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Contractors and Freelancers: Tips for Crafting a Fair and Appealing Proposal

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!


Tips for Crafting a Fair and Appealing Proposal

When you take the entrepreneurial leap and venture out on your own as a contractor or freelancer, one of the biggest challenges is creating a competitive and consistent pricing model you can stick to. It’s a real test of self-confidence to put a rate on your hours and truly believe you are worth this much. But it’s imperative to running a successful and sustainable business!

I have previously written on topics related to pricing services (like how to price for efficiency or tips for being smart and fair). However, even if “the price is right,” a subpar proposal can jeopardize your chances of getting a signed contract. How you package your proposal gives businesses a sense of your professionalism. It’s also an important opportunity to properly scope your work and protect your pricing.

As you might anticipate, I have passionate advice to share on this topic. This has come from my own trial and (sometimes critical) error, so take note! Here are six components that help to make up a fair and appealing proposal.

Account for any task that will require your time

When you create your proposal, you want to be as specific and all-inclusive as you can be with the services you will perform. My rule of thumb is to include any task that will require a reasonable amount of your time.

So often as contractors, we forget about the time and effort we put into things like doing research, attending meetings, answering emails and jumping on phone calls for clients. This doesn’t mean you necessarily need to charge more for these “expected” tasks, but it’s worth showcasing everything that goes into your relationship with your client so they understand the full value of the work you perform.

Quantify your deliverables

Simply saying “…will post to social media accounts” doesn’t put into perspective the tangible work that will be performed. Your client may worry about what they will actually get for the money. Be overly clear – there’s no reason to be vague with your efforts! A better version is, “…will post 6 times per week to Facebook, 3 times per day to Twitter and 4 times per week to Linkedin.”

I also prefer to use language like “up to 3 rounds of edits” because this protects you from getting stuck with a difficult client who requests that you redo your work from scratch 8+ time while still providing you with the flexibility to not have to deliver 3 rounds of edits, if they are not needed.

If you don’t define it, you can’t defend it. Should a project exceed its scope, you want to reserve the right to say that it is outside the terms of the proposal and is subject to an additional cost.

Organize services by goals

Showing your client you are an organized and detail-oriented professional begins with your proposal. Help them quickly grasp the value of what they will receive by organizing your services by the goal they aim to achieve. This will help to paint the bigger picture of how each service is strategically designed to work together and will also make your deliverables clear and direct. For clients who came to you without really knowing their goals, this added feature of your proposal will help them to feel secure under your direction (i.e. you’ll look like you have your stuff together).

Include an hourly rate for miscellaneous services

It’s natural for a project to exceed its scope once you’re signed into a contract and dig into the tasks. For example, your client may want five more web pages designed or would now like to add a weekly blog. These items will require more of your time and you need to get paid for this.

So long as you properly quantified your deliverables (see previous section we just discussed), you should have no problem responding to your client with “That sounds like a great idea! Let me get you a quote for that additional work.”

In an effort to appear both professional and transparent, I often include a line item in my proposals that note that miscellaneous writing and communication services can be completed at the rate of $X per hour. This gives clients a heads up for your normal hourly rate and reminds them that work outside the scope of this proposal is subject to additional cost.

Offer a discount for long-term commitments

For contracts that intend to be on a reoccurring basis (i.e. they have the same repeated deliverables each month with no obvious end date), I structure the pricing of my proposal to encourage clients to sign into a long-term commitment in exchange for a price break. Why? Contractors and freelancers love residual paychecks and clients love to feel like they’re getting a deal!

I suggest having three different price points. The most expensive is month-to-month. The added value here is the client’s complete flexibility to get out of a contract with minimal commitment. The next tier is per quarter. Finally, there is the annual contract pricing which is the best deal. I allow clients to still pay the breakdown each month (for cash flow sake), but they are committed to the length of the contract.

Bonus tip: I also include wording in the contract to allow for the client to adjust or increase services at any time, so long as the minimum contract price remains the same. This gives the client flexibility to add and remove services should their goals change over the course of a long-term contract, or should they wish to increase services (always a welcome change).

