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Women Entrepreneur Successes

How Ramona Kasavan Built An Organisation That Helps Women Empower Themselves

Starting a business can be brutal. Your vision can take longer to materialise than you hoped, and you’ll probably have to adjust your model along the way. Ramona Kasavan knows that if you have a dream bigger than yourself, it’s worth fighting for. Here are her four pillars to a successful start-up that can change society as we know it.

Nadine Todd

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“Understand who you are — and what you’re selling.”

Ramona Kasavan is a social capitalist. She is running a full profit organisation that aims to make a massive impact on the lives of impoverished South African girls and women, and help them break the cycles of abuse and poverty that define many of their lives and circumstances.

She’s doing this through contract manufacturing and selling sanitary pads. Like many start-ups, it took Ramona some time before she could articulate — both internally and externally — that her company is not a sanitary pad business, but an organisation that helps women to empower themselves.

Know what your business is really about

“One of my mentors, ex- FCBDraft MD Klasie Wessels, helped me to understand this,” says Ramona. “At the time I had already established my own sanitary pad brand, Happy Days, and he said to me, ‘Happy Days has nothing to do with periods. That’s not what this business is; it’s not the problem it’s solving.”’

Today, the company is called Mimi Women, based on the Swahili word for ‘I am’. “This business is about female empowerment; it’s about teaching girls to be ‘selfish’, giving them permission to believe that they are enough, just the way they are. They can be who they want to be.”

The benefits of rebranding

The seemingly simple act of rebranding helped Ramona shift her strategy, but it’s an important lesson that other start-ups can benefit from. Often, the idea that sparks a business, and the resultant product or service, can become so consuming that the business owner doesn’t take the time to step back and define exactly who the business is.

When this happens, the company struggles to develop a vision and purpose greater than its product offering, which can be extremely limiting to growth.

In Ramona’s case, it was the realisation that sanitary pads are not only expensive (which she discovered once she was in varsity, living in a flat and trying to make ends meet), but that for many households they are scarce resources, keeping girls at home during their menstruation cycles when they should be at school.

Creating a high quality product at a low price

“There were two options: Brands that are good quality but expensive, and cheap brands that are terrible quality and don’t solve the problem at hand. I wanted to create a premium brand at an economy price.”

With the assistance of the IDC, local partners and a successful relationship with a Chinese manufacturer, Ramona achieved her goal, but she soon discovered this wasn’t enough to make the impact she was looking for.

Related: For Founder Of National Tekkie Tax Day Having A Higher (Business) Purpose Keeps Her Driving Forward

“Don’t be afraid to pivot — it could take your business to the next level.”

Enter the pivot, an essential element in business innovation, sustainability and growth. “I was tired of being donor funded, which was how the business was operating. We had a campaign running with JSE companies to sponsor a girl child and keep her in school. It was working, but it was also incredibly stressful. Relying on donors was making it difficult to grow the business and create the intended impact.”

An integral element of the business’s rebranding was the opportunity to move away from a donor model, and develop a more sustainable for-profit model to support the Mimi Foundation, a new non-profit arm that donates sanitary pads to girls in need.

“We realised that we had a product, but that this wasn’t the business. Once that was in place, we could develop different, interlinking business models to achieve our goals.”

There are now three arms to the business: A foundation that supports keeping girls in school through donated sanitary pads; a distribution arm that provides business opportunities for women in impoverished areas; and fundraising to instal a factory that manufactures Mimi sanitary pads, which are currently sourced locally and from China.

The factory will be completed and operational before the end of 2017, opening the way for Mimi pads to enter the local FMCG retail chain. For every pack of Mimi purchased, a pack will be donated to the foundation, enabling consumers to buy local and support a good cause.

“It’s been a big shift from our original donor model, but it’s made a huge difference to the overall impact of our business on South African women.”

“If you want to grow, you need to find additional revenue streams.”

mimiwomen

Ramona has evaluated multiple ways to get her sanitary pads into the market in such a way that the business makes an income, but can also deliver on its original mandate of keeping girls in schools, and its more sophisticated current mandate of empowering women.

