Tips to Stay Focused in Remote Meetings


Hear how one micro lender in Michigan starts remote meetings with mission moments to keep their business focused and successful.  Today’s episode of Money I’m Home features Carolyn Cassin, president and CEO of Michigan Women’s Forward.



00:06 Lynne Jarman-Johnson: Money, I’m Home. Welcome on in, I’m Lynne Jarman-Johnson with Consumers Credit Union. From finance to fitness, we have it all for you, and we have special editions this month due to our “Stay Safe, Stay Home” with COVID-19. We sure want to keep it at bay, but I’ll tell you, businesses across the state of Michigan have really been rallying to help others succeed, and one of those is our partner, Michigan Women’s Forward, a wonderful organization that is based out of Detroit, Grand Rapids, Kalamazoo, all over. Lansing, you’re everywhere!

00:40 Carolyn Cassin: Right, right, right.

00:42 LJJ: And the president of the Michigan Women’s Forward, who is also the executive director, is Carolyn Cassin. Carolyn, thanks so much for being with us today.

00:51 CC: Oh, thank you for having me. It’s good to see a friendly face and hear a friendly voice.

00:56 LJJ: We are recording our Money, I’m Home on WebEx so that we are staying safe, staying home, and it’s just been really delightful to see people, isn’t it?

01:05 CC: It is, it feels good to know that you’re still out there and you’re all working hard, just like we are, but we’re isolated on a day-to-day basis. It’s a whole new reality.

01:17 LJJ: Well, I’ll tell you what, about a month ago, we were planning diligently the amazing spring events that we have for Michigan Women’s Forward across the state, and now, all of a sudden, “Stay Safe, Stay Home” starts, and the plans just went out the window. Carolyn, how have you been helping those that are in desperate need of education as we move forward, especially in a changing business climate?

01:47 CC: This crisis is real for every single person, even those of us who are lucky enough to have a job that continues to pay them while we’re working at home. But, think of those who started small businesses over the last few years, and now, through no fault of their own, they woke up one morning, and they can’t do business anymore. They have to shut their doors; they have to change their entire business model. We got to work immediately about three weeks ago in earnest and got relief for almost all of them. We’re still short about 20%. 80% of them, we got loan relief for, and that’s very good. Some of it’s from your tax dollars through the federal government, some of it’s through the kindness and generosity of people who said, “That’s okay, give them six months.”

02:35 CC: The foundation community has stepped up. We’re still looking for about … a loan relief for about 17 loans in West Michigan, so hopefully, some of your listeners will help us with that. Some donations that would help us … That I mean that they don’t have to pay this loan back for a few months. They can get some relief from that, they can focus on spending what money they have on keeping their own families safe and healthy, and making sure that they pay their house payment and those kinds of things. So, that’s what we started out doing, and I’ll stop there for a minute in case you have any other questions, and then I’ll tell you what we’re going to do over the next three weeks.

03:09 LJJ: That’ll be awesome. I do have a question on the payroll protection program.

03:13 CC: Yes.

03:14 LJJ: I know that entrepreneurs, solo practitioners, are going to be … Have that door open for them …

03:21 CC: It is open.

03:21 LJJ: Has that been something that you’ve been helping with?

03:23 CC: Absolutely. It is open, it is open. Go to that website. I can … There are so many places who can give you real training, but we actually did it last night. We completed our application. We’re doing it, non-profits are doing it, everyone should be applying for this. These are your tax dollars. You need to apply for them, whether you’re a 1099 worker, a single practitioner, whether you … If your corporation’s not doing it, they need to, and don’t wait. You have to find an SBA 7a lender, it’s not a micro-lender like us, it’s a bank that does micro-lending.

04:02 LJJ: Or a credit union. [laughter]

04:03 CC: Or a credit union, thank you. Do you guys do SBA loans?

04:06 LJJ: We are doing SBA lending. We have a very strong focus right now on our members and our businesses …

04:15 CC: Good, that you take.

04:16 LJJ: That are on board, but we definitely are here to help and to listen. We do encourage any business that is listening to start with their own financial institution, but we definitely encourage also to really ask the questions now, and I agree with you, get in line and let’s get those loans going.

04:37 CC: That’s right. Right, no more important thing to do than apply for the grants that are out there, and our state is lucky to have you as a part of it, because …

04:46 LJJ: Thank you.