Set an expiration date

Finally, I have learned to include an “expiration date” on my proposals (usually 30 days from the date issued) to protect my pricing. I’ve experienced some clients go completely radio silent after receiving a proposal and then come back 4+ months later ready to engage. I can’t anticipate what other clients I may take on in the future and how my pricing may need to change to accommodate my bandwidth. The proposal expiration date allows me the right to issue a new proposal after 30 days has passed and change my pricing as I see fit. Every business must be mindful of supply and demand and how this impacts pricing; for contractors and freelancers, this is your hourly rate.

Additionally, an expiration date should give clients a nudge of encouragement to make a decision within 30 days and lock in your pricing and services while they are favorable and available. I’ve preached about how “a no is as good as a yes.” You want to receive a response to your proposal, even if it’s a no, so you can move forward….or move on.

What other questions do you have for crafting a fair and appealing proposal? Ask and I’ll answer!

 

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How to Fix America’s Broke and Broken Healthcare System (Guest Blog by Kent Anthony)

The following post comes to us from Kent Anthony, president of Anthony Insurance, who writes this article based upon his 40 years of experience in the insurance industry.


broken glassI am a small business owner and employer. My expertise is in the Property/Casualty Insurance field, but, I am also licensed in Life and Health Insurance. Not a week goes by that I don’t get a call from someone that asks for a good Health Insurance plan that is affordable. Sounds simple, right? What if that elusive question has no answer? What do I tell people who trust me and need my help? Who has the answers? Government? Private Industry?

I read a recent Pew Research study that indicated 60% of Americans said that the government has a responsibility to ensure that every resident of the United States has health care. That means to me that the majority of Americans feel it is a “right” to have the coverage. It also means, I think, that they feel that private industry is ripping people off by not giving them what they want – free, unlimited coverage.

Reality check, people: Our founding fathers set up a system of checks and balances that requires compromise in order to get laws passed. What is “broke” is that there seems to be no such thing as any type of compromise today. If it is a Democratic plan, the Republicans hate it and vice versa. To complicate things further, factions within each party make compromise impossible as they all have to have it their own way. Obamacare is a perfect example. Mitt Romney, a republican who ran for President, essentially set up the same program as Governor of the State of Massachusetts. If Mitt had been elected, I am firmly convinced that the Democrats would have been against his health care plan on political “principal” alone. National organizations, such as AARP, the AMA, Drug Companies and all of the affiliated Hospital organizations, unions of all types, you name it… force the political process to grind to a halt when they exercise their influences. They all want it their own way.

Second reality check: This stuff isn’t free. I am amazed by how many people honestly think a magic wand can be waived and that we can just pass the bills off to the “rich people.” Maybe the rich people are tired of the “jam it to the rich,” class warfare or socialistic approach to their wallets. They have tremendous political influence. Are they ready to allow themselves to pay more?

Last reality check: Obamacare was designed to fail. Whether you think it is a good or bad program, there simply isn’t any funding to pay for it. It was designed to get something in place and worry about who and how it would be paid for later. Private industry was promised reimbursement by the federal government for their losses for the first 3 years if they participated, knowing that the worst health risks would be signing up right away. The last statistic I read is that they have only been reimbursed 12.3% of what they are owed! No wonder they are bailing out of the program.

What are “fair” answers?

Compromise has to be obtained for a lasting solution. Everyone has to participate; no opt outs. All Americans have to be enrolled and pay something. Insurance, whether it is car, home, business is about spread of risk. The healthy young, the poor, the rich…everyone has to pitch in to pay. The Heritage Foundation calls it “individual responsibility.” By having people pay something we may be able to end the cycle of entitlement. We can’t have people thinking everything is “free.” It isn’t. Actuarial tables exist that show what people should pay. Subsidize disadvantaged groups if necessary, but make them pay something.

Allow the health system the legal ability to negotiate costs of drugs, hospitalization, etc. We have cost control right now in Pennsylvania for auto, medical billings and workers compensation payments. Prior to those controls, the billings were totally out of control. This has to be in place or any system will spiral out of control. I have read that doing this will lower costs 30-60%. We have to make premiums affordable and save taxpayers on Medicare programs.

