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Taking 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.

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

Why receiving big funding doesn’t guarantee startup success

(BUSINESS ENTREPRENEUR) You finally got that big funding check that allows you to make your dreams come true, but most startups fail because they shoot for the moon.

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funding box

The first thing every startup needs to get off the ground is funding. It’s crucial to have enough capital to cover equipment, inventory, and employee salaries, along with other basic expenses unique to the industry. Most startups cover these initial costs through business loans and capital from private investors.

Some business owners perceive getting funded as the first milestone toward success. While receiving capital is critical for success, being well-funded doesn’t guarantee success. Plenty of well-funded startups have failed, gone bankrupt, and all but disappeared.

How could so many well-funded startups possibly go under? The 90% failure rate for startups is due to a variety of factors including bad timing, no market, and most of all – mishandling of finances.

Here’s why receiving big capital doesn’t guarantee success.

Getting investment capital provides false hope

Getting funded can make you feel invincible and cause you to be too relaxed about spending money. It’s a powerful feeling to have plenty of money and know an investor believes in your business. Investors are smart; they wouldn’t throw money at a startup unless they had every reason to believe it will succeed, right? Not exactly.

Startups in big tech areas like Silicon Valley and San Francisco often have an easy time generating large amounts of capital from investors who can’t wait to throw money at the latest startup. Many investors ignore risk and throw their money at long-shot bets hoping to invest in the next Facebook or Instagram. The size of the pot is too mesmerizing not to take the risk.

These long-shot bets carry similar odds to winning a “Pick 6” bet in horse racing. The Pick 6 is one of the hardest bets to win because you have to pick the winning horses for six consecutive races. What if the top horse becomes injured before the sixth race? Investors who toss money at random startups have to pick a startup that will continue to meet all the right circumstances to become profitable long-term. Some of those circumstances are unpredictable.

No business owner wants to view their startup as a long-shot bet. However, the reality is that many startups are. You can’t gauge your potential for success based on how much funding you receive.

Having plenty of cash encourages premature scaling

When you’ve got the cash to scale your startup it seems like a waste not to dive in. Just one look around the internet reveals plenty of videos and articles encouraging entrepreneurs to scale their business. Advice online gives the impression that if you’re not scaling your business, you’re falling behind. However, scaling too soon can tank your startup.

Research conducted by Startup Genome found premature scaling to be the number one cause of startup failure. Nathan Furr from Forbes.com explains this finding and what it means for businesses. Premature scaling is defined as “spending money beyond the essentials on growing the business (e.g., hiring sales personnel, expensive marketing, perfecting the product, leasing offices, etc.) before nailing the product/market fit.” Furr says any business is susceptible to premature scaling – not just startups.

The problem is that premature scaling depletes your cash reserves more quickly. This leaves you with less cash to fix mistakes and readjust as you go along. Failure is what happens when you don’t have the necessary cash to fix mistakes and move toward success.

How to make the most of your funding and increase your odds of success

To increase the odds of developing a long-term successful startup, here’s what you can do:

Save as much money as possible. For instance, you don’t need a giant office with expensive furniture right away. Work from home and hire a remote team until an office is absolutely necessary.

Make sure the cost of acquiring each customer makes sense. Know how much money you’re spending to acquire each customer. Track all marketing efforts and eliminate the avenues that don’t generate paying, loyal customers. If the cost to acquire a customer is more than what they spend with your company, revisit your marketing strategy.

Aim for an order-of-magnitude improvement with your innovation. Skip Prichard advises startups to strive for a 10x increase in the value of whatever innovation is being provided to the world. For example, if your company is offering a lower price for a greater value, aim to increase the value 10x. Attract the early adopters who want big improvements and they will validate you.

Money is a tool – use it wisely

Celebrate when you get your funding, but keep that money in the bank for necessary expenses. Money is a tool that doesn’t guarantee success, but if you budget wisely, you’ll have a better chance at beating the startup odds.

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Business Entrepreneur

‘Small’ business was once a stigma, but is now a growing point of pride

(BUSINESS ENTREPRENEUR) Small businesses make up the majority of companies, employers, and money makers of the American economy, that’s something to be proud of.

