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First Aid

The Entrepreneur

Tola Atewologun

The Expert

Mark Victor Hansen

The seraphic Springs Health Care Agency in Gloucester, Massachusetts, competes against well-established companies in delivering home nursing care for seniors, the chronically ill and anyone else who needs home health care. There are no significant price differences between Seraphic Springs and its competitors, and since payment to Seraphic Springs is usually from a third party (Medicare/Medicaid or private insurers), price is not a significant issue when it comes to selling the service.

A nurse herself, Tola Atewologun says she founded the business in late 1995 because she realized many people were not getting the care they needed and were paying for. She differentiates Seraphic Springs in the market by letting the patient choose his or her caregiver-"That adds a very personal touch for the patient." Furthermore, rather than sending different caregivers daily or every other day (as is common with larger agencies), Seraphic Springs provides continuity in service. "Our patients see the same faces every day, and that is much better for them."

The Problem

Seraphic Springs has found winning patients tough going. Its competitors are far larger, have been in business for many years and are better known. Atewologun has made the rounds of local hospitals-key referral sources for businesses like hers-but has had limited success. At times she wonders if being a Nigerian immigrant is a handicap in this market. "But I will not let that stop me," she vows. "My main problem is how do I get a foothold in this market?"

The Solution

We turned to Mark Victor Hansen for advice because Hansen's success is proof that the impossible dream can become a reality. When he and co-author Jack Canfield wrote Chicken Soup for the Soul (Health Communications), they dreamed it would become a bestseller. But virtually every major (and minor) New York book publisher turned the manuscript down. Only a tenacious search uncovered a tiny Florida publisher that was willing to publish their book. Today, Chicken Soup and its two sequels have all hit national bestseller lists. So Hansen is optimistic about Atewologun's prospects.

"Just because people say no today doesn't mean they won't be saying yes tomorrow-if you rethink how you are marketing your service," he says. "When bookstores were initially unenthusiastic about Chicken Soup, we did what we call 'bypass marketing.' We sold the book in bagel shops, gas stations, you name it-and bookstores soon signed on. This entrepreneur needs to find her own creative ways to bypass market. If hospitals aren't providing enough referrals, who could? Think in new ways about answers to that."

The bigger point, says Hansen, is that Atewologun should think of innovative ways to market her service. When conventional approaches aren't getting the results you want, you need to break the mold and try new avenues.

Some possibilities: Hold free information nights at local libraries or senior and community centers, giving insight into issues involved in elder or home care; market to hospital nurses, who have a lot of influence on patients but are often ignored by businesses; get booked as a guest on local senior-themed radio shows; or get local newspapers to do articles about a Nigerian immigrant entrepreneur.

But, before starting to sell, Hansen urges Atewologun to "go to the next level where you think about your service and say, 'Wow!' When you are starting from scratch, you need to 'Wow' the customer-and that won't happen until you 'Wow' yourself first.

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This article was originally published in the August 1996 print edition of Entrepreneur with the headline: First Aid.

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