In a single night, Diana, an entrepreneur and working mom, had to close her doggy daycare business, calling her clients one by one to inform them that the COVID-19 pandemic was forcing her to shut down her dream — at least temporarily.
Listen as Diana chats with Doris Vasquez, MAF Senior Client Success Manager. Diana details the challenges she faced as a business owner during the pandemic. But even in these difficult times, Diana found hope through strong community ties and support systems.
The following conversation has been edited for length and clarity.
ROCIO: Welcome to Cafecito con MAF. A podcast about showing up, doing more, and doing better for people. We’re on a mission to help people become visible, active, and successful in their financial lives. Join us!
DORIS: Hello, everyone! My name is Doris Vasquez, and I’m a Senior Client Success Manager here at MAF and today’s podcast host. Last week, we heard a little bit from Diana, a business owner who runs her own dog walking and daycare business. And, like many other small businesses, she’s had to navigate the challenges of COVID-19 all while supporting her child, herself, and her dreams.
DIANA: I think it hit home once I had to close my business. I had to call every single one of my clients, say thank you, and remind them I was going to be here waiting for them. And not knowing who was eventually going to come back. And having no idea or expectation if I was losing my business that night, making those calls, or if things were going to go back to normal eventually.
DORIS: Today, we’re taking a step back to learn more about the firsthand experiences of people working through COVID-19. Diana has been with MAF for about 10 years now. And she’s here today to share her own story. So, hi Diana! Thank you so much for being our special guest. Before we get started, can you tell us a little about yourself?
DIANA: First of all, thank you Doris for having me here. I’ve been with your organization as a client — I don’t know if that’s the correct word because you guys are just a huge help for me and many new entrepreneurs. So my name is Diana. I’ve been running my own small business for about 10 years now. I started out back in 2012 with you guys, and that’s when I had just gotten everything: my permit, my business name, the whole thing. And I was very lucky to run into you guys because the help you guys have provided for me has just been vital to my growth and everything.
DORIS: That’s great, Diana. Thank you for sharing. I still remember the time that we did the application and did all the requirements for that business. I’m glad that it’s still blooming. But you know, we also wanted to talk about the time when the pandemic started, and how our community was impacted by the pandemic. Would you be able to share with me when you first started hearing about COVID-19? What was your initial reaction? Did you think it was going to impact your life, and if so, how was this pandemic going to impact your life? Did you have any idea?
DIANA: So it’s funny. When I first heard about it, we were scared because we just knew it was happening out there — I think it was back in other countries and it was just starting to come here. I don’t think myself or anyone knew to what extent it would impact our daily routines. It was scary to hear about it, but I didn’t really have any expectations. I didn’t really know how it was going to impact every single area of our lives.
I think it hit home once I had to close my business. So I think that was back on March 16, 2020 when I had to make those calls, because we were shutting down in San Francisco — all operations. And that night, I had to call every single one of our clients, say thank you, remind them that I was still going to be out here waiting for them, but just not knowing who was eventually going to come back. And having no idea or expectation if I was losing my business that night, making those calls. Or if things were going to back to normal eventually.
Which, neither of those happened. It was kind of an in-between. I did lose over 40% of my clientele, because many of them stayed working from home. But I didn’t have an idea of how big it was going to impact my day-to-day life.
DORIS: Yeah, I think a lot of people remember March 16. That’s a day that will be remembered in history, because we never lived like anything like this before. It must have been really hard for you calling your clients. Can you maybe share a little bit about what was the reaction? And if you were able to continue working during this crisis of March 16?
DIANA: The one thing I just have to say: every single one of my clients was very supportive. They’re more like friends and family to me, because I care for their doggies just like a family member every single day. So I build really strong bonds with each of my clients. So calling them, it was good to feel their support, it was really good to feel the love, how grateful they were for me.
But I just knew at the end of the day, I didn’t know who was going to lose their jobs. Many of them lost their jobs, many of them moved out of town. But, it just gave me hope. It gave me hope that regardless of who was going to be able to come back to daycare with us and who wasn’t, just knowing we were there for each other throughout it all. Even the ones who moved away. We still talk to each other.
