Tomorrow's forecast? Gray. According to the Census Bureau, 13 percent of the population will be over the age of 65 by 2010. By 2030, the figure will jump to 19.6 percent. Many older people want to remain in their family home as long as they can, so savvy entrepreneurs are rushing in to provide a range of nonmedical home care services that help them age in place. "We call this 'pre-assisted living,'" says Val Halamandaris, president of the National Association for Home Care & Hospice in Washington, DC. "You help people perform the simple functions of daily living and don't let them get so run down that they wind up in assisted living or the emergency room."
The biggest obstacles to breaking into nonmedical home care are often the seniors themselves, who are reluctant to acknowledge their needs. "You have to have a staff that's trained to work with seniors and help them become comfortable with the choices you offer," says Andrea Cohen (below), 48, co-founder and CEO of HouseWorks in Newton, Massachusetts. With projected 2006 sales of $10 million, HouseWorks provides personal care assistance, companionship, home modification, cleaning and relocation services.
Before you start a non-medical health care business, consider the following:
- Start strong. "You're dealing with human lives in this business--if you screw up, people won"t refer you again," says Andrea Cohen, 49, co-founder and CEO of HouseWorks in Newton, Massachusetts. Make sure you make the proper investments in your staff and infrastructure before you take on any clients.
- Make connections. According to Cohen, most of your clients will be referred by health-care providers like assisted living facilities and hospital systems. "The discharge planners need to get patients out of the hospital or rehab quickly," says Cohen, who co-founded the business with Alan D. Solomont, 57. "If your response is quick and professional, it helps them get their job done, and they become your champions." Cohen says she"s built relationships with discharge planners by saying "yes" whenever they call--even on a Friday afternoon, filling last-minute requests, and by always having a live person on the line to talk to them.
- Choose the right location. You should balance two factors when locating your corporate offices, Cohen says. You want to be in an area affluent enough so that there will be a large number of people who can pay for your services out-of-pocket, but the offices also have to be accessible to the home health-care workers who will be your field staff. Look for a location that is well served by public transportation.
- Focus your marketing on adult children. Most seniors are unwilling or unable to acknowledge their need for non-medical home care, so don't focus your marketing efforts on them. Instead, develop "thoughtful marketing" strategies aimed at adult children that educate them and help them navigate the maze of long-term care considerations. Your website should be succinct and easy to understand, using fonts and colors that are kind on the older eyes of both the seniors and their children.
- Have a solid sales team. Cohen says that many going into this kind of people business fail because they don't understand the value of a vigorous sales staff. "When the phone rings, there has to be someone there who is comfortable selling the service," she says.
- Hire the right people. "The most important part of home care is the person you put in the home," Cohen says. "You want someone who is hardworking, naturally enthusiastic and solution oriented."