Leading Into Your Purpose − Lessons From a Top Franchise Owner
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Episode 121 Transcript:
Chris Curran: Growth Igniters Radio with Pam Harper and Scott Harper®, Episode 121: Leading Into Your Purpose − Lessons From a Top Franchise Owner. This episode is brought to you by Business Advancement Incorporated − enabling successful leaders and companies to accelerate to their next level of growth and success. On the web at businessadvance.com. And now, here’s Pam and Scott.
Pam Harper: Thanks, Chris. I’m Pam Harper, Founding Partner and CEO of Business Advancement Incorporated. Right across from me, as always, is my business partner and husband, Scott Harper. Hi, Scott.
Scott Harper: Hi, Pam. As always, it’s a real pleasure to join you again for another episode of Growth Igniters Radio with Pam Harper and Scott Harper®, and as always, the purpose of our podcast is to spark new insights, inspiration and immediately useful ideas for visionary leaders to take themselves and the companies to the next level of growth and success.
And as part of our purpose, we’re going to continue our listener outreach by conducting our second Growth Igniters Radio poll. You’ll be able to see in real time how you compare with your peers on questions related to this week’s topic. It will be accessible through both text messaging, and through the web, and we’ll tell you more during each of our two breaks.
So Pam, this week we’re talking about leading into your purpose.
Pam Harper: That’s right. You know, there’s abundant research showing that living into your purpose has positive outcomes in every aspect of our lives. Now, when we make it possible for others to join us on that journey, that’s what I call leading into your purpose − and it’s even more impactful. Our guest this week is someone who exemplifies this. She is Stephanie Howe, a registered nurse who is the top franchise owner in the US of Comfort Keepers home care franchises. Stephanie is committed to assisting not just the elderly, but anyone needing home care services in order to continue living safely at home.
Now, her bio actually incorporates the story of her purpose, so we’re going to go right over to our conversation. Stephanie, welcome to Growth Igniters Radio.
Stephanie Howe: Thank you so much.
Pam Harper: Your story is so inspiring. Let’s talk a little bit about that leadership journey from nurse to the top franchise owner in the US of Comfort Keepers home care franchises. What influenced your decision to change your career path?
Stephanie Howe: You know, there have been so many things that have crossed my path in general. I was a typical nurse working in a hospital. I was delivering babies, and missing Christmas morning with my children. Nursing is such a wonderful field, because there’s so many things you can do, but it’s very challenging, and when I had my twins 14 years ago, I was fortunate enough to be able to stay home with them for the first year. Now, I’m a worker. I love to keep busy, and I loved my babies, but I just was dreaming and thinking of what else could I do?
In my background, I grew up with a parent with chronic progressive multiple sclerosis, and I think that’s probably the biggest thing that impacted so many things that I’ve done in my life. He suffered horribly − I was quite young, I was 11 years old when he was diagnosed − and we ended up having a live-in caregiver in our home. Back then there wasn’t Comfort Keepers. This is actually a relatively new industry, and so there was nothing regulated. I don’t even know how my mother found the gentleman that lived with us, but it turned out to not be a great experience.
He ended up going into a nursing home when he was 44, just because we couldn’t keep him at home; there wasn’t enough money. It was just so hard in so many ways. And when I was 26 years old, I was also diagnosed with multiple sclerosis, and the first thing I thought of was, “Oh my goodness. I don’t want this to happen to my young family.” I had just two kids at that point, so that’s definitely what sparked the idea. In fact, I actually thought I had come up with the idea, which is very funny. I was so naïve. I came to find out there were many people that had already started these businesses and had started franchising them as well.
So I just took a chance and I just kind of took a leap of faith and started it.
Scott Harper: Wow, so tell us a little bit more about Comfort Keepers. What led you to decide to become a franchise owner, especially with them?
Stephanie Howe: Well, I’ve had so many people say to me, “Why didn’t you just start this on your own?” And just knowing my background − I was a nurse. I actually had gone to a hospital-based program, so I didn’t even have a Bachelor’s degree. I had never taken a business class. I was just kind of figuring it all out as I went, which isn’t a typical way to get businesses up and running. But, I ended up just doing some research and looking at franchising books, because I knew that I needed someone who had already done this that could kind of hand me a handbook and say, “This is how you do it. Go.”
