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Beginner Photography Tips to Make Your Brand Stand Out!

Meet the newest member of Bennis Inc and this week's blog author, Danielle! Click her photo to learn more about her passions and expertise related to photography.

Meet the newest member of Bennis Inc and this week’s blog author, Danielle! Click her photo to learn more about her passions and expertise related to photography.

All new business ventures, regardless of size or industry, grow from ideas and visual thinking. So essentially, a visual idea is the beginning of a startup company! It is imperative that you incorporate visual and photographic content when marketing a new business, especially in today’s growing world of technology. Having great photographs and images will be key in not only creating your visual brand, but making it stand out among your competitors!

Maybe you’re just getting started, or maybe you have a shoe string budget with which you feel like you can’t afford quality photography. It’s time to push these excuses aside and learn how to be your own photographer (fake it until you make it, right?) to ensure you begin creating a strong and professional brand from day one.

Take a look at these essential tips to get you started…

Build a stock image library of photos from areas around your business or hometown

Having access to quality, visual content when you’re trying to grow your business is key to creating a memorable and consistent brand. The first step is to start looking at your everyday surroundings as possible stock imagery. Get and capture photographs that will be visually beneficial for your business, over a long length of time. Create your image library by photographing landmarks and significant areas surrounding your business. You can also photograph objects that relate to your brand.

As a business owner you can choose to capture these images yourself or you can hire a freelance photographer to provide you with a stock image library. For a small investment of either your time or a professional’s skills, you can gain access to a ton of unique stock images that are both local and meaningful to your business. Best of all, you won’t have to worry about copyright issues like you do with images found online!

Take photos when you travel

Always have your camera handy with you when you are on the go. You never know when you will have a photographic opportunity. Even if you forget your camera one day and you see a terrific photo opportunity, remember to pull out your cell phone and take a quick snapshot. You never know when that photo might come in handy for a future blog post or Instagram update.

Capture photos of your usual workday

Another great way to continuously grow your visual content library is to take snapshots of moments and things throughout your typical work day. These photos can be as simple as a stack of pens or your laptop setup with your piping hot coffee. These types of photos are great for original content and will give your audience a real look into your daily life. After all, it all comes back to creating that “human element” as part of your brand.

Save time with minimal editing

A great tip to know when beginning to photograph for content is to always shoot with minimal editing in mind. A simple, but key factor when it comes to minimal editing is the less cropping the better, so try and be mindful of the “rule of thirds.” As you get more advanced, you can even begin to explore different types of lighting which can really help to cut down on the amount of editing needed to fix “bad” images. When it comes to lighting, there is a lot to understand but beginners can set the camera to an auto setting which should ensure proper lighting. More experienced photographers often prefer to carefully set their own lighting for each shot, but if you’re just getting started, use those auto settings until you learn the ropes!

Your photographs can be simple and still stand out

Believe it or not, you can take professional photographs with little to no fuss at all. Sometimes the simpler the image is, the bigger impact it will have. So don’t worry about making a big production out of finding the perfect background staged with a ton of props. Rather, take the time to plan some of your locations and pay attention to the smaller details, such as your shooting angle. The simplest things can be made to feel artistic and unique based upon how you photograph them. Dare to get a new view from up high or down low – you’ll be amazed as to how your world changes from this angle!

How do you use photography to build a unique brand and make it stand out? Share your ideas and experience by commenting below!

 
 

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Protecting Your Pitch: How to sell the value of your expertise

The first Monday of each month, I dust off a favorite post from the Bennis Inc Blog archives and give you another chance to enjoy the wit and wisdom that’s been shared. Enjoy this month’s treasure – and if it inspires you – be sure to share it with family and friends!


Protecting Your Pitch How to sell the value of your expertiseIn the line of consulting work, the pitching process is arguably the most important. Love it or hate it, for a business to survive, you must be good at pitching, pricing and packaging your ideas into an attractive bundle. But even after you spend hours crafting a proposal and researching the most innovative ideas to prove your value to potential clients – this is only half the battle. They could absolutely love you and your ideas, but what prevents them from simply taking your proposal and implementing it themselves? It’s an unfortunate scenario that happens time and time again in the consulting world. Some consultants have accepted this as a risk of this line of business. Others feel as though the clients who don’t do this outweigh and offset the ones who do. While I find both of these to be true, I do believe there are tactics consultants can incorporate to protect their pitch.

