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Op/Ed

How to spot an ethics problem in your family business

(OPINION) Will your family business be able to carry on your legacy, or fade away into a manipulated version of the original mission? The answer has everything to do with ethics.

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Private businesses are the backbone of the American Dream. Locally owned enterprises offer great alternatives for people who feel a little uneasy about handing over their hard-earned cash to faceless mega-corporations. The beneficial effect of small, privately owned businesses on their local economies is well known. Entrepreneurs lower wealth inequality in their communities, create opportunities for employment, and often become fixtures of the lives of their neighbors’ lives.

Yet, despite the myriad of ways that privately owned businesses can do good, family owned organizations can sometimes lose their way. Sometimes this is caused by the lack of structure and oversight that comes with a large corporation, and other times it comes from a lack of cohesion as different generations become involved with the business.

If you’re wondered whether your business family tree is creating a bit more shade than shelter, Nick Di Loreto and Rob Lachenauer of the Harvard Business Review have identified a few things that you can look out for:

1. Ensure that your family narrative is passed down.

Your business is more likely to stay true to its founding mission if all of its different generations understand why and how the business has faced challenges (and embraced opportunity) in the past.

2. Avoid “sterilizing” your brand by being too professional.

There’s nothing wrong with investing in your business as it scales, but try not to chase “professional” polish too far. If you are trying too hard to emulate the big guys, you might lose the authentic personality that has made you successful.

3. Remember that success is about more than money.

If the purpose of your family business is profit only, you’ll find the priorities of your organization shifting rapidly. If your family seeks to succeed only because they’d like to show off their new wealth or success to their neighbors—they’re actually setting the business up for failure.

It is critical to gauge whether you’re headed toward a sound legacy or a slow decline. Most suggestions will boil down to this crucial point: If you let outsiders determine what the optimal performance metrics are or success of your business is, you’re losing your ability to lead, develop an authentic brand, and focus on the priorities that can help your business thrive for generations to come.

AprilJo Murphy is a Staff Writer at The American Genius and holds a PhD in English and Creative Writing from the University of North Texas. She is a writer, editor, and sometimes teacher based in Austin, TX who enjoys getting outdoors with her handsome dog, Roan.

Op/Ed

A guide on how to nail your next video presentation

(EDITORIAL) While the tools themselves tend to be user-friendly, preparing an online video presentation requires some extra steps you need to be aware of.

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Pretty much everyone who can work from home is working from home now, to stop the spread of COVID-19. It’s a good thing, but may take some getting used to. The learning curve can be steep. Working from home means using new tools and expanding their tech experience to include video calls or a video presentation.

Fear of public speaking is already a common anxiety. Throw in being forced to use new technology to create a video presentation, and the challenge grows. Never fear, though, because just like with any other type of presentation, following best practices and consulting helpful tips will make your presentation go more smoothly.

First, as with any presentation, the twin pillars of success are preparation and practice. Over-prepare everything, from your research to your outline, notes, slides, speech, and–very crucial–your technology and your team. Here are several more video presentation tips we’ve rounded up to ease your pain.

Tech prep tips:

  • Familiarize yourself with your video conferencing tool before the presentation. Most companies will have a mandatory tool they use. Popular options are Zoom, Skype, or Google Hangouts, but there are other options, too, WebEx, Join.me, GoToMeeting, or Zoho Meetings.
  • Make sure your audience or team is familiar with the technology tools, too, by sending out download/log on steps in advance of the meeting. Send the instructions out twice if possible.
  • Keep the visual aspects clean and straightforward. No Death By Power Point, please. You can keep your speech and/or notes on your desk during the actual presentation, so avoid overloading your slides (if using slides at all). Participants will want some documented key points, but save the supporting details for the spoken aspect of the presentation.
  • In an ideal world, you’ll have some help, a team member to serve as a moderator, recording the presentation and taking charge of the participants’ options. The “Mute All” button, for example, is a presenter’s best friend.

Setting the scene:

  • Find a quiet room, one that will stay quiet throughout the presentation. Ideally, you’ll have a door that locks (with TVs, kids, partners, and pets on the other side).
  • Check the lighting before the actual presentation begins. Harsh overhead lights cast a ghoulish light, while sunlight or otherwise bright backlights make you difficult to see. Do a practice run with a friend or colleague to make sure your lighting works.
  • Choose a clean, simple backdrop and verify that nothing questionable shows up. While a bookshelf may serve as a nice backdrop, try not to have the Kama Sutra or Lady Chatterly’s Lover prominently displayed. The same rule goes for background art–if you wouldn’t put it up in your actual office, then it doesn’t belong in a work video.
  • Better yet, if you’re using Zoom, you can choose a custom backdrop to avoid any overlooked, embarrassing personal objects in the frame.