I did call several other companies. This one was started by a registered nurse similar to myself, actually. She was kind of just doing home health care, and her clients would say, “Oh honey, can you bring me some milk on your way in next time?” Medicare didn’t cover things like that, to do those kind of visits, so she’s the one that got the idea to start this. And everyone at Comfort Keepers is so lovely. You just fall in love with every person you talk to, so it actually was a pretty easy pick.
Pam Harper: So it was a match that was bound to be. That was about 2005?
Stephanie Howe: Yes, I started my first franchise in April 2005.
Pam Harper: Okay. So fast forward, and you’ve grown your business substantially over the years. You have these franchises in two states, New Jersey and Maryland, a total of five offices, right?
Stephanie Howe: Yes, that’s right.
Pam Harper: And recently, Comfort Keepers honored you for the second year in a row for running the most successful office in their franchise. Now to me, many people might have stayed with just one office − I mean, this is a big challenge. What led you to decide to expand and to keep on growing.
Stephanie Howe: So, that’ actually a pretty interesting story. I bought my second franchise just a year after the first. It was a startup, there was no one else there to buy from, like an existing business, but I knew the area was just full of so many seniors that were going to need our help. I joke about it now with the leadership and Comfort Keeper at the franchisor level. I was like, “Well, you know, I kind of bought it like a beach house, and I knew I would figure it all out, fix it up…”
And they came back to me several years after I bought it and said, “Stephanie, it’s time. You have to fix the beach house. You can’t just sit on this thing.” So we ended up developing it. We put a real office there, and as I suspected, it grew very quickly. I’m going to say it was probably 2012, maybe, so it was many years after I had bought it. I finally had started to put all the pieces together and figure out how to run these things and actually make money.
I didn’t pay myself for at least six years because there was no money to pay myself, because quite honestly, I didn’t know what I was doing. I was still just figuring it all out. So once I figured out the recipe, I started buying franchises around me from owners who were not successful and not willing to put in the time and the energy to do what needed to be done to get the offices going. So that’s how I ended up with the two additional franchises here in New Jersey. And the one in Maryland is actually three hours from our home, and that was an owner who unfortunately was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer and I was in a business group with him and so it just kind of made sense.
I actually knew everything about his business already, so I ended up purchasing that from him. And the great news is that he survived pancreatic cancer, which is so great. He now does some consulting work for the Canadian franchisees, so he’s still in the Comfort Keepers system, which is pretty cool.
Pam Harper: That’s great. So what’s next on the horizon, then?
Stephanie Howe: Well at this point, it’s funny. We knew that we were so close to being top revenue for the franchise, so everyone kind of pulled together and said, “just do what we can, let’s bring the revenue in,” which was a very big lesson for us, because we definitely lost a little bit of the quality. It’s funny what greed will do to you. You have to be careful.
So at this point, now second year in a row, we’re still the top franchise. This is really fun because anyone that knows me, I’m just like a … I’m just a nurse. I’m just this girl that has all of these franchises. I don’t, you know, particularly look like a super business person.
I stood up in front of the franchisees at the annual conference last year and just kind of told a little bit of my story and I said, “The fact that I’m standing on this stage receiving this award, if I can do this, you can do this. Really. You just have to figure out the best way for you and it’s just been so great to be such a leader in so many ways.” Because now I have people that reach out to me and I’m happy to help them.
So what’s next on the horizon for me is getting back to quality in our business. We’re doing that through training; we actually opened up a caregiver academy last year. It’s right next to our main office in central Jersey, so we’re actually able to train caregivers both skills and everyone that works in my business, they share my philosophy. Just be nice to everybody. It’s a tough business for these caregivers, it really is. So we’re trying to infuse kindness along with all of the great skills that we can teach them, and they can actually sit in our office and take the state board for New Jersey.
Pam Harper: So living into your purpose created an entirely new path for you and for all the people that work with you.
Stephanie Howe: I think it did. I think it did.
Pam Harper: So we’re going to talk more about that, but first we’re going to take a quick break. When we come back, we’ll talk more with Stephanie Howe, the top franchise owner in the US with Comfort Keepers, about the benefits that can come from leading into your purpose. Stay with us…
Scott Harper: This is Growth Igniters Radio with Pam Harper and Scott Harper. We’re brought to you by Business Advancement Incorporated, and we enable visionary leaders of successful companies to become more successful even faster. We’re on the web at businessadvance.com.
