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10 Things to Remember When Planning a Professional Event

corporate event planning

Throughout my career, I’ve played the role of “event planner” more times than I can count. Fundraisers, golf outings, press events, clay shoots, meet and greets, prayer breakfasts, networking mixers, seminars and conferences are just some of the various types of events I’ve helped to plan. For each one there’s been a different venue, audience, menu, setup and marketing strategy. It’s been a whirlwind!

This experience has helped me to create quite the “tool box” of tips and tricks for successful event planning that can only be gained from my own trial and error. Oh and there have been many errors! Now I have professional events down to a work of art. I can anticipate the unexpected and I come prepared to address every odd request you can imagine. To help you do the same, here are 10 things to always, always remember when planning a professional event.

1. Be overly specific, assume nothing

I have many real life examples of event planning follies where I assumed something simple – like there would be a chair at the registration table – only to be left scrambling at the last minute over silly details. I’ve since learned to assume nothing and specify everything. When I’m in the event planning role, I can’t afford to be torn away from more important tasks to handle these types of mishaps. I work closely with the venue to specify the essential details (without being condescending, of course). Even if I risk looking a little too Type A, it’s a small price to pay for a well-executed event and a happy client.

2. Don’t be literal with the headcount

While I advise to be very specific with the event details, I don’t advise to be specific with the headcount. Inevitably people who have RSVPed will not show up and others who did not RSVP will. It’s the ebb and flow of event planning and somehow it all works out. What I’ve learned is that so much money is wasted on overestimating headcount. Instead, I underestimate the guaranteed count by at least 5 (if not 10) people. At the event, the venue can always pull out a little more food (for which they will also charge you). And at least you know you are paying for exactly what’s being consumed, which can be a cost savings of a couple hundred dollars!

3. Anticipate people arriving early (and staying late)

When I’m running logistics for an event, I always arrive at least an hour in advance to set-up, troubleshoot and acclimate myself with the venue and staff. I also do this because I know that a handful of early birds will arrive a half hour early as well. I hate to be caught still setting up (though it would totally be understandable), so instead I beat them at their own game! I also anticipate another group staying past the end of the event to eat and chat until the staff starts vacuuming over their feet. This means I, too, also stay late to ensure a professionally executed event from start to finish.

4. Bring a “tool kit”

You will always have a need for scissors, tape, extra name tags and pens. I can’t emphasize enough how often this has saved me the time of having to ask the venue to search and bring these items to me and how it also helps me to look extra professional and prepared. Slip these items in your laptop bag, and even if you don’t need them, you’ll have the peace of mind that you’re one step ahead.

5. Be accessible

When planning an event, you will need to be accessible and on your feet to address any issues as they arise. Maybe it’s someone at registration who said they paid, but their name isn’t on the list. Or maybe a side dish needs refreshed at the buffet that a server hasn’t yet noticed. I’m all eyes, all ears – and always on my feet at events.

6. Call upon helping hands

In order to pull off tip #5 of always being accessible, you need a competent team of helpers to assist you with being in multiple places at once. When I’m putting out the big fires, I rely on others to manage the registration table and greet guests. What this also means is that I have to prepare easy to manage lists and clearly explain the process to my helpers to ensure they know what to do even when I’m not around.

7. Keep people comfortable

People with full plates and full glasses are happy people. For the most part, people won’t remember the venue or the color of the table linens, but they will remember if they were well fed. Don’t skimp on food or drink and make sure that it is out before guests arrive and is left out even after the event ends, in case people choose to mingle after hours. Also, be sure your menu matches your ticket price. If people are paying a couple hundred dollars to attend a fundraiser, don’t give them chips, pretzels and a cash bar. Show them a good time! I promise you, this is always money well spent.

8. Strategically time your (brief) remarks

Hosting an event and not taking a moment to address the crowd is a really wasted opportunity. You may not be the most confident public speaker, but you can at least put together a few sentences especially if it means promoting the purpose of the event. Timing is everything to ensure people are paying attention. Plan to take the mic (and do use a mic) about halfway through the event. This will catch both latecomers and early-departers. Your remarks also give the event closure. If people need to take off early, they can feel like they have at least stayed for the most important part of the event.

