The number of seniors in our world is growing almost exponentially. The baby-boom generation is retiring, Alzheimer's Disease is rearing it's ugly head at an alarming rate, and we are, in many ways, not a healthy group of people entering our golden years.
With this, naturally comes the need for more and more senior housing options, such as assisted living. Often times, there are lengthy waiting lists for an assisted living room or bed, and seniors are often left to fend for themselves, or rely on remote family support, or sometimes sub-par city services.
A no-brainer for an entrepreneurial type (with a knack for caregiving) to get into this industry, right?
Sure it is, and that's what's happening, and it's evidenced by the hundreds of comments we receive every year on our ‘how to open' page discussing the steps needed to open an assisted living home.
Thousands of people in the US with caregiving and nursing (and other) backgrounds are ready to go at it alone - to build and operate their own assisted living facility or residential care home.
Their intentions are often times great, and noble. They've been a caregiver for years, and have often times worked in an assisted living facility, caring for seniors, and often becoming quite effective at it.
At some point, the internal conversation will happen - "I can do this for myself, and be my own boss.”
The Market Is Often Saturated
The trap that many of these well-intended folks fall into is that if they simply build a home, "they will come.” Knowing that there are a lot of seniors out there needing housing, little thought is given to a marketing or business plan, and that many other go-getters in the caregiving field have the same idea. They've failed to research the assisted living market in their own city or area, often learning after-the-fact that the market is saturated.
The ribbon is cut, the doors open and beds remain empty.
In any major city, and even in small-town and rural areas, there exist many numbers of (often smaller, residential assisted living homes) in deep distress, on the verge of going under.
I recently met a very smart gentleman recently, who, for the majority of his life was a construction contractor. He was looking for a change of career and saw the potential opportunity in building a handful of assisted living homes in a relatively large city.
With his background in construction, the homes he created were absolutely stunning, and beautiful. I know on a personal level, as he invited me to visit them.
The facilities were grand, with top-of-the-line furnishings, equipment, ambiance, and technology. The caregiving staff he had hired were the cream of the crop. I got an immediate vibe from them that they were genuine - the real deal caregivers that had it in their DNA.
The dining was superb, with chef-prepared meals, healthy snacks and social events built around their dynamic menu.
Everything about this facility would make me want to put my own mother into it, if that time ever came.
However, most of the beds were empty.
It stunned, and saddened me a bit knowing that this facility was truly capable of being one of the best in town, and the owner was struggling to attract new residents.
I can only imagine some of the "lesser homes” in the area having an even harder time - and I've seen it in person, too.
Being the owner of Assisted Living Directory, I'm often invited to tour facilities in my area, and there are times when I leave the visit shaking my head, knowing that there are some very basic things that the facility owner is failing to do - common business and marketing "musts” that have to happen in such a competitive industry.
Getting the word out
Of course, in addition to making sure your assisted living home is competitive, safe, attractive, fairly priced, and viable for the long-term, many, if not most of these business owners have failed to grasp how to get the word out in our highly digital, social-media-fueled day-and-age. Here's what I commonly see that does, and does not happen with facilities that are in financial trouble.
1) Many residential care homes, often new ones, assume that by just building a website for their facility that the ‘digital' work is done, and that a pretty website will bring online visits, inquiries, testimonials and ultimately residents.
Unfortunately, a great website does no good if it can't be found in a search. I know, I've been working on Assisted Living Directory for 10 years, and getting decent online traffic in this industry is no small feat.
2) Facility owners rely too heavily on print ads. This is another medium that I believe is losing it's viability. I can't remember the last time I took an advertisement in a magazine or newspaper seriously. Most newspapers are struggling to stay alive due to lack of readership, and many magazines are "geographically broad” serving an audience that is probably not focused on where your mom and dad actually need the care. Additionally, print advertisements are usually quite expensive, and success is not easy to track. Print ads also have a shelf-life. Once they're read (consumed) their next stop is the recycle bin.
3) Facility owners are often experts, but they have failed to promote themselves as such. There are forums, groups and communities abound online relevant to caregiving and assisted living. There are sites that accept articles, and will promote the author and his or her business by sharing their expertise.
However, so many facility owners are not willing to share their voice, and expertise to others. Maybe it's a fear of ‘giving away secrets' or simply a fear of public attention. Who knows?
I've learned that families looking for assisted living will seek out the experts - the true ‘jocks' of caregiving to make sure their mom, dad or loved one is being taken care of by someone not just in it for the money, but in it to make a difference in the resident's life. Families want a feeling of trust.
If your expertise never leaves your head, it won't find it's way to those who are looking for it.
4) Facility owners often fail to do market research to determine what a bed, or room should cost in their city or area - thus pricing themselves out of the market unknowingly.
Families will do the research, and if your 300 square foot resident bedroom is twice the cost of a comparable one a mile away, you'll lose out.
There are, at times (depending on where you live) experienced residential assisted living consultants who can help new or distressed homes (for a fee, of course) to identify their price point, marketing strategy, and work through a viable business plan.
Based on the years we've operated Assisted Living Directory, and based on the many facility owners we've interviewed and visited with, and the numerous homes we've been invited to visit (and often videotape) - there are some fundamental areas of focus that all facility owners should pay attention to in order to attract potential residents, and ultimately to fill beds.
1) Identify your price point. As we just discussed, many residential facilities will price themselves out of the market before they open their doors. Do the research to figure out what is competitive, and from there offer the best service, staff and amenities that you can to justify it.
I've always been a fan of offering something for free, at least when you are starting. It will only help in the long-run to ‘sweeten the pot' for potential residents, such as a month or two of free rent, or a discounted rate for the first year.
2) Using the tactics from #1 above, and assuming you serve your residents well, ask them, or their families, to offer testimonials for you that you can share online, on review sites (trusted ones, like Google Local/Reviews, Yelp etc.) If they are reluctant, again, offer them "something” in exchange for their time.
In my experience, if families and residents are truly happy with your services, they are more than willing to offer you a glowing testimonial or two.
3) Video, video, video. I can't say it enough, how impactful a good facility video tour can help your facility. This is one of the few advertising mediums that doesn't have a ‘shelf life.' On the contrary, a well-done video, put on YouTube only gets better, and more views with time. Videos are easily shared, establish trust, and truly showcase what you have to offer.
A good video made great can be done by having residents and family members offer on-camera testimonials. I've had the wonderful pleasure of producing videos like this for facilities.
See our most recent facility video tour with resident/family testimonials: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uyrwtaXzwq8
4) Spend time every week (or every day, if time permits) sharing your expertise online. Facebook is ok, but i've found that Google+ has many communities and forums that are robust and active with caregivers sharing ideas and expertise.
Link your profiles with your facility's website, which will help your site's visibility as time goes on.
Tweet about your business, write articles for trusted, relevant sites about your experience, and make sure your site has an active blog, and keep it updated. Write an article for your chamber of commerce's magazine or online newsletter, and participate in local programs or social functions in your town or city that cater to seniors.
Your local senior center, or Area Agency on Aging should be a great source of information on what is going on.
Network, network, and network.
Sound like a lot of work?
It is, and hopefully you have some trusted people in your immediate circles, or on your staff who are willing to help.
It's essential, and should be worth it. After all, it's a lot more work agonizing over empty beds and bills due than spending an hour or two a day creating momentum online, and building your brand, expertise and trust.
Lauren and her consulting group are available to help distressed/troubled assisted living facilities, as well as new facilities.