Jonathan Marsh is the owner of Home Helpers of Bradenton, a non-medical, in-home care agency based in Bradenton, Florida. Home Helpers offers homemaker and personal care services to seniors, disabled individuals, and others who need temporary or long-term assistance at home. This includes providing companionship, light housekeeping, meal preparation, transportation, and assistance with daily living activities like bathing, feeding, and toiletting.
Why did you start your business?
I have a Bachelor of Science in management information systems. I was selling software. I did 16 years as a consultant with a large firm. It had nothing to do with this type of business. After a number of years, I was feeling burnt out. I was traveling somewhere weekly and I couldn’t nurture friendships at home. On top of that, I started to see that the work I did resulted in people being laid off. The software I was installing made processes more efficient so companies didn’t need all the staff they had before. People were losing their jobs.
I hired a business advisor to help me find a business I could run. When you’re looking to get into business, there’s a cross-section between what you’re passionate about and what you can afford. At the time, I was really passionate about working out, but I couldn’t afford to open a gym. And, at that time, fitness was getting very competitive.
Fast-forward to 2014. I was really depressed with my job. I was talking to a friend about care for her mother. I never really knew this kind of business existed. I started researching it and realized that’s what I wanted to do. The reason why is that we had a situation in my family where my grandmother needed help in her home. My uncle convinced my cousin to move four hours away to care for her. My cousin was a single, 35-year-old woman and my grandmother was 92 years old. Putting them together didn’t work. My cousin reluctantly did it and it wasn’t good for either of them. My cousin ended up developing some substance abuse problems and not taking care of herself, which is actually very common for family caregivers. My cousin’s health really took a nosedive when she was taking care of my grandmother and she never seemed to quite recover. I always saw this as a business not only for grandmother, but also for my cousin after seeing the struggles that she went through. The last couple of years of my grandmother’s life should have been great years. She shouldn’t have had to worry about anything, but she was always worried about my cousin. And my cousin ended up passing away at 42. She should have been allowed to be the young, single person she was.
How did you finance the business at the start?
I had personal savings. I did have a home equity loan, which I chose to use instead of pulling cash out of my savings. Along the way, especially at the beginning, I’ve had to use some of my personal money to keep the business going. Otherwise, I’ve used money that the business has made to fund operations.
What’s the biggest mistake you made early on?
I wasn’t a business owner before. I assumed that my project management experience would translate easily. In some cases it did, but there are some aspects I didn’t pay much attention to. It’s hard to manage all the things you need to do.
Also, when you start a business, there are a lot of people who want to sell you something. People are friendly and you think everything sounds great. But, I realized after a year or so that all the stuff I spent money on didn’t bring in any money. I learned that I should have done more research before diving into things like advertising. I’m much more selective about marketing and advertising.
What’s something smart you did early on?
Hiring the right people. I knew that I needed somebody in order to grow. I knew that I couldn’t go out to do marketing while also doing consultations and office work. You can’t be afraid to take a loss for a little bit in order to gain. After not even a year, we were 10 times the size we were after hiring an office manager.
Running the Business
How do you manage cash flow?
We use QuickBooks. My office manager does the bookkeeping. Our payroll system interfaces with our QuickBooks as well as our billing system. That makes it easy. Our office manager also inputs expenses into the system.
What’s the most rewarding thing about running the business?
The most rewarding thing is seeing successful outcomes for clients. You want to be able to assign a caregiver that can not only assist someone in the way they need to be assisted, but you also want there to be compatibility. When you see that you’ve been able to make a match and the caregiver and client feel like friends, that’s what makes this business worthwhile.
Also, creating jobs is a big deal to me. The more people we get on staff and the more people we put to work is rewarding as well.
What’s the most challenging thing about running the business?
People management is always tough. It’s tough to balance new clients and caregivers. We need to be able to react quickly when a new client signs up. We need to have caregivers on staff with the bandwidth to work those shifts. But, at the same time, caregivers need hours. If you hire them and they don’t have enough hours, they’re going to go somewhere else. It’s a hard balance.
What advice would you give to a new entrepreneur?
My biggest advice is that if you buy into a franchise, understand the royalties and branding frees as well as the industry. Your salesperson might not necessarily know the regulations in your state. In this business, the regulations differ. So, in one state, this might be a very low-overhead business. But, in another state, this might have very high overhead and it might be highly regulated. Don’t rush and take the time to understand the franchise and all the fees. Reach out to other owners of the franchise and other businesses in nearby cities that are not necessarily competitors. When I had this idea in my head, I did not want to hear the negative things about it. I didn’t want anybody to ruin my dreams. A smart person will ask the tough questions and make sure they understand. This is a 24×7 business and probably more difficult than many other businesses to run.
What’s next for Home Helpers of Bradenton?
This is going to be a big year for us. We’ve hired a community liaison to really get the word out there more. We’ve also focused on SEO and SEM. We know that people are searching for this type of business online, and we want to be the first one coming up. We have big projections for this year and hope to double our business in the next six months.