Interview with Diane founder of A Step Ahead Adoption Services INC

A Step Ahead Adoption Services

Company Name: A Step Ahead Adoption Services INC

Owner Name: Diane Hogan

Year Business Established: 1999


Phone Number: Local 719-532-0236 or Toll Free 877-532-0236

Q: Discription of your business?
A: We classify ourselves as an adoption consulting service. Offering adoption education, guidance, coaching, and referral. We are not a licensed child placing agency, so we do not place children, but we work with adoption agencies and attorneys all across the country. The adoptive parent is our client, but our secondary client would be the adoption providers (agencies and attorneys) So we’re working with the adoptive parent to help them have a successful adoption experience kind of hand holding them through the process. It’s for the kiddos.

Q: How did you get started in this business? Why this industry?
A: Outgrowth of my own personal experience. I was in public education for 20 years, and I belive in education. I belive in my heart and soul I’m a teacher. I was in the classroom for 10 years, 10 years in administration. Then we adopted our 2 children, and because I’m an older mother I decided I wanted to spend more time at home with my children, but I needed an income. So all I did was take everything that I know that’s good and helpful and adopt in education, I literally just repackaged my skillset. Started working from home all by myself as a sole proprietor, now 17 years later during this 17 years we transitioned into an s corporation, I have 11 consultants that work for me all accross the country and we have helped over 1000 families have a successful adoption. So we know it is a business plan that works.

Q: What challenges as a business owner did you face when starting this company?
A: Credibility, branding, you had to have some street cred. Who’s going to use you? So I initially started with what I called my 5 freebie clients. I just said I will help you and in return for helping you I want you to market me, I want you talk to people about me. One of my first clients was actually a TV weatherman. That could not have worked out better for me, because all of his connectivity, and media. All of a sudden I was able to get stories on TV, stories in the newspaper. He had a very successful adoption experience, and we just kinda went boom, and it opened the door for me. So then we took off out in Charlotte, and we had a lot of client base in North Carolina. Then it just started to multiply by word of mouth. I tried every type of advertising I could when we first got started. My husbands career brought us here, my husband works for united states swim team, so he’s located at the olympic training center. He was a swim coach in charllotte and put someone on the ’96 team and USA swimming said hey would you like to come work with us here and he really loved coaching and he said No. This was in ’97 right after the ’96 Olympics and in 2002 the opportunity resurfaced again, maybe a better oportunity, and they came back to him and I was like yeah, I can just repackage my stuff and we can go. So we came out here, I had to resettle out here, get all set up out here. But by that time my southeast connections were strong enough that I could just office from here and work those clients. Slowly but surely clients started coming from across the country, so now we work with clients almost from all the states in the US including Alaska and Hawaii. Help people everywhere we can to have a great experience. Just educating them and helping them become more consumer savy and understand that there is a little bit of business behind adoption and they need to understand the business and that’s our world.

Q: What would you have done differently if you had to start over again?
A: “Initially I took on a business partner in my early years, I probably would not have done that. Because that did not go well, my business partner unfortunately imbessled, and we had to part company, and I had to rebrand. So when I first began my company it began as Step by Step adoption consultants. And then when we parted company I was advised that it would probably be a good idea for me to just clean sweep, start all over. On the secretary State you would look me up as Step by Step adoption consultants DBA A Step Ahead Adoption.”

