Can Your Business Survive Without You? Here’s How To Be Sure

If we were sitting down for coffee and I ask what you believe to be the most important factor for success in business, what would you say?

If you’re like most people, you might respond that it’s something along the lines of perseverance, determination or talent.

What if I told you that while these things are valuable, they do not determine success? There is a more telling factor.

The true key to a successful business lies in the strength of its infrastructure – @andrena_sawyer Click To Tweet

But, what exactly is infrastructure? The simple answer is that it’s your design and blueprint.

It is made of the basic facilities and structures of the business and includes everything from software and services, to operational procedures. It is the work you do on the business that allows you to work in your business.

Imagine taking a one-week vacation. What happens to your operations? Would your team know what to do in your absence?

Would your customers panic? If the answer to the last two questions is yes, then you’re currently lacking a sustainable infrastructure.

I get it: most of us do not like creating systems. They can be boring, tedious, and may appear unnecessary.

If you’re a clothing designer, you went into business to bring your designs and creativity to life.

However, if you’re a life coach, you want to help others improve their quality of life, not to work on systems.

Again, I get it but imagine not being able to do the thing you love because most of your time is spent putting out fires, experiencing burnout, or making up procedures on a whim.

Creating good business systems allows you to automate your processes, increase productivity and improve effectiveness – @andrena_sawyer Click To Tweet

For example, think about the transportation and tax systems in our country.

While we may not like it, we have to pay parking meters, tolls, and vehicle taxes to commute within our communities. The expectation is that the money is used to build and maintain our streets and neighborhoods.

Similarly in your business, developing an intricate infrastructure creates sustainability through interdependent processes.

There is a common adage that is not wise to put your cart before your horse. That has never been more relevant than in this context.

Your cart is your thriving business—in a state that allows you to do what you love to do. Your horse is your infrastructure. The more robust it is, the more likely your business can go the distance.

I have had the pleasure of consulting with hundreds of entrepreneurs. The concern I hear most often is that people feel like they are reactively going through the motions, rather than positioning themselves for proactive oversight.

My advice is always the same: build your business from within. The time and resources spent on this approach will determine the health and success of everything else.


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Why Your Business Ideas Aren’t Working

By ensuring that your goals are S.M.A.R.T, you set yourself up to experience the thrill of an achievement that will become a motivation for future successes.

Did you know that you can give 110% effort and fail miserably, even with a good business idea?

I’ve seen it more times than I can count. An eager entrepreneur has a brilliant idea and quickly forges ahead, only to come back disappointed that things did not work out.

By the time they come to that realization, they have likely invested a lot of money, energy and time that they will never get back.

Entrepreneurs going through this experience usually assume that they are simply not cut out for entrepreneurship.

It is at this point that I dig a little deeper into their execution process and I find that the real problem was that the idea or goal was underdeveloped, leading to poor execution. It was a set-up for failure from the start.

I then have the task of talking the entrepreneur off the ledge by explaining that there may have been nothing wrong with their effort, resources or intentions. The reason for the apparent failure was likely that the goal was an inherently bad goal.

When it comes to execution in business, a good goal is not just noble in its intention, but it also S.M.A.R.T.

It is specific, measurable, attainable, realistic, and timely. Ensuring that your goal meets these criteria increases the likelihood of success.

It eliminates wasted time and hones in on the best strategy for success.

Specific goals break down your general goals into manageable pieces so that they are easier to achieve. A great example of this might be to increase your annual revenue.

“Increase revenue in 2019” is a noble general goal.

An even better goal is to “increase revenue in 2019 by identifying profit leaks and creating monthly marketing campaigns in order to obtain new clients.”

Using that example, it’s easy to see how an entrepreneur can go from casting a wide net and taking a chance on what sticks, to identifying a specific strategy for success.

Even that specific goal can be further developed as you think about other factors that will affect the outcome.

By adding metrics and changing the goal to “increase revenue by 40% in 2019, by identifying profit leaks and creating monthly marketing campaigns in order to obtain new clients,” the direction and initial action steps are even clearer.

This way, there is little room for wasted resources and time.

The attainable and realistic factors in the S.M.A.R.T. formula are subjective factors determined by the individual’s readiness to start working on their goals.