9. Take advantage of the opportunity to market your services or future events

Use your remarks and printed promotional materials to market your services or future events. Give people something (verbally and physically) to take away from the event. You’re footing the bill after all, the least you can do is gain some promotional value from it! If this is an annual event, have a date set for next year’s event and promote it. If the event is not annual, give people some other call to action like a special discount on services if they purchase that day. If nothing else, at least invite them to visit your website and connect with you on social media.

10. Remember, it’s not about you!

It’s your event, but it’s not really about you. It’s about your guests. They are the ones either paying to be there or offering themselves as your captive audience for a few hours. Respect their time and make each guest feel special by greeting them, even if only briefly. Also keep your guests in mind when selecting a venue and food choices. Some restaurant off the beaten path may by a stone’s throw from your home, but it’s a trek for your guests. And just because you like a menu of red meat and potatoes, be thoughtful about your guests who may prefer some variety.

To boil down this entire list of corporate event planning advice, I simply urge you to be hospitable and genuine. Put the extra thought into the details to make this a pleasant experience for your guests so that they remember you for hosting a fun event, not wasting their time. Both extremes leave a lasting impression and you have the power to choose the outcome!

What other things would you add to this list? Share your event experiences (good and bad) by commenting below!

 
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Posted by on July 14, 2014 in Life

 

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Are You Making this Deadly Marketing Mistake?

danger sign

As business owners, we’re faced with some tough decisions. In order to make ends meet we sometimes have to tighten our budget and cut out the non-essentials. What any experienced business owner will tell you is that there are certain areas of a budget that should never make their way to the chopping block – marketing being one of them.

One of the most deadly marketing mistakes you can make is to halt your efforts in an attempt to save money. Scores of great strategies have been pulled before they have begun to payoff. That’s right; you invest all this time and money into creating and implementing a marketing plan, but pull the plug before things really get going. While this may save you a few bucks right now, it will most certainly hurt your bottom line in the long run.

Here are four ways you can avoid making this deadly marketing mistake.

1. When times are tough, don’t cut your marketing.

Every business will experience its ups and downs, its busy seasons and off seasons and its times of feast and famine. One of the worst things you can do when times are tough is to cut out your marketing or public relations efforts. After you’ve spent months engaging your audience, to completely go silent would undo all of your work up until this point. Whether you can see it or not, they are there and they are listening.

Instead, you may need to narrow down your tactics to those with the greatest ROI to adhere to a tighter budget, but you should never hit the big, red stop button. After all, it’s your marketing, public relations and advertising efforts that are going to help pull in more business which is the one thing you desperately need during a dry spell.

2. Set reasonable expectations for results.

Another reason businesses panic and pull the plug on their marketing efforts is because they don’t think they’re getting results. This is a deadly mistake because in reality you likely are achieving results, they just might not be the silver bullet you were expecting.

Set reasonable expectations. Learn to embrace the necessary slow burn of business growth that directly applies to your marketing efforts. You should value the consistency and quality of your results, not the sheer speed and quantity.

3. Measure progress in all forms.

Progress is not always obvious. Be open to looking for it in unexpected places or for it to produce different results than what you might have anticipated.

For example, your Facebook posts may not be getting more then 2-3 likes, but your analytics show that several hundred people have seen the content. You can also see from your blog’s stats that 20+ people a day are being pushed to your blog from Facebook. Those are some valuable results! When you do your research you might find that you’re achieving a whole lot more than what Facebook likes could tell you alone. This is all the more reason to stay consistent with implementing your marketing tactics.

4. Repeat your winners.

Don’t be afraid of repetition. Again, don’t be afraid of repetition. Sure, we always want to be coming up with new ideas and strategies to catch our audience’s attention, but don’t shy away from repeating something you know works for you.

Advertising guru, David Ogilvy believed repetition was an essential part of growing your readership. He felt that you should repeat yourself up to five times to see the full benefits of your messaging. People don’t always catch things on the first pass (Can you name the product the last commercial you saw was trying to sell you?) and repetition is an essential way to ensure consistent and clear messaging.

The importance of repetition is all the more reason to maintain balance with your marketing and public relations tactics. If you started a monthly newsletter or a bi-weekly blog, your audience will come to expect to hear from you at these intervals. When a month or two goes by without you “touching base,” you will quickly fall out of sight and out of mind. Stay top of mind by staying consistent with both your messaging and your strategy – and avoid making this deadly mistake!

