Teacher finds a business niche with nannies

By John Golden

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“I am swamped right now,” said Lisa DeRienzo, stopping at a McDonald’s in Ossining for a morning meeting in waning August. She had just come from a home tutoring session nearby, summer lessons in math and language arts for seventh- and third-grade pupils.

“I have about 10 jobs to fill before I go on vacation,” she said. “This is the only interaction I’m having with people this week.”

On her iPad, the 32-year-old Valhalla resident called up the website of her business, ASmartNanny.com. Driven by economic necessity and chronic underemployment in her chosen profession, DeRienzo formed her nanny referral company in early 2013.

“I just placed my 175th nanny,” she said.

Yet she found that more than nannies were needed to meet the demand for child care among professional working couples, many of whom commute to Manhattan. Her business soon grew to include babysitting and tutoring services provided on referral to families in Westchester. Now demand for her carefully vetted, college-educated workers, most of them women, has extended to neighboring Putnam and Rockland counties and Connecticut’s Fairfield County.

“I’ve been getting tons of families from Greenwich,” she said.

“I find the most popular now is my babysitting service. That’s where I’ve been making all my money this summer.”

Raised in Westchester, DeRienzo majored in psychology as an undergraduate at Pace University and in 2009 received a master’s degree in childhood education from Mercy College with plans to become a teacher. But teaching jobs were scarce here, she found.

“I could not get a full-time job in Westchester and I did not want to work in New York City. I knew that I wanted to work with kids.” She took temporary jobs as a substitute teacher and teaching assistant in Westchester school districts.

“Unfortunately you can’t survive on that income,” DeRienzo said. “I knew that I wanted to work with kids but I also wanted to move out of my parents’ house.”

Searching on craigslist, she found a position in Chappaqua as a nanny for two school-age children of parents who both worked in New York City. Friends of hers who also had not landed teaching positions had turned to nanny gigs to pay their bills. “You have the perks of working with children and you’re making good money,” DeRienzo said.

“I loved the family that I was with,” she said. “All of a sudden, friends and former colleagues that were not happy in the teaching industry started asking me to ask around and see if I could find them jobs as well.”

“I thought, I could do this. I know so many teachers. I grew up in Westchester. I said, I bet I can find families that need nannies. There always has to be a demand for good child care. There always has to be a demand for nannies.”

In early 2013, DeRienzo registered her new business, ASmartNanny.com LLC with the IRS and the state Department of State. The novice entrepreneur had no attorney or accountant to advise her. “I did a lot of googling” for guidance through the process, she said.

“I think it was about $400” for her LLC filings, she said. “At the time I was starting with nothing, so it was like, ‘Oh no.’”

A Smart Nanny operates as a referral company rather than as a nanny agency. Nanny-seeking families pay DeRienzo a one-time referral fee — $1,800 for a full-time worker and $1,000 for a part-time nanny working 34 hours or less. Nannies are paid $20 an hour for caring for one or two children and $25 an hour for caring for three or more. Families pay nannies directly rather than through DeRienzo’s company.

After paying a $250 deposit, parents fill out a questionnaire “telling me all about the family,” DeRienzo said. She guarantees to send two nanny prospects. If neither seems a good match to the clients, DeRienzo will refund their deposit. “A lot of the girls that I have placed are still with the same family.”

DeRienzo said she does local and national background checks on prospective nannies, who range in age from 21 to 35. All must have a driver’s license and child care experience. DeRienzo initially required nannies to have college degrees, but has eased that requirement to refer prospects who have some college education.

“I get younger girls that way,” she said. “I get the ones in their 20s who are still in school,” the majority of them enrolled as part-time students.

For her booming babysitting service, which she launched in 2014, DeRienzo adapted another business model — gym memberships. Families pay $100 for a one-month membership, $500 for a six-month membership and $1,000 for annual membership. Sitters, who also submit to background checks by DeRienzo and must provide three references, are paid at the same hourly rates as nannies.

For her tutor service, DeRienzo charges a $300 referral fee. Tutors, all of whom are New York state-certified teachers, set their own rates with clients.

To reach prospective clients and track their interests, “I belong to all the moms’ Facebook groups,” DeRienzo said. “I just joined Upper East Side Mommas because I want to see what they talk about.”

DeRienzo pays to advertise her business on Facebook. “Facebook really has been a tool,” she said. “My Facebook page is where I get the most hits.” And students at colleges and universities in Westchester looking for babysitting work often “come from Facebook,” she said. “Their mothers see A Smart Nanny on Facebook and they tell their children to email me.”

As the owner of a new business, “You have to work so hard. It’s not easy to start a company,” she said. “This is the first year that I could have just survived on my income from Smart Nanny.”

Her business model might have inspired copycat entrepreneurs in Westchester. “Two women have largely copied my website” when starting their own babysitting businesses, DeRienzo said.

A Smart Nanny’s founder said she wants someday to franchise her business. “My dream is I want to expand to the city — and I want to be in California so bad,” she said. “There’s so much competition in the city that I would need a lot of people to help me.”

For now, hers is a low-overhead, highly portable, one-woman business. “I use my phone and my iPad and that’s it,” DeRienzo said. “I hardly use my desktop. I can run this from anywhere. When I have kids, I can still run this.”

As of this month, the businesswoman does have kids — though not her own. Seven years after earning her masters, DeRienzo has started a full-time job as a kindergarten teacher in a public school in Westchester. She said she has no plans to give up her growing nanny business.

“This is perfect,” she said of her new day job, “because I can do both.” With her teacher’s salary, “I can comfortably hire an assistant now.”

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About the author

John Golden
As managing editor of the Business Journals, John Golden directs news coverage of Westchester and Fairfield counties and the Hudson Valley region. He was an award-winning upstate columnist and feature writer before joining the Business Journal in 2007. He is the author of “Northern Drift: Sketches on the New York Frontier,” a collection of his regional journalism.

1 Comment

  1. Michelle Hopson

    What a great model of a woman & teacher committed to success?!

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