I think one of the most wonderful things about owning your own business is that you can bring ideas to life much more quickly than you can in a nonprofit, for-profit, or government job. There is no red tape, and no one who needs to approve each of your ideas — like a boss or board — and you can experiment!
Laura Smothers-Chu is the CEO & Founder of Befriended Heart, a social enterprise for daughters of dementia. She lives in the Washington, DC metro area with her supportive husband, playful cat, Vlad, and cuddly dog, Scotty. Laura is an optimist who loves hippos, cheesecake and elders. Since she was an adolescent, she visited older adults in nursing homes, and in her later years, she leads choirs to sing Christmas carols to elder men and women in assisted living homes. Laura now works to be a voice for people with dementia, and strives to be a friend to their families.
She recognizes dementia is feared in American society, and the sheer number of dementia resources for primary caregivers can be overwhelming and depressing. Laura is determined to change that by empowering daughters — secondary caregivers – to work side by side with their parents. She helps daughters decide which strategic decisions are best for their families.
With nearly ten years of healthcare experience, and many years of researching dementia, Laura is excited to share her cultivated resources with fellow daughters of dementia. Through her Dad’s dementia diagnosis, she learned how to discover joy in dementia, and she’s excited to share her lessons with fellow daughters.
Befriended Heart provides practical steps for daughters to help their parents navigate all aspects of dementia, from the early through late stages. Befriended Heart was created to be positive, informative, supportive and empowering. The holistic approach and simplified step-by-step design is based both on Laura’s job experience in healthcare, and on the resources she found since her dad was diagnosed more than five years ago. Laura will also bring in special experts to speak more specifically on certain areas of content, such as conduct an interview with a financial planner to help discuss the financial implications of a dementia diagnosis.
Where did the idea for your company come from?
My idea for my social enterprise, Befriended Heart, came from my experience as a daughter of a dad with dementia. When my dad was first diagnosed, I was overwhelmed by all of the depressing information out there – I had no idea what I was looking for, how to organize it all, and what to do first. I needed a good friend to really understand what I was feeling, and to reassure me that I would get through this devastation. I wanted a practical, optimistic, step-by-step approach to a subject that is currently stigmatized in our society.
What does your typical day look like and how do you make it productive?
I have always been a planner, so Google Calendar is my best friend every day. Currently, I am studying to get a credential as a Certified Dementia Practitioner, building my website, attending dementia-headlined events, and connecting with fellow entrepreneurs. With all of these tasks to juggle each day, time management and organization is essential.
I am most productive by planning out each of my days, hour by hour, to make sure I prioritize the urgent tasks, and insert breaks between these tasks. Listing my daily tasks this way in a calendar ensures that I stick to it, and if I don’t get to a less important task, I move it to the next day! Google Calendar’s bright event colors also make it fun 🙂
How do you bring ideas to life?
I think one of the most wonderful things about owning your own business is that you can bring ideas to life much more quickly than you can in a nonprofit, for-profit, or government job. There is no red tape, and no one who needs to approve each of your ideas — like a boss or board — and you can experiment! If one idea doesn’t get the positive response you anticipated, you can try again!
While I love the fact that I don’t need anyone’s approval for each of my ideas, I do enjoy brainstorming with fellow entrepreneurs in different spaces to hear their thoughts. I also recommend checking in with a focus group of your ideal clients to make sure your ideas are actually helpful to them!
What’s one trend that excites you?
I’m a huge fan of the video trend for connecting with ideal clients! I have three videos so far on my YouTube channel, and one has already received 280 views in one month! I also love the personal connection video creates with my audience, and the accessibility of YouTube for people who cannot afford dementia consulting services.
I think there is too much to read online these days, and I would have loved finding my YouTube channel (Joy in Dementia) as a resource when my dad was first diagnosed.
What is one habit of yours that makes you more productive as an entrepreneur?
My alert time is in the mornings, so I used to take power naps in the afternoons. Now, I’ve replaced those power naps with half hour exercise breaks for at least four days a week.
Just a half hour of running outside (without headphones!) clears my head, helps me strategize my next steps, and gives me a renewed sense of energy. I love listening to the sounds of nature and being present with the beauty and life surrounding me.
Then, when I get back home, I am ready to start the next task on my calendar!
What advice would you give your younger self?
Follow your passion for helping elders and continue to nurture those relationships.
Tell us something that’s true that almost nobody agrees with you on.
Pineapple pizza is the best pizza.
As an entrepreneur, what is the one thing you do over and over and recommend everyone else do?
Create a mastermind group (fellow entrepreneurs in different industries), and meet weekly (in person or via video chat), so you can bounce ideas off of each other and think outside the box of your industry.
What is one strategy that has helped you grow your business?
Some would call it networking, but I call it creating substantial relationships throughout my life, and keeping in touch with people with whom I have a genuine connection.