“We’re negotiating with schools to have sanitary pad vending machines available for their students. This is a pilot that we are currently running with IDC. For each pad sold, a pad is donated to the foundation, so it ticks a CSI box for the schools while helping us to grow our footprint.” Ramona is also negotiating with the big five retailers in South Africa to get her product onto their shelves.

However, the biggest shift in her model has been the introduction of Agents for Change which is an empowerment direct selling model. “The initial aim was to have 1 000 agents selling our product. Within three weeks of launching the new division we had 100 agents.”

The impact of Agents for Change

Agents for Change focuses on women aged 18 to 35 years. “We look for historically disadvantaged individuals who have no experience in selling a product or running a business.

“By giving them an opportunity to create income for themselves we hope to assist them in breaking the cycle of poverty they’re in, while also getting our products into the markets that will benefit from a premium brand at an affordable price.”

The Agents for Change idea came from a pilot with SAB Milller called Pads and Cents, where Agents meet every second Friday for a full day of coaching in financial literacy, basic business principles and sales. “If you can sell pads you can sell anything. We’ve found that women build confidence when we help them to speak about important things that are taboo in their communities.”

Women who complete the programme can become Agents of Change who sell Mimi products, or they can pitch their ideas to current business incubators as a different route.

Related: How This Power Couple Hooked 2 Shark Tank Investors

Empowering not enabling women to achieve

“This is about empowering women, not enabling them. We’re not about covering their costs, but giving them the tools and opportunities to create and grow their own businesses. They can have their own agents, and we’re creating an ecosystem to support them.

“Mimi-branded tuk-tuks will deliver product and instal waste disposal units that they’ll empty and incinerate; the tuk-tuks will stock vending machines, and we can even offer bathroom cleaning services.”

The next step in the evolution of the business is building a manufacturing plant under the company’s investment arm, Full Circle Women, which Ramona developed with support from her mentor, Wendy Luhabe. The ultimate aim is to become a female-focused VC investor, and the manufacturing plant is the fund’s first project.

“One of the mandates when you receive IDC funding is that you need to source locally,” says Ramona. “I was 100% local for just over a year, but local suppliers couldn’t meet our supply needs. The IDC is aware of this, and understood when I sourced a Chinese manufacturer to produce the sanitary pads I had designed. The idea is that I source from the Chinese as a proof of concept, and they will help us set up the plant later this year.

“For the model to really be sustainable and have longevity, we need to control manufacturing. Therefore, we’ve created a fund whereby 100 women invest R100 000. We’ve currently got 32 women and are also talking to VC investors.”

“Don’t take no for an answer.”

Truly successful entrepreneurs have one trait in common: They don’t take no for an answer. Ramona is one such entrepreneur. Her involvement with SAB, for example, began because she kept being turned down for SAB’s Kickstarter programme, so she phoned SAB’s exco to ask why.

“I had my honours in marketing and two successful start-ups under my belt, yet I couldn’t get their support; I wanted to know why.”

In response, SAB asked Ramona what she wanted, and together they devised the financial literacy incubator, Pads and Cents, whereby Ramona spearheads her own pre-incubator programme supported by SAB Miller Egoli Region.

Keep your supporters in the loop

Another example is the IDC and her Chinese partners. “I needed the IDC to understand why I was finding a Chinese partner. You just need to lay down your case. They’ve made concessions as a result, particularly because this will help me to build a local manufacturing plant.”

The Chinese relationship wasn’t seamless to begin with. “I’m an Indian woman from South Africa, and I’d sit in meetings with my supplier and they’d talk over my head. I had to put my foot down, look him in the eye and tell him that if he didn’t start dealing with me, I’d take my dollars elsewhere.”

Related: 11 Secrets Of South African Entrepreneurs On Making It To The Top

Build relationships built on trust and respect

The move not only earned Ramona her supplier’s respect, but has laid the foundation for a very good relationship built on trust and mutual respect.

“In business, as in life, you won’t get what you want unless you ask for it — and fight for it where necessary. In 2016 I was stressed and despondent because I was so reliant on donors and my business wasn’t making the impact I wanted. I had to sit down, re-evaluate what I was doing, and adjust my model. Today our vision is bigger than I ever thought possible. This is also based on the relationships with mentors, stakeholders and people who are passionate about building a sustainable future for young women leaders.”


