Carol Shockley helps people find living situations for their parents and other elderly loved ones
Q&A by Dennis Carmody, Regional Producer – Business
Carol Shockley, left, owner of Ask-Carol!, a business designed to help find home care or appropriate living situations for seniors, speaks to Carol Austin of Fair Haven, who used the services of Ask-Carol! to find housing for her father at Brandywine Senior Living at The Sycamore, one of the facilities where Shockley places clients, in Shrewsbury.
Carol Shockley owns Ask-Carol! Senior Living Guidance, Tinton Falls, www.ask-carol.com, 732-982-1616
Describe your business: I offer free help to families to find appropriate senior living and care for their elderly parents, most often assisted living, but sometimes independent living or even home care.
Why did you start this business? My Mom lived at home, by herself, for many years after my Dad died. During that time she fell twice and both times broke a shoulder. She really wanted to continue to stay home, but the handwriting was on the wall that she couldn’t be safe any longer, so I started searching for solutions. Like many, I kept putting it off, and then she fell and broke her hip. I found out about assisted living from a nurse and started visiting them, finding one that I thought was just right, but it wasn’t so I had to move her. A year later I found she had been eligible for a VA pension for assisted living because my Dad served in WWII. I got the pension for her, but couldn’t understand why no one had told me about it back when I placed her. That cost me a lot of money. Friends started calling me and asking questions about their own parents, and I soon found myself building a business without even knowing it. One day the facility where I had my mom told me they wanted to pay me for referrals. Up to that point I was just a volunteer. I said ‘yes’ and the rest is history. Now I work with over a hundred facilities in New Jersey and Pennsylvania, and well over 1,000 in other states.
Were there any challenges that made you think twice about striking out on your own? Oh, yes. The primary one was that I was semi-retired and not really planning to continue working. I was more interested in volunteering, and the thought of a full-time business, advertising it, visiting facilities, and so on was a big challenge for me, but I talked it over with my husband, Bill, and he promised to help me (which he did, and still does) and I got started.
If you could do it again, what would you do differently? I don’t think I would do it differently. I started it part-time and took it to full-time, then slowly added staff to help me, and then started a franchising program, and for me that was the right thing to do. I hope to hit $1 million in revenue this year.
What’s the best business advice you have ever received? Think outside the box. My husband was an innovation consultant and said that all the time. What it meant to me was if I was going to start a business, I had to do it differently. When I looked at my competitors, I saw that they were all big companies and very impersonal. I decided that I would be different by spending a lot of time with families getting to know their needs, and that is what made the difference. All facilities that I work with say I do the best job helping families and that the referrals I send them are the best that they get.
What personality trait helps you the most? I’m a good listener. Dealing with a parent whose health is failing is very difficult. They don’t teach you in school about it, so for every family it is new and difficult. Some people who call me are in tears, and I give them a shoulder to cry on, settle them down, and help find a solution..
What’s the hardest part of the job? Sometimes, though fortunately not often, there’s a family I can’t help. I try to point them in the right direction, but I feel badly if I can’t help them.
The easiest? I love what I do and when I get up in the morning, I can’t wait to see who reached out to me overnight. Many of my inquiries come in the middle of the night, because that’s when many families are laying awake thinking about what to do about Mom. You wouldn’t believe how many emails come between 1am and 6am.
What surprised you the most about running the business? I was surprised to find how many families go through exactly what I did. Most people who reach out to me tell me that their ‘story’ is just like mine.
How would you like the business to grow and change? Last year I decided to expand my business through franchising so that I could help many more families. My husband joined me full time to run it, and we opened our first franchise last summer, another this fall, and a third one in December. A fourth one is about to open. It’s exciting teaching others how to help families. We’ve added staff to help with the franchising, and I’m enjoying every minute of it. While most of my time is spent helping my franchisees, I still take calls from families every single day.
What do you do in your off time? We do have a life outside the business. We take a lot of short trips to bed & breakfast inns, especially in the Poconos. And we love Key West and Mexico. Not to mention dinner in the City. And I can be anywhere as long as I have my smartphone and iPad. Bill set up our databases in the Cloud, so I’m not tied to the office.