Finally, I would love the healthcare industry to be mostly privatized. We have seen how government gets too tied up in politics, crippling the system. I have to point to the inadequacies, bureaucracy and cost overruns of Medicare to make a simple point: Is Government really able to run anything the way the American people need it done? Allow free and open competition, with cost controls, and you will see a system that innovates and provides incentives to be better, rather than bloated bureaucracies that are too subject to politics to provide the services that the American people want and deserve.

What has been your personal experience with health care? Do you have an opinion on how we can improve things? Share your ideas by leaving a comment!

Kent AnthonyAbout the Author: Kent Anthony is president of Anthony Insurance, an independent insurance agency headquartered in Lewisberry, Pennsylvania. Kent has more than 40 years of experience working in the insurance industry, specializing in both personal and business insurance. Learn more about Anthony Insurance by visiting them at www.anthonyinsuranceinc.com.

 

 

 

 
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Posted by on July 24, 2017 in Guest Blogger, Life

 

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7 Mistakes that Push Away New Business

7 Mistakes that Push Away New Business

When you’re fortunate to have new business come knocking at your door, it’s still far from a done deal. Winning over a client takes time, patience and strategy. In my industry, things always begin with an initial client phone call or an in-person meeting. This casual, first meeting is the opportunity for both parties to feel each other out. Do our visions and values align? Do we share realistic expectations for what can be accomplished with the given budget and time frame? Most importantly, is there chemistry? No, nothing romantic, just a good synergy that will help create a productive working relationship.

Even if all of these things appear to be on target, there are still quite a few ways in which I can push away this new business, if I’m not careful. While the ability to read a client and build a strong connection from the start isn’t something you can necessarily teach, there are a few obvious mistakes you should avoid when trying to win over a new client. Save yourself some future regret but taking note of the next seven items on this list!

  1. Being unresponsive

The first mistake you can make is to be anything but highly responsive to your prospective client. This is the first impression you make. If they call you to learn more about your services, respond to them same day. Even if you’re not able to connect by phone, the least you can do is email them to set up a time for a future phone call or meeting. Carry this level of responsiveness into every phase of working with this client. Chronically late responses are a red flag to the client that you may not be the easiest person work with.

  1. Acting like you have all the answers

In your first client meeting, don’t come in there like you have all the answers. You don’t. You’re meeting this client for the first time and you likely know little about the industry and nothing about their business (more than a website and social media can tell you). I know in my case, people call me in because there are serious internal problems taking place. This is something you can’t know simply by Googling them. Come ready to listen, take notes and ask questions.

  1. Lacking examples of your insight and experiences

While you don’t want to come in acting like you know everything about the client’s particular business, you do want to walk in ready to prove your knowledge and expertise. Offer plenty of examples of past client success stories that relate to the services you may provide to this new client. Real-world examples are not only powerful, they are memorable. Additionally, be prepared to offer some examples of new ideas you have, tailored to the client’s needs. Make them feel like you’re offering fresh solutions and not something canned that you provide to every client.

  1. Pushing a client toward a final decision in your first meeting

Let the first meeting be a no-pressure zone. If you do a good job selling yourself, there is no need to pressure a new client into making a final decision as to whether they want to work with you right then and there. In fact, it’s likely going to be in your favor to have them sleep on the ideas you presented and to get even more excited about them! Don’t be so desperate to close the deal that you end up closing the door on yourself.

  1. Leaving the first meeting with no action plan

Just because you’re not going to pressure the new client into a final decision doesn’t mean you can’t have a clear path for the next steps you will take toward that final decision. You need to leave the meeting with an action plan in place. If possible, leave with the ball in your court. That means it’s on you to get the client a proposal or follow-up with additional information to help them make a decision. This gives you the power to reach out to them on your terms, rather than waiting to hear back from the client.

  1. Not following-up

This loops back to mistake number one and the need to be responsive. Just as it’s important to be responsive, it’s equally important to initiate a response. Give the client some space after your first meeting and after you’ve provided them with a proposal and an outline of next steps. Then, about one week later (or if they specified how much time they need), follow-up! Keep it short and sincere. Ask them if they have any additional questions you can answer. Or if a new idea has come to you, share that with them – along with your enthusiasm for working with them soon. These techniques enable you to stay in touch without nagging them.

