No Activities Outside of Work?

Yesterday, Bschool Diva wrote that this is “boring” time on the bschool front. I suppose it is true – this is the calm before the storm. It’s a time to take action wherever you can …

Yesterday, Bschool Diva wrote that this is “boring” time on the bschool front. I suppose it is true – this is the calm before the storm. It’s a time to take action wherever you can – GMAT, a Calculus class, lobbying for that promotion. OR…assessing your extracurricular profile…

Applications will soon be published. Many prospective applicants are bemoaning the fact that they have not been involved with any activities outside of work since college. Life has been too hectic, with 80 hour work weeks and a desire for a bit of fun. While it’s understandable that there has been little time, most of those who are ultimately admitted to the top schools, make time to nurture their interests and hobbies.

If you think that suddenly becoming a regular at the soup kitchen will look suspicious, you are probably correct. That type of involvement will not do you much good in terms of applications, although your contributions will always be appreciated! If you want to become involved with something now, think about who you are, what truly interests you, and what talents or skills you can contribute.

Make sure that whatever you do is genuinely meaningful to you and helps to support a story about your interests and abilities. See my previous post which provides some examples.

Also, try to become involved in a way that helps you highlight your leadership skills. Just listing off some volunteer work is not going to be as helpful as a story about how you initiated a fundraiser for a cause you hold close to your heart.

If you are really grasping for ideas, here are a few quick and easy ones:
– Can you give back to your undergraduate institution? Alumni interviewing, fundraising…? Schools always like to see this because it shows a track record for giving back to your alma mater.
– Many cities have groups such as Hands on Bay Area (in the Bay Area) which can inform you of opportunities.
– Check out Volunteer Match to help you locate local opportunities.

Choose something that you enjoy and have some fun cultivating interests, meeting new people and giving back!

Your “Window” for Applying: How your Life and Career Impact the Choice & Number of Potential B-Schools

By Jeremy Dann “How many schools should I apply to? Which schools should I apply to?” These are key questions aspiring MBAs ponder during the spring and summer before the busy application-writing season in fall …

By Jeremy Dann

“How many schools should I apply to? Which schools should I apply to?”

These are key questions aspiring MBAs ponder during the spring and summer before the busy application-writing season in fall and winter. The answers are different depending on where the applicant is within his or her “window” of applying to business school.

I_Will_Make_It wrote last month in Why MBA about her MBA plans and how her values, goals and desires have shifted a bit through the years. It’s important to be aware of where you are in life and how this impacts your school decisions.

The vast majority of MBA students are in their mid-20s to early 30s. Only a small portion come directly from college and only a few attend full-time business school in their late-30s and into their 40s. But even within the, say, eight-year “window” from 24-32 years of age, applicants have a variety of inputs to consider when deciding the portfolio of MBA programs they should apply to.

Age: Many applicants in their mid-20s decide they will only apply to their first two choices this year, figuring they can reapply a couple years down the line when they have a bit more experience. I can understand this approach for some younger candidates, but applicants who are a bit older should strongly consider a different approach. They should apply to a wider array of schools to ensure that they will at least have the option of attending business school in the fall of ’07. Of course, the best scenario involves an intelligent mix of top schools and “safer” schools that will yield a choice of MBA programs for the applicant. Some candidates, frankly, get on an unreasoned “Harvard or Stanford”¦or nothing!” kick that doesn’t serve anyone’s interests.

Next career alternative: Some MBA aspirants are in positions in which they could continue on for many more years. Others hold roles at places like consulting firms or top investment banks where policy and/or tradition encourage young employees to get further education. In environments where one can continue to advance unfettered, a candidate might consider applying solely to his or her top choice programs. However, candidates coming from companies with 2-3 year analyst programs that don’t allow for much upward progression should probably cast their nets a bit wider, assembling a bigger portfolio of schools.

Career track satisfaction: I have talked to several MBA aspirants who feel they are “locked” in roles that are too technical or too narrowly defined. Yet, some still want apply to just a couple of very highly ranked programs. When people desire to make a career transition to an entirely new role or industry””sooner, rather than later””I highly encourage them to apply to a broader array of business schools. There are incredible programs throughout the top 20 in the b-school rankings (and even beyond) that can provide the classes, career programs and alumni networks that aid this kind of transition.