Presentation day checklist:

  • Practice! Whether you do this the day before or the day of, you need to practice your presentation. Some prefer the mirror, others a real, live, accommodating person, still others a sofa full of stuffed animals. Whatever works for you, make sure you practice. It matters.
  • Wear something you feel powerful in. If you feel you look professional, you will be that much more confident when presenting.
  • Lock that door if at all possible. If you can’t, make sure other household residents know you’re giving a presentation.
  • Close out all unnecessary browser windows. Emails popping up in the corner of your screen are super distracting, and you have zero control over their content. I once was in a training where the presenter hadn’t closed his email, and a coworker emailed him complaining about the clients–to whom he was presenting. The email popped up on the screen for a second or two before he could close it. Disaster!
  • I said it before, but am repeating this, because it’s important. Double check that the participants are muted. The background noise of several people logging in is excruciating and wastes time.
  • Begin the meeting with a quick overview of the agenda. Participants need to know when and how they can ask questions.
  • Start the meeting on time. After the agenda, dive into the goals of the presentation and then the body of the presentation itself. We have to assume the participants are grown up and professional enough to call in on time. If they miss a point or two, they will have to figure it out. Plus, starting punctually lets your audience know you are aware and respectful of their time.
  • Similarly, finish on time. If you cannot answer all the questions during the presentation, assure them you’ll answer them afterward.
  • Let participants know you’ll follow up and how. Tell them how to reach you with questions or additional information.
  • Follow up as promised!

Shifting gears from an office environment to a home office takes some adjusting. It can be tricky, as shown by Poor Jennifer and others. Adding video conference tools into the mix is not everyone’s cup of tea. However, with some preparation, practice, and consideration of the above tips, we can all ace our video presentations. Break a leg!

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Op/Ed

Governors fail renters miserably, a 90-day rent freeze is the only option now

Independent contractors whose only sin is renting instead of owning, are facing evictions even as Governors put tiny bandaids on the situation. A 90-day freeze is the nation’s only option to avoid mass migrations or spikes in homelessness.

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New York Governor, Andrew Cuomo announced Friday the state would observe a 90-day moratorium on commercial and residential evictions to give residents and businesses a break after so many have been ordered to halt operations during the COVID-19 global pandemic.

Various states are debating moratoriums on mortgage payments, and for those that aren’t, banks are frequently tweeting that forbearance options are available and reminding property owners of the allure of current refinancing rates.

Several states are announcing similar moratoriums on evictions, but in some states it’s a ruse.

For example, Texas Governor Greg Abbott issued an emergency order to suspend all residential evictions (barring criminal activity) through April 19th. But what the press releases don’t include is this is business as usual. Not only can evictions still be filed for April rent, many counties in Texas accept filings and set court dates around the 19th already. The only relief this ruse of a suspension offers is people being evicted for failure to pay in March.

Other states are renter-friendly and a renter can be months late – in Texas, landlords can issue a 24-hour notice to vacate on the 4th and file for eviction on the 5th, get a hearing roughly two weeks later, and an immediate order for the renter to vacate the property. Many other states are also fast to evict like Texas.

One renter opined, “Yeah sure, once evicted in April, I’ll just take my zero thousand dollars and put a rent and pet deposit down on a new place, buy packing supplies, and then hire expensive movers to take me to my new imaginary home that doesn’t exist because you can’t rent ANYWHERE if you’ve been evicted here [in central Texas].”

Meanwhile, landlords, especially multi-family properties, are able to refinance their holdings at historically low interest rates or negotiate forbearance options on their loans. This is welcome good news for landlords that own one to four units and rely on rents as their primary income. If they can all hold off payments for 90 days, the hit isn’t as devastating, plus they don’t have to turn those units at a cost.

In the meantime, national relief efforts have stalled. Senators are battling over the stimulus package (Phase 3 has failed to pass as expected today) as their political war wages on. Americans hold out hope that three weeks after being announced, a few cash money dollars might still eventually make it their way.

If you’ve spent any time on Facebook or Twitter, you’ve probably seen petitions in your state demanding a rent freeze, and you might have rolled your eyes. At first, I did too, because I secretly love the beauty of capitalism and typically balk at government intervention into much of anything.

But take a moment to think about a 90-day rent freeze.

This isn’t about empathy, it’s about an imbalance in the marketplace where some are favored over others and our government is picking winners and losers. It’s about business and the shortsightedness of this situation, particularly the willingness to get rid of renters, carrying the cost of a makeready and marketing and staff to refill those units which will be wildly difficult with so many new evictions on peoples’ records.

We spoke to several multi-family property management companies in Texas, and universally there is no plan to suspend rents owed, waive late fees that keep accumulating, or halt evictions.

One landlord told us that for his two properties, he is asking people to pay rent as they can, but as most of his tenants are freelancers, he says it’s unlikely, but he’d “rather keep them in their homes and eventually collect rent, as opposed to coordinate a makeready in this environment, not to mention the fact that no one wants to move to a new place right now when they’re told to shelter in place.”

That takes us to today in politics. Let’s say the Senate passes the wildly expensive relief bill and businesses can make payroll, and families get some money. That’s great. But what about the millions of independent contractors in America? Freelancers, Realtors, stylists, and millions more didn’t lose a traditional job, they’re not on payroll and they don’t have staff on payroll (therefore don’t qualify for most disaster assistance) – many just lost everything with no promise of a future income, tossed into a situation they have no control over.