I call these genuine people my “gems.” Gems are the individuals that are positive influences on your life. Luckily, Facebook and LinkedIn make it incredibly easy to check in with these friends and past colleagues, and continue or rekindle a friendship.
Recently, I took a big risk and posted on my personal Facebook page an article I wrote about my first miscarriage. This article was raw emotion on a page (essentially a piece of my heart), intended for people who had never had a miscarriage. I wanted to meet those people where they were in their understanding. I wanted to explain my experience in such a way that they could really feel what I went through.
Posting this article resulted in someone contacting me with a thoughtful private Facebook message. I had “friended” this acquaintance years ago and we hadn’t been in touch since then. Here’s the kicker: he was a loyal customer at a restaurant where I used to hostess five years ago! I knew back then he was a gem and I stayed in touch with him! Anyway, this friend offered his condolences and shared with me that he had the same experience many years ago with his wife.
I was touched by his message, and started catching myself up on his life via Facebook. On LinkedIn, I noticed he was starting his own business like I was. We met for coffee last week! What’s more, I found out that he has a ton of local PR contacts he can connect me to! I had been looking for speaking engagements and suddenly this opportunity came my way!
Here’s my advice: when you find those gems in life — no matter where you find them — reach out to keep in touch and don’t let go.
What is one failure you had as an entrepreneur, and how did you overcome it?
Luckily, no failures yet! But I did experience a discouraging challenge recently that I overcame.
While I am a positive person, I am also competitive, and early in my business strategy process, I discovered a colleague in my field pursuing a similar mission to mine. I thought about giving up on my business, wondering how I would possibly attract as many or more YouTube views (she had more than 1k!)
Instead, I reached out to her, and we talked about our common mission to give dementia caregivers guidance, and help them navigate the disease. She was super supportive and offered to collaborate! She even offered to interview me on her YouTube channel in a couple of months, and she has been one of my most helpful colleagues!
Lesson: Don’t try to beat them – join them. Create those substantial relationships, collaborate and cross promote 🙂
What is one business idea that you’re willing to give away to our readers?
If you are a photographer, I would love to see stock photos of 80-90 year-old women with their 50-60 year-old daughters. It would also be great if these women were racially diverse.
Our population is getting older, more diverse, and market revenue is growing in the eldercare space. I encourage you to be innovative now, and fill this large gap in stock photography! (And if you take these photos, let’s talk :))
What is the best $100 you recently spent? What and why?
I spent $100 last month (part of the total amount) to attend a day-long training for my Certified Dementia Practitioner credential. Credibility in the health care field is extremely important for people to trust my knowledge. I am not a doctor or nurse, and therefore need to establish myself professionally in the eldercare and dementia fields as an expert.
What is one piece of software or a web service that helps you be productive? How do you use it?
Webflow! It’s a little-known website platform that is just as simple and easy to use as Squarespace. But it’s more customizable! They also have a ton of super helpful short videos with instructions on how to do anything on the Webflow platform.
What is the one book that you recommend our community should read and why?
Blue Ocean Strategy, Expanded Edition: How to Create Uncontested Market Space and Make the Competition Irrelevant by W. Chan Kim
This book explains the invaluable idea of exactly how to innovate in your industry, no matter what space you operate in. The “strategy canvas” they teach helped me think outside of the healthcare industry box, and create the innovative principles of my brand.
You can find the book on Amazon and I believe there is a Kindle version as well.
What is your favorite quote?
“It is not the length of life, but the depth of life.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson
Medicine has made amazing advances in extending life, but unfortunately these advances have worsened peoples’ quality of life before death. Want to be happy and appreciate the little things in life?
Start managing your stress by exercising at least four days a week, meditating, eating at least 5 vegetables each day, staying social, cutting down on sugar and alcohol consumption, and taking care of your heart health! All of these lifestyle changes will benefit your health today, and in the long run, when it is time to pass on your legacy. I promise that you’ll notice a positive change in your mood, energy, and motivation if you do these things – I have!
- Create a mastermind group (fellow entrepreneurs in different industries), and meet weekly (in person or via video chat), so you can bounce ideas off of each other and think outside the box of your industry.
- If possible, run outside (without headphones!) Listen to the sounds of nature and be present with the beauty and life surrounding you.
- When you find “competitors,” don’t try to beat them –- join them. Create those substantial relationships, collaborate and cross promote!
- Read Blue Ocean Strategy, Expanded Edition: How to Create Uncontested Market Space and Make the Competition Irrelevant by W. Chan Kim to learn how to innovate in your industry, no matter what space your business exists in.
- Building a business as a sole employee is stressful! Start managing that stress by doing the following: exercising at least four days a week, drinking enough water, learning mindfulness, eating at least 5 vegetables each day, staying social, cutting down on sugar and alcohol consumption, and taking care of your heart health. I promise that you’ll notice a positive change in your mood, energy, and motivation if you do these things – I have!
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