Where have you seen this deadly marketing mistake being made? Share your examples by commenting below!

 
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Posted by on June 30, 2014 in Business & Success

 

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The One Question Every Successful Entrepreneur Must Be Able to Answer

top three priorities

One of my favorite shows currently on TV right now is Shark Tank. It feeds my entrepreneurial spirit and ignites a lot of creative (and sometimes cooky) ideas that I could only wish to have the opportunity to present to this impressive audience of venture capitalists.

All that aside, the reason I really love watching this show is because of the pearls of wisdom these experienced entrepreneurs spout off that have inspired quite a few blog posts – this week being no exception. On an episode from a few weeks back, it was Barbara Corcoran who said “Never have I ever met a successful entrepreneur who is unable to answer this one question.”  The question?

“Tomorrow when you wake up and go into the office, what are your top three priorities?”

This question is deceivingly simple. Try answering it off the top of your head right now. When I tried to do the same, I knew I had the answers, but when put on the spot, I found it hard to quickly put these key priorities into succinct bullet points. This doesn’t mean I’m doomed to fail as an entrepreneur, but it did make me want to sit down and put some thought into my top three priorities right now. Should I ever “bump” into Barbara Corcoran, this would be my answer to her question:

1. Continue to build quality relationships with my existing clients

In the pursuit of new clients, I never want to take for granted the awesome ones I currently have. I’ve already put the effort into earning their business, building a relationship with them and becoming efficient at the tasks I do for them month after month. It is a valuable use of my time to keep these existing clients happy and on board because trying to replace them is far more costly.

2. Selectively target new clients

Once I devote the time to keeping my current clients engaged, I need to continually fill my pipeline with ideal prospective clients. I’m lucky to be in a position where I can be selective with the new clients I choose to take on. I know the size, industry and vision of companies I best serve and these are the ones in which I’ll devote my time to pursuing. Smaller clients or ones that don’t quite align with my services may still find me, and I’m happy to see how I can help, but they are not the ones that I will actively put my resources into pursuing.

3. Find ways to automate my tasks and become more efficient with my time

I’m a consultant and sole proprietor by design. This means I must carefully guard my time and find ways to be extremely efficient as I take on additional clients if I want to continue to enjoy the benefits of the 80/20 Principle. It is my goal to find ways to automate my tasks or become more efficient at completing them so that as I take on new clients, I’m not working more, I’m simply filling the bandwidth my efficiency has opened up.

Whatever your top three priorities are right now says a lot of about the current state of your business/career and your entrepreneurial style. Maybe they even point out some areas where you need to refocus. They should address your immediate needs, but also plan for future growth and strategic change. Having your top three priorities locked and loaded serves a purpose far greater than simply impressing someone who asks. They give you that laser focus each and every day that is at the core of every successful entrepreneur.

Are you able to easily answer this question? Share your personal top three priorities by commenting below!

 

 

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Are You Making the Biggest Social Media Mistake?

#fail

These days, everyone is on social media. But really though. There are fan pages for cats, Twitter profiles for cartoons and Instagram accounts devoted solely to food. It’s no wonder every business wants to also have a presence on these platforms because it’s where they can reach their targeted audience with interactive content that sparks discussion and builds brand loyalty.

With everyone diving in head first, this also provides a prime opportunity for a lot of mistakes. For the most part, these are minor errors or forgivable social infractions, but sometimes these mistakes can prove to be much worse – even deadly – for business. So what is the single biggest mistake businesses make with social media? It’s NOT having it be part of a bigger communications strategy.

The danger of a disconnected social media strategy

The most effective social media cannot be done in a vacuum. Nor can it be your only effort to communicate with your target audience. The danger is two-fold. First, you risk presenting a completely different voice on social media, one that does not resonate with the rest of your brand. Second, you turn off the power to all other means of communications that could help to amplify your social media efforts.

If you pique someone’s interest with a great Facebook post, only to send them to an outdated website that makes you look inexperienced or unprofessional, even the best social media efforts in the world won’t close the sale.

