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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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Parenthood: Adjusting to the Ever-Changing “New Normal”

On August 4, 2012, my definition of family changed. Newly married, my family became me, my husband and one particularly ornery cat. We worked to re-establish our daily routines as we learned each other’s habits and quirks. Our staggered steps turned into a beautiful dance and eventually I couldn’t remember what life was like before it was “us.” This was a precious, but fleeting moment in our lives as my definition of family soon changed…again.

On May 11, 2013, I held my baby boy in my arms for the first time. For most of the world, nothing had really changed. But for me, nothing would ever be the same. I mean that truly in all aspects of life. I’m not too proud to admit that parenthood was (and is) like being stripped of everything normal and familiar and launched into a new world where all the skills I had relied upon to be successful up until this point became completely irrelevant. Those first few months, I felt just as lost and overwhelmed as a newborn – oh the irony in that!

This new, little family struggled to again establish our beautiful dance around one another. Just when we overcame one hurdle (yay, he’s sleeping through the night), another popped up in its place (what child cuts fourth teeth at once). With every milestone, we established a “new normal.” Date nights turned into Friday evenings spent at the park, romantic dinners were brought home in a takeout box and bedtime was rarely after 8:30pm – for anyone in the house.

As a creature of habit, I loved every routine we have had as a family – because it was familiar and it was ours. It was never too long until we again had to pivot into a new normal. Travel schedules, illnesses, moving into a new home and changing seasons all brought about necessary change to which we adjusted.

And another big adjustment is right around the corner…

In no more than a few weeks (I’d like to think a few days), we will welcome another bundle of joy into our home and our routine. Our new normal will shift again…substantially. I waver between moments of excitement for this change in our lives and moments where I question our sanity for opting into another momentous challenge. Our family’s current routine is nice. It’s safe and it’s predictable. We have established a pretty beautiful dance – yes, a dance that includes meltdowns, potty training and comprise, but a beautiful dance indeed.

Luckily life gives us a nine months heads up that such a change is about to happen. Not many other circumstances in life afford us such preparation, nor do they promise such joy. As I struggle to fit as much as I can into every day leading up to the birth of our second son, I have found that life has a wonderful, and at times, frustrating way of slowing us down to absorb what we might otherwise miss.

The past few weekends, our little family has enjoyed more undivided time together than I can recall in recent history. I captured a picture that will forever define our current normal – as it is right now, but will never be again. As much as I never want to leave this moment, life has taught me again and again that the new normal that lies ahead is the best one yet.

Whether you are a new or veteran parent, can you relate to the ongoing struggle of adjusting to the “new normal?” Share a personal story or piece of wisdom!

Our “normal”…for now.

 
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Posted by on February 3, 2016 in Learning, 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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Best Practices for Internal Communication During a Crisis

BEST PRACTICES FOR INTERNAL COMMUNICATION

We have touched upon the topic of crisis communication before, but there are many more aspects of this valuable area of PR we need to cover. While it may not be the most comfortable or pleasant topic to discuss, it’s fundamentally important to your customers, employees and ultimately your brand.

Crisis communication certainly includes how you communicate a consistent message to the media, but it also covers how you communicate and handle such matters internally. An informed and empowered staff can be among your greatest assets during this challenging time. Let’s now look at five best practices for executing an internal communication strategy should your business experience a crisis.

Keep an updated contact list of staff emails, phone numbers and addresses.

Empowering your staff with consistent messaging is one of the smartest and most helpful things you can do during a crisis. Make this process as easy as possible by keeping an up-to-date list of employee contact information. During a crisis, you will not have the time nor the resources to locate this information if it is not readily available. Plan ahead and gather this important information and commit to updating it on (at least) an annual basis.

Establish a quick and efficient means of communication.

With the updated staff information, you’ll want to prioritize how you will use it to communicate internally during a crisis. Email is likely going to be your most effective option. It’s important to stress to your staff that they should regularly check their email so this information is not overlooked.

Don’t rely on just one means of communication. Especially in a serious and time-sensitive crisis, you will want to communicate the details, and your response to the details, in several different ways. Establish a door-to-door messenger system in which someone from your staff can go to each office or cubicle and share the information via a written memo or even verbally. For extreme situations, establish protocol for a company-wide meeting. Gather in a common space for a quick briefing about what’s going on and how it will be handled. This also provides the valuable opportunity to ask you any questions or voice their concerns directly.

Set a policy for social media sharing in a crisis situation.

In our world of ever-growing technology, social media is readily available. Your staff may take to these communication channels with improper or false information should you not have a policy in place. It is recommended to make it clear to all staff that posting to social media accounts regarding sensitive business-related matters, like a crisis situation, is not allowed. Be sure to explain that this is in the best interest and safety of everyone involved. You can also empower your staff to report any social media posts that may breach this policy so they can be addressed immediately.