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American small business

Prior to the Industrial Revolution, all businesses were small businesses. Independent craftsmen served communities with vital services. Small merchants opened shops to provide the community with goods. Lawyers, doctors, and other professionals hung out a shingle to offer their services to neighbors. Small businesses were the norm. Some of the most beloved American companies started out local. John Deere, Harley Davidson, and King Arthur Flour, all got their start as small businesses.

Business changes led to a attitude change

It wasn’t until manufacturing allowed businesses to scale and produce more efficiently that the idea of big business became more important. Post-World War II, the idea of a small business became derogatory. It was the age of big government. Media was growing. Everyone wanted to be on top. Small businesses took a back seat as people moved from rural to urban communities. Small business growth plateaued for a number of years in the mid-20th century. Fortunately, the stigma of small business is fading.

Small businesses are the backbone of the economy

According to the Small Business & Entrepreneurship Council, the “American business is overwhelmingly small business.” In 2016, 99.7% of firms in American had fewer than 500 workers. Firms with 20 workers or less accounted for 89.0% of the 5.6 million employer firms. The SBE also reports that “Small businesses accounted for 61.8% of net new jobs from the first quarter of 1993 until the third quarter of 2016.” Small businesses account for a huge portion of innovation and growth in today’s economy.

Modern consumers support small businesses

According to a Guidant Financial survey, the most common reason for opening a small business is to be your own boss. Small business owners are also dissatisfied with corporate America. Consumers also want to support small businesses. SCORE reports that 91% of Americans patronize a small business at least once a week. Almost half of Americans (47%) frequent small businesses 2 to 4 times a week.

Be proud of small business status

Small businesses are the innovators of tomorrow. Your neighbors want to support small businesses, knowing that their tax dollars stay in the community, and that they’re creating opportunities within their own city. Your small business status isn’t a slight. It’s a source of pride in today’s economy. Celebrate the fact that you’ve stepped out on your own in uncertain times. Celebrate the dirt under your fingernails, literally, or figuratively, that made you take a risk to do what mattered to you.

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Business Entrepreneur

3 types of clients you should fire as a freelancer (without feeling guilty)

(BUSINESS ENTREPRENEUR) Being a freelancer, it can feel like a luxury to fire a client, especially in 2020. But there’s a few clear signs they’re not worth your time.

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Freelancer woman with her head down on the laptop in front of her.

Freelancers often bend over backward to accommodate clients, many times to the detriment to the freelancer. Bad clients are toxic. It’s never easy to say “you’re fired” to anyone, but as a freelancer, sometimes, you need to weigh the cash value of a client against your time, mental health, and sleepless nights. Here are some reasons you can fire a client without feeling guilty.

Clients who aren’t paying on time

Clients who don’t pay or avoid you when there’s a problem need to go. You waste a lot of mental energy chasing down payments and juggling your bills. I know it can look like a bird in the hand kind of situation, but if your client isn’t paying your bill, the bird isn’t really in your hand. My best clients have been with me for over five years. Both consistently meet the payment schedule. Not to say there haven’t been glitches, but they’ve always taken the initiative to explain and got it fixed right away.

Clients who become more demanding without offering more payment

There are always jobs that need to be done right away or need more work. A client who puts demands on your time without compensation is hurting you. When you say yes to one thing, a short deadline, you’re putting other work off. You may be able to deliver to other clients within their deadline, but if you’re tired and grumpy, will it be your best work? High maintenance clients who want to micro-manage are another type of client you may want to kick to the curb. At the very least, raise your rates to account for the extra time it takes to mentally deal with them.

Clients who don’t act professionally

You need to set good boundaries with clients who may be your friends. It’s hard to find that line, but if you don’t set up good professional rules at the onset, you’re going to find yourself doing more for a client out of “friendship.” You’ll become resentful because you’re doing favors and not getting anything in return. Clients who violate contracts aren’t any better, regardless of any outside relationship.

It isn’t easy to fire a client. It’s your paycheck on the line. If you’ve got a bad client, think about the hours you waste worrying about them. Believe me, they are not spending the same energy. Use your energy to find better clients who appreciate you and your work.

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