Don’t charge for a proposal. This may sound counter-intuitive when trying to protect your pitch, but I don’t believe in charging a potential client a fee just for you to create a proposal. If they choose not to work with you, this results in no tangible benefit for which they paid. Moreover, I think it immediately sets the tone that you’re likely to charge them for every itemized task and are stringent with your fees. Sure, there is always the risk that the time you put in to creating a proposal may never be recouped, but (good) business is about risk taking after all. It is foremost important to position yourself as a valuable asset they want as part of the team rather than an insecure and rigid score keeper. I truly believe that a pleasant and professional pitching process goes a long way in ultimately sealing a client. If they feel you’re taking advantage of them by imposing a fee for a proposal, they’re more likely to take advantage of you by incorporating your ideas themselves. Furthermore, they may feel that by paying for these ideas, they’ve gained ownership over them. EXTRA TIP: Place a larger emphasis on pre-qualifying your clients before you reach the step of creating a proposal.Try an initial meet and greet to get to know them and their business before assuming a proposal is something either of you are interested in. This step alone will save you hours of pitching to clients who don’t align with what you offer.

Make your expertise part of the package. When crafting a quality proposal, don’t undersell the value of your expertise as part of the packaged deal. Goals – and the tactics to reach these goals should comprise a large portion of the proposal, but don’t forget that your expertise in performing these tasks is ultimately what you’re being paid for. If you have a personal contact or connection that can make your strategy more effective, which is common in Public Relations, include this in the proposal. All of this helps to protect your pitch in that it sells you as part of the package. As much as tactics can be taken and implemented by someone else, your expertise cannot.

Focus on “Value Added.” Along with your expertise as a unique selling point to your pitch, your proposal should also communicate the important concept of “value added” to your potential client. The value of you implementing the proposed tactics is that it allows your client and his or her employees to continue focusing their time on doing what they do best. If their expertise is not in communications or business consulting, and it likely is not, their time is not best spent completing these tasks. There is a level of efficiency and quality that goes along with someone doing something they’re trained to do. If you can communicate this concept clearly with your client, you will show them that personally taking on the additional workload outlined in the proposal is not in their or their business’s best interest.

Provide goals and tactics, not a blueprint. You provide a proposal to give a client an outline of the work you can complete for them – not to provide them with a how-to guide to implement themselves. In your pitch you should list your work in such a way that they clearly understand the expected benefits of a given task, but not enough to cut you out of the process. Think of a list of ingredients on any food label. You know everything that went in to making the product good, but you don’t know in what amount or order each ingredient was used to achieve the desired results. This is not with the intention to be sneaky or unfair. Truly most clients would appreciate not having to read a 20+ page proposal with a painstaking step-by-step strategy. They want the big picture, the tangible benefits and to know you’re capable of getting this done. Sticking to this format will also shave hours off of your pitch writing time.

If you take nothing else from this advice, remember this key thought – Pitching to a potential client is your opportunity to prove that the value of your expertise in implementing your ideas is what they’re really paying for.

Know someone who is a consultant? I highly encourage you share this with them. Given my own failures and triumphs with the pitch writing process, I would have been ever grateful to have learned these tips in some way other than through trial and error. Cheers!

 
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Posted by on February 1, 2016 in Business & Success

 

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Life Lesson: Are You Satisfied or Merely Distracted?

Life Lesson Are You Satisfied or Merely Distracted

Thanks to technology and society telling us it’s normal and expected to be connected 24/7, we have found more ways than ever to live life distracted. We have become accustomed to consuming multiple forms of media at a time, so much so, that watching TV is often accompanied by surfing our phones for social media updates.

I am just as guilty as the rest of the world. I have caught myself checking my phone with one hand, answering an email with another hand and fooling myself into believe I’m still paying attention to the TV show playing in the background. During these moments in life, I feel productive, entertained and comfortable. But am I mistaking these feelings for happiness?

