Starting a funeral service business is not among the most talked-about business prospects, perhaps because of a natural reluctance of many to think about such things until it’s essential. For the right person with the right skills, however, a funeral business can be a rewarding enterprise.
If you’re thinking about starting a funeral service business, you are likely aware that you need some special personal qualities. Additional issues to consider include experience and training, qualifications, premises, transport and specialist vehicles, and other more general aspects of running a business.
The personal qualities needed to start a funeral services business
This is an enterprise that is every bit as much about dealing with the living as with the deceased. Your role in providing support and advice for bereaved people means you need to be an excellent and tactful communicator, and possess the skills and empathy to deal with people at an extremely difficult time. A sensitive approach to distressing situations requires a calm and serious demeanour, but also adaptability. Different situations and clients may call for extremely formal service or a more relaxed and welcoming disposition. Cultural awareness and acceptance come into play as well, as people’s needs and expectations can vary significantly depending on religious beliefs, local heritage and family traditions.
The practical aspects of this business also mean you should be comfortable with working unpredictable and irregular hours, and spending a significant amount of time on the road and out of doors. There are also the qualities that could be described as more generic to any business start-up situation, such as the ability to plan and budged realistically, attention to detail, good administration, and organisational skills.
Experience and training required for a funeral business
Most people who decide to set out on their own as a funeral director have experience working in a funeral service business as an apprentice, a trainee, or in funeral arranging and administration. Strictly speaking, you are not legally required to hold a formal qualification as a Funeral Director before starting an independent business. However, there is widespread expectation among government agencies (such as the Careers Service), other professionals and, most importantly, the general public that a Funeral Director will be formally qualified and undertaking ongoing professional development. There are two main agencies that provide this training and provide repositories of skills, advice and information.
The National Association of Funeral Directors
The NAFD was established in 1905 and aims to represent the interests of the full range of funeral directing businesses. It runs Funeral Service Awareness Online Training as a first step towards qualification and two further levels of training: a Diploma in Funeral Arranging & Administration, and a Diploma in Funeral Directing. These are accredited by Birmingham City University. It also issues a Code of Practice on what families dealing with member organisations can expect.
The British Institute of Funeral Directors
This is the other main provider of funeral service training, set up in 1982. It also offers two levels of courses, the Certificate in Funeral Service and the Diploma in Funeral Service , both of which are accredited by the University of Greenwich.
UK Government regulations
The UK Government also issues guidance on the regulations for cremations. This sets out details of all the statutory certificates and forms that need to be in place, including coroners’ and post-mortem certificates.
Business premises for a funeral service
Clearly, suitable premises are absolutely essential. This is one of the sector-specific features that can make a funeral business more expensive to set up than others. Unless you are taking over existing premises, you may need to consider converting a building to make it suitable. Ideally, you need a welcoming and comfortable room for discussing arrangements, a practical work room – preferably with separate access for transport – as well as a cold room. The office should be some distance from the reception room, so that the atmosphere remains calm and peaceful. A high-street shop front is not strictly necessary, but your premises do need to be easily accessible by public transport and by car; therefore, an address on the outskirts of your town or city is a good option.
Weigh the benefits of renting versus purchasing premises. Renting may be your only option if your access to capital funding is limited, but on the other hand purchase means that your property will appreciate and give you a tangible asset against which you can raise finance when necessary for initial set-up essentials or expansion.
Transport and specialist vehicles for starting a funeral service business
This is the other necessity which makes a funeral service start-up more expensive than some others. At a minimum, a hearse and a leading vehicle are the basic essentials, whether you go for the traditional classic hearse or a more contemporary version. A lead vehicle could be any four-door saloon, again with options for a traditional limousine-style model or something more modern.
Here too, weighing the options between purchase and hire is a big issue for a business at the start-up stage, and there are advantages to both. Outright purchase can give you peace of mind that there are no ongoing calls on your monthly budget, although you add the headache of arranging maintenance and repairs as necessary. Leasing or hire purchase will increase your monthly outgoings, but give you certainty both on monthly budgeting and the reliability and availability of vehicles. For more information, you should consult our guide to financing a business van.
Marketing your funeral services and establishing your business presence
Naturally there will be other business aspects to your new enterprise that are similar to any other business. Accounting, making returns to HMRC and, if you are a limited company, to Companies House, are the same whatever the nature of your business. The same goes for communication, where the need for prompt and efficient response to contacts is paramount. Marketing, however, is an area where mixing standard and business-specific strategies can be called for.
Remember that your message needs to reach people who are interested in pre-planning as well as those with an urgent requirement. This can be done through a mixture of traditional paper-based media and an internet presence. Assess your competition to examine the image they are trying to project and find your own approach. Consider, for instance, adding services that others do not offer – anything that could facilitate proceedings for your clients in their time of distress, such as catering at wake-style events, support for obituary writing and publishing, and other tailored event management-type offers such as live music. Naturally, you will want to be extremely sensitive in the way you use digital marketing, but as long as it is done with care, you absolutely should have a Facebook business page and a presence on Google Places so that your business is visible when people search for funeral services businesses in their area. Finally, perhaps even more than in other businesses, your reputation will be based on word-of-mouth, feedback from those who have used your service, and a friendly local presence.