Valerie V: Hey, guys. Welcome to The Valerie V Show and in one second we’re going to start our interview series with successful entrepreneurs who have been in business for two years or more. We start that today with Linda Leekley. You’re going to love it.
Hi, everybody. Welcome back to The Valerie V Show. Today we are going to talk to Linda Leekley and I can’t wait for her to tell you all about her business. We are interviewing successful business owners in the healthcare space. Some of them are home care. Some of them are home care related. Some have just general health care businesses that have done well and the reason we’re doing this is so that all of you can get some sense of what it was like when you started up and what do you attribute your success to today. For those of you who are in the midst of starting a new business or maybe for those of you who’ve been around a long time, you can hear a breath of fresh air from some other successful businesses who’ve been through all those struggles that you’ve been through. Today we’re going to talk to Linda and hi, Linda. How are you?
Linda L: Hi, Valerie. I’m great. Thank you so much for having me.
Valerie V: Oh, no problem. I’m so glad you reached out and said you’d be willing to do this because that’s the goal here is to get as many successful entrepreneurs on to help everybody understand what it really takes to run a successful business. Why don’t you tell us the name of your business, where you’re located and how long you’ve been in business?
Linda L: Okay, all right. Well my business is called In the Know Caregiver Training, which is kind of self-explanatory there but we have been around for 20 years. This is our twentieth anniversary this year so 1998 is when I founded the business. We’re located in Durham, North Carolina and Durham has a couple of interesting nicknames. One is we’re called America’s Foodiest Small Town. There are 75 restaurants in the small downtown area that many of which have been written up in New York Times et cetera and then the other nickname is we’re the City of Medicine. That’s because the physician population ratio is four and a half times greater than the national average.
Valerie V: Wow, lots of choices.
Linda L: Yeah so if you’re in one of these restaurants and somebody says, “Is there a nurse or a doctor in the house?” You’re going to get several dozen hands-
Valerie V: Many hands.
Linda L: Yeah.
Valerie V: That’s good.
Linda L: -in the air. It’s an interesting place with so many healthcare professionals around and so much emphasis on health care and medicine. I moved here from Minnesota 29 years ago partly for that reason because it does offer so much more healthcare professionals and I am a nurse. Of course getting away from 25 below zero weather was also a factor.
Valerie V: Yeah, it helps. It does help, yeah.
Linda L: That kind of answers that question I guess. [inaudible 00:03:07].
Valerie V: Twenty years, you know … I mean I can’t believe we’ve been business 10 years and I’ve been a nurse since ’92. I say, “I’m 200 years old in nurse years.” I’ve seen it all. People say, “Wow. Thank you so much for coming over and helping with blah-blah.” You know a neighbor or something and I’m like, “It’s okay”. You know what? I tell my kids, “If you’re crying, you better be dying.” Because I would know.
I’ve been in business 10 years. You’ve been in business 20 years. I mean that is almost a lifetime it seems like or half a lifetime or more. What spurred you to get into this line of work 20 years ago?
Linda L: Well at that time I was working as a clinical educator at a corporate level for a national home health company. I was traveling around doing trainer sessions and meeting with lots of caregivers. I always had a soft spot for caregivers. I mean what would us nurses be without caregivers working by our sides?
Valerie V: That’s right.
Linda L: At that time Medicare was doing one of their reimbursement cuts to long-term care and so the first people that were going to be cut, I knew, were educators because that’s something that’s nice to have people in the organizations think. It’s not “need to have” which you know I totally disagree with but-
Valerie V: Totally, yeah. I really do.
Linda L: Yeah, but that indeed is what happened and I knew then that the caregiver training was going to fall in the laps of extraordinarily busy nursing supervisors who barely had time to do their own tasks let alone take on something new. That meant that there probably was going to be 10-year-old videos used as training or copies of articles from nursing journals. You know none of that is really appropriate for anything or what the caregivers deserve.