04:47 CC: You give good advice and you give good information. Only listen to information from people who are trusted sources like you, because there’s a lot of people that’ll try to profit off of this, so apply to your financial institution that you’ve been working with to get this money. It’s payroll protection, and even if the payroll is just you, please do it.

05:09 LJJ: And I think that’s what people are confused about, that second wave of the solo and the entrepreneur is really important. It’s what keeps our economy going, and you’ve seen that, Carolyn, with what you do on a daily basis. I know right at the beginning, we chatted, and you said you’re busier now than you were prior to “Stay Safe, Stay Home.”

05:31 CC: Right.

05:32 LJJ: It’s a crazy time, but we are working harder and smarter.

05:35 CC: Yup, we are. And, in some ways, it’s good. I think you get more done. On the other hand, those quiet minutes that I was driving to a meeting where you could think, I don’t seem to have those anymore. I seem to be, just go from one thing to another, and it’s okay. It’s okay because that’s what we’re here to do. That’s why MWF exists, that’s why you exist, is to help people. We’re in this business because we want to make life better for people, we want to make sure they have the resources that we need, so I don’t feel badly about it. I get up every morning excited to see what we can do to help just one more entrepreneur who’s struggling because they are … Everybody, everybody is struggling right now, there’s nobody that’s immune from this.

06:21 LJJ: Carolyn, tell us what are you doing and what have your … Our women entrepreneurs who are out there listening, what is it that we’re transforming into as an organization?

06:34 CC: Well, we’re transforming into an organization, I hope, that looks ahead because I’ll tell you, we didn’t see this coming, we certainly didn’t plan for this. I’ve done a lot of webinars over the last few weeks explaining to people that there will be another crisis. It won’t be like this one, but there will be another crisis in your business, and we’ve gotta get prepared for it. We have to do a lot more scenario planning. We have to do right now, what we’ve started Lynne, that is so exciting is we started this scenario planning about recovery. How are you going to recover from this? What is your current cash flow situation? Personal and business, because a lot of times with a small business, it’s mangled, and so where are you with cash flow?

07:19 CC: We’re actually working through every single one of our loan clients, we’re working through anybody else who wants to log in to our website, miwf.org, and we will help you. We will start through this process with you. We’ve got so many wonderful people volunteering to help, so many people saying, “What can I do?” Well, you can walk through a cash flow forecast with this entrepreneur. You can help this entrepreneur think clearly because they’re so frightened, they’re so concerned, they’re so worried about what’s going to happen to their family, what’s going to happen to their business, that sometimes you can’t think straight.

07:58 CC: So, we help them take a step back, think this through. If we do get the relief that in May, we can go back to work, some of us, in some situations, some of us will be able to open up our businesses, and so we’re going plan for that. If it’s June, what are we going to do? What do we need? How much money are you going to need? I just was talking with my staff a few minutes before you and I started talking, and they’ve come up with a very creative way of giving some interest-free micro-loans to people. Like, if they can prove to us with this money that they need, $8000, then we’ll give them a small micro-loan, and we will stretch it out over three years so it isn’t burdensome, it’s not going to take more money out of their pockets after they get back up and running. Give them three months of no, no… They don’t have to pay us back for the first couple of months. That kind of stuff, that’s what we’re doing.

08:54 LJJ: When you look forward and you look at what is traditionally what Michigan Women’s Forward is all about, the programs that are so critical to helping people start a new business, learn the ropes of a business, truly this is something though that I think is astronomically needed for anyone right now, is what is it that we are going to do? In some respects, it’s almost like starting a new business right off the bat again when all of this is over.

09:27 CC: It is, and it’s a cautionary tale for all of us, right? It’s, “Did we have enough extra money stashed away to get through a crisis like this, where you maybe don’t get paid for three months?” Yeah, we all know that we’re supposed to. But, we’ve had such a strong economy, there’s almost no unemployment, or at least there wasn’t until two weeks ago. So, what is it, what is it that we should be doing? I think there’s a … It’s going to be very different. We will … As I tell my staff every morning, we are never going to go back to what was.

10:04 CC: We have to create the future, and let’s create a really solid financial future for each of us, let’s cut back on things we don’t need to be spending money on, let’s regroup and not have big offices anymore probably because we don’t need them. We may not be able to share them anymore because we have to stay 10 feet apart for a while, but it will be very different. But, I think it’s very exciting. I think it’s a great way to think the future was coming anyway, now we get a chance to create it.

