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How to take the gloom out of Zoom

(BUSINESS ENTREPRENEUR) Feeling some Zoom-related dread? Here are 5 tips to make the most of your next Zoom meeting.

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Two women in a Zoom meeting representing mentors.

Zoom meetings: The perfect way to bring the boredom of an office meeting into the living room you haven’t left for six months. Don’t get me wrong, those of us who can work remotely are certainly very lucky to be able to do so… but that doesn’t change the fact that nearly every “Zoom meeting” seems to combine the worst parts of work and video chat.

Seriously, Zoom fatigue is real, y’all.

Unfortunately, Zoom meetings aren’t going away any time soon. In fact, the impromptu experiment in remote work caused by COVID-19 might actually be pushing many businesses towards a more permanent remote model, even after the health risks abate. This is why we’re sharing 5 tips for making Zoom meetings more bearable:

1. Cut back on video

Part of what can be exhausting about Zoom calls is the pressure to perform. In person, there are plenty of focus points, but when a close-up of your face is plastered on a screen for everyone to see, it’s only natural to try to keep up appearances. Not to mention, when you present at an in-person meeting, you don’t have to watch a reflection of yourself the entire time.

And to make matters worse, it looks like the number of meetings has actually increased since remote work began in March.

With that in mind, it’s worth considering where to cut back. Can your Zoom meeting agenda be communicated through an email? Perfect. If not, can it be done over voice chat instead of video? Voice chat meetings are especially useful when there’s a presentation – not only do people already have something to focus on, they don’t have to be distracted by their co-workers (or themselves.)

2. Help yourself get comfortable on camera

No, I don’t mean wear pajamas (though really, I’ve been loving the new “sweatpants at work” development). Instead, there are things you can do to help make being on camera more enjoyable. Or, at the very least, less of a struggle.

If you feel self-conscious about how you look on camera, try dressing up! You can actually feel better on and off camera by making it a routine to dress nicely. Or take it further with these tips for looking good on Zoom meetings. Feeling confident about your appearance on camera will help make Zoom calls more bearable.

3. Make notes

One perk of Zoom meetings is that you can set up notes to make presenting and interacting easier than ever! For example, take advantage of the Sticky Notes app to prep talking points before the meeting and pull them up when it’s your turn to speak. It can help draw your attention away from watching yourself talk (which still feels weird, six months later), and help you if you’re distracted from the dozen or so faces on screen at any given moment.

Plus, not only does taking notes during the meeting give you something to do instead of worrying about potentially performing for the camera, you also have helpful meeting notes at the end of it!

4. Don’t sweat the pets

Our furry friends have quickly become our new co-workers and in the wake of this new normal, so we should embrace this! Showing off pets can be a great way to bond with co-workers or clients. Sure, your cat probably shouldn’t be camped out on your keyboard, but nothing livens up a tired afternoon meeting quite like a cameo from your fluffiest coworker.

5. Have some fun

Working remotely might mean we lost the commute, but we also lost precious in-person interactions like water-cooler chats and lunch time hangouts. Breaks like these don’t just build connections between coworkers, but can also increase creativity, productivity, and mental health.

So make some time for fun! Play games, enjoy zany activities (like this virtual zoo!), invite guest speakers, or even just chat about your weekend. Human connection is more important than ever.

Zoom meetings don’t have to be the worst part of your day. Let us know how you’ve been making meetings better!

Brittany is a Staff Writer for The American Genius with a Master's in Media Studies under her belt. When she's not writing or analyzing the educational potential of video games, she's probably baking.

Business Entrepreneur

Twisted American Dream: Study shows microloans aid predatory MLMs

(ENTREPRENEUR) If microloans are being given to start new businesses, let’s give to those who are starting their own businesses rather than MLMs.

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MLMs twisting the American Dream with microloans. Image of the American dollar with collage background.

Microloans were touted as a way to help people in poverty to find a way out. Yes, the interest rates were higher, 15% – 18% for some micro-lenders, but not as high as payday loan businesses where loan interests can soar to upwards of 400%.

When you live life on the edge of financial failure, microloans are supposed to offer a helping hand to those starting their own businesses.

Enter today’s flourishing MLM market, where participants are promised if they work hard and follow the plan, they can make their way to the top of MLM glory with its promises of riches, cars, cruise vacations, and more.

Microloan companies classify MLMs as small businesses and offer loans to those who can’t use cash as collateral with their own banks to secure loans. These microloans are used to buy MLM inventory and a dream.

Grameen America is one microloan company that allows MLM inventory purchases as part of their business loan program.

“Grameen America does not advise members about their business choice or refuse loans based on business type as long as borrowers can prove their funds are being used for business purposes and the business is legal,” Grameen America told Vox reporter Kelsey Piper in an interview for a May 18 story.

“It is our experience that our members know how best to put their business loans to use and the type of business they believe will be successful for them. Our data shows many members start off in one kind of business, e.g. direct sales, and then pivot into other types of businesses as they cycle through our program.”

According to a Grameen America study, women who took out these microloans saw a positive but modest increase in monthly net income, a small increase in savings and a Vantage-Score (a type of credit score).

Their study shows that 32.7% of their customers plan on starting or have started their direct sales or MLM investment.

The company does not differentiate the overall income success of entrepreneurs who start their own businesses from those who invest in MLMs so measuring the difference in success there is not possible. However, an AARP Foundation study found that 44% of participants dropped out after less than one year of working with an MLM.

With a loan interest rate of 15% – 18% for a microloan, failure could lead women in poverty to an even worse situation than where they started.

The microloan business is not new, and the results are not hidden. As investigative stories showed in 2016, microloans aren’t lifting women out of poverty.