The question I pose today is this…amidst all of the distractions we use to take our attention off of feeling undesirable emotions like boredom, loneliness, doubt and sadness, are we skirting around the hard, but paramount task of seeking out true satisfaction in our lives?

A few weeks ago, I was listening to a thought-provoking lecture that cautioned us not to mistake satisfaction for distraction. By nature, we as humans have found countless ways to distract ourselves (i.e. procrastination) from the real task at hand, often because it’s more work. But we’re not fooling anyone. The repercussions of our distracted lives can be found all around us. How many “friends” do you have on Facebook versus how many friends you talk to (I mean real, meaningful conversations) on a weekly basis?

The blinking light of a social media update should not be valued higher than your family conversation around the dinner table. The distractions around us are tempting, and sometimes warranted, but for the most part they are futile attempts to fill a void that can only be filled by seeking true satisfaction – whatever that means to you.

The life lesson I want to share is this. We can continue down this slippery slope of distracting ourselves into believing we are satisfied in life, but we will always need to find more and better distractions to make us believe we are “happy.” Or we can start today by taking a closer look at our lives and the relationships that form our happiness. And the first step is to close our laptops during the evenings and weekends, turn off our phones when spending time with loved ones and seek satisfaction before distraction.

It’s a crazy, but simple notion – so simple that unless these two words were brought my attention in stark comparison, I might never have considered how satisfaction could be mistaken for distraction (and vice versa). It really makes me think about my intentions when I’m tempted to pick up my phone at dinner or check my email during family time. If I’m desiring the feeling of distraction, maybe there’s a void I need to fill first and foremost with true satisfaction that is far more lasting.

Take a constructive look at your own happiness. Would you say you are truly satisfied or merely distracted? If you feel compelled to share your insights, I’d love to hear your personal response to this deep question!

 
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Posted by on January 25, 2016 in Life

 

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If Your Business is on a Budget, Don’t Make This Deadly Mistake!

If Your Business is on a Budget, Don't Make This Deadly Mistake

During the winter months, especially here in Pennsylvania as we approach some of the coldest and darkest days, it’s natural to want to batten the hatches, pull the shades and slow everything down for hibernation.

This is the time of year when depression skyrockets and motivation plummets. It’s a dangerous combination for businesses who need to keep the fires burning to ensure these months are just as successful as the rest of the year.

When both profit and progress seem to be flowing about as fast a molasses in the winter, businesses tend to tighten their budgets and limit cash flow to only the most essential areas in order to survive the (hopefully short-lived) famine. In many instances, this is a smart and strategic reaction. But there is one deadly mistake businesses commonly make when slashing line items – and it often costs them far more in the long-run than what they stand to save.

In an effort to save money, completely halting your public relations or marketing efforts is as dangerous and counterproductive as shutting off your furnace in the dead of winter.

I’ve spoken with several businesses who have learned firsthand from this mistake. The impact is what one might compare to “cutting off your nose to spite your face.” Once you’ve shut down your public relations and marketing efforts, turning things back on again is not as easy as flipping and switch – and you most certainly won’t warm right back to room temperature without dishing out some major bucks to regain this energy.

As you consider whether or not your business needs to winterize its budget now or in the future, first consider these points. The most successful businesses know to keep their public relations and marketing efforts burning, even on a low temp, to ensure their pipes don’t freeze before they are ready to turn things back on full force.

You will risk being “out of sight and out of mind” of your customers.

If you pull all of your public relations, marketing and advertising efforts, you will quite literally go “radio silent” to your customers. Relying on them to remember your brand without any prompting (and while your competitors are surely taking this opportunity to encroach on your market share) is both dangerous and foolish.

You will forfeit any pricing or packages you may be locked into.

If you are working with a consultant or outside firm, you are likely signed into a contact that will honor its pricing until you decide to change something. If you choose to take even just a few months off, many contractors will warn you that their pricing may increase should you ever wish to re-up. And, I’ll let you in a little secret, it most always does!

It takes much more effort to start from zero than to speed things up.

