The pros and cons of entering the competitive and flourishing care and elderly sector
Starting a homecare business presents the chance to do good things for your community while making a good living. Better still, there are lots of care franchises that will help you get started.
But is the care sector for you?
Not if you only want to make money. Trevor Brocklebank, co-founder of Home Instead, and former chair of the sector’s professional body, the Homecare Association (HCA), says: “A care franchise is never a get rich quick scheme – more of a make money slowly by working very hard scheme. There are far easier ways to make money – but few are more rewarding.
“If you just want any old business, the homecare sector is not for you. You must be motivated by wanting to make a difference in people’s lives.”
If you think it is something you can commit to, consider the pros and cons. While demand is high and ongoing, homecare is (rightly) a highly-regulated industry, competition is fierce, and the penalties for getting things wrong can be ruinous.
That’s why it’s easier to get into the homecare market with a franchise. A franchise provides help with the regulatory process (including inspections by care regulatory bodies), marketing, and recruitment, and provides systems to help you run the business.
Pro: A growing market
Around one in five people in the UK is over 65 and this is set to increase to one in four by 2042.
There were 1.6 million people over 85 in 2018, and this is expected to reach 3.5 million by 2048 – and this is the age group most likely to need care (ONS, 2020).
But the homecare market is not limited to older people. Among people of working age, there is forecast to be a 29 per cent increase in adults aged 18 to 64 requiring care by 2038 compared with 2018, according to a 2021 National Audit Office report into local authority spending on adult social care in England alone.
Pro: High unmet demand
Hours of unmet care in England alone reached 1.5 million in late 2021 according to the Homecare Association, and about half of domiciliary care providers are no longer able to take on new requests for help. That means there is room for new businesses to get into the market.
Pro: Increased government funding
The government has announced a 10-year plan for care, supposed to address long-standing issues in the industry. One of the main problems is the low rates that local authorities (who supply a large percentage of social care) pay to their outsourced care providers.
This is one of the reasons that care companies serving the local authority market can have trouble making a profit, and thus may provide minimal service, such as 15-minute care calls, while paying their carers low rates of pay.
So, home care providers that source care work from local authorities could get more cash. But Trevor says: “It’s good that spending is increasing but it’s not enough. The sector needs billions, not millions.”
Home care franchises vary: some only do private work (which means selling their services direct to clients themselves) while others do local authority work (though they have to bid for contracts). Some franchises offer a mixture. Ask any franchises that you are researching how their model works.
Pro: Emotional rewards
The care industry is often perceived as a very serious business, but in reality, it’s not one long round of misery.
“It’s hugely rewarding to run a care franchise because it’s about putting smiles on people’s faces –and that includes our franchisees and their teams as well as clients,” says Amrit Dhaliwal, chief executive of homecare company Walfinch.
“One of our company values is fun – we want fun to be a part of our franchisees’ lives. That sense of enjoyment passes from the franchisees and the care teams to the clients, which means better care, so everyone benefits.”
Pro: Variety of services
You can get the rewards of working in care without investing in a homecare franchise. The Rise franchise concentrates of delivering seated sports programmes which enhance mobility, social interaction and mental stimulation. “Rise offers the same level of rewards but with a different business model,” says Trevor, who co-founded Rise.
Con: Recruitment is challenging
There are 100,000 vacancies in the care sector at any one time, and providers reported that the average vacancy rate for carers was 12 per cent in February 2022, up five per cent on the March 2021 figure.
But franchisees can get recruitment help from franchisors; Walfinch, for instance, provides recruitment workshops for franchisees.
Dan Archer, managing director at Visiting Angels, says: “One of the challenges across the sector is carer recruitment. Care providers often struggle with this but we are constantly addressing it with our understanding of carer recruitment strategies.
“One thing that has helped is our carer-centric model, where we put our care workers at the heart of everything we do. So we pay fairly, reward our carers, train them well and ensure their wellbeing is paramount. Several of our franchise territories recruited over 15 carers in March 2022 alone.”
It’s not just about pay, though. The HCA quotes a survey of care providers that says flexible working hours and regular feedback from line managers appeared to be more effective than increasing pay.
Con: Regulation is tough
There are numerous hurdles to be overcome just to get started, and then regular inspections from regulators, but franchisors typically offer help with this, including rehearsals for inspections. Trevor Brocklebank says: “There are a lot of heavily regulated processes. This is no sector for mavericks.”
Con: Competition is rife
There are over 20 homecare franchises in the UK, as well as nonfranchised providers, so it pays to select one that has something that makes it stand out.
Walfinch emphasises what it calls the ‘Mum Test’. Amrit says: “When deciding what care is best, how it should be delivered and who should deliver it, we always ask ourselves: ‘Would I like this for my own mum?’ All of Walfinch’s 22 franchisees, and its hundreds of carers, have been chosen with this in mind.”
