Is Working for Myself the Right Option for Me?

I suppose the big advantage of working for yourself as a carer is the fact that you can earn significantly more than working with an agency. As an indication, the carers who are working through Home Care Direct are earning between €17 and €25 per hour with the average being about €19.75. Working for yourself also gives you more flexibility and control of your timetable. I would also suggest working for yourself and managing your own clients is incredibly satisfying. You see first-hand the benefits and effect of your work and you also tend to build up a much closer relationship with your clients. Certainly our experience in Home Care Direct is that carers feel real ownership of their work and as such are incentivised and proactive about delivering a '5 star' service to their clients.

Conversely, there are downsides to working for yourself as well. Firstly, those hours you work with your own clients you are not building up stamps. However if you combine working for yourself with working with an agency you still get stamps for your agency work. I suppose presently in the home care sector, if you want to work, the work is generally there.

Secondly, although being on a platform like Home Care Direct allows families to find you, there will be times when you have to find your own clients. They are not generally given to you like with an agency. When you do find them though, they are your clients not someone else’s. Later on I give some tips on some simple things you can do to attract clients of your own. In addition being on a platform like Home Care Direct, does make it easier to build up your own stable of clients.

Thirdly, you won’t have the same back up as with an agency. However I would say that agencies maybe over-exaggerate this point. The fact is that many care situations don’t need a full agency back up service and families can often handle a carer being out sick or on holidays especially if they know in advance. I think the important point is that if a family absolutely needs a guaranteed back up and can’t be without care, an agency is probably the best option. I would also point out that if you do private work through Home Care Direct, presently we can offer full back up in the greater Dublin area and shortly we will be extending that to the rest of the country.

Initial Considerations

Cash or Above Board?

So that’s a quick run through the pros and cons. Let’s assume you have decided that you are a great carer who deserves more and that you are going to look for and take on private work. The first decision you have to make is do I do it for cash or do I do it legally? I cannot be clearer on this, the only sustainable and safe way to go, is to do it legally. It’s better for you and it’s better for your clients.

If you work for cash you are leaving yourself open to investigation by the tax authorities in Revenue and some serious fines. You are also putting the family you are working for at risk as they can be prosecuted for paying you in cash. You are also both at risk because you won’t have insurance. Also, as a carer you are leaving yourself open to be abused as there will be no contract in place, clearly indicating each party’s responsibilities.

Now if the above won’t convince you to do your private work legally, let me tell you that you can actually earn more in many cases by doing it legally!!! What many carers might not realise is that families can get significant tax relief at their marginal tax rate, on what they pay out to a legally contracted private carer. In fact they can get up to 40% back of what they pay you.

Let’s take a carer who is working for cash with a family for say €15. If that carer was doing the work legally, they could actually charge the family €25 and the cost would be the same for a family paying tax at the higher rate! That means for the family the cost is the same but you are getting significantly more. Who is picking up the tab? The Government that’s who, with their tax relief! In addition because it is legal, you can both be protected with a contract and insurance. Everyone wins and the governments pays!

One important point to make regarding your new venture, is you don’t have to give up any existing work until you have managed to build up your private clients. This lessens the risk considerably. We have carers on Home Care Direct who are doing their full 40hrs through private work but we also have carers who have decided to continue with some agency work and use the private work as a top up.

Administration

OK, so you have made the right decision and decided to go down the legal route. The next thing you need to do is set yourself up as a sole trader or in your own company. It’s not as complicated as it sounds and most solicitors can do it for you fairly quickly and at a reasonable cost.
alt You will also need to output invoices for your work and you can do that yourself manually or there are simple software packages that can do that for you. It is important that you keep track of your invoicing and your expenses so that you can declare and pay your taxes at the end of the year. Many accountants will do this at a reasonable cost. If that isn’t for you, one of the things we do in Home Care Direct is handle all that for you automatically. We set up your company, handle your administration and invoicing and also deal with tax returns, allowing you to concentrate on what you do best, delivering great care.

Marketing & Sales

OK now you have yourself sorted from an administration point of view, it’s time to find some work! There are lots of really cheap and simple things you can do to market yourself and hopefully attract clients. Marketing and selling yourself is probably your most important task in the beginning.
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Target Market

The first thing to do is decide who you are trying to target. I would suggest it is families who live near you firstly. Then I would say it’s probably the daughter or son of someone who needs care. It might also be that you want to target people who might refer business to you like local health centres and doctors. Many of you may know already people or families who need care in your area. Why not approach them directly?

