“The largest thing we’ve gleaned is to be prepared for the future. Not just to let the business drive us, but to drive the business and think strategically.”
Healthcare service provider gains confidence and access to capital for future growth
Tracy Freeman, first learned deeply about people with disabilities in high school. She came to love both the group home where she worked and the people she served, evolving to see the residents for who they were – not for who they were not.
But she never considered a career in disability services until after graduating from Walsh University with a bachelor’s degree in business management. It was then that a light bulb went off:
“I suddenly realized that I could combine my passion for people with a desire to start my own business,” she says.
The rest is history. Freeman founded Freeman Residential Services in 2006 and has never looked back.
Today, the company supports more than 50 individuals and employs 30, providing a variety of services including a day program, supported living, and transportation while treating clients with respect and dignity.
Based near Canton, Ohio, and serving those in Stark and Summit counties, CEO Freeman has a goal to expand into Cleveland and to add a new line of business – senior living. Most important, she says, is her goal to “become one of the greatest service providers in the world, not in terms of size, but based on the quality of work that we do.”
While the company has been growing, that growth has not come easily. One barrier has been a shortage of support professionals. Another has been access to funding.
Earlier this year, Freeman and Operations Director Lisa Ruiz learned from their minority business association that ELITE Americas was beginning to offer services in Ohio. In June of 2020, ELITE partner JobsOhio – the state’s private, non-profit economic development organization – announced the selection of 13 Canton-area minority-owned businesses to participate in the first cohort of ELITE-assisted companies – Freeman Residential among them.
ELITE’s executive consulting program for small and mid-sized businesses helps companies like Freeman’s formalize a vision and mission, deeply analyze business practices that may be hindering their goals, and pivot to best practices leading to growth. The program also connects participants with sources of capital and partners with additional expertise.
For Freeman, the year-long program, which she began in June 2020, has been a chance “to jump on board and learn from the experts what we didn’t know before.”
While COVID-19 has put a damper on company growth, the ELITE program has helped Freeman Residential plan for the next unexpected event.
“We had been growing so strong up until the pandemic,” Ruiz says, “And then it stopped. Working with ELITE allowed us to think about the next black swan event and whether we have the capabilities to move forward.”
ELITE also provided invaluable expertise in planning strategic initiatives and visioning.
“ELITE made us not just think about it, but work on implementing what the vision was,” Ruiz says. “ELITE was very powerful in making us actually sit down and focus on our specific goals for growth.”
Freeman said one of the most important aspects of her engagement with ELITE is a sharper focus on the financial aspects of the business. As a result, she and Ruiz are now connected with organizations such as Huntington Bank and Team NEO, JobsOhio’s regional partner in northeast Ohio.
While Freeman Residential was already considering expanding into services for the aging, ELITE coaches encouraged them to look at the possibilities more deeply. “Now, we’re looking at a new service line – an assisted living facility for seniors,” Freeman says.
Freeman says what she and Ruiz have learned will stay with them long after the program ends. For example, “We know that we need to have one day a week where we shut the office and work on the busines and do the things we need to do, setting goals three months out at a time and asking, ‘where are we with attaining those goals?’ That’s the largest thing we’ve gleaned, is to be prepared for the future. Not just to let the business drive us, but to drive the business and think strategically.”
To others who might have a chance to work with ELITE’s coaches and instructors, she says this: “I would definitely tell them to get involved. The networks and things that can come from being part of ELITE would be phenomenal for their business.”
“They open up a lot of doors,” Ruiz says. “They provide a lot of feedback, a lot of resources. It’s been a wonderful experience.”