I thought well how can I help both these busy nursing supervisors and the caregivers? That’s what inspired me to start writing courses and starting In The Know. I wrote courses specifically for caregivers with caregivers in mind with their job responsibilities, their learning needs, their education level, experience level, their status as adult learners and just try to put together the best possible content that I could. Then I reached out to this big pool of health care professionals that live in the area and found some other great nurse educators who were great writers and took them on my team. The company just grew from that and you add a sales team and you add a support team and instructional design team because we offer both instructor-led courses that anyone in an organization can present to their caregivers and feel confident in doing so. Because it’s like a turnkey package. Then we have e-learning as well that is designed by instructional designers.
We’ve served more than 6,000 health care organizations over the 20 years.
Valerie V: Wow, that’s amazing.
Linda L: Yeah, we’ve probably touched hundreds and hundreds of thousands of caregivers with our courses and that’s really humbling to think about. I’m very honored to have had that impact.
Valerie V: That is really neat and so I would assume that then this is nationwide. Anyone can participate, right?
Linda L: Indeed, yes. It’s a B2B or business-to-business and so we don’t sell to individual caregivers we sell to the organizations. It is nationwide. In fact, we’ve also sold to Canada, to UK, to Africa, the Caribbean.
Valerie V: Wow. You’re an international business. Awesome. Well great. That is great. It sounds to me like of course you know our audience is primarily home health care, home care, care management and things like that, I am sure that many of them will be very interested in what you have to offer. What I’ll do is I’ll post your website address and all the things they need to know to get ahold of you if there’s something they want to talk to you about or just investigate what you have for their own organization.
Linda L: Absolutely.
Valerie V: In the spirit of entrepreneurship, tell us one or two things that you believe helped make your business a success.
Linda L: Well I think that the first thing is that we really developed a mission which … You know a focus, which was the caregiver. Over the years we’ve been asked to create content for nurses and for food service staff and housekeeping staff. Look those are all very important to health care but we stuck to our mission which was caregivers. I think having that sole focus has really helped us hone in and keep our quality up to the level that we want it to be. That’s one of my keys is to really understand your mission. I’m sure you’re on board with that one and stick to it.
Another thing is that we’ve been devoted to customer service. I’m going to date myself but I don’t know if anybody remembers a movie with Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan called, “You’ve Got Mail”. He owns this big conglomerate bookstore and was trying to buy up her little corner bookstore. That’s what’s happening in the healthcare training industry today. There are a couple of big conglomerates that are absorbing all the smaller training providers and we have resisted that. We feel that when you’re part of a big company like that, probably the first thing to suffer is customer service. I think it’s super important as an entrepreneur especially to give the best possible customer service and to do it with a personal touch. We don’t turn anybody away. If a caregiver called one of those conglomerates and said, “I’m having trouble completing one of your courses”. They would say, “Well, talk to your supervisor about it”.
Valerie V: Right.
Linda L: But, my employees I’ve heard them spend 60 to 90 minutes on the phone with a caregiver, walking them through how to do an e-learning course starting with, “Is your computer turned on? Here’s how to access the browser. Here’s where to type in the web address,” and take them patiently, kindly and gently through that whole process so that by the end they say, “Okay, I get it. I can do the next course myself”.
Valerie V: Nice but you’re right. In a situation like that, it is our small businesses, our small big businesses that really still have that personal touch. We lose it when we get to the Amazons of the world.
Linda L: That’s right. Exactly.
Valerie V: We lose that personal touch quite a bit.
Linda L: Exactly.
Valerie V: Those two pieces I think our having some people say, “Nich”, some people say, “Nish,” having a niche and really sticking to it. I’m one of those people that sees you know swirl. My business partner always says, “You know if we just focused on doing this the very best we can, being the experts at this one thing, then we will be much more successful than if we go …” it’s true. That’s true so your mission is right on is to serve one population of the caregiving or the health care pool of all these things that you could reach out to and sticking to it. I really do believe that is a huge consideration if you’re in home care and you try to serve all these different populations, kids, adults, seniors, disabilities, there’s a lot of things you could choose from and just stick to one focus really helps you get good at that one thing and that one mission. You become the expert and it’s undeniable that you’re the person to go to. You’re the company to go to.
Linda L: I agree with you completely.