How to Reach Your Target Market?

The first and cheapest way to advertise is amongst friends, family and social media contacts. Let all of them know that you are available for tax compliant private work. Let them know about your fantastic experience and relevant qualifications. Are you a member of a local GAA club or involved in a community centre or parish group? Let them know about your new venture. If you don’t, no one else will. The more noise you make the better!

What about printing up some basic leaflets to put up in your local Spar, GAA club or community Centre? 200 digitally printed A5 colour leaflets with some basic information won’t cost much more than €50 and will be a great investment. In Home Care Direct we believe in local marketing so much that we have ready-made leaflets that we give free to carers on our platform when they start, to help them on their way.

Another good idea are some business cards. You are at the end of the day competing against agencies, so it is really important that you look and come across as professional. A set of business cards goes a long way to achieving that.

Your aim in front of clients is to make them forget about agencies. You want to show them that you are a serious, professional and proactive carer who they can depend on. The most important thing that most families want is the same carer week in week out and that’s what they are getting with you!

Remember if you are working for yourself you are not just a carer now. You are a sales person and a client manger as well. It sounds daunting but if you sit down and think about it, many of you will have been carrying out those type of tasks already. For example, how many of you resolve issues directly with families and then inform your office afterwards?

Your first client will be the most difficult to get but you will see after your first, the power of referrals. Your good work will be by far and away your best advertising. People generally want to find help and support through a recommendation from someone they trust, like a neighbour.

Being on a platform like Home Care Direct can also help you to get clients as we are spending significant money to attract families to our site so they will see your profile!

It is important to remember that you will succeed in working for yourself based on your attitude and the quality of work you do. We see carers on Home Care Direct for example going above and beyond the call of duty to ensure they are delivering a '5 star' service and as a consequence they are getting clients and building up a significant sustainable income.

Your First Enquiry!

As mentioned above, one of your roles now that you are working for yourself, is Client Manager. Because of all the fantastic marketing you have done, imagine you have just got a call from a daughter who saw your leaflet in the local Spar and whose mum needs care.

One important point is try and take enquiry calls when you are able to talk without much noise around. If you are in a restaurant or a pub it’s perfectly OK to say you are busy, take a number and say you will call back. Also make sure you have a professional sounding voice mail.

When you get an enquiry always make sure you get back within 12hrs or so if you weren’t able to deal with it straight away. Even if the enquiry doesn’t sound as if it suits you, always get back, thank them for their enquiry and look professional.

Generally the first contact with a prospective client will be by phone. Make sure you get some basic information that you will need in order to decide if this case is for you.

Who is the care for?
Where do they live?
What condition or needs does the person needing care have?
Who if anyone, is delivering care presently?
When and what hours do they think care and support is needed?

Once you have that basic information you are probably ready to make a decision as to whether the enquiry suits you or not.

Your First Meeting

Let’s assume the job does suit you. Your next step is probably to suggest to meet either for a coffee or maybe to visit the house where care is needed for a further chat.

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It’s a great idea to bring along your business cards and also a pad for making notes. This also helps to show you are professional. Also why not bring along a copy of your CV and any references you have. Another great idea is to bring along a care plan template to potentially fill out with the daughter. If you are working for an agency have a look at the one they use and get some ideas from it.

If you decide to work through Home Care Direct we provide you with a care plan template that you can print off and use. Having a care template gives you a guide as to the information you need to gather at the meeting but once again it makes you look competent and in control. A signed care plan if it has sufficient information, can also serve as a basic contract for you and the family.

If you are working through Home Care Direct, our platform outputs a contract for the client to accept and also handles payments for that contract.

Remember as well, the family are thinking of using you rather than an agency and as such they want to see an open confident person who knows what caring is about. Because of this, it’s important that you ask questions, make suggestions and generally show you know your stuff and they are right to avoid the cost of an agency and work directly with you.

Generally at the end of the visit you are hoping to have;
Agreed to work together
Agreed a care schedule
Agreed a price per hour
Agreed a start date
Agreed how payments are to be made

One important point to make at this stage, is never under-sell yourself. It is so important for carers to realise the value they bring to a family and this should be reflected in the price you charge. Remember agencies generally are charging anything between €24 to €30 an hour so if you are charging between say €18 to €20, while that may seem a lot to you, its great value for the family!