First timer”¦or re-applicant?: A candidate who is going through his or her second round of business school applications should almost always apply to more schools. If the candidate is applying a couple of years down the line after dramatically improving his experience base, then he might add a couple of new schools to the mix but still target his top programs from a few years before. However, if the candidate is applying the very next year without significant changes in role, experience or “extracurriculars,” it makes a lot of sense to pursue a different base of schools, with perhaps one or two holdovers from the year before.

Family considerations:
Taking two years to get an MBA is not just a “business decision,” it’s a “life decision.” Sometimes, the interests of boyfriends, girlfriends, husbands, wives and children are critical factors in making the decision of if, when and where to apply. These considerations are much more complex and varied than the factors listed above, so it’s difficult to work through them in depth here. For instance, I knew some students who wanted to get through business school quickly so that they could start a family afterward, but I also knew of others who thought that business school (with day-care, low travel requirements, etc.) was a great environment to begin to build up their brood.

Candidates should talk with family, friends and mentors (and potentially an MBA application advisor) early in the application process to determine where they are in this “window” for business school. It’s an absolutely critical step in managing this multi-month application process thoughtfully.

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Stanford’s View on Age of Applicant

In the past, I have addressed the issue of applicant age. I am constantly asked by applicants if they are too old or too young. Recently, more individuals are concerned about being too old, as …

In the past, I have addressed the issue of applicant age. I am constantly asked by applicants if they are too old or too young. Recently, more individuals are concerned about being too old, as the rumor is that younger applicants are more desirable. Just RusGirl addresses one aspect of the age issue, as it pertains to women, in Women in business schools. In my prior post, “Am I too Old“, I provide some general insights on this topic.

Since Harvard and Stanford, in particular, are often cited for seeking out younger applicants, I thought I would provide some insights, straight from the mouth of Stanford’s Dean Joss:

Why We Want Some Early Career Students

Back in the 1960s when I went to the Business School, most of us were straight out of college or had less than two years of post-college work experience. Among them, Phil Knight, MBA ’62, went on to found Nike. My classmate Hank McKinnell, MBA ’67, is now CEO of Pfizer. John Scully, MBA ’68, manages private equity investments. Jeffrey Bewkes, MBA ’77, went on to become chairman of the entertainment and networks group at Time Warner. Even in the 1980s, people still came directly from college as exemplified by Robert Kagle, MBA ’80, now general partner with Benchmark Capital, and Ann Livermore, MBA ’82, an executive vice president at Hewlett-Packard.

Over time, however, the post-undergraduate work experience of applicants to business school has grown. The range is great but the average is now four or five years. A myth has developed that you must have four years or more of experience or top business schools won’t even look at you. That’s not true at Stanford. Yet the myth has deterred outstanding early-career applicants from applying. While those who have worked longer bring valuable experience to class discussion, we want to see a few strong early-career students in the mix too.

What do I mean by early-career?

Generally, applicants with fewer than three years of full-time work experience. This group includes individuals who want to pursue an MBA directly following undergraduate study with no prior full-time work experience.

Why reach out to these prospects? First, remember that the Business School’s philosophy is to have maximum impact on the management effectiveness of leaders at different career stages. The Sloan Master’s Program is aimed primarily at mid-career managers. Executive Education supports practicing mid- and senior-level managers. The MBA is a transformative experience for those who know, no matter their career stage, that leadership of organizations is their lifelong calling. That’s where we have a tremendous opportunity to accelerate the development of rising leaders.

Second, we think we’re missing out on some talent. I know at least two current chief executives of major corporations who years ago were denied admission to the Business School partly because they applied too early, but they were admitted elsewhere. We don’t want to lose outstanding candidates to other programs because we are perceived as unnecessarily rigid.

Third, the opportunity cost of being out of the workplace for two years is the largest cost component of an MBA, and that cost is lowest in the early-career stage. In addition, for candidates thinking about when to begin a family, early entrance to business school is often an attractive option. Women now earn the majority of undergraduate degrees in the United States and will be increasing in the MBA applicant pool as a result. Evidence suggests that women and men are at parity in law and medical schools partially because many women are able to establish their post-professional school careers before taking time out for children.