When you leave the business behind someday, what will you do? My daughter Lisa has helped me part-time from when I started, and she has just become a franchisee to learn that part of the business, and will eventually take the business over. So I suppose I will be helping her, rather than the other way around! But I would also like to travel more with Bill and spend more time on our trips. And maybe spend a month or two each winter in Florida. © 2015 Ask-Carol
Ask-Carol! To Award Four Franchise Super Territories in New Jersey
Tinton Falls, NJ – Ask-Carol Franchising LLC, a free placement service that helps families find appropriate assisted living facilities, homecare agencies, and nursing homes for their elderly parents, announced today that it plans rapid expansion of its franchise program in New Jersey by offering “Super Territories” to the first four franchisees in the state. About twice the size of standard territories, they will be offered on a first come – first served basis, and the company expects to award them quickly. The franchise fee will be the same as for a standard territory.
The first four franchisees may select from any of these Super Territories: Bergen County, Monmouth/Ocean Counties, Middlesex/Somerset Counties, Passaic/Morris Counties, Essex/Union Counties, Hunterdon/Mercer/Burlington Counties, and Camden/Gloucester/Atlantic Counties. After the four franchises are awarded, the remaining Super Territories will be divided into standard territories.
“These first four territories will not only be larger than our standard territories,” explained COO Bill Shockley, “but will be the strongest in terms of facilities where our franchisees will make their placements. We want our early franchisees in New Jersey to get off to a strong start.”
Over the next several weeks, the company will hold informational meetings around the state.
“Placing a parent in assisted living, home care, or a nursing home is a once-in-a-lifetime event for most families. They have no experience or training, and their parent(s), usually in their 80’s, often have dementia and are unable to contribute to the process. We help those families make the right decision so they won’t have to do it over.”
Most Ask-Carol! franchisees have experience with their own family members, or experience working with seniors. All become Certified Senior Advisors to assure their expertise in helping families through this difficult time. The company currently has franchisees in Virginia and Ohio and plans further expansion into other states during 2015. Franchises earn income from placement fees paid by facilities.
Ask-Carol! was founded in 2009 by Carol Shockley, who was caregiver to her own Mom for many years and learned to navigate the care and financial difficulties of dealing with an elderly parent. She started Ask-Carol to share her experiences – positive and negative – so that others would not make the same mistakes. She has helped over 1,000 families.
Interested persons can learn more at www.ask-carol.com/franchises or view a slide presentation at www.slideshare.com.
For seminar dates, times and locations, contact Bill Shockley at firstname.lastname@example.org, 732-200-1311.
Helping Her Mom Led To New Business
Carol’s Assisted Living Articles
Helping Her Mother Led to New Business
As told to Business Editor Dennis P. Carmody
I’m a girl from New York city who attended public and private schools, moved with my parents to Tinton Falls, NJ when they retired, went to college, got a job, met a guy, got engaged, quit my job, married, had two kids and for the next 35 years was a stay-at-home mom, helping my husband part-time with his business. I was never interested in a career.
Several years ago, my Mom fell and broke a hip. After surgery, she went to a nursing home for rehabilitation and three months later they said she was ready for discharge. She wanted to return to her apartment, so I hired live-in help. It didn’t work.
A nurse suggested assisted living and I began checking out communities in the area. It seemed expensive, and Social security and a small pension were all she had, so I started looking for help.
After lots of visits I found the right place for her. I learned that she could be eligible for a Veterans Affairs survivor’s pension, and filed the complex application. After six months, the VA “lost” it.
I called U.S. Rep. Rush Holt’s office for help and in two weeks the paperwork was “found” and the pension was approved, with back payments!
Next, I took on the responsibility for my Mom’s boyfriend. He had only Social Security, so I looked for help and found it in Medicaid. After a lot of work it was approved and I put him with my Mom.
Then the recession hit and our retirement fund dropped. I wanted to rebuild our savings, and I had learned a lot about assisted living. Coincidentally, I was asked by the administrator at the facility where I had placed my Mom if I would be interested in providing referrals. I agreed.
With no entrepreneurial experience, I started a website, named my business Ask-Carol!, and placed a Google ad reaching out to families in New Jersey who needed help finding and affording assisted living.
I offered my help for free (and still do). If one of my clients selects a community that I recommend, then I receive a referral fee from the community. If not, I get nothing but the satisfaction of knowing that I helped a family through a difficult time.
About 100 assisted living communities in New Jersey are on my recommended list. Ask-Carol! has been very successful and I’ve become known throughout the state. It is hard work, and I get requests for help seven days a week.
Three months ago I earned more than my husband for the first time, and he was very proud of me. I’ve also replaced the savings that we lost, and published a pamphlet on assisted living, “What’s Next for Mom?” which is available at my website.
It’s been a good feeling to know that I can still make a contribution not just to our own finances, but also to families who are in a panic and need someone to help. Now, I am hooked on my new career. Who would have thought it?