By Mike Southon
Major concerns for people as they grow older are the support they might need as they become frailer and their continuing ability to pay for the best possible quality of care.
I spoke recently to some public sector workers facing imminent redundancy. Those with long service faced an uncertain future, even though some were cushioned by significant redundancy packages. When I enquired as to how they plan to spend this money, the prime destination was in looking after aged parents.
The deeper the concern, the better the opportunity for the ambitious entrepreneur; but it certainly takes someone with the right stuff to build a business based around long-term care.
Miriam Warner was a typical Army wife, always willing to chip in when the going got tough. She worked in a prep school when her husband was made redundant, and later cooked directors’ lunches when they moved to London.
When her husband died, his Army pension ended as they had met after he had completed his service. Warner relocated to Wales and enrolled at Herefordshire College of Technology, to learn business administration and start a new career as a PA.
She finally found herself working at a company providing domiciliary care, and came to the two classic conclusions of the aspiring entrepreneur: that she did not enjoy working for someone else and felt she could do a better job.
Warner founded Miracle Workers in 1996 with the modest financial ambition of clearing £500 per week. She realised that the current model, where carers travelled between several different clients, was inefficient and ineffective. What was required was a full-time carer for each client and systems to recruit and manage these people.
She invested £200 in a brochure and wrote to everyone she knew. Her first clients were all independently wealthy wartime veterans. They needed to be matched with people who were genuine carers rather than glorified domestic servants, often middle-aged people who had brought up children.
Warner defines the right qualities for a good carer to be common sense, a driving license, the ability to cook and a kind heart. She defined carefully the rules and processes to make the business work by undertaking much of the caring work herself and later making sure she still visited each client on a regular basis.
The number of clients grew steadily to ten, then made a swift leap to twenty-five, once word-of mouth began to take over. This was boosted by their providing care for some high-profile clients, including author John Mortimer and politician Dame Barbara Castle.
Now that the systems are in place, she can continue to scale the business by employing the right people. Finding carers is more difficult than acquiring new customers, so the key cornerstones of the business are the Care Managers.
Today the company has a network of over 200 carers and an annual turnover in excess of £1.4m. Warner’s success is proof that it is possible to start a viable business in your fifties and to continue to grow it successfully well past your official retirement age.
Entrepreneurs come in all shapes and sizes, but I always feel that people over 50 who ask for my advice do have significant advantages over those much younger, including a better-defined sense of purpose and an existing network of potential customers.
Staying in one’s own home and receiving the proper care is clearly a preferable option to entering a nursing home; all that was required was a way of making it economically viable and the will to do it. These are the qualities you always find in successful entrepreneurs like Warner.
Miracle Workers can be found at www.miracle-worker.co.uk
Originally published in The Financial Times: www.ft.com Copyright ©Mike Southon 2011. All Rights Reserved. Not to be reproduced without permission in writing. Mike Southon- Co-author of The Beermat Entrepreneur & Business Speaker- www.mikesouthon.com
Mike is one of the world’s top business speakers, a Fellow of The Professional Speakers Association. Mike is a Visiting Fellow in Innovation and Entrepreneurship at London South Bank University. He has made frequent appearances on television and radio, has a monthly sales column in Real Business magazine and is a regular commentator in the Financial Times.
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