Funeral Industry Entrepreneur?

entrepenuer I recently heard a definition of an entrepreneur as one that jumps off a cliff  and builds a plane on the way down…this has a ring of truth.  We often see  news about people that have been successful bringing their ideas not only  to fruition, but made gazillions of dollars like Zuckerberg and Jobs.  But as  for the people that toil, try, fail, and start all over again, they rarely get much  press.

I personally know some in the funeral industry that daily get up and “build the plane”  with internet companies, products, processes, training modules and yes, new funeral home operating models.  I am often fascinated with how these folks envisioned their respective ideas and their take on how to penetrate the huge market.  The idea is not the hard part, it’s in the development, implementation and penetration of the market.  What many of my entrepreneur friends don’t realize early on that their product or service generally must be presented/sold/offered by funeral directors.  This particular part of the equation is frankly the most difficult to overcome and develop into a large scale.

I have a personal saying “a vision is only a dream without execution” meaning it’s not enough to dream, it’s all about making it happen.  I was part of developing a new funeral home operating model based on Six Sigma and Lean practices that opened in 2010.  The utilization of digitized arrangements for consistent messages to consumers, training of processes like home removals, all being done from computers which eliminated the need for office staff.  The service focus is providing families with a positive funeral experience, not wasting their time or money with outdated funeral processes.  Of course, the industry and competitive neigh sayers wanted to pigeon hole us that we don’t provide service, can’t this, don’t that, blah, blah. Interestingly and over 800 death calls later, our executed vision is growing with a great start to our fourth year in 2014.

The lessons learned as a funeral entrepreneur at the funeral home development level prepared me for other services and products.  I found that it was most important to listen to the consumer, not to “industry norms” or funeral directors about “what our families don’t like or we’ve tried that before.”  Funny thing when the consumer is provided with information, they make good funeral decisions.  But left up to some in our industry, the consumer would never have known nor had opportunity for selections.  The funeral consumer market is continually shifting and demand changes over time.  For instance, the current economy is significantly different than just 10 years ago, but many firms are presenting the same services and products without refreshing to current conditions.

Armed with this experience, I am involved with bringing new products and services to the funeral market.  Prior to launching with the general funeral home populace, we BETA tested.  I spent most of the effort listening to consumers and their acceptance/demand.  Along with feedback of best practices from the funeral directors that actually presented these services and products, I am certain of the success.  I sat in on arrangements simply to observe and learn.  Unfortunately, our industry does not take this same approach to new services and products. Rather, an idea is born, the product/service developed, and then the developers spend every effort trying to convince funeral directors of their particular success…without truly vetting both those that present and the end users; at need funeral consumers.

Knowing that consumers want and need a product or service, yet operating in an industry reluctant to offer anything new, the avenues of approach are significantly different than other industries.  So, for my fellow funeral industry entrepreneurs, here is some advice:

  1. Meet face to face with funeral home owners and directors or present using digital technology.
  2. Don’t waste your time trying to convince the entire industry, just find a few that are progressive enough to understand and execute.
  3. Use social media to promote your brand, services and products.
  4. Spend time with a firm and staff training them to present your service/product.
  5. Do the math…use realistic numbers for their revenue projections from sales of your service/products.  Measure the results.
  6. When funeral homes begin offering your service or product, support their efforts.  Listen to their feedback of best practices and what their families have to say.  Ask to sit in on arrangements to find out for yourself if your products or services are being presented correctly…listen to families.
  7. Provide firms with tools to inform the public of the new service or products they are offering (press releases, articles , social media avenues, and marketing techniques/tools such as information seminars to hospice or other organizations)

There is plenty of opportunity in the funeral industry for entrepreneurs, but few that make the effort and even less that succeed.  Keep building the plane…Cheers Y’all.

  1. Deborah said:

    Hi Jeff – Me again 🙂 – I have been trying to find a way to add funeral preparation to the list of services that I provide regarding end-of-life preparation. This has not been an easy process. First, I associated myself with a couple of guys that were putting together a team of individuals to sell pre-needs. They were using a 47-year old sch-peal (sp?) that was completely inappropriate IMO and I disassociated with them for this reason. (This was after earning, and paying for, my Life-Limited to Funeral Expenses license.) I tried for awhile to find another way to use this license and found that, unless I could find a funeral home to sell for, I was pretty much out of luck. So – regroup… I found an insurance group that has a GREAT product with selling Final Expense policies, so decided to upgrade my insurance license to enable me to provide these Whole Life policies.

    Here’s where I find I find a gap in the funeral process: Funeral homes generally require full payment at the time of service. At the same time, these Final Expense policies cannot begin their payout process before receiving a death certificate. The DC can take a few days to complete, so the insurance company may not receive this document for a week, or so, to enable the process to begin on their side. Therefore, even when there is a Final Expense policy in place, the surviving family/friends are going to need to find a way to pay for the arrangements upfront and later be reimbursed by the insurance policy proceeds. (Families are sometimes charged a surcharge of maybe 3% for using a credit card to pay for arrangements.) So – the deceased believes they have prepared for their final expenses to be covered, but unless they are covered by a pre-need the survivors are still potentially ‘up a tree’ when it comes to covering the immediate expenses charged by the funeral home/cemetery. Do you know of any way of closing this gap?

    I did hear that some funeral homes will accept a “verifiable irrevocable insurance assignment”. Is this referring to an insurance policy, or to a pre-need, or to something else entirely? I’m trying to find an answer to that question. Can you help?


  2. Jeff Harbeson said:


    Where are you located again? Please send me a quick email and we will chat…I have some solutions for you!


  3. Hi Jeff, Thanks for spreading the good news and information about funeral directors. I want more people to join this industry.


  4. Jeff Harbeson said:

    My pleasure…thank you.


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