Starting a Senior-Care Biz
Catering to seniors is a hot service-biz trend. Get started with the basics and check out these six startup ideas.
Editor's note: This article was excerpted from How to Start 6 Senior Care Businesses.
Most people start a particular type of business because they enjoy doing that kind of work, and the typical owner of a senior services business is no different. You may find it frustrating that a major portion of your time will be spent on tasks other than doing work for your clients. In fact, it won't be unusual for you to have days that are extremely busy and you work very hard, but you don't have interactions with clients.
As a solo operator, expect to spend at least one-fourth of your time on general business management and administration, marketing, purchasing and billing. The bigger your business and the more workers you have, the more time you'll spend managing them instead of doing the work yourself. By contrast, the smaller your operation, the more likely you'll be doing much of the actual work as well as running the company.
For example, the owner of a small senior concierge or relocation business will typically spend a substantial amount of time working closely with clients and coordinating services. Operating a home care (typically non-medical services) or home health-care business will often mean limited client interaction because usually the business owner is responsible for supervising a staff of qualified caregivers who are assigned to clients according to their needs.
No matter how small or large your company is, it's critical that you not neglect the administrative side. It won't do you much good if you do the work but never bother to issue invoices so you get paid. Poorly maintained records can get you into trouble with the IRS and other government agencies. Slopping purchasing procedures can mean you run out of important supplies at critical times. And if you aren't marketing on a regular basis--even when you've got all the work you can handle--your business will eventually dry up.
Although you must pay attention to the business side of your company, you can still design an operation that lets you spend most of your time on tasks you enjoy.
Do You Have What It Takes?
It takes a special type of person to work with seniors. "You have to be a people person and have very good judgment dealing with people and the issues surrounding them," says Allen Hager, founder of nonmedical home care franchise Right at Home. "Whether you are working with clients, caregivers, family members, or with the professionals who are referring you the business, there is going to be very intense people contact." While many of your clients will be able-bodied and lucid, others will suffer from infirmities and varying degrees of dementia. In addition to strong management and entrepreneurial skills, if you plan to work directly with seniors, you need:
- Honesty and integrity. You may be trusted with access to your clients' homes and sometimes even to their bank accounts.
- Patience. Even the sweetest, best-natured client will have a bad day, and you need sufficient patience to work through it.
- Versatility. Often, providing services for seniors necessitates wearing more than one hat at a time. Be flexible and willing to shift gears at a moment's notice.
- Interpersonal skills. You need to enjoy being around seniors and not be bashful about making conversation. At the same time, you need to be a good listener. Many seniors like to reminisce about earlier times in their lives, and they have some truly interesting stories to tell.
- Reliability and punctuality. Your clients will appreciate being able to depend on you to pick them up on time or keep appointments as promised.
- Compassion. You need to be able to demonstrate understanding and encouragement with seniors whose capacities are failing.
- Knowledge. You can be a tremendous asset to your elderly clients by having information about various services available to senior citizens, both locally and nationwide.
6 Senior Businesses to Start
Senior day-care center. Today's baby boomers and older Gen Xers face a dual challenge: They're caring for their own children, and sometimes grandchildren, as well as caring for parents. Many people in this sandwich generation desperately need the break a senior adult day-care business provides. The burden of caring for older family members can be overwhelming, and a place where these seniors can socialize and participate in activities in a safe, supervised environment is a welcome option for stressed caregivers.
Adult day-care centers range from small, individually owned operations that offer all the comforts of a close-knit family home to commercially based businesses that include a wide range of services.
There are two types of senior adult day-care centers: social and medical. Currently, informal social centers are more prevalent. They usually cater to seniors who have a higher level of functioning, although some clients may be wheelchair-bound, incontinent or need limited assistance with daily activities. The focus in this type of setting is more on activities, social interaction and meals. A medical day-care facility provides a more complex level of care and has a registered nurse on staff who can perform tube feedings, administer medications and oxygen, and provide other related care.
Typically, these programs operate during the same standard business hours of a traditional child day-care center, which is usually from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m.
Relocation service Many people in the rapidly growing 70-and-over population segment are selling their homes in favor of smaller houses or condos, either in traditional neighborhoods or retirement communities. This is a perfect time to cater to the relocation needs market.
Moving is always stressful, and it can be especially traumatic for someone who is leaving a home they've been in for decades that is full of precious memories. Adding to the challenge is the fact that families are more spread out geographically and not always available to help with the moving process. Not only is the packing and cleaning process physically demanding, it also takes an emotional toll. A senior relocation consultant can provide an element of compassionate objectivity as decisions are made about what to keep, give away, sell or toss.
As a senior relocation specialist, you can offer a wide range of services. It's typical to provide a total turnkey package, which means you'll orchestrate every aspect of the move, including:
- Assistance with selling the current home
- Assistance with finding a new residence
- Assistance with selecting a moving company
- Sorting and downsizing
- Estate sales
- Coordinating movers, utilities, cleaning and other tasks
- Packing and unpacking
Home care and home health-care services. By 2020, nearly 14 million people in the United States will be over the age of 85, and 84 percent of them will want to continue living at home. To do that, more than half will need assistance with daily living activities.
Seniors and family members of older relatives are looking at alternatives to assisted living and nursing homes. The best option for most is home care or home health care, where a professional caregiver goes to the home to personally look after a loved one. This may include doing laundry, picking up around the house, reading the newspaper out loud and preparing meals. Most important, this service includes companionship--someone who adds conversation and friendship to the life of an elderly person who is homebound, physically impaired, has difficulty getting around or just may be lonely.
Depending on the level of care the client needs, a licensed medical professional may be required to administer medications, offer rehabilitative therapy or provide other skilled nursing care.
Concierge service. In the corporate world, concierges are often referred to as personal assistance. They perform a wide range of services for clients. A concierge who targets seniors performs many similar functions with a twist: Their mission is to enrich the lives of their elderly clients by delivering services that allow those clients to maintain an independent, dignified lifestyle as long as possible.
Seniors turn to concierges for things they can't or don't want to do for themselves. Some of the concierge services you may provide include:
- Administrative assistance
- Organization of closets, cabinets, basement, attic, garage or filing system
- Errand and courier service
- Mail delivery and pickup (if mailbox isn't at residence)
- Grocery shopping
- Personal shopping
- Fitness training
- Computer training and support
- Daily checkups
- Reminder services
- Cleaning services
- Pet care services
- Meal preparation
Transportation service. Nondriving seniors often rely on family members or neighbors for transportation, but these resources aren't always available. Many community transportation systems, such as public and paratransit (specialized transportation service for persons who are unable to use regular public transportation due to a disability or health-related condition), are not considered senior friendly because many seniors can't walk to a bus stop, can't easily get into or out of a van, or can't afford a taxi.
Seniors need reliable, comfortable transportation with sensitive, responsible drivers who will wait for them at the doctor's office, escort them when shopping and running errands, and most important, be where they're supposed to be on time so the client is not left waiting.