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Mirza Donegan Interview: Go Out There and Take Care of Your Own Dreams

Mirza Donegan Interview: Go Out There and Take Care of Your Own Dreams


Amanda: Hi. We are coming to you live from our 2018 National Conference in beautiful, sunny, crisp Philadelphia. I am joined today by one of our franchisees, Mirza Donegan in our one of our Maryland offices. Mirza, tell us a little bit about yourself. Where in Maryland are you? Refresh my memory.

Mirza: Hi, Amanda.

Amanda: Hi.

Mirza: Thank you for having me. So my territory is in Aspen Hill, Maryland, Wheaton, about 20 minutes out of DC. So it is a community-based territory. So there’s like the Aspen Hill community, the Wheaton community. So you’d go from community to community, which makes it lovely, you know, because you see the differences in the neighborhoods that people have lived there forever.

Amanda: That’s very cool, it’s a beautiful area. I’ve driven through kind of the suburbs of DC. So I’m gathering that’s kind of where you’re at.

Mirza: Exactly.

Amanda: How long have you been…how long have you had your Griswold franchise?

Mirza: So I bought the franchise in 2011.

Amanda: Okay.

Mirza: So this year I celebrated my eighth year.

Amanda: Congratulations.

Mirza: Yes, it was exciting. I threw my first Griswold birthday party.

Amanda: You did. And didn’t you just acquire…you expanded your territory this year, right?

Mirza: Yes. It’s been an exciting time for us. In December of last year, at the end of the year, we expanded. We expanded to further north and east or west, either one. And so we bought another territory and it was exciting, so we got to share that with our staff. And when I say staff, I mean all our aides and our office staff because we’re all staff. And it was exciting, they were very happy. Our whole staff was happy that they thought we were growing and we’re getting bigger and better.

Amanda: We talked on the phone, right, as you were getting ready for the party and you said, “I want to share this with not just my office staff, folks who are doing the scheduling and care coordinating and all that but I want to share it with my caregivers because they’re a part of this team. Without them, this won’t be possible.”

Mirza: Absolutely. There’s no way we could have grown without them and their support. So we basically threw ourselves a birthday party and they got invited and we got takeaways and they came and they had cake and other things. But mostly, I was very honored and humbled that they were so happy because this was a win for all of us.

Amanda: Very much so. Tell me a little bit about your background prior to?

Mirza: You’ll be surprised that I knew nothing about home care. So I did marketing for a nonprofit, so we would go out to businesses one on one and help them formulate transportation plans. So I worked for a transportation action partnership. So I would go to the Marriotts or any law firms that had 50 or more employees and we would really talk to them about, you know, putting together a transportation plan for their employees so they would not all be driving to work so they could use alternative methods. The county had a management plan.

Amanda: Very cool. It’s not something I even knew was an industry, prior to this conversation. So how did you make the jump from marketing and transportation to a franchise in general, first of all, and then we’ll get into kind of the decision around home care?

Mirza: I had been thinking about it for at least five to eight years prior to buying my Griswold Aspen Hill territory. Once my daughter graduated…was in college or through college, my husband very kindly said to me, it’s your time. Go out there and do it. So I took that and it was like the family was giving me permission now. You’re done by us so go out there and take care of some of your own dreams. And that still really makes me…that they were so giving in that way to me and they said we would support you. So I actually got a franchise coach. So I didn’t know, so I was really looking for different businesses. So I went and looked at Hallmark stores or beauty salons. I was just really everywhere. I couldn’t narrow it in cause I had a lot of different options. So I decided to get a coach. So I went through a battery of tests, like for weeks, I went through different tests.

Amanda: Just people might be familiar with like career coaching?

Mirza: Exactly.

Amanda: And you go in and you take that big comprehensive test and at the end, it says you should be…

Mirza: I was an influencer.

Amanda: Okay.

Mirza: So they said you are best when you’re one on one and you have a passion about what you’re bringing to the table and you can relate to it and you can show people the benefits of it from your own experience. And so when they said that you can show people the benefits from your own experiences, for the last 10 years, I had been helping to take care of my mother-in-law. So meaning I had gone out and hired different agencies, the Visiting Angels, the Bright Star, I had spoken to all of them. I had hired their aides, I had fired them. So I had experienced it, and I said, I can do that. I can do it from the other side because I know what the families are going through, I know that what they’re advocating, that their loved one have someone to help them keep them at home, safe, happy, and to be able to live those wonderful years with dignity and someone beside them that’s gonna care for them. That then became my goal. So now my goal was to find the right company.

Amanda: Right. It’s a good thing we have tissues in this room. It’s a great conversation because you really are, I mean, just in this short time that we’ve been talking, the definition of franchising with purpose, right? You wanted to do something for yourself and on your own and through a different channel than some of the other folks we’ve talked to with the franchise coach and figuring out what was a good fit for you and that purpose-driven approach to, you know, it’s your time now, like you said, your family was like, “Hey, it’s time for you to do what your dreams are.”

Mirza: Correct. And I highly, highly recommend that anyone who is thinking of looking into a franchise, be very candid with their family because the family has to be supportive, whether they’re in it on the day to day or they’re there behind the scenes when you come home late but they have dinner ready for you and they’re like, “Don’t worry, we’re good, we’ve got you covered, you know. So either way, however you get your support, you know, it’s important to have it. Who knows, my daughter is 28 and maybe in a couple of years, I can see the sparkle in her eye, “Tell me a little bit more about it, mom?” So who knows, I will let her make that decision.