How to avoid this mistake

Luckily this is an easy problem to fix. It begins with identifying the missed communications opportunities outside of social media and paying special attention to the brand you want to create so that all efforts work in unison to achieve this end result. Knowing what to do is the easy part, but actually making the time to do it is where the problem most often lies. It can be overwhelming, especially to business owners who don’t consider themselves to be communications-savvy.

It’s good to keep in mind that outsourcing is always an option and the number of firms and consultants who offer these services are ever-growing. But proceed with caution. If you’re thinking about working with a person or company that only does social media, you may want to rethink this decision. It’s okay to be specialized or particularly experienced in a certain niche, but when it comes to your business communications, everything needs to flow together. The various ways in which you communicate with your target audience need to complement one another.

Instead look for a firm or consultant who offers multi-faceted communications strategies that go beyond just social media. You want someone who can also create content for your website, blog, e-newsletter and other promotional materials. This is the best way to ensure that the voice and messaging will stay consistent.

Steps you can take today

One. List your other current communication efforts. Do you have any? Maybe there’s a brochure or business card you hand out, but it’s badly outdated. Maybe you have a website that you push your targeted audience to visit, but it’s a static web page with cheesy clip art and bright fonts. Take a critical look at ALL the messages you’re sending out in various ways. How are people finding you and what is this saying about your business?

Two. Note the areas that need some TLC. So you have social media down to an art – after all, it is kind of fun. Now, turn your attention to the messaging on your website, blog, promotional materials and e-newsletters. How can they benefit from some of the modern messaging you’re putting out on social media? Create a vision for how they can better engage your audience, just like you’re doing on Facebook, Linkedin, Twitter, etc.

Three. Dedicate time in your schedule to tackle some of these tasks in order of priority. If you know you simply don’t have the time, allocate this work to an employee or hire a communications consultant to help you keep things moving forward. While you’ll need to invest in their time, if they allow you to keep doing what you do best while they improve your comprehensive communications strategy – that is a worthy investment!

Where have you seen the biggest social media mistake being made? Join in the discussion by commenting below!

 

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Why Your Business Needs a “Human Element”

Make your customer feel like you're talking directly to them.

Make your customer feel like you’re talking directly to them.

Renowned businessman and advertising executive, Fairfax M. Cone once said, “Good advertising is written from one person to another. When it is aimed at millions it rarely moves anyone.” I couldn’t agree more. One of the best ways to achieve this intimate level of communication with your audience is by incorporating a “human element” into the way your business interacts with the world.

Before we venture on, I want to briefly address what exactly defines a human element. Businesses are run by people and they serve people, still communication can lose this person-to-person aspect if we don’t actively seek it out. The result is a business that feels sterile and disconnected from its audience. The human element adds a personal touch that makes you feel accessible and relatable. It’s incorporating staff photos on your website, using I/We language on social media, signing newsletters with your name, not just your business’s tagline …and letting people know the story of how and why you started this business to begin with.

There are many ways to create the human element within your business and the “how” greatly depends upon your target audience and industry. This is a whole other blog post altogether (so stay tuned!). As we begin our initial discussion on this topic, I first want to develop the urgency of “why.” Why does your business need a human element? Here are four compelling reasons that aim to satisfy this burning question.

1. To develop a one-on-one relationship with your customers

You should want to incorporate the human element into your business as a means for creating a one-on-one relationship with your customers. Maybe you have hundreds, even thousands of customers; you can still create the feel of a personal relationship with each of them through strategic communications.

When customers feel like they know the owner of the business on a first name basis, even if this is just from your website’s About Page or the auto-signature on each of your monthly newsletters, it makes a difference. Customers will develop a sense of loyalty to your business and feel valued. What this really boils down to is that they’re more likely to continue to do business with you in the long term and recommend their network to do business with you as well.

2. To make yourself relatable

In the eyes of your customers, the human element makes you, well…human. This is a good thing. Being human, even when that comes with flaws or weaknesses, provides common and familiar ground with which your customers can relate.

Take for example, a business owner who shares his personal story about how his company was created. Maybe this was the result of another business failure or maybe he came close to bankruptcy a time or two. Don’t mistake this for weakness; it is actually a powerful way to relate to your customers. It breaks down the misconceptions that the owner is some suit in a window office with his feet propped up on the desk. Instead, your customers will see you as a smart, hardworking businessman who has struggled for success just like everyone else. And most importantly, someone they want to do business with.