Valerie V: Yes, I totally understand that. Thank you for not selling out and for sticking with the little guy because I think that does make a huge difference.
If you are speaking to a new startup today, what would be your best piece of advice?
Linda L: Well if I was talking to a new startup home care-
Valerie V: Or any kind of business owner. It makes it kind of general but a home care agency would be a good start, too.
Linda L: Yeah I think it’s an easy thing for me to speak to because what I would tell them, my best advice and this is going to sound self-serving but I don’t mean it to is to focus on your training program from day one. Don’t look at it as something that is an outgo of cash and so I’m not going to worry about that now. I’m going to worry about what’s going to bring me money because that’s-
Valerie V: Backwards?
Linda L: Yeah, it’s backwards. You know for example they could consider creating a career ladder that rewards caregivers who complete advanced training courses or who complete an x number of courses within a years time. The training doesn’t have to be … I’m not trying to sell mine to them. They can develop their own training. They can bring a local nurse in to do their training. They can buy from a training provider like In The Know but the main thing is to put thought and planning into their training program especially now when there’s a caregiver crisis. Caregivers have umpteenth ads to choose from when they’re looking at who they want to work for. If a new startup can plan out a training program and then advertise it and say, “We value lifelong learning. We invest in our employees. We have ongoing training.” They’re going to get a caregiver pool coming into apply who want to be part of the industry and stick with it. Most caregivers who want to do it for a career, they’re looking for advanced training. They want to do additional tasks just like any of us want to grow in our profession.
The other thing that getting a training program set does for a startup is that it sets them apart from the competition or it can really help to. I would advise a startup home care to really assess their community and figure out okay does our community have a greater than average number of people with diabetes or do we have a greater number than average of people with COPD? Then train caregivers to those specialties whatever you find for your community and become the experts just like you were saying to hone in and focus on one thing. Become the expert on diabetes or on COPD and train your caregivers in advanced training courses whether you develop them yourselves, bring in a nurse or use a company. Just do it and then advertise the heck out of it and say, “We have advanced training to caregivers and these diagnoses”.
Then when a family member’s looking for … you know his mom has COPD and he’s looking for a home care agency and he sees one where there’s advanced training of COPD, he goes, “That’s what I want for my mom”. Or a hospital discharging a diabetic will say, “Okay, I want the agency where my clients or patients can be happy. Their outcomes are going to be good and they’re going to stay out of a hospital”. <-home care marketing!
Valerie V: That’s right and they’re going to stay home. They’re not going to readmit.
Linda L: Right, and so they’re-
Valerie V: Absolutely. They do get that all the time.
Linda L: Yeah, they’re going to pick the agency that has specially trained caregivers. I think it’s really … If they really look at the way training can help them both recruit and retain caregivers and set themselves apart in the community they’ll be off to a good start.
Valerie V: I would totally agree with that. Specializing in one or two things in the home care space and you’re smart. I mean to say that you should maybe take a look at the census data and the demographics of your area and how about Alzheimer’s and dementia? Maybe if you’re in Florida and you know you have an older population there’s so much competition. That is the training that you have demanded and required of your caregivers and you feel that they are really are stepping up to that disease process then that is something that is super valuable for that location.
You’re right. Absolutely. Train to what it is that your community specifically needs and advertise the heck out of it. Absolutely.
Linda L: Yeah.
Valerie V: You have given us some super golden nuggets about being a business owner and having longevity especially in this complicated and competitive marketplace. I want to thank you, Linda for taking 15, 20 minutes out of your day to let me ask you questions on behalf of all the people out there who want to help others and who want to start a business that is a helping profession and a helping business. I think you’ve given us a lot of food for thought and a lot of stuff that we should really absorb and learn from. You’re good at this all the way around.
Linda L: Thank you so much for having me.
Valerie V: Thank you Linda and if any of you out there want to be interviewed as one of our successful entrepreneurs on The Valerie V Show just go to our website. I’ll put the link somewhere here and you can apply to be on The Valerie V Show. We want to hear from you as a successful entrepreneur and share your good story on our show. Thanks so much everybody. Bye-bye.