the kind of creative types increasingly attracted to London’s East End.

She has been working as a nanny and put up a poster in a local shop in Hackney. The response was huge and she became inundated with work. “The phone kept ringing and I could not do all the work,” she says. She had never considered setting up her own business, but she decided to give it a go. That’s was in January 2011.

“There was no other nanny agency in the area and there were more creative types and parents moving into the area,” she says.

At the beginning, she adds, she was just “making it up” as she went along. “I had to learn how to run a business as I was doing it,” she says. She learnt quickly the things she was good at and the things she need more help with.

“Photoshop cropping was not my strong point,” she laughs. Through a friend she found a person outside London who helped her design her website at an affordable price and she has someone who can help with photoshop design.

“It can be quite frustrating, though,” she says. “If you have to rely on friends you don’t feel you can make demands.”

Apart from the posters, she says she hasn’t spent any money on advertising. She relies mainly on word of mouth and plans to expand in the next year by going out into NCT groups and the like, spreading the word. “Meeting parents face to face is the best way because people don’t want a faceless business selling them childcare,” she says.

Flexible childcare

What her Nanny Network agency offers is, she says, “something really different”. “A lot of our parents are freelancers who don’t work long conventional hours,” she says.

They include a DJ who works nights and weekends and journalists and newsreaders who have to be up at 5am.

The childcarers Lucia employs are also fairly unconventional. Like her clients, they tend to be freelancers. One is a freelance make-up artist who works for a family of freelance stylists. She comes from a big family and her mother owned a nursery.

She does not have conventional nanny qualifications, but Lucia says she has found that people with the best paper qualifications are not necessarily the best people for her clients.

Her childcare’s have to have at least two years’ experience in childcare work, but they also need to convince her of their people skills. “Those who do other jobs on the side tend to be interesting people,” she says.

“I once made a list of all the other jobs they do from PhD students to yoga teachers and dog walkers. They are an interesting bunch and that keeps them enthusiastic. They also tend to be younger than career nannies and more of the same age as the clients for whom they are working.”

In addition to flexible hours, Lucia also runs an emergency childcare service for those who are caught out at the last minute, for instance, if their childminder is sick. Her record fix is a woman who rang at 10am – Lucia had a childcare expert at her door by 10.30am.

She has a database of childcare experts and she sends out group texts to their mobiles and posts them on Facebook, plus in a hidden part of her website.

Lucia also offers a night nannying service for mums who are struggling to look after their children at night, for instance, if they have had a hospital operation. And she has a sleep consultant on her books who has worked with over 200 clients and helps parents to get their children in a good sleep routine.

Nanny shares

Fees vary according to the experience of childcare expert required and the number of children and can be anything from £8-£16 an hour. Babysitters cost £8 an hour before midnight and £10 an hour after midnight plus a one-off £5 booking fee.

Emergency bookings are £25 per day or £15 per day if booked in advance. She also offers bundles of bookings so that parents can buy ‘credit’.

Asked if nanny shares are becoming increasingly popular, she says they were popular a while ago, but practically she thinks they only work if the families live very near each other and have the same timetable.

Lucia has plans to develop the business over the next year.

She recently expanded Londonwide, but that has meant that some local people think it is now a big chain rather than a local agency, even though it was originally the Hackney Nanny Network. And last week she launched a ‘book a babysitter’ service. She anticipates demand for her flexible alternative childcare will only grow.

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