I think this time has been very — it’s brought the best in many of us. I know there have been bad things going on out there with crime and stuff, but the good kindhearted people — it brought out all the love, all the support. We were just there for each other. Not knowing how we were going to support each other, we were there offering. You know?
And that was just — I gotta say I feel really lucky and blessed to have the people I have in my life. You guys, my clients, my family — just really blessed.
DORIS: Yeah, I hear you Diana. I think I have seen a lot of people doing good things, and that just says a lot about the community, and how close and how supportive they are of each other.
But during the pandemic, I know you mentioned that you were a dog walker. Once you started going back to work, and walking your dogs, the fact that you had to meet people…I mean were you scared? Did you feel safe? How did you do it during the pandemic specifically?
DIANA: If I can remember, I believe I started opening up my business two to three weeks after we closed down. Maybe three weeks. And the reason why we were able to start operating back sooner than other places, it’s because we are an outdoor daycare. So it was really tricky. I have this dog walking community on Facebook, and it was a lot of going back and forth — should we like? We were just very diligent about not breaking any of the rules — you know how rules kept updating and new information was coming out? We just wanted to make sure we were following all the rules and keeping everybody safe.
When I started opening back up three weeks after, I changed many of my daily routines. I used to before — go to my clients’ homes, nobody would be there, pick up their puppy, put it in my car. I didn’t think of it twice. After, post-pandemic, when we started opening, I had hand sanitizer, I had gloves in the car, I had masks. Clients, if they were working from home, they would have to come out to meet me on the street, the sidewalk. I would not be able to come inside their houses.
And if they were not home, I would sanitize my hands, put on my mask, open the door, come in, grab their doggie, go back to my car, sanitize my hands again. It was just sanitizing every exchange of dropping off and picking up.
It’s funny. Now I’m not scared. Now I’m just following things that are now daily routines for all of us. Like sanitizing hands, putting a mask on. But at that time, three week, after we had closed, and I had opened back up, it still lingers in your head, because we didn’t even know — like even opening an Amazon package, I was using wipes and hand sanitizer.
So it was a little bit scary, especially because I do have a kid at home. My son is five. It was having that in the back of your head, of not dragging the virus back into your home, into your family. Right? It was like that for everyone.
DORIS: And when you were making those changes, did you ever get a chance to talk to your clients? Did they share anything with you that maybe was affecting them emotionally? Or anything?
DIANA: Yes. We became our own support system and therapists. If I was having a good day or a bad day, I’d share that with them. They’d try to make me laugh, I’d try to make them laugh. It was hard for many of them, working from home.
I was really lucky we were an outdoor business. Because many people who were working from home all the time were on the verge of going into depression too. Because you’re not used to that. You need your social support systems so, yes, we became closer.
Oh, I have to say that — before, I never saw any of my clients. They would always be working. I would just sign the contract and almost never see them for months at a time. This made every single one of those relationships so much stronger. Now I would say we’re more than just working together, they’re my friends, they’re my support system. They open up with me, I open up with them. We changed for the better.
DORIS: Where did you turn for help? Whether it was financial or anything?
DIANA: So I was very lucky to have support systems at home, with my family. I was very lucky to have support systems with every one of our clients. They were very supportive. Some of them even paid me through the close-down. Many of them did. They just knew that they wanted me to be out here after we figured this out, so if they were able to afford it, they helped me out because they knew this was my only financial support for me and my family.
The other thing was my mom. She was so resourceful! She was the one calling me to go find the help. I don’t think I would be able to apply for many of them, because at the time, I was a sole proprietor, working by myself. My husband would sometimes help me, because one of us would be on parenting duty, and the other would be on pickup duty for the doggies. But I was a sole proprietor. I didn’t think of myself as a company.
It took me a lot of time — maybe I lost a month or a little bit over — to find out that I could apply for help, counting myself as an employee. My company had one, and it was me. It took me a lot of time to figure that one out. I thought it was only for bigger companies who had employees outside of themselves, So thankfully, my mom was there to tell me “No, it wasn’t like that.” So I started calling places and applying for help, maybe a month after we closed our doors.