Q: What challenges do you see now in 2016?
A: “The Internet, Good and Bad. So what happens now is when we started this business it was very paper intensive it was very people intensive was mostly paper driven, internet has literally changed the entire scene of adoption. We work with what’s called domestic to adoption, which is only US. So there are 3 kinds of adoptions of children, there’s foster adoption, there’s domestic adoption, and international to adoption. There is no space for us in Foster to adoption because it’s very state and government regulated, international adoption is also very regulated governmentally. So Domestic adoption is more like private businesses so there is a place for us, and agencies and attorneys who want educated adoptive parents don’t have the time to do it turn to us and go here you do it. The problem is that the internet sometimes gives people false hope, they will go online and say I can create my own website I can market myself, they don’t have the education behind them to be savy enough, that’s when you start hearing about adoption scams. That’s when you start hearing about people being taken advantage of losing thousands of dollars, because they don’t know what they should or shouldn’t do. And in some cases can easily break the law and not knowing they are breaking the law. So for example if they set up a website and said we would like to adopt a baby and a young woman who is maybe a little bit left of the law could see that and go I’d be happy to place my baby with you I need $5,000. They turn around and pay her $5,000 that is against the law. They don’t know that, they have no filter. So we provide that filter, that stop gap that says, wait a minute, you can’t do that. That is illegal, that is adoption fraud, that is a felony. So I think the downside is the internet has created us more of, we have to become more gatekeepers than we were before, and we have to be very upfront with our clients, very cautionary about what they should or shouldn’t do. They’re adults and if they make the wrong decision. Oh well.”

Q: What is the #1 way you quire new clients today?
A: “98% of our clients are Personal or what I call Professional referrals. So your nextdoor neighbor has a good experience and they tell you about us. Or you would go to your doctor and somebody is having infertility treatments and it’s not being successful and the doctor tells them about us. Or they go in and meet with an attorney and the attorney says don’t start with me, start with these ladies, they’ll get you ready to go. So 98% is professional or personal referral. The other 2% is people find us online and they call and we have a conversation.”

Q: Has the internet played a big role for you as it becomes more prevalent?
A: It’s been helpful, it’s still not the biggest driver for us, we’re such a boutique service. I compare us to a financial planner, I compare us to an interior decorator. You can decorate your home without an interior decorator, you can invest your money without a financial planner. But it’s kinda nice to have them. Cause it’s somebody you can bounce things off of. They can say I’ve been watching the markets, don’t put your money here put your money here. We’re kind of the same way.

Q: Where do you see yourself in business 5 years from now?
A: Looking to step away, so in the next 5 years I’m hoping that one of my, what I refer to as a JR consultants, that’s not because they’re not as intelligent or capable, they just haven’t been with me as long. So I’m hoping to groom somebody to just take it on, because I’ve worked really hard and it’s been 17 years. Which was not my goal, my goal was 10 years. Then it became such a foothold in the community and we have good street cred, I check me all the time on the internet to see if anyone is posting anything. That’s why I belong to the BBB because I feel like people need to have a consumer avenue because we’re not a licensed agency. So you can’t report us to licensing, cause we are not a licensed agency. You don’t need a license to do what we do. So I do give them consumer links, I’m a member of what used to be called the Chamber of Commerce, the Southern Colorado Business Alliance, and the BBB. And of course the Secretary of State. So there are 3 avenues where they can check on us. We have a A+ rating, so I’d like to keep that, it’s really important. Hopefully one of my JR consultants will step up and carry it on.

Q: Why would you say your customers select you over your competitors?
A: I really think what they see from talking to people who have used us is the comprehensive services that they get. I tell them you’re going to spend 10% of your adoption budget with us, but you’re going to receive 90% of your services. The 2 things we can’t provide you are the 2 legal steps and 1 is called the homesteady where a family is assesed whether or not they are a home, that it will be safe for a child in a permanent placement. And the actual child placement. We can’t do those 2 things, but other than that we are going to give you the education, the support, the coaching, the guidance. When people travel to go get their children I require all my consultants to be available 24/7. Parents know new babies, things happen. They’ve got to have somebody to turn to, so they can call their consultant and go, my baby looks like their eyes are yellow, what should I do? Take them back to the hospital sounds like they have gandis. You may not be able to reach your doctor at 2 in the morning but you can reach your consultant. Crafted after what happened to me, it would have been nice if I had someone that I could have turned to when I went through it. So that’s all I did, filled a need. What did I need as a young mom with an adopted child. So that’s what I do, I create those little extra opportunities to give people support.