Pam Harper: Welcome to our Growth Igniters Radio poll. In our first segment, we’ve been talking about leading into your purpose. During this break, we’re asking the first of our two polling questions. Ready? How confident are you that you can clearly describe your own purpose in this world?
Answer the multiple choice question and you’ll get instant feedback on how you compare with others on this important issue. You can answer via text messaging or through our website. Either way, go to growthignitersradio.com, select episode 121 and click “Take Polls” under the Resources section.
Scott Harper: Be sure to act today, because time is limited. This poll will be open only between August 30th through September 5th, 2017.
Pam Harper: Welcome back to Growth Igniters Radio with Pam Harper − that’s me − and Scott Harper. We’re talking with Stephanie Howe, the top franchise owner in the US with Comfort Keepers about leading into your purpose. Stephanie, how can people find out more about you and about Comfort Keepers?
Stephanie Howe: The main website is just www.comfortkeepers.com, and if you just do a search on Robbinsville, my face and all my lovely faces that work with me will come up, so that’s probably the best way.
Pam Harper: And also, you can find out more in the resources section for this episode by going to growthignitersradio.com and selecting episode 121.
Now Stephanie, in a recent article about your award, you mentioned that after you became a business owner, you found out that you had a lot to learn about business; we talked a bit about that in the first segment. Now to me, this is a tough transformation for anyone. What kept you motivated as you were growing into your role as a business leader?
Stephanie Howe: So probably the turning point for me was about 2010. I had joined a performance management group through the franchise. This was a new offering through Comfort Keepers where different franchisees from all across the country would get into groups and pretty much become each others’ board of directors. And I stood in front of the board of directors, my new board, and I was so proud because I was almost making $1 million, and I had enough money in the bank account to make payroll every week, and the CEO of Comfort Keepers at the time was one of the facilitators, and he just kind of looked at me and said, “Stephanie, okay, you’re bringing in a lot of money, but you’re watching it go right back out the door. I assume you got into this to make a little money for your family.” And I said, “Yeah. That’d be nice.” And he said, “The word that comes to mind, Stephanie, is ‘unsustainable.’ You’re not gonna make it.”
Stephanie Howe: And I was like shocked. I was shocked. I used this word before − I was naïve. I didn’t know so much about doing business. I said things like, “Oh, I don’t want to charge the elderly clients too much money because they’re old. And how can a caregiver live on $9 an hour? I’m going to pay her more.” And in just my being naïve and trying to be a good person, I almost put myself out of business. So we, as a group, dismantled my financials and the business and they helped me put it back together. They helped me get to where I am today.
It’s funny because now, of course, I’m several million above most of them annually, but I still stay with this group. I’ve been invited to go to different groups for the higher revenue franchises, and I chose to stay with this wonderful group of people because they changed my business, and they taught me. I didn’t even really know how to get a gross margin, and I imagine a lot of small business owners don’t know how to calculate your gross margin. I had never even heard of it, so what kept me motivated, and this has definitely been throughout my journey as a business owner is the people around me. They kept me motivated. They just encouraged me and they said, “We’re gonna help you. We’re here for you, and you can totally do this.” And they were right.
And they’re amazing, and so now, they look to me. “Okay, so we know we taught you how to do it, but what exactly did you do to …” Because you know, the transformation from 2010 to 2015 was enormous.
Scott Harper: And so the act of becoming a real business owner and learning how to do it well enabled you to live into that purpose of helping people and sustaining people who really needed it. Now, as you said, you had the people around you guiding you and bringing you up along the way. And so this leads to the next question − because not only do you have your peers, but you have the people who work with you.
Attracting the right people in any industry is a real challenge, and we know that in home care, getting and keeping the right people as employees, as caregivers, is really a tough challenge. So how do you inspire them? How do you bring the people who work with you up to handle these really difficult aspects of caregiving so that they stay with you and they don’t burn out and they are kind and good for the people that they help?
Stephanie Howe: I would venture to say that if you asked any owner of any home care business, they would say that this question right here is the absolute biggest challenge that we face. You know now, we have caregiver shortage issues on top of this issue that we’re talking about. So as far as inspiring them to do their best, you know… ’cause it is a tough job. It’s a very tough job. Most of our clients have some sort of dementia, and they’re not themselves any more, and they say things to our poor caregivers that they shouldn’t say to them. Hurtful things.