An entrepreneur who does not have a marketing budget needs to first raise the money or create a budget for marketing before embarking on the goal above.

Without a budget for a robust campaign, attempting to increase revenue by creating marketing campaigns will prove futile.- @andrena_sawyer Click To Tweet

It seems obvious enough, but many entrepreneurs still do not count the cost before they set their foot on the pavement.

The last piece of the formula is timeliness. This ensures that the person setting the goal has a sense of urgency and can fend off complacency when working toward their goal.

It is easy to overlook this final piece, but it is just as critical as the others because it has two extremes: too much time allotted for the goal, and not enough time.

When there is too much time, it is easy to fall into traps of procrastination and complacency. These are traps that force individuals to believe they have more time to do the work than they actually do.

They lose their sense of urgency, which opens the door for others to leverage their ideas, or for a competitor to get to a product launch before they do. The other extreme is not to give yourself enough time.

No goal is perfect, and neither is every process, and there is room for imperfection. – @andrena_sawyer Click To Tweet

By rushing toward the goal, entrepreneurs stand the risk of sabotaging by not properly assessing the risks and all of the factors necessary for success.

After all, there’s value for the entrepreneur in trial and error and even failure.

However, by ensuring that your goals are S.M.A.R.T., you set yourself up to experience the thrill of achievement that will become a motivation for future successes.

MUST READ -The Misadventures of a New Entrepreneur: 5 Things They Won’t Teach You in Business School

So, you want to be an entrepreneur? There’s bad news and good news. The bad news is that it may not be at all like what you see on social media—the serene photos on the beach, overnight insta-fame, and the perfect work/life balance.

The truth is, only a handful of people get to experience those things consistently, and they typically have to pay their dues for an average of 15 years.

Research shows that only half of new businesses survive for the first five years, and only 35% are able to survive for 10 years. Even grimmer, Bloomberg research shows that 8 out of every 10 businesses fail within the first 19 months.

But don’t be discouraged!

There’s good news too, which is that freedom and autonomy are real, and so is the thrill of doing something that you love day in and day out.

The question is: how do some people do it?

In my latest book, The Misadventures of a New Entrepreneur: I share 5 Things They Won’t Teach You in Business School and share the secrets that every new entrepreneur should know.

From the value of infrastructure to remaining relevant, aspiring and operational entrepreneurs will learn:

  • How to build a sustainable business from within;
  • How to create a healthy work/life balance;
  • How to stay true to their original vision, while creating a model that consistently engages their audience;
  • How to avoid common reasons for business failure including leadership and management failure, weak value proposition, unprofitable business model, and poor financial management; and
  • How to create cash flow streams that will enable them to defy the odds and beat the statistics.

Want to be part of the success stories this year, then The Misadventures of a New Entrepreneur: 5 Things They Won’t Teach You in Business School is a must-read.

Here’s what readers are saying:

“…I bought this book and I’m so glad that I picked it up. The author, Andrena, explains her own personal journey of entrepreneurship and TRULY breaks down her struggles and triumph in the area of finances, making a profit, health journey, love and all. The reality is that (as) an entrepreneur it will affect all areas of your LIFE, Sawyer talks exactly about the things that they don’t teach you when you’re getting your MBA. Quick read as well!”

“…This book is worth the read. It has incredibly insightful information on what people tend to not address in business school. A must for anyone that wants to pursue owning their own business. Definitely recommend, it is a keeper.”


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Unlocking Success: The Advice Every Entrepreneur Must Hear

Ten years ago, if someone told me I would become a law school dropout who owns two successful businesses, I may have laughed in their face.

The only thing that may have sounded more ridiculous would have been to add that both ventures will put me in position to help hundreds of entrepreneurs start and run successful businesses every year.

Thankfully, even things that sound ridiculous can actually become reality.

The truth is, I never had much of an interest in entrepreneurship. As a child, I watched my father work tirelessly to build businesses. Some were successful. Others were not.

What sets the successful and the unsuccessful entrepreneur apart is not luck, worth ethic, or even skills, its usually the power of flexibility. - @andrena_sawyer Click To Tweet

I now know my father was not alone in his plight because Bloomberg Research suggests that 8 out of every 10 businesses fail within the first 19 months. The Small Business Administration suggests that only half of new businesses survive the first five years, while only 35% are able to survive for 10 years.