Share with them the news you plan to share with the media and community.

Once you’ve established your core messaging, keep your staff apprised of the statements you plan to make public. Share this via the internal communication channels we just discussed. Especially for situations that immediately impact their safety, or changes something about their normal work schedule (i.e. a closing due to an environmental crisis), this information should be communicated quickly and directly. Don’t wait for the media to do it for you!

Empower staff as your advocates by equipping them with the appropriate facts and planned-out media responses.

Again I will emphasize the importance of empowering your staff with accurate and timely information so they can help communicate these details with their networks. Let them hear from you directly before they receive the information from other, less substantiated sources. Your own staff can be some of your best and most powerful mouthpieces to the community. Make sure they have the facts they need to help you manage your crisis and maintain a positive brand!

Do you have a crisis communication plan in place? Share how you would handle your internal communications in the event of a crisis!

 
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Posted by on January 11, 2016 in Life

 

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Thanking Up: Sharing gratitude with your superiors

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!


Thanking Up Sharing gratitude with your superiorsRecently I have talked about how the career of a consultant often brings with it the feeling of having many bosses instead of being your own. While I enjoy the variety of work and array of relationships this alternative career path has provided, I still experience moments that remind me I am my own boss and at times – I stand alone.

In past traditional work experiences, I always worked under a direct supervisor. I was fortunate to have these bosses often treat me as a peer and encourage me to share my opinions, but at the end of the day, it was their knowledge and expertise upon which all decisions were made. Though I’ve become comfortable and confident in finally being the decision maker, I can’t quite replace the other benefit a direct supervisor provided – consistent praise.

A client-consultant relationship is not the same as a boss-employee relationship, though comparable. Full time employees often receive regular performance reviews or quarterly meetings to discuss their progress and reward them with a “gold star” when appropriate. As consultants, we’re often out of sight and out of mind from the traditional work relationship. So while we may luckily bypass the formalities of performance reviews, we miss out on the regular thanks and praise for a job well done. Realizing the impact positive feedback has on my own performance and confidence led me to an even greater realization.

Bosses need praise too.

Your job title or hierarchy in a company shouldn’t determine if you receive praise or from whom. I regret to look back on all the times I didn’t thank my previous bosses for a job well done. They all had to make some tough decisions and accomplish tasks that weren’t easy – but they did successfully. Yet because they were the boss and I was the employee I didn’t see it as my place to tell them what a great job they were doing for fear of sounding like a parent praising a child. I regret more to think of all of the times I should have communicated how impressed or proud I was of a client for excelling in various ways. Again, I never wanted to be mistaken for assuming the position of a superior when I more fit the role of an employee or a peer.

Some of my clients now have several other employees working under them and are always offering words of praise to keep them motivated. They are the same people who put in even longer hours, make sacrifices and put their reputation on the line every day to keep the business afloat. On top of all of that, they are also expected to motivate others. I’d say that deserves some motivation in return!

It’s time to bring positive feedback full circle and to break through the misconception that only a superior can offer praise. It’s time we start thanking up.

I don’t think there would be one person who would be offended to receive a message saying “You’re doing an incredible job – keep up the good work!” every now and then. While such a message is appreciated and expected from a superior, imagine how much more it would mean coming from an entry-level employee or an intern who simply wanted to express how impressed he or she was with your work. Speaking from my own experiences, sometimes the most unexpected compliments are the ones that stick with you throughout the rest of your life.

Have you ever “thanked up” before? Or has someone “thanked up” to you? I’d love to hear YOUR story and how it made you feel!

 
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Posted by on January 4, 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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Dear New Entrepreneur…A Letter to My Younger Self

young entrepreneur

It was July 2011 when I handed HR my two-week notice. I still have this simple letter, modeled after a template I found online when I googled “professional resignation.” I put no more effort into creating this life-changing document than I had put into what was supposed to be my “dream job” for the past 4 months.

Before taking the entrepreneurial leap to start my own Public Relations consulting business, I worked in the Pennsylvania Department of Health, Office of Legislative Affairs. The title and the perception were the only things remotely impressive and glamorous about this job, I assure you.

My tiny cubicle, stable salary and paid time off, while a luxury for most fresh college grads, all contributed to creating a comfortable prison that just might have kept me locked away until I earned my vested retirement, had I not longed for so much more.

Blame it on my entrepreneurial spirit – or foolish confidence, but I was willing to walk away from the guarantee of a stable, but unfulfilling career, for the chance at creating something so much greater.

Nearly five years later, I thank this young entrepreneur who wasted no time pursuing her dreams. Every day I work to make her sacrifices and uncertainties worth something by continuing to grow this business while never slipping back into the monotony of a career I don’t truly love.

Like most entrepreneurs, I wish I could somehow equip my younger self with the wisdom I’ve since gained from years of experience. Though I can’t, I can hopefully inspire other new entrepreneurs to take the leap – and maybe, just maybe – change the world…or at least their own!


