Jane Downing, Ph.D. was a sociologist by training and worked for a research organization that covered everything from health to engineering. After two unexpected deaths in her family and a new baby, she was looking for more meaning in her life. She joined the Home Instead Senior Care® family as an independently owned and operated franchise owner serving the Northeastern, Connecticut area.
With a new year brings promises of new beginnings, including new professional goals and careers. Jane shares her personal experience of starting a new career as the owner of a home care business with Home Instead.
What inspired you to change careers and operate a franchise within the Home Instead network?
I had personal events going on in my life that really prompted me to think about what I was doing. Professionally, what am I doing and is it meaningful? Does it matter to me? Those big-picture questions. I decided that I needed to do something that was more meaningful to me.
In 2004, a friend of mine started an office of Home Instead in Kansas. She was in law school when I was in graduate school, and I watched her start the business from the beginning. We kept in touch over the years and would check in with each other. She kept telling me, "You know, I really think that you'd like this! There's a business plan. It's a franchise, so it's not like you're starting from square one. It's meaningful work. You feel good about what you're doing, even though there are lots of moving parts and lots of challenges."
I first had my conversation with Home Instead in January of 2008, which would have been about five months after my dad died. That was a significant loss for me and I think that event really propelled me to say, "Okay, now is the time for me to really think about doing something different."
My dad was a caregiver for his aunts and uncles and family, and I grew up in a family where family takes care of family. I watched my dad as a family caregiver. I thought to myself, "You know, this is not a new idea to me." We figure out ways to help people stay at home and we do what they need.
I reengaged in the conversation with Home Instead, and then just made the decision that I'd move forward with this. If they were interested in me being an owner, that's what I'd do. Then, I began doing the footwork and due diligence.
Why Home Instead?
I was literally stepping into something that I had no knowledge of at the time! I went to Omaha in December, and I really had a good feeling. I didn't encounter anyone who was a slick salesperson, and that was so important to me. I was looking for a level of authenticity that resonated with me on a visceral level, and that's what I got.
I just was so impressed with the down-to-earth nature of everyone I encountered. I mean, no one was selling and telling me, "Hey this is going to be super easy!" In terms of being mission-driven and values-driven, that piece came through loud and clear. That was very important to me because that was my motivation for pursuing my own business, and this business in particular.
What helped your transition the most?
I've always been a hard worker. I thought, "You know, if someone can help me with the plan, I can implement the plan." I'm a smart person. I'm a persistent person. I'm not afraid to ask questions. I'm not afraid to ask for help. So, in my mind, this should work. Once I decided that's what I wanted to do, there was just no turning back.
Home Instead has a pretty clear plan. It's not just a plan - it's their expectations. They were trying to set up new franchise owners for success, so they spelled out the process step-by-step. I was prepared, and I really do think it was thanks to the process that that Home Instead implements for new owners.
I could also take any questions I had to the Home Instead home office, as well as to other franchise owners who were running offices. The home office did something I thought was great as a new owner: they offered me the names of people might be at similar places in their lives as I was; people who started their own business. It was great for me to hear other stories and have a few people to reach out to when I had one of a million questions.
How did you feel about making a fresh start?
I was a little nervous, but I can be pretty Pollyanna-ish. Nervousness aside, I just stepped into it. After I came back from training, the recommendation was to meet 40 people a week, and for me, that was probably the hardest part. It essentially was like cold calling, but I just did it. I felt like I was given a business plan, a plan informed by the success of hundreds of other franchises. It was like, "Okay, this is what I have to do."
What is the most rewarding part of your job?
For me, it's all the relationships: the caregivers that we hire, the staff I have in my office, the families that I meet, and the clients we have. Connecting with them on a real level and seeing caregivers feel rewarded by the work they're doing for families. Families feel so relieved when they know their loved one is safer or cared for in their home. I've also talked to clients who are so happy to be at home.
At the end of the day, I still feel like what we're doing is making a difference in people's lives.
Based on your experience, what advice would you give to someone that is considering a career change to become a franchise owner?
I think there are a couple of pieces to it. To do this business, you need to be prepared to be in it knee-deep. I mean, really, you need to be prepared to jump in with both feet. I say that because if you have other demands on your life, you'll need some support. You have to figure out how to keep all those things afloat while starting the business because it's only as successful as the amount of time and energy put into it. The business is going to consume a lot of energy to be successful.
It's kind of like what people say to people before they're about to have a child. You don't really know what you're in for until you're doing it. It's preparing yourself to step into something that you won't fully grasp for some time. I'm not talking about years, but there's going to be a learning curve. So be prepared to roll with it. Have flexibility. Persistence.
I've had I've had a wonderful experience, and I just think Home Instead, Inc., franchisor for the Home Instead network, has been terrific as a corporate support system. And they're not paying me to say this either [laughing]!
Many thanks to Jane for sharing her story about the way her personal experience, passion, and beliefs motivated her to operate a home care franchise. If you're ready to explore a career that allows you to make a real difference in people's lives, send us a request for more information on how to join the Home Instead Senior Care franchise network.
Each Home Instead Senior Care franchise office is independently owned and operated.
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