Encouraging women in poverty to use the loans to buy inventory in an MLM is bad business for everyone. Financial experts and even some MLM companies make it clear going into debt to join an MLM is strongly discouraged. Microloans don’t change financial fundamentals.

The Grameen America study does show positives for the women who serve as their customer base. The study stated, “Overall, the study found it was not just increased income or just the loan that led to the program’s positive effects. The weight of the evidence suggests that women who experience life circumstances similar to those in the Grameen America program are likely to be more financially resilient in the face of unexpected challenges if they are offered more options to combine work and businesses, more ways to strengthen their peer networks, and more liquidity.”

That might be true, but with an over 40% failure rate for those investing in MLMs, the risk might not be worth it.

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Business Entrepreneur

The next Amazon delivery partners are your corner mom-and-pop shops

(ENTREPRENEUR) Amazon has been stepping up their game, and their newest strategy is to include small business owners, mom-and-pop shops, and entrepreneurs.

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Samsung photo with amazon app loading page.

The world is reeling from supply chain issues from missing menu items at your favorite restaurant to a nationwide baby formula crisis. Amazon is one of the largest retailers in the world and its adaptation strategy is a return to the basics: work with local, small-town retailers. Yes, you read that right. Amazon is taking a grassroots approach to getting the goods to outlying and underserved communities.

Amazon is aware that its shipping speed to rural areas sometimes leaves much to be desired. Shipping directly to a person’s home in rural areas without Amazon facilities nearby and fewer available drivers causes delays. Shipping to an Amazon locker in the nearest metro takes less shipping time, with the tradeoff being the consumer picking up the responsibility for the last leg of the process. This isn’t always a valid option for a lot of people. What if you don’t drive and you need that particular item immediately? Many members of these isolated communities may be elderly or have poverty barriers to traveling long distances. Low-wage workers often have trouble finding time to go out of their way. Sure, you could ask your neighbor or there are other services, but that isn’t providing equitable service to disadvantaged populations. That’s one of the reasons Amazon’s new strategy for rural delivery is so useful.

Not only do the packages get to their destinations fast, but small businesses working with Amazon add an income stream by playing a role in the package journey. For small businesses reeling from the pandemic and lagging rural economies, this work with Amazon offers an opportunity to pull in much-needed capital by doing something as simple as delivering packages in their hometown. They don’t have to drive all over creation, just in their hometown which will reduce carbon emissions. Right now, with the gas prices as they are, that’s a huge plus.

There are other pluses to this too. By working with small businesses, Amazon is bolstering rural economies and empowering isolated communities. They’ll have more purchasing power, which is a win for everyone. Amazon is actively helping small businesses and it’s a great reverse on the trend of forced obsolescence we usually see when big-box retailers are involved.

If you’re struggling with supply chain issues, consider taking a page out of Amazon’s book. Get in touch with local small businesses in your area and see if you can come to a mutually beneficial arrangement. If you are a small business, be open to partnerships and opportunities to diversify your income to help stabilize yourself in an uncertain market. It’ll help you both in the long run, increasing the resiliency of both businesses.

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Business Entrepreneur

Having client difficulties? Protect yourself with an exit strategy clause

(ENTREPRENEUR) You want to keep around that one client that pays your bills but when they are difficult make sure you can run away from a gig gone wrong.

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Client exit strategy

I am not a lawyer. Do not take legal advice from a news story.

BUT

Over at Hongkiat, Veronica Howes has a great piece about the rights that every designer should give themselves when it comes time to make a contract. It’s not just good advice for designers, though. Anyone at the mercy of the client revision deserves to know these tips.

Many of them are about making sure that the rights to your work are secured. That’s important! Work-for-hire has always been treacherous territory. But in the gig economy, when more people than ever are doing contract work, holding on to your intellectual property is important, if you can swing it.

But just as important? Knowing when to walk away — and having the freedom to do so. Having an exit strategy is important to everyone who has ever had a bad client experience, trust us on this one.

There are plenty of reasons you might need to do this. Creative differences, a work environment you weren’t expecting, or even just an unreasonable number of revisions. Obviously, you never *want* to lose work, and you never want to leave a client unsatisfied. But sometimes walking away is better emotionally and financially than finishing the gig.

Writing in a “kill fee” can help you do this safely. A kill fee is a guarantee that you still receive some compensation for the work that you did, even if that work wasn’t completed. It’s an exit strategy. If you sink a year into a project for a client and then they decide to move in a different direction, the kill fee makes sure that you didn’t just waste a year of your life. It’s an important safety tool for anyone freelancing.

The standard phrasing to include in the contract is: “Termination. Either party may terminate the contract at any time through written request. The Company shall upon termination pay Consultant all unpaid amounts due for Services completed prior to notice of termination.”

And it is worth talking about the specifics of the kill fee. Some may charge for hours already worked regardless of who terminates the contract, others may choose to keep a retainer, and so forth. Think that through and include it in your contract.

Now, let’s talk about revisions. Half the time, the reason you’d want an escape clause is that the work wasn’t scoped correctly in the first place. You need to be very clear about the expectations of the amount of work that’s going to go into a job.

Let’s say you quote someone a flat fee of $100 for a tiny project because you expect it to take you an hour or two. But suddenly, there are 12 people at the client’s office arguing over what the project should actually be, on a conceptual level, and you’re caught in the crossfire while they re-imagine the project you’ve already finished. The worst-case scenario here is that you’re stuck doing dozens of revisions, and with each minute you spend, your hourly rate just dwindles down to nothing.

Setting up an exit strategy with appropriate expectations ahead of time (in writing) can really save you here. Allot for one major revision of the work and some touch-ups, or maybe three rounds of revisions. Do whatever’s appropriate for your field and the scope of the work. But be sure that the expectations are clear, have it in writing, and be sure you’ve got that escape hatch at the ready if things go past it.

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