Cindy Christensen on Building Relationships in a Home Care Franchise
Cindy Christensen is the owner of Visiting Angels Mid-Eastern Shore. In a recent conversation, Cindy talked about the challenges that come with starting a home care franchise, how she and her daughter, Brooke, overcame them, and why relationships play a crucial role in making the most of a home care franchise opportunity.
Before she ever pursued a home care franchise opportunity, Cindy Christensen’s had a passion for serving others, and for serving seniors specifically. The owner of a framing business for sixteen years, Cindy transitioned into the ministry in 2001. For more than a decade, Cindy was Director of Children and Youth at her local church in Salisbury, MD, where she ran programs designed to bring local children, youth and their families to church.
After thirteen years in the ministry, Cindy was ready for a new challenge. After a year of researching different businesses with her husband, Buzz, she decided on a home care franchise opportunity with Visiting Angels.
“We researched in-home care because we knew the population was growing older,” Cindy says. “And when my husband started researching home care agencies, Visiting Angels appeared to be a first-class company the whole way down.”
“‘Care’ was a very big word with them. Visiting Angels were very professional. They were very client-oriented. The amount to buy a franchise was a reasonable amount. And what you got was a home office that supports you all the way. We have a care director that you can call with every possible question.”
Cindy made the decision to purchase a home care franchise opportunity with Visiting Angels in December of 2013, and opened a Visiting Angels office seven months later in Easton, MD, with her daughter Brooke as co-director. Two years later, Cindy and Buzz were able to purchase a second office in her hometown of Salisbury, MD. Cindy and Brooke now provide services to seniors throughout Maryland’s Eastern Shore, employing over one hundred caregivers. They are making plans to open a third home care office in order to better care for their extended area.
Cindy’s secret to success? She says it’s the relationships that she and Brooke have built with their clients, with their caregivers, and with other Visiting Angels franchisees.
Client Relationships Define a Home Care Franchise
More than any other relationship, the one between Cindy and Brooke has been the most important to making the most of their home care franchise opportunity.
“When we made our decision, Brooke had graduated college, and just returned from a European tour with Up With People,” Cindy says. “This was a perfect opportunity for both of us. Brooke’s great with people, and she was able to do it with me which was an asset for me to not have to set out by myself.”
“For the first year, it was really just the two of us. When you’re out caring for a client, you can’t be in the office answering the phone. So, we had one of us in the office, and one of us out in the field, and we would switch back and forth. We did that for a year.”
“We did it together, and that was great support.”
Working directly with clients also gave Cindy and Brooke the chance to build close relationships with the seniors they were caring for. But even as they began hiring more and more caregivers, strong personal relationships continued to define Cindy and Brooke’s business.
“Brooke and I still try to be the ones that do every assessment. Because we do that, our clients know us. We have great relationships with them. We really try to keep lines of communication open with them.”
Cindy and Brooke also built relationships within the community, becoming actively involved with local groups and organizations. “I attend chamber of commerce meetings, Alzheimer’s meetings, elderly care meetings,” says Cindy. “Brooke does much the same thing, she’s an integral part of the community.”
“People feel like they know us, and that’s been a big part of our success.”
Building Relationships with Your Caregivers
It’s not just client relationships that set Cindy and Brooke apart. From the beginning, they’ve worked hard on building relationships with their caregivers — something Cindy believes distinguishes them from competitors in their area.
“We have never marketed for caregivers. Word of mouth brings us great employees. Here we are, four and a half years later, with over one hundred caregivers on our staff.”
Cindy says that the biggest challenge to maintaining relationships with caregivers is finding time for face-to-face interaction.
“Caregivers need to see you and have conversations with you regularly so they know who they work with.”
Most of Cindy and Brooke’s caregivers drive directly from their homes to their clients’ homes for work. On a typical workday, caregivers don’t have a reason to stop in at the office. Cindy and Brooke decided to give their caregivers a reason to see them regularly.
“One thing we do is pay weekly. Most of our caregivers like to pick up their paycheck in person. We get to see them, talk with them, give them a chance to vent. We try to have goodies for them. Once a month, we try to have home-baked treats that Brooke has made for them.”
Cindy says that creating the right office environment has also been important.
“When our caregivers come in, they can talk. They know someone’s here to listen. They know it’s a safe haven in the office. We’re not here to criticize — we’re here to listen. I think that’s helped a lot.”
That focus on supporting caregivers allows Cindy’s staff to foster their own close relationships with clients. “Our caregivers love their clients. They want to do everything for them. They love knowing they’re there for the seniors they work with.”
Relationships Within Visiting Angels
Another area where relationships have been important to Cindy’s business is within the Visiting Angels franchise community. Shortly after purchasing her home care franchise opportunity, Cindy connected with other Visiting Angels franchisees in Maryland.
“All the Maryland Visiting Angels owners get together once a quarter,” Cindy says. “We jump at the opportunity to help each other.”
At these meetings, the Maryland franchisees trade ideas, share tips, and discuss shared concerns, like Maryland’s licensing laws. She says that sometimes, the close relationship between the Maryland franchisees even leads to shared clients.
“The Eastern Shore is where people come for vacation. So sometimes the clients that the other owners take care of come over here for a month’s vacation. A lot of the time, the owners like to call us and hand over care responsibilities for a while so that their client can get quality care on vacation.”
Cindy says a similar type of camaraderie exists among Visiting Angels franchisees at the national level.
“We just returned from our national conference. The best part of these conferences is anywhere you turn, you’re talking to franchise owners, all in the same boat, looking to help out.”
This was something Cindy didn’t expect when pursuing a home care franchise opportunity. Even now, it’s something she doesn’t see in other franchise brands.
“I speak with agency owners from other companies in our area, and I haven’t heard of other franchisees who talk to each other or share resources. I think that’s something unique to Visiting Angels. Franchisees don’t see each other as competition. They’re there to help one another out.”
Home Care the Right Franchise Opportunity
Four years since purchasing a Visiting Angels franchise opportunity, Cindy says that home care can be a demanding business, but it’s one where the rewards are worth it.
“It’s a 24/7 business. I think new owners need to know that,” she says. “But It’s a very rewarding business. So many, many families say to us, ‘I don’t know what I would have done without Visiting Angels.’”
“You’re helping people stay in their own homes, stay independent. You’re creating jobs where people get to do something they’re passionate about. You’re building important relationships between other people.”
Are you looking for a home care franchise opportunity near you? Contact Visiting Angels at 800-365-4189 today for detailed information on our available home care franchise opportunities.