Every month, we like to interview experts about topics in their respective fields. This month, we had the opportunity to chat with Ruth Ullmann. For those unfamiliar, Ruth is the founder of My Elder Care Journey, a company that helps entrepreneurs find a balance between taking care of aging parents and growing their business.
Thanks for being part of our Expert Interview series! Why don’t we start by you telling us about yourself? How did you get started?
Hi, I’m Ruth Ullmann, founder of myeldercarejourney.com. My purpose is to change the way people navigate eldercare. I started as an internal business consultant for high-tech and biotech companies, solving complicated business problems domestic and internationally.
When my parents needed help, I moved from California back to Ohio and started a consulting and executive search firm. I helped my parents maintain their independence for 14 years, the last 7 were consuming and overwhelming even with the help of home care.
To maintain integrity with my clients, I took less and less work. I had failed to set up my company in time to thrive without me, although that was my plan. I lost my business, my employees and my income, it was heartbreaking and disappointing to many people.
After my parents passed away, I realized that my elder care journey was much more common and many small business owners shared their experiences of losing all or most of the business due to caring for aging parents. This is much more common among women and happens quietly. It's not something that people talk about easily.
Of the people I spoke with, most didn’t provide the day to day, hands-on care, but managed finance, legal issues, insurance and were health care advocates. Most of this type of work is accomplished during business hours and didn’t include the middle of the night emergency room visits.
My current business grew by combining my consulting skills and learning how to navigate elder care. I interviewed the leaders from across the country of all the industries that supported elder care to understand how their industry worked, what we as consumers could do better, and what we did wrong. I was blessed with candid, heartfelt behind the scenes advice on how to better work with these industries. No one should have to choose between their business and caring for aging parents.
I now help small businesses stay in business as the owner takes on caring for aging parents, and I help families navigate elder care. We have consulting services for business owners and online courses to help families create a customized elder care roadmap.
My best advice for small business owners and entrepreneurs is to start as soon as possible to set up your company to operate successfully without you. Become the CEO/Leader of your business.
Being an entrepreneur requires a person to wear many hats, and they’re effectively spread fairly thin. Being a caregiver for aging parents is a full-time job in itself. What are your tips for entrepreneurs taking care of aging parents to be as successful as possible?
First, set up your business to thrive without you. 20 hours a week caring for aging parents is the average, according to a MetLife survey. I can tell you from my experience that 20 hours is a conservative number once your parent’s health starts to deteriorate. The peace of mind that you will have knowing that your company, clients, employees, and income are secure is priceless. And you will have a business to come back to and not be starting over late in life.
Second, define for yourself how many hours you can reasonably contribute to caregiving. Keep in mind that the demands will change over time. This is the time to be conservative in your estimating because emergencies will arise.
Third, create a caregiving team. Include family members, neighbors and any community resources for which you qualify.
Clearly, the challenge of taking care of aging parents and growing a business can be overwhelming. Is there a roadmap you suggest people follow?
The adult children of aging parents often find it difficult to have a candid conversation with their parents about how they want to live when they can no longer be independent. It’s a heartbreaking subject and most families avoid it.
Yet aging parents worry about the time when they are no longer able to care for themselves or their mind becomes clouded and their decision-making is questionable. Decisions need to be made by both the adult children, i.e., how much time can they devote to caregiving and what duties are they best equipped to offer, and for the aging parents, how do they want to grow old, where do they want to live, how do they want to be treated, etc.
Here at myeldercarejourney we offer a course called Navigating Elder Care. It is a program that takes families through all the phases of elder care and helps them create a customized roadmap for their journey.
Families use the program to help them talk about difficult decisions and think through all the steps, yet have the privacy of having these conversations in the comfort of their own home and the time to think and plan for the future. It gives people peace of mind, an understanding of all the industries that support elder care and how to best work with them. It helps people ask the right questions so they can make better decisions.
For families that have an immediate need because they are faced with a home care decision, assisted living, nursing home or rehabilitation services, we have a Focus Series of classes that address each of these needs in a concise and easy to use online program.
Being better prepared when working with unfamiliar industries and when you are under stress helps you make better decisions because not everything is a surprise. We humans do not make the best decisions when under stress, we are designed for fight or flight.
The emotions you will feel when you see your independent, strong parents in the emergency room, lose their independence, become befuddled and weak are feelings that are unique to each of us. I can tell you it takes your breath away. It’s a wake-up call like none other. I don’t know anyone that has been through this that said it was easy.
Given all the changes occurring in an entrepreneur’s professional and personal life, how do they make the right decisions to set themselves up for long term success?
Become the leader of your organization, the CEO versus the manager that helps set up the company for long term success. As the CEO, you motivate employees, provide direction versus playing a pivotal role in the day to day operations of their business.
Being the leader of your business gives you time to think strategically and make more thoughtful decisions.
Setting up your business to thrive without you also results in a company that is set up to sell at some point in the future, a company that will survive if the owner is in an accident or has a personal health crisis, and gives you the freedom to care for aging parents.
What insight and knowledge should an entrepreneur have about the elder care community, and where could they get it?
The best advice I can give you – get started before you are in a crisis situation. Elder care resources can be found by contacting the National Council on Aging (NCOA) in your community. Ask your friends and neighbors about local resources. The government has a lot of information on ranking adult day care, home care, assisted living & nursing homes. It’s the only resource that includes all vendors.
Be aware that websites offering information are selling something, AARP is an insurance company, other sites charge vendors to be featured so you see only those companies that pay to play and not everyone in your community.
Keep in mind, most people want to age in their home. Falls, medication errors, and losing their primary caregiver are the 3 reasons most seniors find themselves in assisted living or nursing homes.
If someone works from home, what is the most effective way to function as a successful business owner and a caregiver?
Working from home comes with the impression that you are not really working by your family and friends. So you have to set limits.
Make a decision for yourself how much time you can devote to caregiving, be realistic and conservative. Include in your estimate time for your life, time for your family, exercise and relaxation. Create a caregiving team and include home care as needed. Each member of the caregiving team should decide for themselves how much time they can devote to caregiving.
Set your business up to thrive without you for at least 20 hours per week, but the goal should be to become the CEO & Leader of your business and create a team to do the marketing, sales and delivery of services. Start by automating as much of your business processes with a clear set of instructions on how to perform each duty. The goal is to outsource as much as possible as soon as possible. Once you have your business processes documented, it’s easy to train someone. Setting up processes that are documented and can be easily measured also makes it much easier to sell a business at some point in the future.
Last question, if you were to look into your crystal ball, what future trends do you see on the horizon for someone growing their business and taking care of their parents?
For business owners: Being a CEO in your business is still something that is vital to long term success. Automating systems will be much easier and these systems will work together seamlessly. Communication systems will be more accessible and cost effective as people become more mobile and remote workers will be common.
I see automation playing a big role in helping people maintain their independence. Robots will become more affordable and be able to help aging people. Retrofitting homes to accommodate the needs of aging people to support independence will become easier and more affordable. Mobile monitoring of people’s health and being able to electronically communicate with health care will offer more independence. We may even see the Jetson era, with automated cooking and clean up.
This is a very topical issue. One that is sure to impact many business owners and executives and we want to thank Ruth for taking the time out and sharing her insight.
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