This year marks 10 years since my business partner and I opened the doors to an ever-evolving home care agency.

It has been a happy occasion and one that we were able to share with friends, family, clients, patients and members of the community.

This milestone has also allowed us to pause and think about all that we have learned in the past decade. And it’s been a lot!

Here are 10 helpful tips, observations and lessons we’ve learned since opening our doors in 2005. I’m happy to share and hope you find them as useful as I have.

1. Don’t be afraid to think outside the box. As a small business owner, coming up with creative solutions to seemingly difficult problems has proven to be helpful time and time again. Even if the effort isn’t a resounding success, lessons are learned, and the client often appreciates the effort put forth. There is mileage to be gained by having some flexibility.

2. Make plans while you’re still able. Plan ahead. Making tough decisions while under duress is never advisable. This is true for just about every big life decision.

Having open and frank conversations with loved ones about the type of care and where that care should occur is important.

Financial planning is an important part of this conversation. Genworth, a long-term care insurance company, recently released its numbers on the rising cost of care in the home setting, assisted living communities and skilled nursing facilities. To see the most up-to-date projections, visit www.genworth.com.

3. Kindness doesn’t cost anything, but pays big dividends.

4. Good communication is probably one of the most important things to running a successful business and to providing a quality service, with listening being paramount.

Without a clear line of communication, expectations are open for interpretations, and disappointment is a certainty. This is true for both clients and employees.

5. Don’t over promise, but deliver more than expected.

6. Don’t be afraid to ask questions of various resources. Be sure to seek advice from those whom you respect and value their opinions.

For some, that might be a doctor, attorney, financial advisor or even a spiritual leader. Simply put, do your homework.

7. Don’t assume anything.

8. Even though flexibility is recommended in some situations, let’s be frank: policies and procedures have a place and as a business grows, they are needed.

9. Self care is very much underestimated. We continually encourage family caregivers to make themselves a priority, whatever that might mean. For one family member tasked with caring full-time for her mother, self care translates to being able to ride her bike to the beach.

What happens when the first line of defense falls? Everything crumbles. Take the time to invest in yourself and help make everyone around you strong.

10. Smile when you answer the phone. The caller can hear it.

Debbie Morris, MA EdS, is certified by the National Academy of Certified Care Managers and is the CEO and co-owner of Home Helpers Home Care and Home Health. Help@homehelperslowcountry.com.