Follow up your meeting with a text or email saying how you are looking forward to starting work and maybe confirm the start date again. It’s all about giving the family comfort that they have made the right decision.

I should also say that if you don’t get the work, it’s probably even more important to get back and thank the daughter for meeting with you! You never know if she might have a friend who needs care and suits your skill set. Never burn any bridges!

Also, don’t forget, if you feel uncomfortable with any aspect of the work being described or the person you are meeting, you can politely and professionally say no. It might be because you feel the work is outside your skillset or it could be because you feel the work environment isn’t suitable.

Delivery of Care

Your First Visit

ARRIVE EARLY! Let me say it again, ARRIVE EARLY! First impressions are so important and if you arrive late for your first visit, I can assure you, you are probably going to lose this client that you have worked so hard to get.

If you are working through Home Care Direct we have a phone based clocking in system that alerts the daughter that you have arrived and when you leave. Otherwise it might be an idea to just text the daughter to let her know you have arrived.

Bring along a copy of the care plan template you filled out with the daughter and leave a copy in the house.

It’s also a good idea to leave a simple notebook in the house where you can leave notes about your visit for family members to see.

If you are working through Home Care Direct you will have the ability to leave a digital visit note through your phone that the daughter will get on her phone.

Visit notes as well as being important from a care point of view, are a really good marketing tool for you to show case your professionalism and drive home the message of what a great decision it was to go with you as their carer!

Follow the care plan and instructions the daughter and you discussed but also be aware that you might want to suggest some tweaks based on you having actually delivered care for a couple of days.

Don’t be afraid to draw on your experience to make suggestions but always run any changes by the daughter first.

Management of Care

You will find yourself building up a close relationship with your new client and their family but it is important to always be professional and never cross the line to being too familiar. Some people want the carer to be their best friend while others want the carer to be very much in the background carrying out tasks. It’s a good idea to explore this particular point early on in a relationship.

Remember a carer is in most cases a really important asset for the family and they have entrusted you with looking after a loved one most probably on a one to one basis. Because of this the family have a real interest in ensuring your relationship works.

The family are delighted that they have got a proactive and incentivised carer who is working for themselves. They are also delighted to be getting the same carer every day which doesn’t always happen with agencies! I believe continuity of care is the single biggest determinant of quality care.

Problems and issues will arise from time to time but the most important thing is to be honest and timely in your response to those issues. Very often when issues arise, they can turn out to be an opportunity for you to show how professional and trust worthy you are. A simple example is if you know you are going to arrive late because of bad traffic. Make sure you ring the daughter to explain what has happened and indicate roughly what time you expect to arrive. The daughter knows these things happen but now she knows that you will always alert her to problems. That gives her great comfort.

In summary avoid SURPRISES!

Sickness & Holidays

One area that carers who are working for themselves might be worried about is what happens when I am sick or want to go on holidays?

The first thing to say is that families when they contract with you will be aware that they won’t have the same back up as an agency but they will have decided having continuity of care with you is worth the odd time you will be sick. While some agencies might like to scaremonger on this point, the fact is not all agencies go to the trouble of covering when a carer calls in sick themselves!

One good idea is to try and get to know other carers who are working privately in your area so that you can support each other for sickness but also for referring clients!

In Home Care Direct we are actively encouraging the formation of what we term “buddy groups” for this purpose.

With regards holidays the most important issue is to let your clients know well in advance when you are going. When you do that very often the family can organise cover themselves. If not, once again you might know local carers who can step in for you after doing some shadowing.

If you are working through Home Care Direct we can offer a full back up service in the greater Dublin area. We hope to be able to offer a nationwide back up service in the near future.

And in summary

Working privately is a real option for good carers that should be explored. Yes you might decide in the end it’s not for you and that’s fine but I think you owe it to yourself to at least examine its merits.

The most important thing in working for yourself is to have the right attitude. You will get back what you put into your business. While it may seem daunting from outside, working for yourself can be incredibly empowering and rewarding. We don’t pretend it is suitable for all carers or indeed all care situations but we feel there is a large part of the market where it is beneficial for both families and carers to work together without the need or cost of an agency in between.

At Home Care Direct we are trying to do our bit to make it easier for that to happen.