In this interview, we have the pleasure of speaking with James Lee, the CEO and Co-Founder of Bella Groves, a company that specializes in senior living. James is not only a seasoned professional in this industry but also a keynote speaker, senior living business coach, and consultant. He also hosts the “Level Up Leadership Podcast”, where he shares valuable insights and advice to other Head + Heart Leaders. In this conversation, we will explore James’s journey in the senior living industry and his unique perspective on transparency and honesty in business relationships.
Next Best Home: You once posted about the fact that when you were an employee of a corporation and attended senior living conferences, you had a realization that your residents were paying for your attendance. You saw it as a pass-through expense for your residents. When you decided to use your own PTO and pay through your own income, you received backlash for it. Could you share your experience?
James Lee: I did surprisingly receive backlash for it. The response from management was that I shouldn’t be attending if other people in my position or the next level up (regionals) could not attend due to budgetary reasons. I was not prepared for the “optics” of what they said was an “implied representation” of the company. I learned a lesson from it, but it probably wasn’t the one intended. This to me was an example of psychological safety or a lack thereof.
Next Best Home: We love this level of transparency and honesty. Let’s keep the conversation on that theme. Do you pay referral fees for leads for your community?
James Lee: I appreciate the question. We made a commitment to not contract with online lead generators. We furthered that commitment by intentionally not using keywords online so that we do not associate with online lead generators or help optimize them. We are very keen on the messaging and overall impact on our residents and families. We have some partners who help engage our customers online, but we don’t utilize online lead generators (i.e. large placement agencies).
Next Best Home: What is the impact on residents and families?
James Lee: First and foremost, “free” placement agencies or advisors are absolutely not free. We are transparent about our pricing and include it on our website. Placement advisors should disclose their fees, which inevitably drive the marketing costs for communities and become a pass-through cost to families.
Next Best Home: What do you think is a healthy balance for companies in their relationship with lead generators?
James Lee: There are many factors and a long dialogue, but at the minimum, communities should maintain or home in on an “acceptable” margin for investing marketing dollars per client. One has to ask if the rising costs of lead generation is in keeping with your responsibility to be a good steward of your residents’ monthly fees. It isn’t future residents paying marketing fees; it is your current ones. This is certainly something to ponder, and I truly believe the next generation of adult children will have different expectations and negotiating skills.
James Lee’s insights shed light on the importance of transparency, not only in the senior living industry but in business relationships in general. His experiences and commitment to ethical practices offer valuable lessons for those in similar fields and beyond.
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