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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

Customize your Zoom calls with your brand using these tools

(BUSINESS ENTREPRENEUR) Work-from-home types, Zoom appears to be here to stay, and here are the tools you need to add or update your Zoom background to a more professional – or even branded – background.

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Zoom call on computer, but there's more options to customize.

If you haven’t had to deal with Zoom in 2020, you may be an essential worker or retired all together. For the rest of us, Zoom became the go-to online chat platform around mid-March. For several reasons, and despite several security concerns, Zoom quickly pushed past all online video chat competitors in the early COVID-19 lockdown days.

Whether for boozy virtual happy hours, online classes for school or enrichment, business meetings, trivia nights, book clubs, or professional conferences, odds are if you are working or in school, you have been on a Zoom call recently. Many of us have been on weekly, if not daily, Zoom calls. If you are the techy type, you’ve likely set up a cool Zoom background of a local landmark or a popular spot, a library, or a tropical beach. Comic-con types and movie buffs created appropriate backgrounds to flex their awesome nerdiness and technical smarts.

Many people have held off creating such an individualized background for our virtual meetings for one of any number of reasons. Perhaps it never occurred to them, or maybe they aren’t super comfortable with all things techy. Many people have been holding out hope of returning to their offices, thus seeing no need to rock the vote. I’m here to tell you, though, it’s time. While I, too, hope that we get the pandemic under control, I am realistic enough to see that working or studying from home will continue to be a reality for many people for some time.

Two cool, free tools we’ve found that can help you make your personal Zoom screen look super professional and even branded for business or personal affairs are Canva and HiHello. While each platform has a paid component, creating a Zoom background screen for either application is fairly simple and free.

Here’s how:

Canva is the online design website that made would-be graphic designers out of so many people, especially social media types. It’s fairly user-friendly with lots of tutorials and templates, and the extremely useful capabilities of uploading your own logo and saving your brand colors.

Using Canva, first create your free account with your email. It functions better if you create an account, although you can play around with some of the tools without signing up. The fastest way from Point A to Point B here is to use the search box and search for “Zoom backgrounds.” You now can choose any one of their Zoom background templates, from galaxy to rainbows and unicorn to library books or conference rooms. Choose an inspirational quote if you’d like (but really, please don’t). Download the .jpg or .png, save it, and you can upload it to Zoom.

To create a branded Zoom background in Canva, it will take slightly more work. It was a pain in the butt for me, because I had this vision of a backdrop with my logo repeated, like you see as a backdrop at, you know, SXSW or the Grammys or something. Reach for the stars, right? OK, the issue with this was that I had to individually add, resize, and place each of the 9 logos I ended up with. I figured out the best way to size them uniformly (I resized one and copied/pasted, instead of adding the original size each time (maybe you’re thinking “Duh,” but it took me a few failed experiments to figure out that was the fastest way to do it).

Once you have your 9 loaded in the middle of the page, start moving them around to place them. I chose 9, because the guiding lines in Canva allow me to ensure I have placed them correctly, in the top left corner, middle left against the margin that pops up, and bottom left. Same scenario for the center row.

Magical guide lines pop up when you have the logo centered perfectly, so I did top, middle, and bottom like that, and repeated for the right hand margin. Then I flipped them, because they were
Showing up in my view on Zoom as backward. That may mean they are now backward to people on my call; I will need to test that out! Basically, Canva is easy to use, but perhaps my design aspirations made it tricky to figure out.

Good luck and God bless if you choose more than 9 logos to organize. Oh, and if you are REALLY smart, you will add one logo to a solid color or an austere, professionally appropriate photo background and call it a day, for the love of Mary. That would look cool and be easy.

HiHello is an app you can download to scan and keep business cards and create your own, free, handy dandy digital business card. It comes in the form of a scannable QR code you can share with anyone. Plus, you can make a Zoom background with it, which is super cool! It takes about five minutes to set up, truly! It works great!

The Zoom background has your name, the company name, and your position on one side and the QR code on the other. The QR code pulls up a photo, your name, title, phone number, and email address. It’s so nifty! And the process was super easy and intuitive. Now, If I took my logo page from Canva and made that the background for my HiHello virtual Zoom screen, I would be branded out the wazoo.

Remember there are technical requirements if you want to use HiHello on a Mac. For example, if you have a mac with a dual core processor, it requires a QUAD. However, on a PC, it was really simple.

