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Starting your own business to serve boomers and seniors

I have heard from a number of folks in recent months about the businesses they are starting, some number of whom have published what they want to do or are doing on the Forum link on this site.  So I would like to ask and answer a few questions about doing so. In particular:

What types of businesses? I have heard about and see opportunity in home care services, home renovation and remodeling, financial advisory services, portable health records, life planning, home activity monitoring, move and organizing services, personal concierge services, adaptive and assistive services, home assessments, bathroom-specific remodeling, and companion services.  In addition to the above-mentioned, I would like to see more private transportation service businesses started in areas where the business model makes sense -- not just to medical appointments, but also (like SilverRide in San Francisco) accompanying older individuals into appointments or shopping locations.

Do these compete with non-profit or volunteer services? One of the main objections to starting some of the above businesses is that 'seniors don't have the money' and therefore won't pay for them.  Like any other business, research and a business plan is required, with a solid understanding of the demographics of the region, the availability of non-profit and volunteer services and how many they are able to serve. Demographics plus that quantified gap becomes the target market. And in some cases, the target market is clearly the family caregiver(s) -- and the awareness generation must be done where the family members -- not the senior -- reside.

Nationwide marketers -- know the competition. I have been speaking to several startups lately that didn't have a particularly clear idea of the current competition or price tolerance of the market they plan to serve prior to starting the company. If you're looking for funding (angel or VC), this has got to be job one before picking the company name, hiring the first engineer, getting a prototype together, and seeking funding. If you're located near a business school, try to obtain an intern who is interested in doing market research on emerging business areas -- and ask them to do this legwork. Once you have all of that together, now it's time for national visibility. Speaking at events sponsored by ASA, AARP, and AAHSA is appropriate -- in some cases, after you join up. And just attending may be almost as useful -- there are plenty of experienced business people to talk to and learn who's who in the industry. And renting ($$) booth space may be the best use of marketing money if you can afford it. Finally, call up experts, prospective competitors, and possible pilot customers and ask them their opinion.

Region-specific businesses -- know how to gain visibility.  If the product or service is for caregivers, find the local hospice, Alzheimer's Association, adult day program or whatever is appropriate -- and speak to the administration about a role you can play.  This helps confirm the need for your service and gives you visibility. Write an article for a local newspaper -- even paying to get the article printed. Issue a press release that is picked up in the local newspaper. Create a video that you can easily and quickly show that demonstrates successful use of your product or service. Post to the blogs of others (like this one) with comments (not anonymous) about the business that you offer. Volunteer in related organizations where you can get to know advocates who work with your target audience.  A website is a must-have -- without it you don't exist.



I looked at website for SilverRide - what do you think Laurie of not finding prices on that site? (or if they are there, not easy to find).

Agree that many services are underestimating the needs of boomers and older adults who will be willing to pay a fair price for many things.

One big hurdle is always marketing. What other dynamics?

online guidance services for individuals and businesses

I think it is unfortunate that pricing is not visible on websites -- but this is often the case in new markets where there are few competitors, probably because pricing has not stabilized.

No pricing is "off putting" to me, and my hunch is that, perhaps especially for older adults, it's the same. In other words, it may be counterproductive to reach the market they want to reach.

As Internet marketing and sales grow, one wants to provide as much useful information on the site, easy to see, particularly for a relatively simple service such as transportation.

If it were a question, e.g. of home-installed medical monitoring systems, that is more complex, yet even there, a ball park figure is always useful. If the company thinks it will "scare" inquiries away, then the pricing may not be structured in the best way possible.

Just some thoughts, for whatever they are worth.

I am exploring the potential for being a "long term care advocate" (my idea of a job title). Briefly, the care would be non health care specific, though it would be health care and well being related. The care could be provided in either a home setting or a nursing home setting. The target market would be elderly individuals whose families and/or friends are either not able or not willing to provide the services. For example, the family does not live nearby, or there is no family or capable friend. Services are possible in the following areas:


1.       Nursing home selection

2.       Medical billing negotiation

3.       Insurance claims filing/monitoring/negotiation

4.       Insurance coverage analysis and policy selection

5.       Drug monitoring and prescription ordering

6.       Power of attorney for banking, bill paying, etc.

7.       Budgeting and spending analysis

8.       Health monitoring/patient attention

9.       Making/keeping physician appointments

10.   Outings

11.   Visits

12.   Purchasing personal care items

13.   Liaison with family members

14.   Financial aid application/grant writing?


Here are some examples of the types of long term care advocay that could be provided for a nursing home resident:


1.       The nursing home bills the patient, but some of the charges may be covered by Medicare, by long term care insurance or by a Medicare supplement. The advocate obtains information on the coverage under each policy and under the contract with the nursing home, then spends time working with all parties to obtain the maximum reimbursement and lowest cost to the resident.


2.       The advocate purchases candy and other “nice to have” items for the resident that the nursing home does not provide. The advocate unwraps the candy because the resident is unable to.


