The Top 3 Challenges Facing Senior Placement Businesses Today

by Jason Buckingham

This report is the result of more than 30 extensive interviews I conducted with Senior Placement business owners from around the country including Arizona, California, Massachusetts, Maryland, Minnesota, Pennsylvania, Nebraska, New Jersey, Ohio, Oregon, Virginia, Washington, and Wisconsin.

In it, you’ll find the 3 Most Common Challenges that I heard repeatedly during my interviews with Senior Placement business owners. 

This report doesn’t just describe the Top 3 Challenges. It also contains some ideas that others are trying which may help you begin to overcome these challenges in YOUR business.

About Me

As a kid, I regularly visited nursing homes. It started in elementary school with weekly visits to a nearby nursing home after my great grandmother could no longer live on her own. It continued as I got older with monthly visits to other nursing homes to visit those who didn’t have any family visiting them.

Even though our culture doesn’t highly value the elderly, I’ve always loved listening to my grandparents share stories about their lives as they grew up decades ago, and I love gleaning as much wisdom as possible from them.

For nearly 20 years, I’ve been studying for and building a career as a computer programmer. I’ve also had an aching desire to start my own business – much like many of you who own and manage your own Senior Placement companies. A few months ago I decided to merge my passions, skills, and desires. I began connecting with Senior Placement business owners to learn as much as possible.

I love the idea that you get to help seniors and their families at a time when they are going through an incredibly difficult transition – both emotionally and logistically. I also LOVE the power that technology can provide to make all the work we do more efficient. As I learned about how Senior Placement businesses operate, I heard many of the same challenges repeated again and again.

This report summarizes the most common challenges facing Senior Placement businesses that I discovered from the interviews I conducted. Those interviews have also been the inspiration for me to build Senior Place, a software solution designed for Senior Placement businesses with these needs in mind.

Even if your business isn’t looking for better software, you will still get tremendous value from this report.

With Whom Did I Speak?

  • Senior Placement Business Owners of “boots on the ground” referral/placement businesses.
  • ALL of the people I spoke with genuinely cared about serving seniors and their families. Yay!
  • Most business owners I spoke with have been in business for 5-8 years. I spoke with a couple businesses that had been operating for less than 2 years, and about four or five that had been operating for 10+ years.
  • Many of the people I spoke with got into the business after one of their own parents needed to be placed. After personally going through the overwhelming process, they started their business to make it easier for other families.
  • Many of the people I spoke with love being personally involved with every client and have concerns that if their business were to grow too much, they wouldn’t have enough time to interact with clients and their families so personally.
  • Others were still very eager to help seniors but also hope to expand their business regionally or even nationally.
  • Several people I spoke with still help clients for whom they won’t be compensated – namely clients who can only pay via Medicaid and thus won’t generate a referral commission.
  • A relatively high number of people working in Senior Placement came from a nursing background.
  • A few people had bought their business from a prior owner or even purchased originally as a franchise, but most had started their business from scratch.
  • About half the businesses I spoke with were one-person operations, but many of these plan to add a partner or additional employees in the near future. The other half already have a partner and/or multiple employees.
  • In addition to placement services, a few people I spoke with offer Elder Care Management / Geriatric Care for additional fees.
  • The majority of people I spoke with receive a referral commission from the senior living community 30 days after move-in. A couple people I spoke with charge the clients directly instead of collecting a referral fee from the communities.

The Top 3 Challenges

1. Not Enough Time To Improve Marketing and Referrals

Marketing and referrals were an area that senior placement businesses varied wildly. Those who do marketing and referrals well seemed to be more successful with their businesses, but nearly everyone I spoke with said they don’t have enough time for marketing and referrals.