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Identify your best route to market, and where you will have the biggest impact. The right focus is a key differentiator for success. 

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Business Advice for Women Entrepreneurs

Rapelang Rabana’s Innovation Formula – 3 Key Ingredients To Innovate

To be a success in today’s fast paced world, you need innovation at the heart of everything you do.

Nadine Todd

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The innovation formula is simple: According to tech entrepreneur Rapelang Rabana, innovation is at its best and greatest when it’s sourced from your unique perspective and accumulated wisdom, combined with shared value and execution.

At this year’s BCX Disrupt Summit, Rapelang broke the process down into the three key ingredients that together shape innovation and success.

1. Prepare your mind

Your ability to innovate and be creative is based on the sum of all of your experiences. Great ideas do not take shape in our minds, they are the result of external stimulus hitting a prepared mind. We don’t think up ideas — we notice them. We connect the dots in new and creative ways. And our ability to do so is based on how prepared we are to notice what’s happening around us, and to tap into that information.

When asked what it takes to be great like Richard Branson, Steve Jobs and Elon Musk, Musk’s ex-wife, Justine Musk had this advice to offer:

“Shift your focus away from what you want (a billion dollars) and get deeply, intensely curious about what the world wants and needs. It helps to have an ego, but you must be in service to something bigger if you are to inspire the people you need to help you.”

Related: 10 Young Entrepreneurs Under 30 Share Their Start-Up Secrets

So, ask yourself this: What do you have that is so deeply compelling and needed that no one can outsource you or replace you? Until you can answer this question, keep building your mind, your abilities and your knowledge. Work on your repository, and your ability to connect the dots.

2. Create shared value

thato-kgatlhanye-bagsThato Kgatlhanye, founder of the Rethaka foundation, an organisation that creates school bags that are also solar panels, and can provide schoolgoers with energy in the evening so that they can do their homework, says that she is money-driven, business-driven, and empathetic towards her people. In other words, her business is created through shared value, and the desire to not only create money for her business, but within her communities as well.

Most successful organisations would never have been launched  if their primary focus was for the business to win. People are hungry for things that are inclusive and show positive change.

Consider Airbnb — the founders had the audacity to put a blow-up mattress in their livingroom, and believe that other people would find value in their offering. And they were right, mainly because the business model is all inclusive. The business wins, the hosts win and the customers win.

According to Nielsen, 40% more social entrepreneurs are growing compared to other SMEs, and they’re showing greater profit. In addition, people say they are more likely to purchase from ethical and sustainable businesses. The cynics might say this is what people say, not how they buy. This may be true, but it’s also a leading indicator of how we will behave in the future. We’re trying to get there, and our behaviour will catch up to the sentiment.

Always be cognisant of how responsive the market is. Learn to leverage public sentiment and get attention through the ideal of shared value. Winning with others is the fastest way to create value today.

Related: 20 South African Side-Hustles You Can Start This Weekend

3. Get stuff done

When we start a project or idea, we try to project into the future. We want to draw a linear picture between now and then. The problem is that creation is far more chaotic.

Instead, minute variations over time create profound changes. It’s a journey. There are no defining moments of success or failure; just a series of events strung together over time. To make the necessary minute variations though, you need data points and you need to take action. Often this starts with just beginning. If you start, you can move forward, slowly but surely. Progress is far more evolutionary than simply trying to imagine the end.

The problem is that the mind blocks us. We essentially block ourselves from success. How? Building anything and trying to be innovative requires a series of many, many decisions made over years and years. Many of those decisions are made — or not made — from a place of fear. Our instincts tell us to do something, and then our minds stop us. The most incredible things can happen if we learn to follow our instincts though.

the-five-second-rule-mel-robbinsIn her book, The Five Second Rule, Mel Robbins unpacks the skill of acting on your instincts. In essence, the space between your instinct and the moment of hesitation that stops you from acting is five seconds. This means you have five seconds to make things happen, and the way to utilise that time and to make things happen is to count down from five: 5, 4, 3, 2, 1. At one, move. Get up, take action, call the client, speak to your boss — don’t let fear come in and crush the instinct.