Despite my early exposure to the unfortunate side of entrepreneurship, I have come to believe that what sets the successful and the unsuccessful apart is not luck, worth ethic, or even skill.

Most times, it comes down to the power of flexibility.

When you first become an entrepreneur, you are inundated with solicited and unsolicited advice.

There is an incredible adrenaline rush that comes from seeing yourself manifest what had only been a vision in your mind for weeks, months, and sometimes even years.

Most of the advice is given with good intentions and meant to be motivational. Yet, some have absolutely no significance to you because your primary concern early on is simply to survive.

Admittedly, I don’t remember much of what was said to me when I launched my first company. However, one piece of advice that has not only stuck with me but saved my business several times is to marry the mission and date the model.

To marry your mission is to remember your why, and to maintain your covenant -so to speak- with that why. To date your model is to make flexibility a bedrock in your business. It is your how.

I learned the true meaning of this after my first year in business. The excitement and adrenaline had worn off, and the money I’d saved up for the initial capital had depleted. I now faced “real” business issues like cash flow, leadership and human resource challenges, customer service and iterating our value proposition.

To marry your mission is to remember your why, and to maintain your covenant -so to speak- with that why - @andrena_sawyer Click To Tweet

While your mission – the reason you went into business and the need that your business solves should never change, the way your business does business had better change if it is to survive.

This includes your marketing strategies, your price point, and sometimes even your company culture. All of these things are still connected to the mission, but this how allows you to stay relevant and top-of-mind.

For some of us, we went into business to disrupt the industry. We were tired of inefficiency or annoyed that a few big players were monopolizing everything, leaving no room for anyone else to play.

For others, there was a glaring need that one too many people complained about, yet no one was offering viable solutions. Then there are those of us who started a business because we recognized our gifts and talents and saw business ownership as a way to walk in our purpose.

Remembering this is critical to success. It is your mission. It lays the foundation for the story that your business will tell. However, even that why is not enough sometimes. That is where dating the model comes in.

The reality is there are many factors that influence your success as an entrepreneur.

Some of these factors like industry trends, sales cycles, current events, economic upturns and downturns, and even your organization’s capacity are sometimes beyond your control.

By adjusting your model, you develop a culture of freedom that allows your business to adapt to these changes. Ultimately, this hones your business’ survival instinct in difficult times and leverages positive trends in good times.

This ability to be adaptable could very well be the deciding factor between being part of the success statistics or the failure rates.


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Entrepreneurs…Take care of your mental health: Here’s why

I remember the first time I met him at a friend’s house. He was incredibly smart, charismatic and passionate—all the things I believed it took to own a successful business.

As the night when on, I realized my original assumption was correct. I pulled out my phone and did a quick search of the guy that had caught my interest—not in a romantic way, but in an intriguing “I’m fascinated by you” kind of way.

He was the real deal.

According to his digital footprint, he’d been in local and national media, he had thousands of followers on social media, and his business was a real business—systems, staff, and everything. I was impressed.

Wary of coming across as odd, or romantically interested, I resolved to secretly follow his business ventures from that day on.

Imagine my shock, when, only a year after our meeting, I came across a press release that he was going out of business. I read the contents of the press release, and I was dumbfounded.

It went into great detail about his frustration with the lack of support, the personal financial difficulties he’d had to endure, the debt he went into for the sake to maintain his business, and the toll all of it had taken on his mental health.

He was tired, and he was closing shop and taking some time for himself.

At 32 years old, he was moving back in with his parents and going to figure out his next move. There, in an open letter for the world to read, he bravely committed to doing what many entrepreneurs are never taught to do—take care of self first.

Self-management is one of the most critical skills for successful entrepreneurship. It’s something that no school or book can teach you completely- @andrena_sawyer Click To Tweet

The truth is, it is incumbent on you, as an entrepreneur, to get a hold of your emotions, triggers, and mental health, because, at the end, the stresses of entrepreneurship and seeming failure has led some to suicide and on the lesser end, it may lead some to avoidable (and unavoidable) depressive breakdowns.

Whether it’s due to the notorious end of the year burnout, or the hustle and bustle of peak seasons.

