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Ask The Experts: Getting Back Out There

Hear from a group of road warriors, executives, and powerhouses on pandemic thinking and the year ahead.

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Sue Woodard
Two mortgage businesswomen discuss tips for the year ahead.

Dare we say it, that certain parts of our lives are beginning to feel … normal again? It’s true. Live, in-person conferences are being scheduled, we’re seeing faces in our offices, and business travel is ramping back up as well.  Heck, I even got to travel to hug a customer last month and it was the first time in over a year. 

For this issue of Ask The Experts, I checked in with a wonderful group of road warriors, executives, and powerhouses to find out how they were looking at the world these days, how the pandemic shifted their thinking, and what their best advice is for the year ahead.  

My own best advice as we get back out there in the world? Operate with extreme grace and respect, and don’t make assumptions about others based on what their own comfort level is, or is not. We are all on our own journey back to normal, and the path won’t look the same for everyone. Here’s more wisdom on that front…

Karen Deis

President, Speaker Author

Ask yourself these two questions:  When it comes time to “getting back to business,” will it be business as “usual” or business “unusual”? During the pandemic, you had to reinvent the way you did business. This may be your once-in-a-lifetime chance to continue your business and personal transformation. Go crazy. Write down wild marketing ideas to connect with agents, builders and consumers. The vacation you’ve always dreamed of. If you want to transform yourself (weight loss, hair/makeup change).  Then share your ideas with a nonjudgmental coach or mentor to help turn those “unusual” ideas into more business, more self-esteem, and more joy in your life. 

Ginger Bell

Founder of Edumarketing

Dynamics of Business Travel Today

I took the stage for the first time in over 12 months this month. Hard to believe it! It was exhilarating, but also very different. Here’s what I’ve learned about traveling in our new world.

Plan on extra time for everything!

It’s one thing we have gotten used to with shutdowns, but it seems as though it has continued as businesses are opening up. It takes much longer to get onto planes because they allow only so many people in line at a time. Also, hotels are short staffed, so you have to wait longer for check in, too.

Make a travel care package.

You get served only water and a cracker or two on flights now, so having snacks that are easy to eat are important. I’m packing nuts, energy bars, and M&Ms. Yes, I know they are not on the diet list, but they are easy to eat when you can only pop one thing in your mouth as you take down your mask. I’d also recommend packing several masks; trust me on this one! I started my last plane ride sneezing directly into my mask. Thank goodness I had two more packed in my travel bag! Be sure to include a small spray bottle of disinfectant to spray your table, arm rests, and seatbelt. I spray, then follow up with a sanitizing cloth wipe. 

Bring along a tube of acne treatment.

I never thought I’d have to travel with acne treatment, but after wearing a mask for eight-plus hours, my face broke out like I was 15 again. You can find a simple solution like Differin at Target, and it works wonders.

Travel is not as bad as you think it is when you are prepared. It may be a while before we can get back to how things were pre-COVID, but for now, it is not that bad, and it gives us the opportunity to start getting back together again.

Christy Soukhamneut

Chief of Staff and Director of Mortgage Strategic Initiatives, Flagstar Bank

Because we haven’t been gathering at conferences, I’ve stepped up the different ways I can connect with customers via social media, emails and video conferencing and taking advantage of opportunities to share information. I’ve also looked for alternative ways to stimulate my mind and feed my soul. It turned out to be the perfect time to get my CMB, find some online art classes, snuggle up with some great books, and dive into the MasterClass by David Rogier and The Great Courses from the Teaching Company. While these classes aren’t directly related to the mortgage industry, they do get me thinking about innovation and ways I can better serve my customers. Still, if the past year has taught me anything, it’s that nothing replaces face-to-face interaction. I’m cautiously optimistic about clinking glasses with friends and colleagues again very soon.

Laura Martell

Executive Vice President, Mountain West Financial, Inc.