Why a countdown? A countdown suspends — for a moment — the self-doubt that gives you space to move before the brain kills it. I started using the rule for small stuff at first. A countdown in the morning to get out of bed and go to gym. Then I started using it for the harder stuff, like not losing my temper. If you can be aware enough to make the countdown, you can change your behaviour.

The ability to execute and turn innovation into profit comes down to a series of five-second moments over years. Push yourself. Get past your mental blocks and act on your instinct.

Combine this with building on your knowledge, connecting the dots around you, and understanding that value is not given or taken, but is created through shared value, and you have the recipe for innovation and success.


IN YOUR TOOLKIT

Focus on learning new stuff

FACT: The super-successful focus heavily on learning new skills, reading practical books and listening or watching podcasts, interviews and informational courses.

Take best-selling author and leadership coach Simon Sinek, who said:

“My work is never complete, we wake up with a hunger to learn, and no one is ever truly an expert. Anyone who says, ‘I’m an expert at anything’ has closed their mind to the idea that they might not know everything. There’s always more to learn. I’ve never considered myself an expert. I’m always a student of leadership. All the work is imperfect and all the learning is continuous.”

Action Step: If you can read 20 full pages a day, or even listen to an hour-long audio/podcast, you will accumulate more than 36+ books a year of new knowledge.

Start here: If you’re not sure where to start, download the audible app (audible.com) and browse the business books available, or subscribe to podcasts. Three great places to begin are:

  • Trailblazers with Walter Isaacson, a show focused on disruption and hosted by the biographer of Steve Jobs, Albert Einstein and Benjamin Franklin amongst others.
  • The Tim Ferriss Show, hosted by Tim Ferriss and one of the biggest podcasts on the planet.
  • Masters of Scale, hosted by LinkedIn founder Reid Hoffman, who chats to some of the worlds biggest and most successful entrepreneurs.

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Women Entrepreneur Successes

Uzenzele Holdings Co-founders Nadia And Zahra Rawjee’s Top Advice On Building A Service-based Business

Nadia and Zahra Rawjee of Uzenzele Holdings know what businesses need, and they understand the struggles that founders go through, which is why the pair often understand their clients’ needs before the first meeting has even taken place.

Nadine Todd

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  • Players: Nadia Rawjee and Zahra Rawjee
  • Company: Uzenzele Holdings
  • Est: 2012
  • Visit: www.uzenzele.com
  • About: Uzenzele Holdings is a consultancy that focuses on business development and accessing governmental funding for business expansion projects. The company uses its expertise to help clients navigate the complex process of applying for government and developmental funding, helping to unlock funds and opportunities that many entrepreneurs aren’t aware of.

Sisters Nadia and Zahra Rawjee grew up in a family business, so they understand the challenges that the average SME faces. They also realise that the average entrepreneur is unaware of the opportunities available to him or her when it comes to government and developmental funding.

“We realised what an impact government and developmental funding could have had on the family business, but like so many SMEs, it never accessed the funds available,” says Zahra Rawjee.

The fact of the matter is, many business owners are unaware of the funds that are available through government. Others, meanwhile, do not think that they would qualify, or they think that delving into this ocean of bureaucracy would simply not be worth the effort. This is a mistake. It can absolutely be worth the effort.

“Companies looking to grow can access millions through government,” says Nadia Rawjee. “We’ve seen clients receiving tens of millions in funding.”

That said, there is some truth in the view that accessing these funds is sometimes difficult. The application process can be complex, and the process as a whole can be a long one. However, if you know what you’re doing, you can get funded.

Related: Uzenzele Holdings Unpacks The How And Where Of Business Funding

Because the Rawjees understood the challenges that businesses faced, and they possessed the arcane (and often shifting) information needed to access these funds, they decided to launch a consultancy that would assist clients in the process. Uzenzele Holdings has now been around for more than five years and has helped many clients secure funding. As you might expect, theirs is a business driven by relationships. Here’s their advice for building a successful service-driven operation.

1. Know thy customer

As mentioned, Nadia and Zahra understand the wants and needs of their clients, even when the clients themselves don’t. “We find that many clients underestimate the amount of capital they’ll need to make their growth and expansion plans a reality. They go into the process looking to raise less money than they’ll actually need, which can result in disastrous cash flow problems down the line. Because we know this, we can advise them accordingly. If you  don’t understand your clients’ businesses, it’s tough to give them the right advice.