The bottom line is that you sometimes get to a point where you realize that you simply cannot continue to fake it until you make it.

In those moments, it is not your business acumen, the number of followers you have, or even your five-star ratings that will save you.

Salvation becomes dependent on two things: your ability to separate self from your work, and how well you’ve developed your self-management skills, which are just as instrumental to your success as any other part of your entrepreneurship journey.

During the holiday season, the temptation is always to reflect on the successes and failures of our businesses, adjust and get right back to work for a successful new year.

 I hope that every entrepreneur adjusts that process slightly and prioritize self-management. Doing so just might save you and your business.


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Three Things To Tell Your 20 Year Old Self Before Hitting The Dredged 30

I turned 30 recently, and truth be told, it’s all been very anticlimactic. I don’t actually feel different, but there is a constant awareness that I am older and I should feel different. A big part of this is because I spent my 29th birthday having a pity party in anticipation of turning 30.

 

 

Silly, I know, especially considering the fact that tomorrow is not guaranteed, much less another year. My closest friends couldn’t understand why I was having a premature break-down, but 29 reminded me of all the things I promised my younger self that I would do by the old age of 30.

In my mind, I had one year to get married, buy a house with a white picket fence, start a business, have 2.5 children, and get a doctoral degree.

I’m all for miracles, but the realization that I was still so far from some of these things left me immobilized and in bed for most of my 29th birthday.

In the months and days leading up to my 30th birthday, I expected much of the same. Thankfully, no matter how much I willed myself into a funk, my heart and mind just would not let me get there.

Somewhere in the days between my 29th and 30th birthday, I’d finally accepted the following truths about life.

The tough lessons in my 20's allowed me to know better - @Andrena_Sawyer Click To Tweet

 

Ditch the Plan

No one’s life ever goes as they planned. That truth alone should bring a sense of relief to everyone, especially if you’re a planner like me. Since my teenage years, I’ve had a 5-year, 10-year, and 20-year plan.

Each plan has inevitably been met with opposition. Some plans, like my goal of becoming an internationally-known civil rights attorney, I’ve had to forego completely.
One of the most difficult lessons life has taught me is that if despite my best efforts, something is not working out, it may be time to step back and assess the other opportunities that are coming my way.

I’m not talking about quitting, but rather using wisdom. I spent three years in my mid-twenties in a place I was miserable in because I wanted one career path to work out so desperately.

When I finally let that plan go, and opened my eyes and heart to new possibilities, I discovered hidden talents and a career that I thought I could only dream of. When I ditched the plan, I became free to try new things, meet new people, and gained the boldness to grow beyond my expectations.

The only way that aging can become a bad thing is if you are not fully living in the moment now- @Andrena_Sawyer Click To Tweet

 

You are Getting Older. Embrace It.

If no one else will admit it, I will. One of the reasons that 30 is scary, especially for some women, is because it seems…old. Culture has done a great job of getting us to believe that lie.

As you approach 30, the time seems to go by much faster, and you become keenly aware that you cannot get away with the antics you used to get away with. Society now holds you responsible, and so does your body and your bills.

Overall, you’re expected to have a level of stability that’s unprecedented in your life. I dreaded it. I didn’t so much mind looking older (some people still think I’m 23), but I dreaded having to relinquish my youthful fervor for the doom and gloom that I thought was coming my way.

There’s good news, then bad news, then good news again.

The good news is that I was wrong about the doom and gloom part. If you’re like I was, and you’re dreading what 30 represents, then you can breathe a sigh of relief.

30 is not old. In fact, I feel more calm and confident than I’ve ever felt before. A defeated attitude is your choice. However, it’s not a choice based on reality, and as with anything, your attitude will determine your actions.

The bad news is that you are getting older. For those of us who take the lyrics to “Forever Young” literally, it’s an inescapable reality. We have to get over it, and continue to live in the moment…each moment.

The only way that aging can become a bad thing is if you are not fully living in the moment now. I look back at my 20s, and I had a blast and formed relationships with people that are now more like family than friends, I started a business, I visited new places, and even wrote a couple of books.

However, amidst the great things were some tough lessons, which brings me to the other good news.