  1. Charging a new client for your business development time

Another mistake that pushes away new business is charging for things like your first consultation meeting, putting together a proposal or any other initial communications. If you’re properly vetting your leads, you should be closing just about every new client meeting you take. Your time spent in business development stands to yield far more profit in the long-run than the couple hundred dollars you may make charging your client for every interaction. Furthermore, the practice of nickel and diming a client is sure to make them question your business practices and possibly scare them off altogether. Do your homework, qualify your leads and then invest that initial time at no cost, knowing you have a great shot at making it back ten-fold!

Have you made any of these same mistakes and found that it pushed away new business? Or can you think of something else that is missing from this list? Share your ideas by leaving a comment below!

 

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Book Smart vs. Street Smart: What I’ve Learned about PR Outside the Classroom

Qualified specialist

While I was earning my degrees in public relations and communication from Penn State University, I was already putting these skills into practice for some of my first clients. It’s amazing to look back and realize that real businesses put their trust in a young student who had really just “book smart” PR skills, and little to no real-life application. What’s even more amazing, is some of these very first clients continue to work with me to this day.

Now, I have matched and well exceed the length of that college education with “street smart” PR experience. Over the last six years, I continue to place a high value on forever educating myself on the latest trends and techniques in the public relations field. This just happens to come in a different form than a brick-and-mortar classroom. From networking groups and industry associations, to simply staying up to date on the news, it takes dedication and a hunger to learn, not just degrees upon degrees, to fine tune your PR skills.

Here are the key public relations skills I’ve gained since leaving the classroom and entering the real world, and I would consider all of these to be critical to the success of my PR consulting business!

Prospecting and Qualifying Clients

Early in my business, I would take on pretty much any client who came my way. I kind of had to. I have no idea how to prospect or qualify these contacts to ensure they would be a good fit for my business. This wasn’t something I was taught in my PR classes. I learned how to develop goals and tactics for clients, once I had them, but I wasn’t taught the important early steps like first matching a client’s needs with my services.

I’ve become very “street smart” with qualifying leads. I don’t immediately commit to a meeting or even a phone call until I’ve done a bit of homework and asked some essential questions. This has saved me a lot of billable work hours, and has afforded me a few more afternoon naps.

Growing Long-Term Relationships

Another valuable skill not found in textbooks is the ability to turn one-time projects into quarterly or annual retainers. This has become my bread and butter. Just about every single client that has started off with a small or finite project (website content, monthly blogs, media training session) has come back to then sign on with an ongoing contract worth sometimes 10x more per month than that first contract. The key to setting yourself up for residual business with a client is handling that initial project, no matter how small, with the same passion and dedication you would handle your biggest annual retainer. Often a client is testing you to see if you’re a good fit for a long-term relationship. Don’t fail this test!

Effectively Managing Payments

In the first half of 2017 alone, I’ve billed 25+ clients, many on a monthly or quarterly basis. That’s a lot of invoices to manage! My (oddly reluctant) switch to using QuickBooks couldn’t have come at a better time. Rather than relying on a spreadsheet, or worse, a post-it note on my computer, I diligently log everything into QuickBooks. Invoicing is still a process I must make time to do, but it’s a much more streamlined one. I can see what clients owe me money at any time and how many days has passed since issuing the invoice. My husband jokes I could be a bounty hunter in my next life. And to my tax attorney, you’re welcome in advance!

Monetizing “Scope Creep”

This skill ties back to “growing long-term relationships.” It’s a good thing my clients often come to me for more work! However, it can go south when these clients don’t realize the additional work requires additional time and needs to be billed as such. Fresh out of college, I lacked the business savvy to monetize the “scope creep” of a project. I would bill it as “good will” and do the work without earning an extra cent. I still believe in some good will favors, but I only have a certain amount of good will to pour into any given client.