The best way that we’ve been able to keep our turnover down, to keep our caregivers happy starting there, is that for the first three months, we don’t allow them to have direct deposit. Not as a punishment, but because we want to see them. We want them to come in because in home care, it’s very interesting, because even though they’re all our employees, they’re almost like little islands, little independent contractors just doing their own thing out there, you know, one on one with these clients.
So we bring them in for payday to pick up their paycheck so we can look at them in the face and say, “Are you okay? How’s it going? We love you! Have a bagel.” We want everybody to come see us as much as possible because it a huge challenge trying to maintain control and make sure people are happy, because things could be happening out there and you don’t know it if you don’t keep in touch with them.
On the next level is the administrative staff, who are really the front line in supporting these caregivers. All of them are in high burnout positions as well, because we have to be on call 24 hours a day, seven days a week for a caregiver call. And of course, the larger you get, the more often that happens for any issue. If there’s an injury in the home, anything. And, or a new business request. Our philosophy is, if someone calls looking for help, we will take that at any time, and we will address it as soon as we possibly can. So it’s been my job, really to support the administrative staff, and just make sure I’ve got good strong managers in place so that they can handle all of this. It’s a lot. It’s a tough business. It’s so rewarding, but it’s so tough.
Pam Harper: But it sounds like the idea is to be supportive and to also help them to see that bigger purpose for why they’re doing it. So as the top franchisee in the US, you’ve been influencing other franchisees, as you were saying, through the Comfort Keepers national advisory board. Now, based on your own successful leadership journey, how do you see your business continuing to grow, and how do you see your purpose continuing to guide you on that journey?
Stephanie Howe: It’s been very humbling the last year or so, because we experienced a great deal of growth when we bought these other franchises, the last three, because they were all up and running, so they were instant revenue. So our growth was enormous, 50% to 80% year over year. So now, we’re in the year that okay, so there’s no big jump in revenue come in, like a big block of revenue. We have to grow it organically now, and now it’s big, so it’s a lot harder to grow a $10 million plus business by 20%. So I’m having to accept, “Oh, okay, so maybe we’re just 5% growth this year,” which is the lowest amount of growth we’ve ever had in the history of our business.
So I see it continuing to grow, not at leaps and bounds like it has been, but again, growing, but with quality. And that’s, I think, at the very heart of why I even started this business − so that people can stay at home and not have the experience my family did with my dad. So just get great quality caregivers. We’re at this very large business now, and we still want every client to feel like they’re our only one, and that’s hard to do. That’s a big challenge, but that’s where we’re headed. It’s important.
Pam Harper: So growth with quality. Yes.
So now we’re going to take another quick break, and when we come back we’ll talk more with Stephanie Howe, the top franchisee in the US with Comfort Keepers about actionable steps you can take now to lead into your purpose as you keep growing your company. Stay with us…
Scott Harper: You’re listening to Growth Igniters Radio with Pam Harper and Scott Harper, brought to you by Business Advancement Incorporated, on the web at businessadvance.com.
Pam Harper: In our last segment, we were talking about creating more opportunities for your organization by living into your purpose and leading into your purpose, so here’s our second question for you: How confident are you that as a business leader you’re leading into your purpose? Answer the multiple choice question and you’ll get instant feedback on how you compare with others on this important issue. You can answer via text messaging or through our website. Either way go to growthignitersradio.com, select episode 121, click “Take Polls” under the Resources section.
Scott Harper: And be sure to act today, because time is limited. This poll will only be open between August 30th through September 5th, 2017.
Pam Harper: Welcome back to Growth Igniters Radio with Pam Harper and Scott Harper. We’re talking with Stephanie Howe, the top franchise owner in the US with Comfort Keepers about leading into your purpose. Stephanie, can you tell us again how we can find out more about you and about Comfort Keepers?
Stephanie Howe: The best way, really, to get any information about Comfort Keepers is just going to the website, www.comfortkeepers.com. Wherever your location is, if you have a loved one, or are just looking for information in your area, you just have to type in a zip code or a town and then names and numbers will come up.
Pam Harper: Okay. And of course, you can find out more in the resources section for this episode by going to growthignitersradio.com and selecting episode 121.
