When 17-year-old Susan Ferraro started what she called Susan’s Playpen in her parents’ basement in Methuen, Mass., she probably couldn’t have imagined that, thirty years later, the same organization — now named Little Sprouts — would win the Small Business of the Year Award from the Boston Chamber of Commerce.

Little Sprouts started as a way for working parents to help make sure their young children got the chance to learn, and were being inspired by teachers who made interactive learning a top priority.  Since those humble beginnings, it has become a day care, preschool, and learning environment for kindergarten-age children and younger, with afterschool programs for older children.

These students are from 56 different cultures and speak 23 different languages.  The organization serves more than 700 families and has 13 different locations across Massachusetts, including ones in cities like Methuen, Lowell, Roxbury, and Andover.

“We cover the whole spectrum of parents,” says marketing communications specialist Shinnon Fakhri. And Little Sprouts takes pains to make sure the environment is perfect for every child. “Everything we do is intentional — from the colors on the walls, to the music you hear in the building, to the way the building smells.”

Little Sprouts reaches a diverse group of parents and children and each school is heavily involved in community events. The school in Roxbury provides free teaching for children without homes. On Facebook, Little Sprouts offers gift cards and other certificates to families that can be turned in at local pizza places, community farms, and other local spots.

Along with community involvement, Shinnon says that word of mouth, a partnership with WGBH Radio, social media, and email marketing are important for keeping prospective and current parents up-to-date.

“We use Constant Contact to get in touch with parents to keep them informed about free events in the community,” Shinnon says. “We’re definitely able to reach more people with email. Direct mail… people throw that kind of thing away.”

She adds that she’s careful not to overwhelm subscribers with too many newsletters or emails that are too “salesy.” Shinnon explains that, when it comes to email marketing, “less is more.”

Little Sprouts also leads email subscribers to their Facebook Page by ending most newsletters with “If you love us, like us on Facebook.” They’ve put the message in paper form, handing out business cards with the same mantra. And Shinnon makes sure that all the social media efforts are carefully implemented.

All of these measures – plus an unparalleled teaching staff and innovative teaching techniques – have led Little Sprouts to be recognized for strong financial performance, as well as achievements in management, community and social responsibility… which is exactly what the Greater Boston Chamber of Commerce was looking for in candidates for the Small Business of the Year Award.

Is your business blooming like Little Sprouts? Let us know in the comments below.