10:40 LJJ: So Carolyn, what have you found that has been very eye-opening in a really great way? Is it the new technologies that are being learned? Is it … What is it for you personally that makes you instead of staying up at night, at least feel, “Okay, I think we’ve got this?”

11:00 CC: It’s the generosity, it’s the support, it’s the help. I have to tell you, I haven’t asked anybody for help for MWF or for an entrepreneur where they have said no. I think that that sort of makes me tear up a little bit because it’s like everybody says, “Yes, what can I do? My situation is better than most,” or, “My situation is better than hers is, let me help. Let me do whatever I can do.” And it may not be much, it may not be sending a $1000, it may be sending $10, but everyone does something, and that is what makes me feel like we live in a very good place. This state is a good state, the women here care about each other, that’s what gets me through the night, frankly.

11:52 CC: I still do wake up at night and worry about how long this might go on, but I know that, you know, we’re going to hold hands together across the state, around the state, everywhere. And, I know I can call on you, and you know that you can call on me, and there’s something pretty special about that.

12:11 LJJ: Absolutely. As we wrap up, Carolyn, what are some of the things that when you look to the future, what are some of the things that you would like to tell those that keep your spirits up, that keep your team’s spirits up? Working remotely is not easy. It’s definitely unique. What have you been doing with your team and your own self?

12:34 CC: Well, every morning, we start the morning out together and we do what we call a “mission moment.” How did we live out our mission yesterday or today? Or how did you watch someone else live it that inspired you? And, I think if you get up every morning and you say, “What did I do that mattered to someone else?” every day, or, “What did somebody prove to me that the world is a very good place out there?” We have just got to celebrate those moments every day. I have a whole list of things I didn’t know how much time we would have. Last week when I sent out all those emails to all those people, I got back, look at all these pages full of notes.

13:19 CC: And, I put them down in a couple of pages, and I sent them out to our board, to our donors, to our staff, and said, “What you do matters.” And they are heartfelt. Many of them said, “As I read this, I am sitting here with tears running down my face because somebody did something that I didn’t even ask for, they just went ahead.” And so, whether it’s that you walk next door and you put a flower on somebody’s porch, or you put a note like my daughter did. She wrote me a little note and put on my … So, that when I opened the door, it said, “This too shall pass.” Anything you can do for somebody to lift their spirits to … Wave at them out the window, or anything.

14:07 LJJ: Carolyn, anything else that you’d like to share with us for from Michigan Women Forward? What I really want to … Our listeners to know is that they can help. Whether that be through .. through their time, their talents, their treasures. Your stories are so emotional, and they are making drastic differences in the lives of not only women, but families, and that leads to generational change.

14:31 CC: It does, it does. I think we’ll be a better country, a better state, a better community after all this, because I think we will be together … Hold together. The only other thing I guess I want you to know is that, well, we may not be able to get together in our events, we are still going to be celebrating women.

14:53 LJJ: Well Carolyn, thank you for getting together with me today. We really appreciate your time and your partnership. We value our partnership to help women and businesses succeed in Michigan.

15:05 CC: We could not do it without you. We want you to know that you are sitting here next to us every single day. You have been so generous, and you have been so supportive, and those invitations wouldn’t be out without you, right?

15:18 LJJ: Well, we’re going to continue that. So, we will. We’ll figure it out. It might be virtual from now on, but we’ll do it.

15:25 CC: That’s right, that’s right. It might be a virtual invitation, but watch your email, right?


15:29 CC: We’re coming to you … Than email near you.

15:32 LJJ: And seriously, anybody who needs to volunteer or needs assistance, they can go to your web?

15:38 CC: Yep, miwf.org.


15:40 LJJ: So, everybody, thank you so much for listening in today. Money, I’m Home. And we are going to thank Jake Esselink. Jake, thank you so much for putting this together. You always edit so nicely. Everybody listen, hang in there. Stay safe. Stay home. But if you need something or you have an idea to share, please send it our way because how we are going to really get through this is together. Carolyn, thanks again.

16:03 CC: Thank you.

16:04 LJJ: Money, I’m Home. Lynne Jarman-Johnson with Consumers Credit Union.



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