Visiting Angels stresses its carer-centric approach, while Guardian Angels highlights its combination of in-person care and care technology.
Look at how an individual franchise markets its services. Is it offering something new or is it an also-ran?
Choosing your franchise
It’s never been more important to choose the right brand, Trevor points out. “Look for one with a culture that matches your own. When times get tough, will you be happy to lock yourself in a room with the franchisor and sort it out?
“The best care franchises combine a proven system with a genuinely caring attitude – if they have both, the franchise will almost certainly make money.”
Delivering fun, seated sports activities to enhance health and wellbeing
Debbie Heffernan was always interested in fitness and the wider care sector, and is an active volunteer in her sporting community and has recently worked for a mental health charity.
“When my mother-in-law had to move to a care home, I saw first-hand the huge impact that activities could have on people in a care setting. The activities coordinator there brought the whole care home to life!” says Debbie, from Epsom, Surrey.
Then she and husband Andrew, who had previously worked in the care sector, found out about the Rise franchise, which means delivering adaptable seated sports programmes which enhance mobility, social interaction and mental stimulation.
Debbie launched Rise Epsom in February and is busy delivering Rise sessions each week, but says: “The programmes are suitable for children as well as adults, so I expect to be working in a range of sectors, including community groups.”
As well as running the activity sessions, she has been marketing the service to local care providers and says: “I am delighted by the positive response to Rise by participants since starting to deliver sessions over the past two months.
“It’s rewarding to see the delight on the faces of people taking part and know you are contributing to their physical and mental wellbeing – and we all have a lot of fun.”
Care specialist gets into business with a franchise
Nicky Sealey had worked for a large care provider in Essex. When she was looking to relocate to Oswestry, she weighed up starting a business on her own against investing in a franchise.
“Ultimately, it made much more sense to invest in a care franchise, as having the foundations already established for you from day one is incredibly helpful to delivering services at consistent, high standards. What’s more, considering the regulatory systems and certifications you have to go through in order to become active, I knew that if we opted to go it alone, it would have been much harder to get to the position our franchise is in today.”
She looked at a variety of care franchises. “I started Visiting Angels North Shropshire after meeting with Dan Archer and discussing the services, areas and the ethos of care that I was looking for. I wanted a premium brand, with top-quality service.
“Visiting Angels treated their care team well, and everyone worked to be carer-centric as a way to get a good outcome for the clients, and this was exactly what I found was lacking elsewhere and what I wanted to achieve. To have a happy team and happy clients is paramount for me.”
Nicky and co-director Mark Goodall, who has strong family ties to the Oswestry area and experience in logistics and management, launched their franchise this year.
“Although I had good knowledge of the sector and of providing a quality service in Essex, I felt more reassured to have the franchise behind me,” says Nicky.
Making a difference in my community after just one week
Tanya Santos launched the Walfinch Hammersmith and Fulham care franchise in February this year, and within a week found she was making a difference in people’s lives.
“A client with neurological issues had retreated to one room and was neglecting his diet and self-care. Only a week after our carer Antonia began visiting, he’s started dancing, holding hands, eating vegetables and fruit again and taking more care of himself,” says Tanya.
Tanya formerly worked in recruitment, but when things went quiet during lockdown, she voluntarily delivered meals to elderly people. “It felt so good to help them, and I remembered the rewards of caring for my gran Then my mum-in-law suggested I start a care business. We talked to someone who was a care franchisee and I realised that it would be a way to own a business and do some good for the community at the same time.”
Tanya and husband Richard chose the Walfinch franchise and she has now recruited a small team and has four clients.
“We chose a franchise for the head office support on issues such as compliance, and Walfinch also offers a business coach. The network of franchisees is very supportive, swapping business tips and advice. I’ve already helped others with my recruitment expertise.
“Running a care business is hard work, but so rewarding. This is the best decision I ever made.”
The homecare market by the numbers
• The number of people receiving homecare in the UK totals at least 957,831 (homecare.co.uk)
• By 2024 the number of people over 65 will rise to more than 20.4 per cent of the population and nearly 60 per cent over the next 25 years (onsgov.uk)
• Among home care providers surveyed in July 2021, 32 per cent said demand had increased, and 57 per cent said it had significantly increased (Home Care Association 2021)
• Requests for adult social care support soared to 1.9 million in 2019-20 but around 29 per cent of them resulted in no care being delivered (King’s Fund, 2021)
• The number of older people experiencing loneliness is expected to reach two million by 2025, and many are turning to homecare services for companionship so private companionship services are more important than ever. (Age UK)
Linda Whitney writes about franchising for the Daily Mail, What Franchise and many other publications.