How People Do Networking

  • I repeatedly heard that most potential clients aren’t aware of the existence and benefits of Senior Placement agencies in general. MANY people said they regularly hear someone tell them, “I wish we knew about you 6 months ago before we placed my mom!”
  • Most senior placement companies have at least some relationship with a variety of referral sources. The most common referral sources: professionals (elder law attorneys, financial planners, etc.), churches/pastors, skilled nursing facilities, rehab centers, doctors, social workers, and word of mouth.
  • A few people have joined or even formed networking groups – groups that have multiple senior service providers (i.e. a lawyer, a geriatric advisor, a geriatric doctor, a financial planner, a real estate agent focused on seniors, etc.), and they share referrals among their network.
  • A few people mentioned that they get more referrals from the businesses to which they refer most frequently themselves (reciprocal referrals). Which begs the question – how often are you sending referrals to your referral sources?
  • Larger companies sometimes have one or more full time employees who focus most of their time on building the company’s referral network.

Advertising Strategies

  • Many people still have success with physical advertisements in local magazines/newspapers targeted at the senior community.
  • Most people said their websites give them an online presence but have only accounted for a minority of their leads.
  • I repeatedly heard Senior Placement business owners wanting to expand their online marketing efforts (potentially Facebook and Google AdWords) but not knowing how, and not having the time or the budget to figure it out.

Client and Referral Tracking

  • Only a minority of business have a plan for how to keep in contact with their referral sources and know how well they are currently following through on that plan.
  • Likewise, a minority of businesses had a systematic way of tracking and following up with long-term prospects – those who aren’t ready to transition now but are likely to do so sometime in the next year. In that same vein, I heard a few companies tell me that they lose several leads each year who aren’t ready to be placed right now because they don’t do a good job following up with them.

2. Not Enough Industry Regulation

Most states do not currently have any regulation/licensing relating to the Senior Placement industry. In fact, Washington was the only state I found during my interviews that currently does have regulations in place.

  • Nearly everyone I spoke with was in favor of either increased regulation or business licensing for senior placement.
  • Many people felt that without regulation, hobbyists and online-only companies are doing a disservice to seniors and in many cases discredit the value of working with a “boots on the ground” Senior Placement company.
  • Regulations in place in Washington and those being discussed in other states include or are considering including:
    • Requirement that you can’t place a client in a community/facility if you haven’t physically toured the community during the past 12 months.
    • Requirement to maintain client records for multiple years (5-7 year period).
    • Requirements to protect client privacy.
  • Placement businesses in at least two states (Oregon and California) are beginning to organize and pursue legislation to put regulations/licensing in place.

3. The Wrong Software, Systems, and Tools

Nearly everyone I spoke with mentioned they don’t have an ideal system in place for managing their business. Below are a few details:

  • The most common systems people use to manage their business currently are:
    • Various CRMs (I heard 6-8 CRMs mentioned including SalesForce, ACT, Knack, ZoHo, SalesNet, and others – I don’t think I heard the same CRM mentioned twice).
    • Excel spreadsheets (usually just for community/facility data, but sometimes for client data as well)
    • Email/Google Docs/OneNote.
    • Physical notebooks and file folders.
  • Among those who use a CRM or who have tried one out, many people complained that CRMs have too many irrelevant features that make them very confusing to use.
  • Many senior placement companies said that they haven’t found software specifically built for the Senior Placement industry, so they’ve made do with what they’re already using.
  • A handful of people said they see no reason to use software because everything they need is in their head.
    • Others said they didn’t value software when they worked alone, but as they’ve added an employee or a partner, they wish something existed to help them collaborate and manage more effectively.
  • Many people said they currently spend time manually building a personalized comparison chart for each of their clients to compare/contrast the services and amenities of 3-4 potential communities.
  • Some people said they manually plot all the potential communities on a map so their clients can easily see exactly where each option is within the area.
  • Among those not using any software currently, some cited financial cost as a concern. Others said cost isn’t a concern if they found an “ideal” solution that could improve their processes, save them time, and/or help them get more clients.
  • Several people said an industry specific software solution could save them 10 hours or more per week on their current workflows.
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