So we’re at the part of our episode where we get into what we call the “immediately actionable ideas” that our listeners can use in their own businesses so they can stay true to their purpose as they keep growing their companies. So let’s talk about three ideas here. Stephanie, what would be the first one?
Stephanie Howe: What I would say is to always just stay on top of the details. It’s so easy to get bogged down when you’re in the trenches and you’re just trying to keep things afloat, but it is absolutely so important to always be looking at your financials and if you aren’t sure how to look at them and really get good data from them, find someone who can help you do that. At this point, I look at my growth numbers on a weekly basis. I report to my performance group on a quarterly basis, and meet with them and I adjust them and I have to answer to them, “Why are your margins down? Why did you spend so much on office furniture?” Whatever they see. If you can’t hold yourself accountable to make sure that your numbers are in line with your growth dreams, if you can find someone that can help hold you accountable, it would just make all the difference.
I also create a dream board and a gratitude board, and I revisit that quarterly just to make sure I’m not losing sight of why I’m doing this. Why am I here?
Scott Harper: So that sounds like how you tap into your purpose that guides you, so that you can do the business well. Can you give a tip on perhaps how anybody could do that, tapping into purpose to aid their leadership development?
Stephanie Howe: I read a lot of books. I love self-help books for business, and we actually read them as a group, which goes along with how I always feel about just surrounding yourself with smart people, and smart people write books, so I consider that also surrounding yourself with smart people. Other successful business owners, trusted advisors, that are a good fit for your goals and dreams. I’m a big dream person. If you don’t dream, you stop dreaming, you don’t have anywhere to go.
Pam Harper: Yes, that’s true.
Stephanie Howe: It might sound a little hokey, but it’s just how I live my life, and if your trusted advisors aren’t on board with you about helping you get what you’re dreaming of, they’re not the right person.
Pam Harper: That’s absolutely true. You have to be very, very connected to that client as a trusted advisor, and the client has to feel connected to you as well.
So Stephanie, what would be a third immediately useful idea, especially with regard to shaping a culture. I mean, you lead an organization; you lead multiple groups, really. What’s been something that’s been immediately useful for you?
Stephanie Howe: As far as building the culture in my office, I started the business with me. It was just me in a 10 by 10 room, and of course, not everyone’s going to be like me, but I hire people like me. I always strive to be the boss that everyone wants to work for, and in doing that, I have hired a bunch of magnificent leaders. I hear it from other franchisees when we go to these conferences. “Oh my gosh, your team is amazing. How did you find all these people?” And I just, you know what? I just kind of put it out there, and we have people come into the office, anybody, or people that are interviewing for a position. Or, one of my trusted advisors, and everyone comes and says, “Wow. You can just feel the energy in this office. What a lovely place to work.” And that has made all the difference.
So at this point, I’m slow to hire and quick to fire, because of course, I’ve made mistakes. We all make mistakes, and now, you know, I’ve got it right. It took time, but that’s how I find the right employees. I make sure they enter an environment that is welcoming and we are exemplifying what we expect in our employees and it works. It really works, and it’s fun to see, just to know that we have these amazing people with solid hearts and I would say, every manager of each of my offices runs their office as if they own it, and that’s hard to find.
Pam Harper: Absolutely. Well, the time has been going by here. Are there some final thoughts that you’d like to share with us about the pivotal role that leading into your purpose plays in being a successful business leader?
Stephanie Howe: I would say it’s so easy to get overwhelmed and tired when the growth and the success doesn’t come as quickly as you hoped that it would, but leaning on the people that love and support you and won’t let you give up is the thing that will help push you through, and find success. It may not happen overnight. It certainly didn’t for me. It took some time, but it’s so worth it. The effort is just so worth it.
Pam Harper: Well thank you, Stephanie. We really appreciate you sharing your insights with us today.
Stephanie Howe: Well thank you. This has been fun.
Scott Harper: And thanks to you out there who are listening to Growth Igniters Radio with Pam Harper and Scott Harper. To check out resources related to today’s conversation, share on social media, find out about upcoming episodes, read Stephanie’s bio or open a conversation with us, and to access our poll, go to growthignitersradio.com and select episode 121.
Pam Harper: Until next time, this is Pam Harper…
Scott Harper: And Scott Harper…
Pam Harper: Wishing you continued success, and leaving you with this question to consider:
Scott Harper: So what is your purpose, and how can you live into it every day to guide you as a leader?