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Small Business Spotlight: Martin Warner, CEO of HomeInstead

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Small Business Spotlight: Martin Warner, CEO of HomeInstead

When starting a business, it’s often said that if you can at least scratch your own itch that you’ll know you have at least one customer for your new business.  While that isn’t always a clear path to success, it was the starting point for Martin Warner and his wife Sarah to become master franchisees for an Aged Care service in Australia called Home Instead.  From small beginnings in 2005 they have grown to 33 franchises across Australia.

Why were you attracted to aged care?

Martin:  We had some challenges looking for care for my mother, who’s disabled and a senior.  My wife and I were both running our own independent consultancies – I was involved in franchising and Sarah was involved in doing some work for the Federal Government in relation to aged care in residential care – and we wanted to work together in a larger business.

Part of Sarah’s role with what she was doing was to scan the newspapers and she saw an ad from an American company that was looking for a master franchisee for Australia.  It seemed like it had our name on it.  After interviews in Australia and the US with the owners – just wonderful people, really genuine – we were convinced it was right for us.

What are some of the challenges in dealing with a franchise owner overseas?

Martin:  Australia was the very first market that they approached in a far more methodical way after forays into Japan and Portugal. So we had a role in helping them understand some of the nuances about opening in a completely different market, where we were taking their systems on board, and it was something we were working together on.

There were simple things like different spelling, paper sizes and language variations but probably the biggest challenge was that their operating systems are set up in a different date format with the month, then day and year.

What excites you most about your industry?

Martin:  Historically the industry has been run by Government-funded organisations and has been provider driven with many seniors having no choice in their care.  This is going to change in late February 2017 after 5 years of lobbying and advocating for the industry to become consumer driven.  Clients, or seniors who receive Government funding, will be able to take their package go to whoever they want, providing that organisation is an approved provider.

The market will grow, and in our favour, because we built our business on the quality of our services, flexibility, and choices for seniors and their families.

What mistake have you made twice?

Martin:  Employing people is tricky to get right.  This is a very compassionate business, but equally, you want people to perform.  And I think that if we’ve made mistakes, it would be allowing people who’ve crossed professional boundaries to carry on, and then they’ve done the same thing again. Getting this right is central to making sure that we provide a professional service and it’s difficult because of the nature of attracting caring, compassionate people to it.  So we have things such as gift policies, and money handling, all these sorts of things. It’s very, very important.

What was a key challenge starting out?

Martin:  We should have been closer to our Accountant and understanding the whole accounting system in the early days to stay on top of our liabilities. The nature of our business is that we deliver the services, and we pay our caregivers, and then we wait for the money.   And some organisations can take a long time to pay which is difficult when you’re starting out.

What’s the best advice you’ve received when it comes to business?

 1. Stay true to yourself, to who you are. 

When Sarah and I got involved in this, we actually wanted to enjoy what we were doing and make a difference in people’s lives.  Staying firm your strategy makes the difference.

2. Specialise on what you do well & don’t bend to every opportunity

I know some organisations who provide care, but then they’re moving into whole ranges of care like childcare, disability care or home maintenance.  But that’s not what we’re about.   We’ve enjoyed just being specialised, and having the expertise in one line of care, which is about looking after seniors.

3. Spread a sense of ownership through the business

We do this by maintaining our values and avoiding bringing in bureaucracy. It’s tempting but our focus is very much on just keep it efficient, to the point that you can communicate with all your staff, and have a good culture in place so that then that can work for you.

4. Understand your role as founder

It’s a founder’s role to transfer their way, their culture, and how to do things.  It’s important because that way you’ll continue to enjoy it, but also you maintain the heart and culture of the business and allow more scope for innovation.

How can people connect with you?

Martin:  Our website is the best way.

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