What are we doing to recruit early-career candidates?

Over the last several years, we have increased our efforts to reach undergraduate students by visiting 50 colleges to discuss the merits of an MBA education in general and at Stanford specifically. For the first time this year, the Business School offered the GSB Summer Institute for liberal arts and science undergraduates and early-career individuals to provide an early exposure to management education.

What do students with less work experience contribute?

Professors observe that early-career students are able to contribute along with those who have more work history. Early-career applicants may have fewer work experiences, but it is the quality of their experiences and not the quantity that matters, and we select all our students for the quality of what they bring. Different early-career applicants make different contributions, just as is the case with other demographic groups that make up the class””and that’s the point: We admit people as individuals, and by having outstanding early-career applicants in the pool, we have a stronger pool from which to select. Each person makes his or her own unique and valuable contribution to the whole, and each receives individual benefits from the program.

Recruiters strongly support the presence of some early-career students in the program. These students are sometimes more flexible about the location and types of positions they consider, and they can be more patient in the career years immediately after the MBA””factors that lead to considerable placement success for them. Our emphasis has always been quality of experience rather than quantity, focusing on what applicants have achieved relative to their opportunities.

Does this mean that Stanford is only interested in early career applicants? No. It also does not mean that you have a better chance if you apply at a younger age. It just means that these schools are becoming increasingly open to all ages, and realize that you have a lot to contribute in different ways at various life stages. Your job as an applicant is to search internally for what you have to offer – whether it is ten years of accumulated work experience or a high quality, unique summer internship.

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Beyond the Resume and Numbers

Applicants frequently ask me, “Here are my numbers, here is a copy of my resume. Do I have a chance?” That’s always a difficult question to answer because the resume and numbers are really only …

Applicants frequently ask me, “Here are my numbers, here is a copy of my resume. Do I have a chance?” That’s always a difficult question to answer because the resume and numbers are really only the tip of the “application iceberg”. There is so much more to this process. Reapplicant Chillpill clearly “gets” it as she frets over how to stand out and states that the GMAT is the easier part of the process.

The Outlook in Higher Education published an article in April about Business School Admissions, featuring Stacy Blackman Consulting and some recent clients. I am reprinting the article below because I think the client case studies do a good job of illustrating how numbers and resume do not get you in. It is true that extremely low numbers and a very poor resume can keep you out. However, stellar numbers and work experience on their own will not get you in. Read on…

Getting into Top B-schools
Success Requires a Strategy
April 10, 2006

by Sandra Gardner

There’s no question that getting an M.B.A. (master’s degree in business administration), especially at a top school, is expensive. Out-of-state tuition and fees can range from about $35,000 to nearly $40,000 a year, plus living expenses, for the top four schools. And for full-time students, in what is generally a two-year program, there’s the added cost of lost wages.

Is getting an M.B.A. really worth all that time and expense? The answer is: definitely, if you want to more than double your income, according to surveys of M.B.A. holders salaries. For M.B.A. holders from the top four schools – University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton, Northwestern University’s Kellogg, Stanford University and Harvard University ”“ the salary levels spiral to upwards of $165,000 a year. Not only that, but acquiring an M.B.A. can provide additional benefits of greater compensation growth, more stable long-term employment, and a higher likelihood of participating in the work force, according to ”The ROI on the M.BA.,” an article by Antony Davies and Thomas K Cline, published by the Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business. (R0I is “rate of investment.”) Since 1993, the authors report, expected wage growth for workers with professional degrees, including M.B.A.s, exceeded inflation by more than 2 percent. The wage growth for those with only undergraduate degrees averaged 1 percent above inflation.

Graduates with professional degrees have had 25 percent lower unemployment, and 81 percent have been work force participants, compared to 78 percent of those without professional degrees.