DORIS: And during that search, did you feel that there was something missing?
DIANA: Yes, the support to apply for stuff. It was very overwhelming coming out with all the requirements for many of this. Some of us are not that savvy with paperwork, so not having anybody in person… when I go to you guys, to your office, you guys would be able to walk me through every step of the way. So just being at home and not having that support system. Because at that time we were not that virtual back then. Now it’s normal after a year and a half.
But at the beginning, you had no support system. Offices were closed, banks… It was just like, if you find somebody on the phone, like MAF and many nonprofit organizations, they were shut down. So it was really hard to apply for this help on my own without a support system of: okay, I need this paper, I don’t know where to get it — those little details. It was hard to get finished from beginning to end.
DORIS: Yeah, I’ve actually heard that from a lot of our clients too. Now that I think… the pandemic, it’s been with us for a year and half, right? What are your hopes, Diana, for post-pandemic? For the future? For things going back to the way they were? Is there anything that you’re looking forward to?
DIANA: One, I feel really blessed. I don’t feel like my life has changed a lot, just because my job has always been by myself. But post-pandemic, the one thing from my personal experience, is not just having one source of income that I’m dependent on.
I had a big awakening during that time. And instead of looking outwards, I started looking inwards. So I started a personal growth journey on my own. I was like, “Oh my God, nothing’s permanent.” You could have a job and might feel like you’re set, but something like this could happen and it throws everything off. And your life depends on it. Your kid, your dogs, everything.
It was a wake up call to spread out my — how do they say, “don’t put all your eggs in one basket?” So I started learning about investing. I started learning about personal growth. I started working on my mindset.
So I think post-pandemic, it would be for people to know that they have options, to not go back to depending on one company, or one thing, or one job, because if that’s gone, your security — everything goes with it. So post-pandemic, I wish for everyone to make more options for themselves, so that they’re not in the situation I was in and many of us — thousands and millions were in.
The other thing would be — I feel like pre-pandemic, many of us were just telling ourselves we’re just busy. We’re so busy working. Post-pandemic, you’re like, I really need to build these relationships because they’re my community. They need me, I need them. And community-building is vital for not getting depressed, for staying positive.
So I am a part of a dog walking community on Facebook, and we just kept cheering for each other, referring clients. Some of my clients were moving into a different neighborhood, even another city, or state — we just had this dog walking daycare community where we would just refer business to one another. It was a vital part of surviving. You gotta take the time out to socialize and get to know your brothers and sisters out there doing all types of amazing dreams, even if it’s not related to your immediate business. It’s so rewarding. After you do it, you’re like, “Oh my God, I’ve been missing out in getting to know this amazing man, this amazing woman, for doing this for the community.” We were missing out before just staying in our lane. Now it’s like, no, we have to help each other out to make it out stronger.
DORIS: Thank you! That’s the key thing, right? Never give up on your dreams. I really appreciate you sharing with us everything that you’ve gone through — from the beginning of your business through the pandemic to the inspiring words that you are sharing with people. I really appreciate the relationship you have with MAF and all the support you’ve provided us as well. So thank you so much, Diana. I wish you the best in your business — for it to keep growing, for more doggies, for it to keep expanding. So thank you. We wish you the best.
DIANA: Thank you so much, Doris, for having me here. I could not have gotten this far with my business without organizations like MAF and so many small business organizations in the city — and all around California too. But I’m just so grateful I have you guys on my team.
DORIS: Of course. And we’ll always be here for you, Diana. And for our listeners, thank you so much for being with us for this episode. Next week, we’ll return to the story of the Rapid Response Fund, and the huge effort it took to deliver thousands of grants to immigrants across the country during a dire time. See you then.
ROCIO: Thanks for listening to Cafecito con MAF! Be sure to subscribe to our podcast on Spotify, Apple, or wherever you listen to podcasts, so you can catch the next episode as soon as it’s posted.
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