The Wisconsin Assisted Living Association had some great sessions at their spring conference recently. I enjoyed being part of a panel discussion on the topic of “When It’s Time to Expand, and When It’s Time to Wait”. We panelists shared our thoughts on this topic, and the audience had some great questions and feedback, too.
The session was geared to the small family business or regional assisted living provider, or the single facility provider that might be ready to grow. Expansion for the national providers and public companies is a whole different subject – at least in some ways.
Many of the people in our audience were both the CEO and the sole owner of their company. Expanding requires many things but, perhaps more than anything, it requires the energy and commitment of the leader.
Are You Bored?
I asked the audience “are you bored?”. Many laughed. They were all too busy to be bored. My question may have been a bit tongue in cheek but it was serious at the same time. When small businesses expand, it’s often because the owner has a deep passion and desire to grow. They’re excited by the challenge. They embrace risk, rather than fear it.
So the question “are you bored” was serious. A company expanding without a leader possessing a deep desire to grow will find the inevitable challenges of expansion overwhelming. When the leader becomes overwhelmed, the entire company is at risk. But a leader with a team that is ready to embrace change may very well be positioned to expand.
Of course, a desire to expand isn’t enough. Just like any type of construction project, expansion can’t begin until the foundation is in place.
Start With a Strong Foundation
The concrete walls of a foundation must carry the entire load of a building. Each wall is important, and each must be ready to carry its share of the load. A company planning expansion needs all four of these walls.
- Team. You can’t do it yourself. Expanding to a second assisted living facility, or the third, fourth, etc, means that you won’t be able to give your entire focus to a single building. So a team is important to fill any roles that you will be giving up. Don’t move ahead until you are confident that the right person is in each position.
- Systems. Your team will help keep things on track. But the thing that will help them stay on track are the systems you have developed with your first facility or facilities. A good test is whether your team and your facility run smoothly while you take a long vacation or even a mini-retirement. If your cell phone rings every day of a vacation, you need better systems and you’re probably not ready to expand.
- Capital. Unlike a start-up, a company that is expanding should have the benefit of profits generated from existing facilities to help fuel expansion. But it’s very important that there is sufficient capital accumulated. Some companies have expanded with the promise of continuing profits from their existing facility, only to see those profits decrease or disappear just when they’re needed.
- Brand. The safest way to expand is to duplicate a proven concept in a new market that needs what you offer. What is your concept? What sets you apart from competitors? Do you have something that should and can be duplicated? If you do, then your brand is a valuable asset that can be leveraged to help your company grow.
The risks of expansion are many. But the rewards are great as well. With motivated leadership and the right foundation in place, it might be time for you to expand your company and your assisted living facility.