3. To make yourself accessible

Making yourself relatable and making yourself accessible are two different things – both can be accomplished by incorporating the human element into your business communication strategy. You want to also be accessible so that your customers feel like they can easily reach out to you with any question or concern and get a quick response from a real person.

Think of two vastly different customer service experiences you have had with two different businesses, one good and one bad. What made the bad one so terrible? If you’re like me, my bad experience was the result of a not receiving a timely response, or no response at all and being fed a prefabricated answer that didn’t really solve my problem. Even worse are businesses that don’t list an email or telephone number and direct you to a stagnant FAQ page that does even less to make you feel like your issue is being personally addressed. The human element makes you and your business feel accessible to your customers which goes a long way in keeping them happy!

4. To create a consistent voice

Lately, I’ve heard the term “human element” used when referring to a business’s social media. This is a powerful tool that can help you to create a consistent voice when communicating with your fans and followers. Being “human” with your audience also helps to create a distinct voice that further defines your brand.

There are endless examples of businesses that struggle to find their voice on their website, marketing materials and social media. They’re all over the place. One voice will be very formal and professional, while the other voice will be conversational. Customers like consistency because it indicates reliability. Get personal with the way you communicate and interact with your social media contacts. Engage them in discussion as a way to talk with them – not just at them. The human element requires to you get real with your audience which is a refreshing change from the old, stuffy way of communicating and will help give your brand further reach.

Why is the human element so important in your business? Share your thoughts in the comments below!

 
 

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4 Ways to Make More Money Without Raising Your Rates

full piggy bank

No matter the size or industry, there is one thing every business has in common – the goal to make more money. Once you’ve established yourself in the market and increased the demand for your goods or services, it’s common sense to slightly increase your prices as well. However, too many years of this gradual price-creep can eventually price you out of the market and lose you clients.

It’s important that all business owners realize that simply slapping on a higher price tag isn’t the only way to make more money. Instead, think strategically and put the effort into learning how you can better serve your existing customers. In doing so, you will see that there are at least four different ways to make more money without raising your rates.

1. Restructure existing contracts

At least once a year, you should sit down with each of your existing clients and review their current contracts. Foremost, you should be doing this to be sure that your services are meeting their changing needs. Additionally, this provides an opportunity to present new ways in which you can help them.

Restructuring your clients’ existing contracts by taking out the services that aren’t producing a good ROI and replacing them with new services that will gives you the ability to bundle these services with a new price tag. In the end, the client is a new and more effective package of services and you are getting a new contract that reflects your current pricing.

2. Turn one-time projects into monthly retainers

In my line of business, I have both ongoing (retainer) projects and one-time projects. I have a found a lot of value in getting to work with a client on a small, fixed-timeline project, growing a relationship with them and then suggesting ways in which I can help them on an ongoing basis.

For example, I might be hired to re-write the content on a client’s website. Seeing that this new website also has a blog section, I might suggest my monthly blog writing services to help take this workload off their hands. I’ve now created a reoccurring stream of income that has the potential to be much greater than that initial project—all without having to raise the price of my website copywriting services.

3. Work with vendors who offer a referral program

This is such a smart, but commonly untapped, revenue stream. I work with many different vendors including professional graphic design artists, printers, website designers and marketing consultants. I’ve also developed a referral program with many of these vendors.

In some cases, I receive a percentage of the total cost of services they complete for a client and in other cases it’s a one-time referral fee. No matter the structure, this is an extra source of income that isn’t billed to the client at all. It’s the value or working with vendors you know and trust and have the best interest for each of your businesses in mind.

4. Become more efficient with your time to increase your bandwidth

The reward for good work is more work, right? Well, the more efficient you can become at completing the work for your existing clients, the more bandwidth you will have to take on additional work – and earn additional income.

I’ve found that after working with any client for a quarter, I can complete the tasks quicker and with better quality. There’s a steep learning curve for sure, but once you get past that you will also become more efficient with your tasks. Whether you choose to use this extra bandwidth to take on more clients or to simply schedule in some relaxation, there is value in this time!

