Sukhi Dhillon, director and franchise owner of In Home Care’s Hertford branch, discusses his journey into the care sector, supporting the local community, and the impact of Covid-19.
When it comes to our loved ones, we want only the best care for them. Care that enables them to have the support they need, but also keep their support network of family and friends around them. Unfortunately, modern life being the way it is means that it is not always easy to be physically “there” to support them, particularly during the last year with Covid-19.
I have lived in the Hertford area for many years, and I wanted to make a genuine difference to the lives of people in the community. So, when I was presented with an opportunity to start a business which supports and cares for individuals within their own homes, I felt that it was a natural step for me to take.
I have not always worked in care – I graduated with a BEng (Hons) in Electronics Engineering from Middlesex University and began working as an engineer. However, I soon found myself transitioning into sales and marketing, which enabled me to gain solid, in-depth knowledge of how businesses operate, albeit in a hugely different sector to the one I am in now.
During my marketing days, I held several project manager roles, spanning industries from defence and government IT, through to finance and what we have now come to understand as video conferencing. Most recently, I was employed within the fire safety sector. I also studied part-time for an Executive MBA at the University of Hertfordshire.
Having such a varied background in a multitude of industries has allowed me to understand where my passion truly lies. I reached a stage where I wanted to run my own business, but starting up in the technological sector brings with it weighty initial costs and the risks are just as high. It is also important to do your research carefully – being familiar with an industry does not necessarily mean it is where your passion lies and there is also the danger of entering a market which has low growth potential.
Working with a franchisor vastly reduces that risk. Through a franchisor, entrepreneurs can work alongside industry experts and learn from their experiences, with access to a solid, proven business and brand. They are the ones who know first-hand what it is like to build a business in that specific sector and are just as committed to developing the local franchise as the franchisee is.
In 2019, I had the opportunity to become In Home Care’s first franchisee, covering Hertford and the surrounding communities. From the beginning, I was made to feel part of the In Home Care family, with plenty of support and ideas from the founders based on everything they had learnt in building the company since 2011, and the staff at the head office which I visited before formally committing.
Then, of course, Covid-19 hit. Like most businesses, we have had our fair share of difficulties: families fearful of the spread of the virus began stopping their care packages or had been furloughed so they were able to look after their loved ones themselves. As a new care provider, we were also ineligible for funding from local governments and the NHS, making it even more challenging to bring in new customers.
It has also been a challenge to bring in new carers during the pandemic. For those not furloughed, work has remained one of the few constants during this time and so it was only natural that few people were comfortable in changing roles with all the uncertainty around.
With the continuing support of the directors, we weathered the storm. We used the lockdown periods to invest in our team of existing carers and office staff, with our objective being to deliver the highest standard of care we possibly can. This has quickly become an integral part of our company culture, with success clearly reflected in the number of referrals we have received from other industry professionals and the reviews from our customers.
If I could pinpoint one lesson I have learnt as a franchisee, it is that a ‘team’ extends far beyond the people doing the day jobs; it includes the other healthcare professionals we work with, businesses on our doorstep also offering services to the elderly, and of course, the customer and their support network. Only by collaborating closely together can we achieve what we set out to do.
Make no mistake, franchising – and indeed running your own business – is not for everyone and it does take a great amount of work. It is essential for prospective franchisees to choose carefully and be sure beyond doubt that they are entering an industry they are truly passionate about, with a company they feel they can trust.
The team I referred to earlier also encompasses other franchisees within the network. Knowing how they have overcome obstacles that most new franchisees will encounter, like the ones I have alluded to, not only acts as an inspiration but also aids the new franchisee in theirs and their team’s own development.
Lastly, and probably most importantly, franchising is there to be enjoyed. Yes, there will be challenges, but the sense of pride and accomplishment when the positive reviews start coming in is difficult to rival.
In Home Care has grown significantly during the past 18 months. From me as the first franchisee there are now franchises covering Essex, North London, West Sussex, with others opening closer to our own office – and I personally cannot wait to see them prosper as we have here in Hertford.
To view an interview with In Home Care co-founder Claire Simmons, click here.
Caption: Picture taken in 2019, when the Mayor of Hertford visited for a Macmillan Coffee Morning. Suki Dhillon is pictured on the far right.