I caught up with Lola Ojomo Director of Pure Homecare, a care home agency set up by Lola at 35 after giving up a career in IT.
It was a jump into a completely different sector and when you first hear about it makes little sense. Upon speaking to Lola, she advises she comes from a long line of women who are all carers, including her mother who was a nurse.
Changing career into an industry she knew little about Lola took the plunge and 14 years later is turning over £1.3 million and on track to hit their projections for £1.8 million this financial year.
It wasn’t an easy journey, taking at least 2 years before she was able to pay herself a salary.
Why did you set up a care company?
After an early decision not to become a Doctor as she didn’t feel she was clever enough she veered away from care and into IT.
However, in her mid-30s she took the leap to leave and set up a business in the care industry with the encouragement of her mother.
“It hasn’t been easy and working in the care industry isn’t for the faint hearted. You have to have a certain number of qualities to survive in care. So, whilst I stumbled into it, it has definitely been life changing and can’t imagine myself doing anything else.
It was part my mum and part I needed a change as I was trying to find myself and what I wanted to do with life at that moment in time. It paid off as I couldn’t imagine doing anything else.”
Working in the care industry, how have you dealt with the pandemic?
“I think a lot of people get pleasure out of bashing the government and how it’s been handled. Personally, with the two locations we have. in Birmingham and Leicester, I’ve found both counties and local government have been amazing.
We had our challenges, don’t get me wrong, especially with PPE in the early days, you needed a mortgage to get some! Thankfully, that has now eased, we have a regular supply and my team have been jaw-droppingly amazing and handled the situation so well.”
“We had to reinvent the way we worked and the pressures were ridiculous. One of the hardest aspects for our staff was being unable to visit those we care for in hospital.”
How do you operate as a leader, and has your leadership style changed since the pandemic started?
“One of the responsibilities that I knew right from the offset was to be the person that reassured everyone and keep morale up. Especially as there was very little guidance and help from the government at the time, that wasn’t workable.
I’d say mindset has been the main change I’ve had to make for myself and the team. We have always had continency plans in preparing for the worst, and whilst the pandemic was a hit, we felt prepared to deal with it.
The lack of contact with each other was the biggest challenge, being cut off as a team of carers was difficult.”
As the conversation flowed with Lola is was clear to see technology paid a big part in their work. Not surprising considering Lola’s IT background. It enabled Lola and her team to mobilise quickly when going into lockdown as they had the facilities to work from home straight away.
How are you continuing to grow?
“We pride ourselves on our transparency, it isn’t just a strapline for us. With my own mother being in care in the US, I can tell you that past carers and nurses are the not the easiest to care for as they know what they need!
When she would call me that she wanted a specific kind of care. I knew then we needed specific checks for our own business and how we dealt with both patients and their families. This is where our online portal reassures families, who can see in real time what care is being given.
We are one of the few agencies using IT this way, giving more access and working with families.”
The pandemic has put a pause on Lola looking to expand further in the West Midlands and it will be an area of growth towards the end of 2021.
Was it difficult getting access to finance (with being a woman of colour and working in care)?
Lola’s simple answer of ‘no’ is surprisingly earnest and she admits that there have been very few barriers in getting access to funds.
What difficulties have you faced along the journey?
“Finding good carers.
There is constant movement in care, those who believe they can work in the industry but leave not long after. I call people who come into care ‘stumblers’ as they stumble into it the way I did.
It has been one of, if not the only difficult aspect of my journey.”
How have you dealt with being an entrepreneur?
“It has been quite a lonely journey, and one thing I often wish is that I hadn’t done it on my own. Making decisions, good or bad all falls on me as a leader.
Yet, the growth I’ve had leading my own company has made it all worthwhile. Growing as a person, the resilience it builds is more than I expected when I started.
What I would say is that whatever decision you make, trust your decisions and be unafraid of when they turn out to be bad ones. You can always change it it’s about learning and growth as an individual.”
Lola admits to being wholly being unprepared to the intricacies of running a business and wishes she had been more prepared.
She had done very little research in the beginning, especially around finances by taking money out savings and borrowing some from her mum when she started, thinking she’d be making a salary in no time.
How did you know you were on to a winner?
“I fell in love with care very quickly. It was within 8 months of starting I knew. There was a team that relied on me, it became about them and less about me, which was reason to carry on, even when I couldn’t afford to give myself a salary.”
What advice would you give other budding entrepreneurs?
Her advice is hard hitting and she tells me.
“Don’t put barriers in place for yourself, [gender, race or background]. These are barriers we put up for ourselves as we can always find ways and means to finance and get started.
The other advice I would give is just jump in and don’t over think it, as you tend to procrastinate if you do.”