KEY LESSON: True success comes from becoming a trusted advisor to your clients. This can only happen if you have real empathy for your clients, and if you understand their businesses intimately. Without these two characteristics, any relationship will be purely transactional.

2. Follow the market

uzenzele-holdingsFollowing your passion is admirable, but it doesn’t mean that you should ignore the realities of the market in the process. To their credit, Nadia and Zahra initially wanted to focus on small/micro businesses because they believed that this was the area where they could make the biggest impact. However, they quickly learnt that these businesses were so cash strapped and focused on survival, that they weren’t looking at growth, and they didn’t have the money needed to invest in advisory services.

As consultants themselves, they decided to invest in advisors who could help them reposition the company. “We brought in marketers who helped us reposition Uzenzele Holdings and make it visible to the companies who were actually looking for our services.”

KEY LESSON: Don’t make any assumptions about the market. Your target audience might not be where you think it is. In fact, your ideal audience might be very different from the one you have in your head. It’s worth spending time and money to find out exactly who your ideal audience is, and where they can be reached.

Related: Feel Like Quitting? These 9 Women Prove Grit Can Lead You To Massive Success

3. Educate your audience

Because so many of Uzenzele Holdings’ clients are unaware of the funding options available, knowledge transfer is an important activity for the consultancy. “You have to be willing to give out information freely,” says Zahra. “For this reason, we have a blog on our website, we do talks at conferences, and we contribute to business publications.”

“At the moment, for example, we are focusing on the Black Industrialist Programme through the DTI, and funding available for agro processing. There are great opportunities open to those looking for funding, but people don’t know about it,” says Nadia.

KEY LESSON: Signing clients is nearly impossible when they don’t understand what you’re offering. For this reason, you need to see education as part of the selling process. The payoff might only come way down the line, but that’s not an excuse to ignore the process.

4. Network

Speaking at conferences and writing articles for publications not only educates potential clients, it also builds the Uzenzele Holdings brand and ups the profile of the Rawjee sisters. “Networking is important,” says Nadia. “You have to be out there — you need to get to know people, and they need to get to know you. It takes time and work, but you have to do it. Networking is important in any business.”

“You shouldn’t underestimate the value of LinkedIn when it comes to networking. It’s a great place to connect, and post content. When it comes to the B2B space, LinkedIn is definitely one of the best platforms,” says Zahra.

KEY LESSON: You have to build your brand and get to know people. Most young companies land their first clients because of connections and referrals. To succeed, you have to establish yourself as a presence in your industry. You can do this by joining organisations, attending conferences and going out of your way to connect with others.


Your funding checklist

Understand what you need. There’s a basic checklist to follow:

  • Do you need money for working or operating expenditure vs capital investment?
  • How much do you require?
  • How long do you need the money for?
  • What is the cost of capital you can afford to repay?

Armed with this knowledge, you can start finding the right fund or finance vehicle for your needs.

Related: Funding And Financial Assistance For SA Women Entrepreneurs

Funders have different criteria:

  • Turnover: mainly grants
  • Profitability: loans/grants
  • Balance sheet: loans/grants
  • Ability to scale: venture capital

Funders tend to have between two and 26 different funds, each with their own mandate, eligibility criteria, funding type (loan or grant), costing, things they will and won’t fund and other specifics. Read the mandates to find your fit.

Call and speak to the funders and be fund specific. Speak to a consultant at the fund to clarify your eligibility before starting the application process.

Ask questions around:

  • Their timelines
  • When the credit committees or panels sit for adjudication
  • What is considered for your application to get adjudicated.

Arming yourself with this knowledge will exponentially increase your chances of being considered for funding. Many applications do not reach the adjudication phase because the business doesn’t match the fund or the application is incorrectly filled in.

You cannot receive funding if your application is not even considered. The correct content and format is vital.

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Women Entrepreneur Successes

Pet Wellness Worx Found Business Success In Rehabilitating Pets

Lorren Barham, the founder of Pet Wellness Worx, spoke to Entrepreneur about the challenges of launching a business in a relatively unknown industry.