 

There’s Freedom of Responsibility

There’s an old saying that when you know better, you do better. The tough lessons in my 20s allowed me to know better, which will hopefully allow me to do better. There are certain situations that, if we adjust our perspective, can become our practice field for a game-time opportunity.

I was reckless with my finances in my twenties, ate poorly and devalued relationships that should have had more value and gave way too much attention to people and things that should not have had any of my time.

That realization comes with heartache. However, with heartache comes an opportunity to respond and adjust. While the recklessness and forever young attitude was great, there’s no greater peace and freedom than knowing that healthier decisions now mean less stress and more security.

The Roaring 20’s is more than just a term to describe a decade in history. For many of us, it’s a decade in our individual lives that determines, more so than any other decade, the course of the rest of our lives.

Use it wisely. Reject comparison, because circumstances are fleeting. Focus on your own journey, and you’ll be amazed by how much you accomplish.

 

Lastly, choose to live in the moment. You will never get another time in history that is just like the moment you are living in now.

Collective moments make for great experiences, so live each one loudly and boldly.


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Effective Goal-Setting: Keeping Your new year Resolutions All Year Round

Each year in January, entrepreneurs, and moguls around the world make new year resolutions to help them reach their business goals.

Common resolutions include personal and professional goals like starting a business, building financial capacity, and even improving health and wellness.

As an entrepreneur, your first responsibility is to plan ahead. Not just for your personal agenda, but for the growth of your company.

Your second responsibility is to avoid being a part of the status quo.  A recent study by the University of Scranton suggests that only 8% of people actually achieve their goals.

To avoid being part of the 92%, here are four tips to help you achieve your goals in 2018.

Create an accountability system

Research shows that when it comes to health and wellness goals, having a partner could mean the difference between success and failure.

The primary reason for this is that having a partner creates a built-in accountability and motivational system. The same is true for your business goals.

Practical accountability systems may include creating visual reminders of your goals, scheduling check-ups on your progress throughout the year, and designating key team members that are responsible for monitoring your goals.

Being intentional about holding yourself and your team members accountable using these tools will ensure that your resolutions will not be an afterthought by the middle of the year.

Be S.M.A.R.T. - Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic, and Timely. Click To Tweet

Be S.M.A.R.T

I often encourage entrepreneurs to use the S.M.A.R.T. method when setting professional goals.

S.M.A.R.T. stands for Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic, and Timely.

Specific goals break down your general goals into manageable bite-size pieces. A great example of this might be to increase your annual revenue.

“Increase revenue in 2018” is a decent general goal. An even better goal is to “increase revenue in 2018 by identifying profit leaks, and creating monthly marketing campaigns in order to obtain new clients.”

Even that specific goal can be further developed as you think about other factors that will affect the outcome. By ensuring that your goals are S.M.A.R.T., you set yourself up to experience the thrill of achievement that will become motivation for future success.

Be Flexible

Life happens, which means that despite your best efforts, some things will still go awry. Part of good goal planning is recognizing that and planning accordingly.

Having flexibility in your approach and expectations relieves everyone involved of the pressure that comes with perfectionism. By recognizing that things may not always go as planned, you open the door for creativity to flow, and for discussion about alternative approaches to the goal.

Achieving your goals is as much a matter of timing, as it is a matter of consistency.- @Andrena_Sawyer Click To Tweet

Create Rewards

Rewards are good for morale, which is good for productivity. As you set your business goals, a rewards system is as important as any other piece of the process.

Whether big or small, rewards that highlight performance, collaboration and other values that are important to you and any team members could be the extra motivation for your overall success.

If you find that, in years past, you have been among the 92% of people that don’t achieve their goals, there’s no better time to change that pattern than now.

Achieving your goals is as much a matter of timing, as it is a matter of consistency. No matter where you are in the process, continue to forge ahead using these tips for success in 2018, and in the years to come.

Andrena Sawyer: Flexibility is key to increasing your business lifespan

andrena sawyer

Start-ups sometimes need miracles to survive. Luckily there are superheroes who rise up to the challenge. Take Andrena Sawyer for example, she runs P.E.R.K. consulting an advisory firm that provides quality and affordable services for small to mid-sized nonprofits and businesses.