Think of all the energy that is lost when a large and heavy train comes to a complete stop. Now think of all the energy it requires to get that same machine up and moving again. Even if you need to slow things down for a little but, this is a far more sensible option that putting the brakes on completely.

You may not be able to rehire the same talent/team you once had.

Finally, when you tell your team of communication experts that you no longer need their services for an undetermined amount of time, they are rightfully going to find work elsewhere to make up for this void. When you’re ready to start things up again, you cannot be sure that you will be able to have the same exact team (or any of them) available for your work. Worse yet, your competition may have scooped them up!

Are you pulling in the reigns on your business’s budget right now and struggling with whether or not to put a halt on your public relations and marketing efforts? Share how you are planning to overcome this obstacle without “freezing your pipes!”

 
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Posted by on January 18, 2016 in Business & Success

 

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Top 10 Blog Posts on Life and Entrepreneurship in 2015

Top 10 of the year (done in 3d)

I feel like I need to start by asking the obligatory question of “Where has the year gone?” But truthfully, I feel like it’s been quite a long year packed with great memories, exciting achievements and whole lot of interesting writing.

Before we close out 2015 and turn our calendars to the New Year, I wanted to take one last opportunity to revisit some of my favorite blog posts. We covered just about everything you could imagine including branding, communication, personality types, time management and of course my cat, Pinot.

Join me on this brief trip down memory lane with a list of the top 10 blog posts on life and entrepreneurship in 2015 from Bennis Inc. May 2016 be filled with just as much insight and inspiration!

How Do an Introvert and Extrovert Live Together in Peace?

Whether it’s your spouse, best friend or boss, co-existing with the opposite personality type brings a unique set of challenges. This blog explores my personal experience as an introvert living (and often working) with my husband who is an extrovert.

Read the original blog here.

How to Rebrand Your Business

This blog is the first post in a 5-part series that was inspired by my website redesign (check it out at www.bennisinc.com!) So often, businesses miss the signs that they are in need of rebranding or are overwhelmed by the task and don’t know where to begin. These posts provide a step-by-step guide to walk you through the process.

Read the original blog here.

The 4 Most Powerful Words You Can Ask Someone

In between my many articles focused on communications, public relations and marketing, I also like to insert posts that are philosophical and geared toward life in general. This is one of those posts…and one of my favorites from 2015. Find out what four words I’m talking about and why we should use them today.

Read the original blog here.

7 Ways to Use a Press Release Beyond Pitching to Media

I never like to see good content go to waste which is what inspired this particular blog post on repurposing a press release. Even if you don’t get a single media hit, you have the power to get the most out of this content with how you personally promote it across your communication channels.

Read the original blog here.

5 Tips for Running a Productive Business Meeting

I love efficiency and good time management which is why I often hate sitting in boring business meetings. This blog post received a ton of love from my readers who can relate! Take a look at how you can run a more productive business meeting in 2016.

Read the original blog here.

5 Lessons My Cat Has Taught Me About Entrepreneurship

Of course my cat, Pinot, had to make an appearance at least once in 2015, so this is her post. What I’ve learned by observing her actions are usually more “what not to do,” but she inspired me with some solid advice this year as well.

Read the original blog here.

How to Professionally Fire a Client

This was among the most read and shared Bennis Inc blog posts in 2015. Breaking off a bad relationship with a client is a hard and uncomfortable topic for many business owners. In this post I offer advice on how to identify these “must-go” clients and how to remain professional when showing them the door.

Read the original blog here.

Why Technology is Killing These 11 Essential Skills

So often we read about the wonderful advancements and achievements of technology, but it’s important to also stop and examine how technology may be making our life more difficult. In this blog post I challenge the “helpful” aspects of technology by pointing out 11 essential skills it is hindering in our society.

Read the original blog here.

6 Valuable Lessons I Learned from Working from Home

I am a passionate advocate for the virtual work environment, but I am also constantly learning how to balance and manage the unique challenges that come with working from home. This blog post takes a fresh look at the lessons I’ve learned specifically in 2015 about how to be efficient and effective when working from home.

Read the original blog here.