Amanda: Very cool. And it’s funny you say that. We’re actually, at some point, we have on the agenda here to talk to folks who are going through that process now or their kids are coming up in the business and talking about succession planning and what that looks like. So let’s talk more about that hopefully in the future when she gets that Griswold twinkle.

Mirza: I know and she’s getting it. But the franchise coach also helped me in many ways. And I’m going to be really honest, I didn’t have the funds, but what I did have was a lot of different little IRAs. So I ended up speaking to a company that helped me take one of those without any tax penalties and be able to roll in and buy my franchise.

Amanda: I learned with our producer Charles here, we did a few episodes on the financial options that are available and it’s not always the cash in the bank and there are a lot of other options that are available. So whether you were able to take advantage of some of those things because we’re very glad that you’re here, I’m glad that worked out.

Mirza: It is because that was, never knew that that’s what I was going to use that but things line up and it is to… it’s exactly what it was meant to be for, to help me at that point in time go into the next direction of my life.

Amanda: Love it. You talked a little bit about the franchise coach and figuring out that franchising was a good choice for you and then finding the right industry and ultimately vetting different companies within an industry and obviously you’ve landed at Griswold Home Care, but what was that process like once you decided? Kind of take us through any apprehensions you had? Because I’m sure you didn’t set out to kind of go on this journey and through the tests and the conversations with the coach, kind of found your way through the whole process but take us through kind of that, the franchise development, that sales process. What were you looking for? What was important to you? I know I’m asking you to go way back in the archives here. It’s probably been a couple of years but is there anything that really stuck out to you during that process?

Mirza: I had an opportunity to speak to several franchise stores over the phone many times. And my coach was in some of those phone calls and so it was a really good process because he was able to take notes. Because when you’re in those phone calls, sometimes after you finish, you forget what you spoke. So he was very structured and said, “Ask the same questions and then we’ll review them and then you can go back.”

Amanda: And you’re comparing apples to apples, right? If you asked the same questions.

Mirza: Start with the process and let the data then tell you, where are you, where are you? And now I saw myself, I saw, you know, how certain questions were answered and then I began to see which ones were the important questions. So we narrowed it down to maybe two companies and I was very close and then I came out to meet the owners at that time. And it was just a dinner, we just drove up to Pennsylvania and my husband and I, and we were gonna have dinner with the owner of at that time. And throughout the conversation and I was learning about Jean Griswold that’s when it did it. The company started with a real person.

There was a real person behind this company and there was moral compass there that I was really attracted to what her vision was and how the original franchisees started and how giving she was. And I said, this is where I belong, this is it. And so then we went home and talked about it and he says, “I knew that if they had put out a contract at that dinner you would have just rolled over and signed.” So we came home and then, you know, Grant called us a couple of days later and we had some continuous, you know, calls about the company and the process and so forth. And then we started with Griswold Home Care. We came up for a Discovery Day and at the end of this Discovery Day…it was really funny because of the coach said, “Okay, when you go to Discovery Day, go through it, do not sign anything. Come back home, tell me what you went through.” And by the time I arrived, he goes, “You signed it?” And I said, “Yes, I signed on the dotted line.”

Amanda: Hey, when it’s right, it’s right.

Mirza: That’s right. But, you know, he made a good point, and for some people, those were really good advice, you know.

Amanda: Absolutely.

Mirza: And everyone is different. And so we went from there and we scheduled all my continuous process meetings after that. And I was very fortunate, Griswold as a franchisor is very giving. There was like a conference coming up in like 10 days or 20 days, they’re like, “Come visit, we open our doors. Speak to everyone while you’re there.” So, you know, I had those opportunities throughout my entire process. I had a wonderful home office coach that helped me. I will never forget her, Julie, she was there then Michelle. So I’ve been one of the fortunate.

Amanda: We consider ourselves fortunate to have you. I have one last question for you. You mentioned, you know, Jean Griswold and it’s not the company with the funny name, it is because it’s tied to that person who saw a need in her community. I won’t go through the whole Jean Griswold story. It’s at There’s a whole piece about it if you want to learn more. But what I will ask you is eight years into this now, Jean, rest her soul, is no longer obviously part of things. Do you still feel like Griswold Home Care, as a whole, is carrying on that mission, that why you signed on the dotted line?

Mirza: Oh, I do. And I’m at a conference today in Philadelphia as you mentioned and every single owner out there feels it. We still talk about her. We still mention her when we meet our clients because they ask, you know, why? And I give them my why. And so, yes, Jean always going to be a part of this company.

Amanda: She for sure is. And I feel like it’s so, it’s so easy sometimes to move away from where things started, right? And companies do it all the time and to still have such strong ties to the very beginning and that those things continue driving. Industries change and, you know, all the components around running a successful business and what’s happening in the home care space and all that but the through-line in all of that and that undercurrent. I’m glad to hear that you feel the same way I do is, is still to this day, 30 plus years later, Jean’s mission.

Mirza: Absolutely.

Amanda: And it’s still very apparent in conversations I have with you, all the other folks that we’ve done this podcast with, you know, it’s really is that underpinning of everything. So I want to wrap up. I don’t want to keep you from all the great content that’s happening. So we’re gonna wrap things up. Thank you so much for being here.

Mirza: Amanda, thank you so much. I’m very honored that you picked me.

Amanda: We’re glad to have you. And you’ve got a great story and I so appreciate that you’re willing to share it with us and with our listeners. And thanks for being here, enjoy the rest of your conference.

Mirza: Thank you, guys. Take care.

Amanda: Bye.

Mirza: Bye. Bye.