Rather, I am quick to show my interest in taking on this additional work for a client and let them know upfront that I would be happy to give them a proposal for that additional work. This softly reminds them that the work they’re asking to have completed is outside their current contact. I can do it, but for a fee. I have not once had a bad reaction. Clients often respond “Oh of course, I want to pay you for your additional work.” I’m so glad I’m not still losing money on all that good will I was throwing around!

Knowing When to Let Go

Knowing when to cut ties with a client that is no longer a good fit for your business was never covered in any of my PR textbooks, that’s for sure! This is a skill I am still learning along that way, and unfortunately it still remains a pretty steep learning curve. Because of my ability to prospect and qualify clients, I have reduced the need to let a client go, but it has and still will happen from time to time.

What I’ve learned is, make it about you, not them. Don’t focus on their shortcomings, as tempting as it may be, but rather focus on why your business isn’t in a position to best serve them. Be upfront, keep it short and do it early! Those are my pearls of wisdom.

Having Confidence in a Unique Vision

Lastly, the ability to believe in yourself and not compare your journey against someone else’s is something I 100% had to learn outside of the classroom. This applies to both business and life. I am passionate about being a PR consultant. I don’t want a big firm with lots of employees and overhead. I want the complete freedom and flexibility to take on all of my own clients, team up with power partners when I need it, or run a completely lean operation when I don’t. I want to take unlimited vacation days and hit the gym at 2 in the afternoon, if I want!

I like that no client or colleague owns my time completely. I have a unique business model to which many cannot relate. It’s taken time for me to confidently say “I’m a professional public relations consultant” without feeling the need to hide behind a fictitious and irrelevant title like “CEO” or “Principal” to make it sound like a run a big firm. After all, I advocate for my clients to be transparent and genuine; it’s important I am too.

In your career, how would you compare your book smarts to your street smarts? Which do you value more? Share your thoughts by leaving a comment!

 
 

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How to Give Customers What They Need, Not What They Want

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!


How to Give Customers What They Need, Not What They WantWhether you refer to them as clients, customers or accounts, your experience working with any of these groups has likely presented you with the tough decision to either give a business what they want or to give them what they really need.

If you are lucky, these two areas overlap and you look like a hero as you deliver favorable results to your smiling clients. All is right in the world!

But sooner or later, after enough years in the business and after working with enough people, you will find yourself stuck between a rock and a hard place as you deal with clients who bring you ideas that you know are not going to help them achieve their goals.

Henry Ford alludes to this conflict in his quote, “If I had asked my customers what they wanted, they would have said a faster horse.” Often, customers are too close to their own business to see the bigger picture of what it really needs to get to the next level. They will ask for a bandage to fix a gaping wound, when really the underlying problem – and its solution – is much deeper.

So how do you gracefully persuade customers to accept your recommendations for what they need when this differs from what they want? Let’s take a look at five steps that will get you headed in the right direction.

Be kind, but honest when sharing your opinion and expertise

There is never a need to be rude or condescending when informing clients that you do not believe their ideas will achieve the results they desire. Remember, they have sought out your expertise because they want your input. Strive to build a relationship based upon kindness and honesty so that you are able to openly share your opinion and they are well received by your clients. The more your clients trust you and the more your track record of advice has panned out in their favor, the more likely they are to listen to your recommendations in the future.

Offer real examples backing up why something may not be in their best interest

Some clients will want to see proof as to why their idea is not good for their business. Do your research and offer real examples or statistics of other businesses that have used a similar idea or strategy only to have it yield less than desirable results. Another method is to back up your own ideas with research and examples. Don’t just tell your clients, show them why you and many others have found your idea to be of greater benefit.

Give them (only good) options from which they may choose

Give your clients a sense of control and involvement by presenting them with options from which they may choose. The key is to give them only options that will help achieve the same overarching goal. By controlling the options presented, you can help steer your clients toward only good decisions, whether they know it or not.

Get them excited about these options!

Your clients may come to you with a “bad” idea because another business did it (likely in a different industry, with different goals and a different budget) and it looked cool so now they want to do it too. They’re excited about it and for that reason alone it’s attractive. Use this “shiny object syndrome” to your benefit by turning your “better” options into other, shinier objects that catch their eye. Your excitement for these options will get them excited as well. Best of all, they should love that these ideas are new and different from what another business has already done. They will get to be among the first!