8 Reasons Why We Never Have Enough Free Time

This is the perfect post to end my top 10 list for 2015. As we hopefully get some rest over the holidays, we can all benefit from reflecting upon why we might feel like we never have enough free time. January tends to be among the most stressful and hectic months for many business owners. Prepare yourself for a calm and collected 2016 by learning about these time management pitfalls.

Read the original blog here.

Want to explore most blog posts from Stephanie Shirley and Bennis Inc? Be our guest! Click here to browse business and success, here to browse life and here to explore all the rest.

 
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Posted by on December 28, 2015 in Business & Success, Life, Wisdom

 

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Tips for Writing Better, Faster Blog Posts

Tips for Writing Better, Faster Blog Posts

Blogging is more than just a popular pastime, it’s becoming an increasingly important part of brand building and business development. Whether you’ve committed to a daily, weekly or monthly blog, regularly fueling its appetite with quality content can feel like a looming task on your to-do list.

So often we don’t stay consistent with publishing to a blog because we feel it’s too time consuming. Before you throw in the towel – and risk losing all the benefits of your blog – begin with these tips for writing better, faster blog posts. The easier and less time consuming this tasks becomes, the more likely you are to find a good routine and stick to it!

Let’s take a look…

Keep a running list of potential blog topics

It can be challenging when you know you need to write a blog post, but you simply don’t have any ideas come to mind. You may waste valuable minutes trying to come up with a topic that doesn’t motivate you to write and the result is a painful writing process that leaves you frustrated and drained. Overcome this hurdle by keeping a running list of potential blog topics. You never know when an idea will strike you, but it’s not likely to be during an ideal moment to sit down and write. Throw the topic into a word doc and then come back to it when you’re prepared to take on this task.

Save a folder of photos and quotes for inspiration

Inspiration comes in all shapes and forms. You don’t even need to have a particular topic in mind, but so long as a photo or quote sparks your creativity, it’s worth keeping in a folder for future use. Then, when you’re ready to write, browse through this folder and see what new ideas come to mind. I love pulling from quotes for inspiration. Most importantly, take a new spin on a quote to make the blog post original.

Start with the title and closing question

Staring at a blank word doc can be enough to signal anyone’s writer’s block. Once I open a new document, I immediately slap a headline up there and also write the closing question (you’ll see these at the end of every blog post I write). This gives me an immediate sense of productivity and also helps to set the tone of my blog.

Outline your sub headlines

Once you have a main headline, continue to outline the core pieces of your blog post with the sub headlines that shape the flow of your article. Many of my posts are lists of some sort, so I use this step to establish how long my list will be and what it will include. This helps me to visualize the full scope of the blog post and ensure I’m not missing any major components.

Leave your intro for last

You read that right. I’m suggesting you write everything else about your blog post then go back and do your introduction. This may seem backwards, but once you do it a few times you’ll see the major time-saving benefit. Once you have written all the other content within your article, you will have a better understanding of how to “preview” your main points in the introduction. Starting here cold will take you much more time to gather your thoughts, plus what you write may not even be relevant by the time you are done shaping the rest of the blog.

Write it all out, then proof read

For this particular technique of “speed writing a blog post,” you don’t want to take any more breaks than is necessary. I know I’m personally guilty of stopping after reach paragraph to proof read my work before moving it. This is a sneaky procrastination trick that we often don’t know we are doing. My rule of thumb for pumping out a quick blog post is to write everything out as it comes to mind and then switch to my editor’s hat and proof read the entire article at once. This is much better for efficiency and should also result in better overall editing.

Write several blog posts at once, when the mood is right

If you find yourself particularly inspired or with a good chunk of time to dive into writing, don’t stop with one blog post! Keep writing as many as you can. Once your writing muscle is warmed up, it’s a great opportunity to stock pile some blog posts for the future. Pay attention to when your creativity and quality of writing may start to wane and call it quits for the day. But push yourself a little further to write more than what you were planning, should you have the motivation.

Short and sweet works for everyone!

Finally and most importantly, avoid the pitfall of making writing a blog post into a far more daunting task than it needs to be. I, too, can get longwinded at times and before I know it I have wasted 2 hours on a blog post that should have only taken me 45 minutes to complete. The end result is a longer, but not necessarily better article. I actively try to get my thoughts out in a paragraph or two per sub headline. If I find I want to dig deeper into that particular topic, I note it as a potential blog post of its own in the future. Trust me, everyone will appreciate a short and sweet blog post that gets straight to the point!