Bonus tip: Over deliver with quality and customer service. One of the best and most basic ways to ensure a steady pipeline of leads is to inspire your current clients to make word of mouth recommendations for your services to their network. Before you spend your time attending business mixers and networking meetings, first put the effort into making sure your current clients are fully satisfied with your work. This will make them want to talk about you to everyone they know. And not much is more powerful than a glowing word of mouth referral to a second-degree connection!

Have you used any of these ways to make more money without raising your rates? Join in the discussion by commenting below!

 

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The Value of Diversifying Your Customers and Clients

diversify-your-clients

No matter the industry, it is always beneficial to diversify your portfolio of customers and clients. Simply put, it prevents you from placing all your eggs in one basket. It also helps to keep your day to day work interesting, not monotonous.

Here are six types of clients of which every business should have at least one. Depending upon the types of services you offer, your model might best serve just one or two of these categories. However, the pros and cons associated with each present some compelling reasons as to why you should strive to diversify and spread out your clients. In the long run it will help you balance your ups and downs and achieve a valuable book of business.  Let’s take a look…

The longstanding clients

Pros: These clients have been with you since the start. At this point, you intimately understand their business needs and personal preferences. You’ve become very efficient with completing their work after earning your way through the learning curve. In addition to being good clients, they have also likely become good friends.

Cons: Being with you from the start often means you’ve also “grandfathered” them into some pretty nice pricing. Unless the scope of their work dramatically changed, you likely haven’t had the opportune time to raise your rates with them. The level of comfort and closeness within your relationship can prevent you from making firm business decisions because you value their loyalty and don’t want to do anything to damage it– even if it’s the best decision for you.

The new clients

Pros: In contrast to the longstanding clients, new clients offer you the ability to quote your prices at today’s rate – no grandfathering needed. They are also a breath of fresh air that embrace the suggestion of new tactics and strategies.

Cons: There’s definitely a learning curve with taking on a new client which is why you don’t want ALL your clients to be new at the same time. It can take awhile before the time you’re putting into this account will finally start being equal to your hourly rate. There’s also the uncertainty of “Do they like me?” or “Are they going to stick around?” that’s more certain with longstanding clients.

The big clients

Pros: Big clients (usually) mean big paychecks. They have the budget to hire you for a variety of services that allow you to showcase all that you are capable of and deliver full results.

Cons: If you should have a big client fall off, it can be devastating to your bottom line. While it’s a goal for many business owners to have fewer, but bigger clients, this will most certainly lead you to placing too many eggs in one basket. They can also be very demanding and because they’re paying you a pretty penny can expect unreasonable amounts of your attention.

The small clients

Pros: Small clients (ideally) demand less time and attention because they have smaller accounts. Their services are well scoped to adhere to their budget and as a result, it’s easier to quantify the services that are delivering the best results.

Cons: The limited scope of service can also limit the full extent of the results you achieve. While ideally small clients take up less of your time, I haven’t always found that to be the case. This can be where you find business owners who are very “hands-on” to the point of micromanaging. Their limited budget may also lead to unrealistic expectations for what you can achieve on for them.

The challenging clients

Pros: We all benefit from a good challenge from time to time. These are the clients who keep you on your toes, ask a lot of questions and may even change their own mind 20+ times before a project is complete. Alas, there is a pro in here and it’s that these clients help make you a better worker for all your other clients. They also set the standard for “difficult client” that make all others seem like angels.

Cons: These are pretty obvious. Challenging clients can waste a lot of your time and even cost you money. They can also make you feel undervalued and underappreciated. If they move from “challenging” to “disrespectful” it’s time to let them go!

The easy-going clients

Pros: Compared to the challenging clients, these clients are a welcome relief. Sometimes it’s nice to finish a project and just have someone say “It looks great!” They’re also open to new ideas and don’t question the expertise for which they hired you.

Cons: Sometimes you wonder whether these clients even really have an interest in the work you’re doing for them, because they seem to just say yes to everything. How can you not have at least one question or suggestion to bring to the table? This leaves all the planning and strategizing up to you with little constructive feedback.

Do you have a diverse portfolio of clients? What steps do you take to achieve this? Share your thoughts by commenting below!

 

 

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