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Business Entrepreneur

What freelancers need to know about new tax form 1099-NEC

(BUSINESS ENTREPRENEUR) There’s a new tax form for freelancers, but don’t hyperventilate. It’s not as bad as it sounds.

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Freelancers checking their numbers and writing in notebook to keep track of expenses.

Dear freelancers and workers of the gig economy: You can stop banging your head on your desk. Or your table at a café. Or any hard surface near your couch.

The words “new tax form” are terrible, horrible, no good words for anyone, let alone independent workers. In this case, the “new” form is really a resurrected old one that replaces the 1009-MISC you’ve been getting from clients who’ve paid you more than $600.

And that’s the most important thing you need to know. Make sure your clients have sent you the right form – 1099-NEC – by Feb. 1, 2021. NEC stands for nonemployee compensation.

Of course, there could be all sorts of exceptions and blah-di-blah that might apply to you. Look to Forbes.com for the gritty accounting details, including why this came about.

TL;DR: The Protecting Americans from Tax Hikes Act of 2015 (PATH Act) aims to fight tax fraud by closing the time between when independent contractors can file their returns (Jan. 31) and some employers’ deadlines for submitting their own tax forms to the government (sometimes as late as the end of March). That meant fraudsters could file tax returns and claim a refund before the IRS had time to match up the numbers.

Speaking of matching up numbers: Make sure the number in Box 1 on the 1099-NEC is the same number you have in your records. Paying taxes on money you didn’t earn is what experts call “not good.”

So… you are keeping those records as you collect payment, right? Just a tip: If you’ve been keeping track of invoices, payments, and business expenses on a spreadsheet, you might want to check out the free accounting software Wave.

The IRS is going to release more info about filing requirements later in the year, but it’s always a good idea (for freelancers especially) to get a head start on collecting and adding up the receipts.

You may even minimize your banging-head-on-the-table headaches in 2021.

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Business Entrepreneur

Here’s why you shouldn’t start a startup

(BUSINESS ENTREPRENEUR) Building your own startup and being your own boss sounds tempting, but be sure you make these considerations before starting out.

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Man at a whiteboard outlining his startup plan.

2020, a year for our generation that will most likely be marked in infamy for decades to come. At least I hope that this is the bottom of the barrel, because if there’s even further to go… Those fallout shelters are starting to look homey.

A lot of people, myself included, are looking for different options for new careers. Maybe it’s time to place some faith in those back-burner dreams that no one ever really thought would come to fruition. But there are some things about starting up a new business that we should all really keep in mind.

While you can find any number of lists to help you to get things going, here’s a short list that makes beginning a new business venture a monumental effort:

  • You need to have a unique idea with an impeccable execution. Ideas are a dime a dozen. But even the goods ones need the right business-minded person behind it to get things going for them.
  • Time, time, and more time. To get a startup to a point where it is sustainable and giving you back something that is worthwhile, takes years. Each of those years will take many decisions that you can only hope will pan out. There is no quick cash except for a lottery and you have to be extra lucky for those to get you anything. This whole idea will take years of your life away and it may end in failure no matter what you do.
  • You have to have the stamina. Most data will show you that startups fail 90% of the time. The majority of those are because people gave up on the idea. You have to push and keep pushing or you’ll never get there yourself. Losing determination is the death of any business venture.
  • Risk is a lifestyle. To get anywhere in life you have to risk something. Starting a business is all about risking your time and maybe your money to get a new life set up. If you can’t take risks for the future then you can’t move up in the business world.
  • Bad timing and/or a bad market. If you don’t have a sense for the market around you, which takes time and experience (or a lot of luck), you won’t make it. A keen business sense is absolutely necessary for you to succeed in a startup. Take some time and truly analyze yourself and your idea before trying something.
  • Adaptability is also a necessity. The business world can be changed at the drop of a hat, with absolutely no warning. Rolling with the punches is something you have to do or every little change is going to emotionally take a toll on you.
  • Lastly, not all of this depends upon your actions. If you start something that relies on investors, you’re likely going to get told “no” so many times that you’ll feel like it’s on repeat. Not everything is dependent upon your beliefs and whims. You need to be able to adjust to this and get people to see things from your point of view as well. But ultimately, it’s not all about you, it’s also about them.

These are just a few ways that starting a startup could stress you out. So, while the future could be bright, stay cautious and think twice before making any life changing decisions.

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