By Emma Kushnir, WorkStory Ambassador at Western University
Amanda Stark has worked for her own self-started business The Friendly Visitor, in London, for fourteen months. After attending Emmanuel Bible College in Kitchener, she realized there was a lack of support for those with Parkinson’s Disease and other seniors’ needs. As The Friendly Visitor, she provides companionship, helping-hand services, and life-skills coaching, in order to facilitate clients’ independence at home and to connect them with other resources. Her goal is to help her clients live as well, and as independently, as possible.
As the owner of The Friendly Visitor, Amanda manages all of the administrative tasks, and all marketing initiatives, including advertising, social media, community networking and the website. She first became interested in this type of work when she was living with her uncle who has Parkinson’s Disease. Amanda used to help him around the house, drive him to appointments, and go on weekly movie dates. This, as well as her experience and visits with her grandmother, inspired Amanda to venture into this line of work.
Amanda has a counselling degree from Emmanuel Bible College, and many years of administrative assistant and customer service work. In addition to these skills, she explains that “this job takes a certain personality to connect with clients and to build rapport.” The job also involves conflict management, facilitating group discussion and awareness of mental health concerns. She notes that “given the general nature of the helping hands component, it also requires a willingness to get our hands dirty and do whatever is needed. In some cases the skill of resourcefulness has been my best asset, by helping with pets, making meals, and doing laundry, among other things.” Also important for anyone who is self-employed are time management skills -- knowing how to prioritize tasks and optimize time in the schedule. Having a general knowledge of the operational side of business, Amanda also knows where she should hire out, so she can focus on the things she’s good at. For example? “I enjoy coordinating and customer service, but I am not great with numbers so that’s why I have a bookkeeper. Networking is another strength that fits well with running a business. Making connections in the business community as well as in the public is what goes the extra mile to spread the word about a small business.”
When asked why she loves her work, Amanda has a long list! “I love my clients – I think my seniors are my favorites. I don’t have any grandparents, so I love hearing their stories and getting their advice on life. It’s the relationships in general that are my favorite – whether learning from other business owners, connecting with people in the community, or staying in touch with the families of the people I serve. I also love the variety, the fact one day I’m gardening, the next day I’m moving furniture and the next I’m having a conversation about life skills.” Speaking of a particular 93-year-old client, Amanda loves hearing her old stories about London many years ago, and that she considers Amanda family. Similarly, she enjoyed working with an 83-year old client who shared many stories about growing up in Greece, moving to Canada and making a life there.
Making the decision to go into business for herself was the biggest decision that Amanda has ever made. She could have worked for someone else, but because of a physical injury she also needs specific prioritizing. So working for herself seemed best. Another hard decision involved whether to follow the advice of others or do what she felt was right. Amanda explains that “many well-meaning people had advice about the different aspects of getting started, but not all advice was helpful or fruitful. Along with that, knowing who I could trust was a big challenge.” Her branding was also critically important, so she did a lot of research before her business name and logo were created.
Perhaps not surprisingly, the biggest challenge Amanda faced was finances. It was difficult starting a business when there wasn’t much money coming in at the beginning. She was lucky enough to go through the Ontario Self-Employment Benefit program before its recent cancellation. Getting attention for her business was also challenging since her advertising budget was focused on word-of-mouth marketing. Amanda acknowledges that she had her moments of doubt wondering if this was “the right path” for her, but quickly adds that “I absolutely know 100% that it is…no good thing is accomplished without a little struggle.”
Amanda’s advice for others? “Be honest with yourself. If you are not a self-starter, you probably shouldn’t start your own business! But trust yourself. You know what you know – be confident in that. Reflect on what you’re good at and choose a career that focuses on your strengths. Don’t just go where someone tells you to go – if I had done that, I would still be sitting at a receptionist desk somewhere.”
Find out more at The Friendly Visitor website: http://www.thefriendlyvisitor.ca