by Lauren Stewart

The fervent rush to pivot business onto Zoom and other videoconferencing platforms comes with its own risks and opportunities. As a service professional, you may be relieved and encouraged by the capabilities of providing services through videoconferencing. It may even be dawning on you that this could be a viable business plan going forward. Following the mad rush to get online, now that you’re settling into this new normal, some care and forethought can protect you in the moment and position you for the future.

For the present, I encourage you to take some time to learn the capabilities and limitations of the videoconferencing platform you are using and carefully consider the security and privacy risks inherent in your particular use. Are you hoping to reach a large audience? Are you holding group classes where attendees can interact? Do your meetings involve sensitive content such as private health or other confidential information? Do children participate in your meetings? Answers to these questions will inform the amount of risk you may want to mitigate in using videoconferencing for your services. After a terrible nervous breakdown and chronic fatigue, there was an urgent need for sedatives. I stopped at Ambien. Probably, the effect is cumulative, but in the first 3 days there was a strong drowsiness and loss of strength, then the condition began to come back to normal – indeed, I became much calmer, began to sleep normally and not to break down because small things and most importantly-without all sorts of side effects.

For the future, a few stitches in time can position your videoconferencing activity as a profitable, long-term business plan with a curated library of original content and a “distance audience” to feed it to.

Finally, take care in utilizing various payment platforms in your business. And as always, remember that free ain’t free, especially on the Internet.

For the present: mitigate risks inherent in your video-conferencing use

First, while Zoom has become the de facto videoconferencing platform for COVID-19, I encourage you to do a little research before continuing to use Zoom for your business. The free, cheap, or newest option often comes with risks, and the deficiencies of Zoom are fast becoming apparent, particularly in the areas of privacy and security. These deficiencies are hardly unique to Zoom, so while I’m using it as the exemplar here, know that the same or similar issues may be lurking in other videoconferencing platforms. This is not to tell you to stop using Zoom. Your customers are apt to be on Zoom right now. But do proceed with caution and consider the following steps to mitigate the risks inherent in your particular use.

Check for updates often

As Zoom and other platforms scramble to meet demand and challenges of scale, they are releasing patches and updates frequently. Such improvements and fixes have no effect if you don’t install and run them. So check for software updates regularly and reset your password with some frequency.

Password protect your meetings

Password protect your meetings and do not set meetings to public or share links to an unrestricted, publicly available location like a webpage or social media post. Further, do not use Zoom’s default, personal meeting ID. Instead, create a unique meeting ID for each video-conference or limit reusing meeting IDs for an extended time to limit over-sharing.

While efficient, your meeting access information can be unintentionally leaked or intentionally spread farther than you might want. It’s understandable to want your meeting link to go far and wide, but there is a risk of attracting unwanted participants (see the FBI Warming re “Zoom-bombing”). Consider the intermediate solution of distributing information about your video-conference via a pre-event email or webpage where your audience can sign up and receive the meeting link individually. This has the later benefit of helping you build your distance audience, discussed below.

Protect your audience during the meeting

During your meeting, use Zoom features to control and limit attendees’ access to each other. Think about the content and type of attendees involved in your meeting and what could go wrong—don’t wait for Godwin’s Law to run amuck in your meeting.

Before your meeting starts, before you log on, use the waiting room feature in Zoom to park attendees who have logged on so that they can’t interact with each other until you are there.

During your meeting, if your service benefits from group participation, it is helpful to understand the various host tools that let you control your audience (e.g. muting and messaging controls). Whether it’s minor disruptions or extreme eruptions, you can do things like curb an attendee who just doesn’t mute their line or eject an unwanted attendee who hijacks your meeting all together. Another helpful feature lets you lock down your Zoom meeting, not letting anyone else join once all expected attendees are present. If group participation isn’t important to your meeting, consider using host-only screen sharing in addition to other audience controls.

Take extra care if your teleconferencing includes children or sensitive information sharing. Sadly, children have been involved in Zoom-bombing incidents and, as we take to the Internet to solve our communication crisis, trolls, hackers, and copycats are sure to inflict more harm before this is over. If personal or confidential information may be shared during your meeting, or if a simple dress code or “code of conduct” might be helpful (you know who you are shirtless guys), consider ways to discuss this in an email beforehand, remind attendees at the start of the meeting, or even distribute a written legal release or waiver. Take a moment to consider the “what ifs” beforehand rather than learning the hard way from a bad experience. Consult an attorney if you’re concerned about what’s appropriate for your particular use.

For the future: build with forethought

If you’re seeing results and feeling encouraged that there may be viable longer-term business in using videoconferencing, I encourage you to take a few more steps now to curate your content and capture your audience for later. Furthermore, in the scramble to get online you may understandably have made mistakes that raise legal risks or may simply hamper your ability to re-use your videoconferencing content. And as a practical matter, the more professional your content is, the more value you might derive from it in the future.

Scrub your content

Take the example of a distance yoga class: you’ve planned the poses, invited your customers, made a music playlist, and set the video-conference to record the class. Do you have your attendees’ permission to record and redistribute their “name and likeness”? Do you have a license to use and redistribute your music playlist? While you might get away with it in the moment, if you want to reuse your recording, the risk of a lawsuit will grow. At a minimum, do let your attendees know that you’re recording the class (shirtless guy may regret it if he didn’t know) and skip the music for now. If you have bigger plans for your recording, get written publicity releases and use only licensed music.

Capture your audience

If you use a pre-meeting sign up solution mentioned above, your videoconferencing activity could garner you a customer list to market to in the future. By taking the extra step to collect contact information from your attendees you can grow a distance audience. This is far more useful than simply posting a public link and letting folks in without a record. Use email marketing services such as MailChimp and Constant Contact. They are affordable and have built in tools to help you comply with spam and other consumer protection laws.

A note about Venmo and payment

How are you getting paid? It doesn’t matter if you call it a donation, understand that Venmo is not intended for business transactions. It is meant only for “payments between friends and people who know and trust one another.” Again in that rush to get online, Venmo may have been the path of least resistance. But using Venmo for business is potentially high risk. Transactions are not secured, and you can lose payments. Not only is it a violation of Venmo’s terms, but Venmo itself warns against using the platform for business transactions.

Get a Venmo business account, link PayPal Checkout to Venmo (hint: PayPal owns Venmo), or consider other digital wallet services with business solutions such as as Zelle, ApplePay, or Google Pay. The reality is that whether you’re using a digital-wallet service or accepting credit and debit cards, free ain’t free. The safer bet is to find out which payment platforms your customers use and sign up for a business account. The fees for a digital-wallet service will be similar to the fees for a credit or debit processor, so explore options that serve your customers and your business.

Above all: stay safe

Service professionals were hit hard by the pandemic, but were smart to move online swiftly. While you’re home and when you have a moment to dig in, make it a goal to mitigate the risks of doing business on a videoconferencing platform. Go further and position your videoconferencing business for future success. Remember that free ain’t free and privacy and security risks are inherent in everything you do online. If you’re unsure about what you should be doing, consult with an attorney sooner rather than later.