3.       The nursing home provides some personal care supplies like Depends, a toothbrush, and basic soap. The advocate purchases better items at a lower price than the nursing home charges.


4.       The nursing home switches cable providers, offering several options. The advocate knows what package to select based on the resident’s viewing patterns.


5.       The resident enjoys playing scrabble, but the nursing home doesn’t have a game. The advocate convinces the nursing home activities staff to promote scrabble games for the residents.


6.       The advocate accompanies the resident to outside physician appointments for a chronic condition, taking notes and discussing treatment options. The advocate calls the out of town family to report the physician’s comments.  


7.       The advocate monitors and discusses the chronic condition with the patient and the nursing home physician, including possible changes in the level of pain medication. As a result of the heightened awareness, the physician orders changes in pain medication.


8.       The advocate accompanies the resident, who is wheelchair bound, on a shopping trip to a local mall so that the resident can purchase new clothes.


9.       The advocate visits the resident on a regular basis, becoming friends with the resident and learning the resident’s needs.


10.   The advocate purchased books for the resident to read based on the resident’s preferences. The nursing home has books, but not the books the reader prefers.


11.   The nursing home’s prescription program isn’t covered by the resident’s insurance, or the nursing home supplies medications to the resident at its standard charges. By shopping online for the prescriptions from a mail order pharmacy that is available through the resident’s insurance program, the advocate obtains better pricing and savings.


12.   The advocate compares the resident’s current insurance coverage to what is available in the market and recommends changes to the family.


13.   The advocate obtains a financial power of attorney and pays the resident’s monthly bills.


14.   Despite the staff’s promises, the resident is not receiving showers early enough in the day and as a result cannot attend the daily activity. The advocate monitors the situation and “squeaks” sufficiently to effect a change.


15.   The resident enjoys a particular musical entertainer, who hasn’t been to the facility for awhile. The advocate suggests this entertainer to the activities staff and as a result the entertainer returns.


16.   The advocate periodically picks up a meal for the resident at a favorite restaurant and brings it to the nursing home.


17.   The advocate takes the resident out to eat at a local restaurant on a monthly basis.


18.   The resident complains about short staffing at the nursing home and long waits upon pressing a button for an aide. The advocate monitors the situation and “squeaks”  sufficiently to effect a change.


19.   The nursing home changes hands, affecting the quality of care. The advocate surveys area facilities, rates, etc. and prepares an analysis of recommendations for the out of town family.


20.   The advocate periodically rents DVDs for the resident to enjoy and connects and disconnects the DVD player for viewing.


21.   The advocate observes the progress of the resident’s physical therapy and reports same to the family.


22.   The advocate periodically buys flowers for the resident’s room.

I am in the initial stages of researching this type of service and would appreciate any comments, observations, or questions. Does any of this make sense to anyone as needed services? How are these needs being met now? By whom? Who is doing this now as a business? What has your experience been?

Thanks in advance for any help you can provide.

Jim G., Louisville, Kentucky

Couple of thoughts:

Many of the items you mention (though by no means all) could fall under the auspices of a geriatric care manager, perhaps one who has been contacted by a family member who does not live nearby. Perhaps this is a service geriatric care managers would be happy to contract with you to deliver.

Another possibility is to talk to the social services individuals at 3-5 local nursing homes to discuss the possibilities -- how would family members find out about the service? Can you have a background check done on yourself to help ensure to family (and nursing homes) that you are not going to take advantage of any seniors for whom you provide the service.

Some of the items you mention may be included in the list of capabilities offered by local volunteers (including churches or synagogues) -- check with nursing homes about this.

I think one way to test the benefit of such a service would be to sponsor a family coffee hour during a holiday period -- nursing homes would have to agree to this.

Finally, I believe most nursing homes that accept Medicaid will say that the majority of residents are on Medicaid and do not have direct disposable income. Is your initial plan to offer the servie to non-Medicaid facilities?

It's a great idea -- who else is doing something like this?


Laurie: You are SO correct about really understanding your customer before starting a venture. Just because Boomers are aging doesn't mean they'll necessarily want what we have to offer. What we need to do is understand people's pain points in life and what really motivates them, and then figure out why something is compelling and how much it's worth. Private-public partnerships are totally reasonable: We're all in this together, and there's plenty of room for innovation in housing, wellness, coordination of care and services, and quality of life.

We're working on ways to integrate wellness and fitness more seamlessly into the built environment, so that we can make life easier and better for all of us, not harder. New models that incorporate "high tech/high touch," as you describe, are a large part of what's needed.

Thanks for this perspective. I continue to be bombarded by marketing companies "selling" franchises, etc. for "elder care" related businesses. This gives me some avenues to consider.
Thank you.
Jamie Stern, owner

Very informative. I find that lists many franchise opportunities for businesses that serve seniors, like Interim Healthcare and Caring Transitions.