Offer praise and encouragement (even if it was your idea)

Finally, step off your soapbox, get down from your high horse and take a back seat to receiving the glory when your ideas deliver the results you’ve promised to your clients. All the credit you could want will make its way to you in the form of a nice paycheck. Until then, be a cheerleader for your client and offer praise and encouragement for their smart decisions that have helped them to achieve their goal.

How have you had to delicately steer your customers toward what they need, and not just what they want? Share your personal experience by commenting below!

 
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Posted by on June 5, 2017 in Business & Success

 

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Why Didn’t My Press Release Get Picked Up?

Upset disappointed young businessman sitting with hands on head

Whether we PR professionals want to come to terms with it or not, the media is not our mouthpiece that will print exactly what we want, when we want it. They are the ultimate gatekeepers who determine the extent of media exposure that will be granted to us or our clients. The sheer volume of press releases that cross their desk each and every day ensures that only a fraction will receive review, and an even fewer number will be published in some capacity.

But don’t despair! Rarely is an ignored press release a direct reflection on your business or your media relations skills. Rather it could be any number of possible circumstances. Take a look:

It wasn’t really news.

The hard truth is that you’re likely to think everything your organization does is newsworthy because, well, it involves you. It can sometimes require taking a step back and role playing a reporter to determine whether or not something is worthy of media attention. Just because it’s not a good fit for the media, doesn’t mean you can’t promote it in other ways. Utilize your website, blog, social media, and newsletter to tell your story.

It was overly promotional.

Be sure to learn the best practices of writing a press release. Your headline can make or break your chances of getting picked-up. If you start off overly promotional, with a heavy focus on your business or brand, this is a huge red flag to a reporter that this isn’t a helpful “news hint,” it’s a PR tactic. As much as a client may want to see their name in the title, explain to them that this isn’t the best media-bait.

You’ve used this angle, again and again.

Is your strategy to, every month, announce the new businesses to whom you’ve sold services or goods? The first time you do this is the best chance you’ll have at gaining media attention. Every press release after that is beating a dead horse, in the eyes of the media. Reserve this angle for a truly noteworthy client, or present your new client information in a unique way. It’s easy for the media to spot a template press release which will quickly get you tossed in the “no” file.

It got stuck in spam.

There are major benefits to using an email platform like Mail Chimp or Constant Contact to send out your press releases. However, they can increase your chances of getting you sent to a spam folder. I’ve had my own clients’ emails skip my inbox and head straight for the spam folder, even after I marked previous messages from the same sender as “not spam.” The bottom line is to track your analytics, as these email platforms allow you to do. If it seems like a low percentage of contacts are opening your email, it may be due to their spam filters.

It was poorly written.

Another hard truth is that your press release may been poorly written to a point that your media contacts couldn’t see the value in the information you were sharing. I again reference the best practices of press releases to ensure you have the greatest advantage of getting picked up. You need to write to the media’s preference, not your own. Learn to embrace AP style!

You relied solely on a “Wire” for distribution.

You are likely familiar with PR wire services such as PRWeb, PR Newswire, and Business Wire. I have yet to have a client truly benefit from any pick-ups received from such services. I believe the value lies in personal contact, not some syndication service. Even if you’re hitting a list of several hundred media contacts, you are far more able to personalize your messaging and track their engagement from traditional email. Don’t waste your time or money!

You gave up too soon.

Finally, and most importantly, you may have just given up too soon. I have yet to receive a single complaint from a member of the media for sending out the same press release twice, each with a unique headline. Sometimes you hit them on a busy news day when they just don’t have the capacity to cover your story. A few days later might be the perfect timing for when they need a story like yours. Try and try and again – but two times is the perfect number. Anything more than that could work against you.

Most importantly, don’t drive yourself crazy over-analyzing the reasons your press release may have been overlooked – and don’t stop trying! Tomorrow is another news day.

Can you empathize with this experience? Join in the conversation by leaving a comment.

 

 
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Posted by on May 15, 2017 in Business & Success, Life

 

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