The “new normal” … how many times have you heard that phrase in the last year? Normal sounds like such a mundane moment in time, when in reality, we’re living in a future chapter of a history book. We are still forging new paths and those who adapt will benefit for years to come. Moving forward, I believe we will network, connect and interact with people using the same methodology as we do when examining our customer experiences. We will meet and work with people in the ways in which they are comfortable and using the methods and technology that align with it. Whether face-to-face, 6 feet apart, screen-to-screen, or some hybrid variation, we need to continue focusing on creating and fostering genuine connections – authenticity is the new normal.

Jelaire Grillo

Customer Relationship Manager, National Sales Support Team, Prosperity Home Mortgage LLC

I remember my last trip in 2020. I flew out to Connecticut to train a group of Mortgage Consultants and I remember sitting in the airport – it was quiet, some people were wearing masks, and I remember thinking – I wonder if this is my list trip? Turns out it was, and I had no idea how much I would miss it. Now that we are a year in, I have not been back out in the field yet, but I am hearing rumblings that we are starting back up and I could not be more excited! There is nothing I love more than being in person with people – talking, training and getting to know them. I love everything about it and if this year has taught me anything, it is the value of human connection. Now don’t get me wrong – I have been connecting with people – maybe even more so than I was pre-pandemic and even though it is not the same as in person – I have managed to build some amazing relationships with people during this virtual time. Going virtual has forced us to get creative with how we interact with our peers, our partners and our clients. Which requires people to take a step outside their comfort zones and I have to say, I have loved watching this transformation. At PHM, we saw so many people move from the mindset of “I am not comfortable with using video” to “I love video and it has helped me to bridge the gap with my partners and clients”. So as we move into some sort of normalcy, my hope is that we will continue to get creative in how we build and maintain relationships while getting the opportunity to be back in person again.

Rio Herbik

Director of Digital Content, OVM Financial

At OVM Financial, the business has not stopped. Instead, it kept moving at lightning speed. 2020 was a record year for our company, and we've had to shift, adjust, and refocus without missing a beat. There was (and there still is) an on-going learning curve. However, no matter the challenge, we put our heads together, problem-solve to pull through for our clients and partners. Our office implemented COVID-friendly protocols and working from home became a reality. Our annual awards ceremony went virtual this year, and we've created a #TeamOVM Facebook group with weekly challenges and prizes to keep the remote team connected and engaged. Conferences have also shifted to the virtual space, which has been fantastic because they are more accessible to team members who would like to attend but do not have the flexibility to travel at a whim. Overall, it has been a whirlwind of a year, and I wouldn't have wanted to go through it with any other team.

Coleen Bogle

Vice President of Marketing, Draper and Kramer Mortgage

I travel frequently in a non-pandemic world, so it’s been challenging not seeing my marketing crew, leadership team friends and industry colleagues. Virtual conferences keep my attention span if they’re interactive, but I’m eager to get back to in-person events. I’ve traveled three times over the last year, taking many precautions, including lots of hand sanitizer, N-95 masks and limiting physical contact. I don’t regret it as nothing compares to face-to-face interaction. Microsoft Teams has been a gamechanger - I’ve gotten to know my pandemic hires, meet new LOs and connect with my CEO with ease. I host regular team “hangouts” where we play games and share personal stories which allows us to take a break from the daily grind. As far as getting fully “back to business,” I can’t wait until normalcy returns. This has been an incredible and challenging learning experience that has made me a better manager.

This article was originally published in the Mortgage Women Magazine August 2021 issue.
Sue Woodard headshot
Sue Woodard

Sue Woodard brings 30 years of mortgage industry experience, strategic vision and leadership to her role as Senior Advisor at Statmor Group. Her focus is on helping lenders achieve greater productivity and long-term success. Sue started her career as a processor, became a top originator, then leveraged her knowledge to become a highly acclaimed industry speaker, subject matter expert and technology executive.

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