Do you struggle to write quick and quality blog posts that don’t consume too much of your time? Share your challenges by commenting below and I’ll personally offer you an answer!

 
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Posted by on November 23, 2015 in Business & Success

 

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5 Tactics for Extending Your Customer Relationships

5 Tactics for Extending Your Customer RelationshipsAs a business owner, maintaining existing client relationships is a major part of your job. It’s far more efficient, convenient and profitable to keep current customers than it is to go out and acquire new ones. For this reason, you should always have a focus on how you can ensure your clients are happy and also keep an eye peeled for signs that they may be looking to decrease or terminate your work relationship in the near future.

Before this topic begins to make us all paranoid, there’s some good news! Even when a client starts showing signs that they may be a flight risk, there are certain tactics you can use to help prevent your relationship from heading in this direction. In fact, by personally using these five tactics I will soon discuss, I have been able to extend many client relationships far beyond what might have been expected should I have let them “have their way.” Let’s take a look at how these strategies may also work for you.

Establish the “minimum length of relationship” from the beginning

A long and fruitful client relationship begins with the very first contract. No matter your industry, you can likely relate to the fact that in order to start seeing results, it takes time. So often new clients will get frustrated and impatient with waiting for these results and take off before the real benefits begin to show.

When you first sign a client, be sure to set a minimum length of relationship to start. I often negotiate three months, or one quarter with all new clients. In reality, this should seem like a reasonable investment. Any client who can’t commit this long, likely isn’t going to stick around anyways. Now it’s on you to do the hard work to make sure you prove the value of your services before you’re up for renewal!

Set reoccurring phone or in-person meetings to stay a part of the team

Don’t fall victim to being “out of sight and out of mind.” As a contractor or freelancer, it’s easy to get left out of important business discussions because you are not in the office every day. I’ve found a lot of success avoiding this pitfall by scheduling reoccurring monthly phone calls or in-person meetings with clients simply to touch base and stay in-the-know. The more accessible you are, the more likely you will be included as part of the team.

Your work shouldn’t be its own silo; weave it into multiple parts of the business

Depending upon the services you offer, your work may be kept in a silo, separate from other business duties. Yes, it’s a good thing for each employee or contactor to have their respective role, but being completely separate makes you an easy limb to chop off should budgets get tight. Instead, weave your work and expertise into multiple areas of the business.

Foremost I offer communications services, but these also branch into project management, administrative and human resource roles when needed. For some clients, I’ve even played the role of Executive Assistant when the situation called for it. In these scenarios, I watched other employees come and go, while my relationship grew to take on more responsibilities. Be sure and showcase everything you can do!

Be a resource to many employees, not just the boss

Back to making yourself a part of the team and weaving your services into multiple parts of the business, you should also aim to work with many different employees beyond your main point of contact. When the business owner realizes the value you bring to more than just him/her, you will be more likely to enjoy a long and prosperous work relationship with that business.

Structure freelance or on-demand work as a monthly contract

Finally, there may still come the day when a great client will say they need to “cool down” your contact or walk away completely. I’ve learned that this is always worth one last negotiation. Should the client say “We can’t pay for your services this month, but maybe we’ll start up again in a month or two.” Remind them of your policy that once they exit a contract, they must re-enter a new contract in the future and you cannot hold their current pricing for them. The risk of paying more for you in the future, is often reason to keep you on board in some capacity.

Or if the client should say “Let’s go to on-demand services. I’ll just pay as I need you.” This is detrimental because it’s a loss of monthly income, but also because you may take on more work to compensate and then be unable to meet this client’s needs when they need you. Offer them a minimal monthly retainer that pays for a few hours of work each month with the option to add on, if needed. This guarantees you a little income and also guarantees the client you will be available to them when they need you the most.

Do you struggle with clients cutting you out or canceling contracts? Leave your specific questions in the comments below and I’ll weigh in with my advice!

 
 

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