Andrena is so effective at ensuring SMEs survive that in 2015, P.E.R.K. consulting, placed 1st in the AccelerateUp Business Growth Competition presented by the Maryland Small Business Development Center and Capital One Bank. This basically means that P.E.R.K consulting can serve as great model to new startups.

When Andrena offered to share her story with SLA, we jumped at the opportunity. Get ready for actionable advice on overcoming funding challenges, lengthening your organisation’s lifespan and increasing revenue.


Firstly how can SMEs overcome the juggernaut that is funding?

Importantly, SMEs need to create effective business models that include strategies for cash flow management if they’re to navigate funding challenges.

Cash flow challenges are inevitable for most start-ups, and many wait until a seeming crisis to develop a management plan. Creating a strategy before the need arises is essential for survival.

In addition, it is important that SMEs have a compelling value proposition. As a Small Business Consultant, I meet passionate entrepreneurs with brilliant ideas, but the value ends at their passion.

To survive the initial start-up years, the problem that a business solves should be clear to customers, investors, and partners. I firmly believe that the more informed stakeholders are, the more engaged they will be.

How can organizations lengthen their lifespan?

Simply, flexibility and innovation are the keys to organizations lengthening their lifespan. With the advent and increased use of social media, industries and consumers are rapidly changing.

It has become more important now that founders remain flexible and informed of how their customers’ needs are changing. The focus should be on creating a culture where change is encouraged.

Doing this can take an organization from a reactive to a proactive stance in marketing, capacity building, and revenue generation.

How did you manage to increase P.E.R.K.’s revenue by 72.3% in one year?

Primarily,  the reason for the increase in revenue is that we identified our niche. When P.E.R.K. launched in 2013, I envisioned being all things to all clients.

I desperately wanted my passion for community development to translate quickly to meet the needs of anyone that was interested. The challenge was that our customers were confused about our expertise, experience, and scope of work.

Also, in our second year of operations, we started to refine our offerings to three key services. They include entity formation, business development, and capacity building support. This created a more targeted marketing approach, which allowed us to focus our efforts and ultimately bolster our credibility.

Understanding our market also allowed us to conduct more accurate research.  This helped to set competitive rates and create strategic partnerships with other key players in our industry.

Wells Fargo1

What advice will you give other startups looking to use P.E.R.K. as a model?

There are two things I would say to startups looking to use us as a model:

  1. Be persistent. As cliché as it sounds, do not give up. Entrepreneurship can be extremely stressful, and founders may find that they initially encounter a lot of rejection. My advice is to do your due diligence by ensuring the idea is viable. Get the support of trusted mentors and advisors, and push through the challenges.
  2. Be creative. I once read that the average millionaire has about seven streams of income. There is a lesson to be learned there. If those who are thriving financially are always looking for ways to earn more, I believe that businesses can thrive in much the same way. For example, P.E.R.K. primarily provides consulting services. However, there are several other ways that we generate revenue including trainings and seminars, publications, and referrals through partnerships. As long as it is consistent with the business’ value proposition, there is no limit to how creative founders can get in generating revenue or reaching their audience.

As a Sierra Leonean, are you engaged in any initiatives back home?

Interestingly, even though I am not directly engaged in any initiatives in Sierra Leone, P.E.R.K. maintains a partnership with several organizations.

These organizations help to mobilize young Sierra Leonean professionals in the United States and within the diaspora. In 2013, we helped launch the Sierra Leonean Empowerment Network. The network has since grown to include thousands of young professionals, many of whom are now working in Sierra Leone.

Who will you say is the greatest African woman to have ever lived?

Fortunately, there have been many great African women who have impacted the continent and the world. Women like Nana Yaa Asantewaa, Winnie Mandela, and Miriam Makeba immediately come to mind.

However, I have been personally impacted by Leymah Gbowee’s story. As someone whose life was altered by the Liberian/Sierra Leone civil war, her story narrated in the documentary Pray the Devil Back to Hell reignited my passion for community work.

Studying her work as a peacemaker who mobilized thousands of people in Liberia to put an end to the war compelled me to launch P.E.R.K. Consulting as a platform to support other change agents.

Surprisingly, women like her are often thought of as just extraordinary. But her story challenged me to believe that any woman with a conviction and commitment can inspire a community to effect change.


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