Nadine Todd

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lorren-barham

Vital stats

  • Player: Lorren Barham
  • Company: Pet Wellness Worx
  • Est: 2014
  • About: Lorren Barham is the owner and operator of the hydro underwater treadmill and therapist-in-the-pool facility of Pet Wellness Worx. The business specialises in the health, wellbeing and rehabilitative care of pets.
  • Visit: petwellnessworx.co.za

Certain business ideas are obvious, others aren’t. In a world where many founders are looking to create ‘the Uber of this’ or ‘the Uber of that’, a company that offers rehabilitative care for pets might seem like a niche lifestyle business.

But Lorren Barham’s Pet Wellness Worx has seen fantastic growth over the last three years precisely because it is so niche. Lorren identified a relatively unexploited niche and owned it.

In the modern business world where all the obvious opportunities have already been jumped at, success lies in finding that small but promising industry that is ripe for growth. Not that launching a start-up in this sort of space is easy, mind you. Chances are, you’ll need to educate consumers and grow your company slowly, but if you get the basics right, you can establish a sustainable operation with excellent long-term prospects.

1. How did you identify this unique business opportunity?

I did not have a background in the field, but I’ve always had an intense passion for animals, and because of my own pets, I knew about auto immune disorders like degenerative myelopathy, neurological spinal prolapse and hip dysplasia.

Related: Feel Like Quitting? These 9 Women Prove Grit Can Lead You To Massive Success

Over the years, some of my own animals had to deal with these issues, so I understood that there was a need for a facility that could assist with rehabilitation. So, going into the industry wasn’t a purely tactical business decision — I had a real passion for the work. I think that’s important. You can’t pursue a business idea simply because you think there’s an opportunity in it. You need to be passionate about it. When times are tough, it’s your passion that’ll keep you going.

2. What is your background?

Pet Wellness Worx

I have a corporate background. I started out as a personal assistant, and over the years, I furthered my education, completing courses in fields like bookkeeping and business administration. When I opened my own business, I found that the knowledge and experience I gained in the corporate environment was immensely useful. Procuring expensive equipment, for instance, was less intimidating because I knew how to deal with suppliers and negotiate a fair deal.

You don’t need an MBA, necessarily, but you need some basic business knowledge. You could be a great specialist in your specific field, but running your own business is something very different. As an entrepreneur, you wear a lot of hats, and you have to manage every aspect of the company — you have to manage employees, balance the books and do the marketing — so you need to educate yourself on the basics of running a business.

3. How did you prepare for the launch of the business?

I did a lot of research. I spent months figuring out exactly what sort of services I should provide, and how I should structure the business. Importantly, I had a goal and a mission. It helps to know what your ultimate goal is. Figure out what you want to achieve, and then do plenty of research. Take your time. Solid research will prevent you from making mistakes that can be costly down the line.

Related: Women Leaders In Business: 5 Lessons Learnt

4. How did you market the business in the early days?

We focused on qualified veterinarians. Not only could they refer clients to the business, but it was also clear that in order for the company to succeed, buy-in from them was necessary. So, I spent a lot of time at veterinarians’ offices. I had to show them that I was running a legitimate business that could do real good.

Whenever you operate in a niche area, you need to realise that some education will be necessary. You need to explain the value that you bring to potential customers, and to other important decision-makers in the field.

As the company built a solid track record, and I could show vets the improvement brought on by our rehab work, we started getting more and more clients. I truly ascribe a lot of our recent success to the fact that the vets embraced us.

5. What other marketing strategies have worked for you?

It’s very important to know exactly who you’re targeting. We’re very targeted in our approach. We go to animal shows and events, and we run adds on websites like showdogs.co.za, since these are places that we know we’ll find our target audience. Facebook is another great place to showcase the work that we do. Another strategy that has worked for me has been to write articles for publication.

Related: Funding And Financial Assistance For SA Women Entrepreneurs

As mentioned earlier, it’s important to educate potential customers, and a great way to do this is through editorial. I’ve written articles for magazines and websites, and media companies have generally been willing to run them. If you write an informative article that’s suitable for publication, you can get your name out in that way.

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