1. Can you please tell us more about your business?
What started in 2011 in my own home, with 12 children receiving community-based respite care, is now in 2020 – 526 registered children and families, with a world-class hospice building, 46 communities served, equine therapy, adaptive surfing and a doggy daycare protective workshop for our high functioning adults. Our services are still free to our clients, our income is generated from the Western Cape Department of Social Development and more the 60% from partnerships with Corporates and the public as well as successful fundraising events. Iris House continues to grow from strength to strength and is the only registered respite care model of its kind in the Western Cape.
2. When how and why did you start your business?
After 15 years of corporate buying and brand management with the Edcon group, I resigned to start my businesses in Johannesburg. I had a restaurant, catering company, and interior design business. After 5 years I sold up and returned to the UK where I was born. On my return, I assisted my husband to set up his internet marketing business and started training internet marketing in the UK and Europe, however, something life-changing happened in the 8 years we were in the UK. I started work part-time at Julia’s House Children’s Hospice in Dorset.
Caring for life-limited and life-threatened special needs children was something I knew nothing about what so ever about care work, but with fantastic training from Julia’s House coupled with a newfound passion for special needs children, I soon found my feet and found the role not only amazingly fulfilling but also it created a 360 shift in my thinking. Suddenly I was so grateful for my two “A typical” boys, small things I had taken for granted before were now celebrated and I felt extremely humbled by these amazing children and their parents. Life had moved me in a new, rewarding, and wonderful direction.
So it was without doubt that I started night classes and obtained my level 3 NVQ in Health and social care and when the inevitable return to South Africa happened eight years later, I knew I would not live in Johannesburg again and that I wanted to make a difference in the lives of special needs children and their families. In 2011, in Cape Town, Iris House Children’s Hospice was born. Although a registered NPO, I have always run the hospice like a business, as a free model this is probably the worse business model to follow. But with the support of a small dedicated team, I was determined to make it work.
3. What is the role of your business?
The role of Iris House Children’s Hospice is to provide free, quality community and hospice based care to special needs children and their families. Our services extend to equine therapy, adaptive surfing, family days out, support groups, doggy daycare/adult protective workshop, overnight care, physiotherapy, health care, and sibling events.
4. Where did you study and what did you study?
I studied at Bournemouth College and achieved my Level 3 NVQ in Health and Social Services. I also received in house training at Julia’s House which included level 3 first aid, Makaton (sign language for special needs children) Play Therapy to name but a few.
5. How did you finance your business?
Like any new business idea, to start an NPO is no different. One needs to be able to communicate your ideas and business plan effectively and also ensure potential investors receive recognition and are aligned with your brand. My first point of call was the then Premier of the Western Cape Helen Zille, who understood the respite care model. She then ensured that our first “big” funding amount of R220 000 00 was received from the Department of Social Development. We are now an R4 million rand business and still growing with no sign of slowing done any time soon. The demand for our services is linked to the amount of special needs children in the province. It is estimated that 8% of the population of the Western Cape, has a disability and or a special need (this excludes HIV – AIDS)
6. Describe your average workday, if such a thing exists.
My days are extremely diverse. An average day (depending on what day it is ) starts with a quick staff meeting with my care team and nurse. Followed by a 5km outride on one of our two therapy horses, with our trainer on the other horse for them to burn off excess energy and to see who is most suited that day for working with the children at the hospice that day. Followed by the actual equine session. Then its office work, email appointment setting, etc.
By 1 pm I take our therapy dog, Alfred, into the hospice playroom for some interaction with the children (I have trained him myself from a puppy – he is now 2 years old) Generally I will then update our social media feeds, pay invoices and update our website via WordPress. I tend to schedule my meetings for the afternoon and early evening where possible, to have maximum time with my staff and children. However this is just one scenario, two days are never the same at the hospice grounds. I do try to work one day from my home office where I can focus without interruption on funding applications, policies, budgeting, etc.
7. How do you balance your home life and your work life?
This can be tricky, as being a bit of a workaholic I tend to push myself too hard and not have a good balance. However 2 years ago I made a conscious decision to correct this balance, and it is working well. I attend Yoga twice per week and ensure that I have some weekends free for family time and just relaxing. Studying and practicing Mindfulness has assisted me in this regard, living in the moment uncomplicates so much. I am also blessed with an amazing husband who supports me in all things that I do, although not active in the Charity at all my husband is my rock and advisor, he is the first to comment if I get “carried away” and I can then rethink my time and get the balance back together
8. What drives you and inspires you?
I am strongly driven by the need to be “Effecting Change” within special needs circles. I draw my inspiration from our children and families who endure so much but are some of the most grateful people I know. I also aspire to make every day count and to spread the word about the care of special needs children to the whole province. Starting with the end in mind in everything I do.
9. Where and when do you have your best ideas?
I follow a strict routine in the mornings, waking at 4 am. I then do 20 min reading, 20 min yoga or exercise, and 20 minutes journaling. This always gets my creative mind to kick in, which is where my best ideas come from. Often I have ideas in my sleep and always have a notepad next to the bed.
10. Where and how do you market/advertise your business for sales leads?
As an NPO we do not sale however marketing and advertising for sponsors and donations are essential to our survival. I make use of our social platforms – in particular, LinkedIn and Twitter for connections, Facebook, and Instagram to build our brand. I am also on the radio often as a guest speaker and do a fair amount of public speaking. I am a firm believer in an integrated approach within the NPO arena, and spend time on other relevant boards as a director, meeting, talking, and where possible collaborating with other NPO’s always attempting to expand my circle of influence for the benefit of the NPO.
11. What is next for your business?
The amount of children registered with Iris House is a drop in the ocean if one looks at the available statistics. So we must continue to grow to meet these needs. We are also looking to open an Autism center that will prepare young children, diagnosed with Autism to be able to attend school. No easy task, but I have been able to impress many government Ministers to support the project, as the need for preparation while a child is on a school waiting list is a high priority. Without this intervention, many children just don’t get into schools as their behavior is deemed as “uncontrollable” by the school system.
12. What advice would you give to female entrepreneurs hoping to start their own business?
Do what you love! the rest will follow. There is no point, in my opinion, chasing money goals if you are deeply unhappy with what it is you do. If you start a business or NPO in an area that you are passionate about, you are far more likely to succeed then if you are just driven by monetary goals.
For more information please visit www.iris-house.org
Contact Sue on Sue Van der Linde on firstname.lastname@example.org