Paula Banks – ‘I am a businesswoman by default, not by design’

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In 2005, Paula Banks decided to put her more than 25 years of experience in the social work and health care fields into practice by starting a consulting service in the field of geriatric care, Paula Banks Consulting. With 10,000 people in the United States turning 65 each day, she is providing a service that is growing daily in importance.

Banks says she first heard about the field of geriatric care 20 years ago and decided then that it was a profession she wanted to be involved in. Her job as a discharge planner at Maine Medical Center really opened her eyes to the need for professionals who could help people deal with the issues they faced going home after a stroke or other medical event.

“I would be discharging people but I was always worried,” she said. “The doctor might order a visiting nurse, but the reality under Medicare is that they can only visit for (a limited period of time).”

As a geriatric care manager, Banks, who is 51, coordinates care and support services for the elderly by screening, arranging, and monitoring in-home care and other ongoing services for her clients. The need for her assistance sometimes is triggered by a medical event, but more often, she says, the beginning of cognitive decline or memory issues are the catalysts to family members reaching out for help for an elderly parent.

“They might be forgetting their medicine,” she says, “or not be able to drive to CVS to get their medication. These are little things, but they add up.”

In 2007, Banks started a home care business, called Two Lights Homecare, which employs 28 people and offers care in 3- to 24-hour blocks to about 22 clients in Cape Elizabeth and neighboring communities. Banks says she has been approached by larger agencies that would like to buy her out, but she believes her small, “mom and pop shop” is an important part of the local community. Her mother, sister, and 20-year-old daughter have all worked in her home care business.

While 99 percent of her geriatric care clients want to find a way to stay in their home, Banks says she often gets calls from past clients who call again for a “reassessment” of their needs.

“It’s an ongoing relationship. I love that,” she says. “It’s not lost on me what a privilege it is to be invited into someone’s home to help them.”

Q

What were your most important needs in getting started?

A

The most important needs I had in getting started with my own businesses were money and mentoring. The banks and lending institutions were very tough on me. They really did not want to talk to me unless I had substantial collateral. I did end up having to put my house up for collateral to get started, and I didn’t hesitate to do that because I had faith in myself that I would be successful. If nothing else, I am very determined. I also did benefit from a small business-backed loan. I have since found a great bank to work with. I’ve been lucky enough to have some amazing mentors, both male and female, who have faith in what I do and my ability. They have been incredibly supportive.

Q

What was there about your upbringing that gave you the courage to venture out on your own?

A

My family suffered a huge loss when my Dad died in his 30s. My mom was very young and was left alone to raise five children under the age of 10. From her I learned so much about resilience, determination and the fortitude needed to venture out in the world. My mother had an incredibly strong work ethic and convinced me that I could do anything in this world that I wanted to.

Q

What do you think the advantages are of being a female entrepreneur?

A

The advantages are that there are other wonderful women out there to connect with and learn from. My experience is that women are very willing to share their time, energy, expertise and advice with other women entrepreneurs.

Q

What advice would you give an aspiring woman entrepreneur?

A

My advice (and you’ve heard it before) is to follow your passion. Find the work that makes you want to get up in the morning and go to work. You also have to love what you are doing SO much that you eat, sleep and drink it. You have to be willing to work long hours, make very little money for a while, give up time that would be spent on hobbies, etc., and put all your energy into your work. I would also advise them to learn everything they possibly can about their industry – do more than the next person. I would get any and every kind of experience in your field to build your credibility and to be seen as an expert. Entrepreneurship is not for everyone and that is OK. I’d advise them to be comfortable with acceptable (not careless) risk.

Q

If you knew then what you know now, would you have done anything differently?

A

I am a businesswoman by default, not by design. I wanted to do the work I love (geriatrics) and I had a vision of how I wanted to do that. It did not fit any preconceived career path at the time. So I had to make a business to fit what I wanted to do. So if I could go back, regardless of the fact that I am a social worker and a certified geriatric care manager, I would definitely have taken some basic business courses either before or while I was starting out. Maybe being a little nai?ve was a good thing, or I might not have jumped in as I did.

– Joanne Lannin

The Personnel File:
Paula Banks Consulting, LLC
P.O. Box 6237, Cape Elizabeth
329-2766
www.paulabanks.com
Two Lights Homecare, LLC
337 Ocean House Road, Cape Elizabeth
799-4465
www.twolightshomecare.com