Many of these folks are renters. And they’re screwed. Why is multi-family the only sector of the economy protected right now? They’ll get funds to make payroll, they’ll be able to skip paying their loans for a few months, but there is not a consensus in the industry that they should extend that grace to option-less people they rent to.

Some will say that putting a 90-day halt on evictions helps, but at the end of June, those people owe 3 months worth of rent or they’ll be immediately evicted. Some believe putting off the inevitable at least keeps these people off the streets. Local news is outlining resources, including motel-vouchers for the newly evicted.

How condescending, insensitive, heartless, and insulting to American renters whose only sin was renting instead of owning.

Right now, President Trump appears to be in the mood to empower governors, so governors must step up and order 90-day suspension of all rent and accumulating rent fees – landlords can’t be the only exempt entities in the nation.

Multi-family property managers will eventually get funds to cover operations and along with landlords, most will be able to take advantage of refinance and/or forbearance options, and while some states have attempted eviction freezes, nothing short of a 90-day suspension of rent (including removing all potential predatory late fees and penalties), both residential and commercial, will help the millions in America who will still be facing eviction at the end of the existing moratoriums.

We MUST take action. Local petitions are floating around, so sign and share them.

But the most powerful thing you can do right now is to send this story to your local representative – you can enter your address here and get the names, Twitter accounts, and Facebook Pages of every politician that represents you down to the local level.

The only way renters (especially independent contractors) will be treated like the rest of the nation is for people like you to speak up – tweet this and tag every one of your representatives. Then do the same tomorrow. And the next day. And the next. And don’t stop until change has been made.

Otherwise, landlords will enjoy a mass migration of family evictees come May 1st, while politicians can scramble to address spikes in homeless populations nationwide.

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Op/Ed

COVID-19: How to cope in your new home workplace (and keep it clean)

(EDITORIAL) Having a clean workspace is important while working from home, If you have to work remotely because of COVID-19, here are some tips.

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As a freelancer who has worked at home since about 2012, I know how hard it is to work out of your home. I have it even harder in some ways, because I live in an efficiency. My workspace is also my living room, kitchen, dining room and bedroom. If you’re trying to work from home during the pandemic, you may not feel as productive as normal. These are troubling times, so it’s understandable. Give yourself a break. Here are some things that I’ve learned to help maintain some semblance of normalcy without an office outside my home.

Keep distance between home and work

When work invades your home, it’s hard to have a good work-life balance. Get into a routine, preferably the same one you had when you went to work. Get your coffee and breakfast. Dress for work, maybe not as much as you might if you were going into the office. Brush your hair. Tell yourself you’re starting work. Wipe down your workspace with cleaning wipes before you start. Take breaks during the day. Eat lunch away from your workspace. When you’re done with work for the day, close the door to your office, either literally or figuratively.

Declutter your workspace

Seriously, you’ll work better when your desk (or kitchen table or wherever you’re working) is clean. Harvard Business Review makes a good case for keeping your workspace clean. Don’t think that you’re going to spend a day cleaning and be ready to work the next day. If you haven’t decluttered in a while, you may need to tackle the jobs one at a time.

First, get your desk cleaned off. If your employee expects you to work from home, you need to be productive. Take 10 to 15 minutes to deal with the clutter on your desk or workspace. Start the day out with a clear space. At the end of the day, clean up again. Wipe your desk down with Clorox wipes. Use this as your mental commute. Make a list of what you need to start on the next day. Leave work at work, even though you’re home.

Take the tortoise approach to organizing. You can’t completely undo days of clutter in just a few minutes. Figure out which places are the priority. Cleaning off your kitchen counter can immediately make your home feel tidier. Tackle those chores in 10 to 15 spurts. Do what helps you work. For me, I need to have the floor vacuumed and swept. I take 20 to 30 minutes before I sit down to work and do some clean-up. When my dishes are done before I start work, it’s easier to get lunch ready and get back to work quickly.

Don’t just veg out in the evening. Spend 30 minutes cleaning up and wiping down surfaces. You’ll be less distracted the next day when you can go into your bathroom and not feel as if you need to clean up. Do laundry and other chores in the evening to leave your day free to work.

Dealing with cats

My cats constantly walk on my laptop. They would sleep on it if I let them. Instead of closing it every time I get up, I place an upside-down laundry basket on my laptop when I’m just going to be gone for a few minutes. I also make a point to play with them every couple of hours. I put a basket on my desk for my cat to be close to me without being on top of me when I work. Beyond that, they’re just annoying sometimes. Even when it’s not cold and flu season, I wipe down my desk with cleaning wipes because my cats are a mess.

I don’t have young children, so I’m not even going to try and offer any help there. All I can say is that we’re all making sacrifices during this pandemic. Your job may have to understand that your kids are home with you. Your kids may have to entertain themselves for a while. Try to find something to laugh at each day. Even though we’re social distancing and sheltering in place, find ways to connect with your loved ones. Just don’t forget to clean all surfaces with Clorox wipes. Wash your hands.

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