Dear New Entrepreneur:

I know you’re busy, and likely skeptical about the advice I want to give you, so I will get straight to the point. You know a lot; a lot more than you might give yourself credit for right now, but that doesn’t mean you can’t stand to learn a few things from a fellow entrepreneur who is a few years ahead of you on this journey.

I’m not trying to tell you what to do – I know that’s exactly what you’re trying to escape. But I would like to tell you that you’re on the right track, your gut is your best navigation device and the passion you feel today will continue to grow, despite what people may try and tell you. Please read on. I promise it won’t take long and it just might be that reassurance you’re so desperately looking for right now.

My advice to you, new entrepreneur is this…

Office space and employees don’t determine your success.

Right now you may be working from home as a sole proprietor just waiting for your first chance to lock into a commercial lease and hire your best friends. Stop looking for ways to tie yourself down and add to your overhead. This is everything you ran away from in Corporate America. Learn to love the freedom and efficiency of working from home with no one to answer to but yourself. Hire fellow contractors only as you need them, get to know the best coffee shops to hold client meetings and enjoy keeping so much more of your salary – and sanity.

It’s okay to walk away from a “bad” client…even if you really need the money.

Go with your gut here. If a client tries to undercut your pricing or negotiate you into a corner, be willing to walk away. There will always be more, I promise. Yeah, you could really use the money…you always will be able to “really use the money.” The drawbacks to taking on a client that is a bad fit for your business will always cost you more in the long run than they’re willing to pay. Set boundaries and respect your values. You will learn to appreciate those “good” clients so much more!

You will always be surprised by those who want to see you succeed…and those who do not.

There will always be “friends” who you think will support you way more than they actually do. It will hurt and may make you question your decision to become an entrepreneur. Your decision is not what you should be second-guessing, rather it’s your friendship with this person. But don’t take it too hard; there will also be people you barely know that will rise up as your greatest cheerleaders. Appreciate these people and do the same for them in return!

Basic skills, like mail merging and stuffing envelopes, will be just as important five years from now.

When I first started out, I thought someday I might hire someone who would send my invoices, set meetings on my calendar and answer my phone calls. Five years later and the most capable person to handle these tasks is still me. These basic skills will always be important for running your business. Stay as hands on as it makes sense. Don’t outsource something just because you think you’re above it. Keep your overhead – and your ego – in check.

Make friends with your competition.

You will meet many other businesses along your journey that appear to do exactly what you do. Before you choose to secretly stalk their social media accounts and compare your client list, sit down and get to know them! Learning more about businesses I once deemed as competition has helped to create some of the best “power partnerships” I have. It’s amazing how once you really get to know about each other and the ideal client you are each hoping to find, you will realize you don’t overlap at all. Rather, you are great referrals for one another that can work together to help you both thrive.

Never make excuses

Mistakes will happen. Hopefully they are small, but they also might be big. No matter the size or scope, take ownership of any mistake and never make excuses. If something was truly a mistake or oversight, you have nothing of which to be ashamed. We are fallible humans, even us entrepreneurs. A reasonable client will understand this simple truth, as they are bound to make a few mistakes too. You will build credibility and trust if you own up to a mistake quickly and openly without blaming it on something, or someone else.

Only you can determine what you are worth

Deciding how you will price your services will be one of the hardest parts of running your business. You will have moments when you feel horribly underpaid and moments when you question whether you’re asking for too much. My best advice is to be strategic and remain consistent. This doesn’t mean you will (or should) charge the same rates for the rest of your life. Your experience will increase and so should your fees. But developing a strategy for how you will price your projects early on will save you from second-guessing, losing clients and losing income in the future.

Work toward creating a lifestyle, not just a business

In an effort to run a business, it’s easy to make the mistake of letting the business run you. Don’t recreate the same hell you fought so hard to leave to start your entrepreneurial journey. Take time off, travel, spend some money on fun things (all within reason, of course…it doesn’t take much)! Always keep in mind your goal of creating a particular lifestyle – one that affords you to be flexible and fulfilled – not just earning a certain income no matter the real costs.

Begin and end every day with affirmations

The entrepreneurial journey can be rough at times, that goes without saying. Amidst your efforts to be self-motivated and fearless, also take it easy on yourself when you need it. Promise to begin and end every day with affirmations as to all the things you’re doing well and that are going right. It’s easy to forget and take for granted life’s little blessings when you’re so focused on ironing out every wrinkle. Appreciate the small gestures, like a green light when you really need it, that are reasons to smile.

That’s all I have for you, new entrepreneur. It’s not all the advice I could give, but it’s all I feel you really need right now. Remember…after all, you’ve got this!

What piece of advice speaks to you? Do you have other words of wisdom to offer new entrepreneurs based upon your own experience? Join in the conversation by commenting below!

 
 

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