But being accepted into a top school program isn’t easy. The average GMAT (Graduate Management Admission Test) score was at least 700; undergraduate GPA (Grade Point Average) was more than 3.50, for the top four schools. In 2004, Kellogg took only 23 percent of applicants; Wharton, 16 percent; Harvard, 13 percent; and Stanford, 10 percent, according to Business Week’s “Best B-Schools of 2004.”

Hooking up with an M.B.A. admissions strategy firm like Stacy Blackman Consulting, based in Los Angeles, Calif., can make it all possible. Her success rate? She says that 97 percent of her clients are accepted at one of their top four choices. This includes clients with low GMAT and GPA scores and a lack of extracurricular or leadership experience. Blackman came to the business from a background in marketing products such as securities – and ice cream – at such companies as Charles Schwab, idealab! and Haagen-Dazs. Five years ago, she took that experience and translated it into business school admissions strategy, as one of the pioneers in the field.

Blackman, who holds an undergraduate degree from Wharton and an M.B.A. from Kellogg, believes that marketing people isn’t that much different from marketing chocolate chip cookie dough. How does she do it?

Basically, by a technique she calls “people branding.”

”It’s positioning people by thinking about the target market: what do they want and how can I appeal to those interests,” she says.

Grant Allen is a good example. Even being a cum laude graduate of Duke University’s Pratt School of Engineering didn’t work for his initial application to a top B-school.

“I didn’t even make it to the interview,” says Allen, one of Blackman’s clients, now in his first year at Wharton. “Before I talked to Stacy, I overemphasized my job achievements.” These included developing his own Web-design company as an undergraduate and working as an analytic and problem-solving consultant with Bates White, LIE, an environmental and product liability consulting practice; and a senior analyst for Dean & Company, a strategy consulting practice, both located in Washington, D.C.

Unfortunately, Allen’s marketing of himself to business schools didn’t differentiate him much from the pack of accomplished achievers with whom he was competing.

“You’re a smart person who’s done well at a job, and so has everyone else,” he says wryly. “Stacy helped me bring out my unique story.”

Blackman looked at things other than Allen’s G.P.A. and work history. Since 1998, he’s been traveling to South America, Southeast Asia and the Caribbean on behalf of a family foundation, International Cooperating Ministries. The Ministries is a church-building foundation started by Allen’s grandfather that has facilitated construction of 1,800 orphanages and churches in 35 countries.

“We work with the people in the country, providing overhead money and bridge loans for materials to build a place where people can worship and come together in a community center,” Allen explains.

Allen also co-founded with his father, a retired ophthalmologist, the Ocular Melanoma Foundation, a nonprofit education and research advocacy group for a rare type of Cancer.

Blackman helped Allen weave these threads into his essays so that his application told a unique story to admissions officials. As a result, he was accepted not only at Wharton but also at Kellogg.

“She acts as a coach, helps you clarify your thoughts, keeps you on track and enthusiastic about the process, and brings out the unique story you have inside you,” Allen says.

Though Blackman’s comprehensive marketing plan is custom designed, she and her staff, which includes 10 trained consultants, follow an overall schema. They conduct an initial conversation with the client about his or her background, M.B.A. admission goals, resume, and “numbers” (GMAT and GPA). The client then fills out a “Brainstorm Survey” Blackman created to identify achievements, goals, strengths, and challenges.

“The survey covers personal background and challenges, things that are not on the resume,” she says. “Schools want to know who you are as a human being.”

The client’s challenges and “holes” are assessed regarding B-school admission, and an action plan to meet these needs is put together. These include developing a school selection and target list, selecting and preparing recommenders and strategizing essay questions and an overall marketing plan. Support is provided in completing essays and resumes; planning school visits, interview techniques and preparation; and dealing with school decisions and enrollment.

Blackman will help a client find a GMAT tutor or volunteer opportunities, in addition to the motivation to go through extra rounds of essays, address areas of weakness and apply while working full-time. Clients work with the firm anywhere from a month to a year or something in between – however long it takes to complete the application process.

Her clients’ job history before business school ranges from investment banking to computer engineering to teaching and music.

“One of the biggest mistakes people make is the idea that someone who has a low G.P.A. or who is not an investment banker won’t get into business school,” she says.

That’s exactly what Janet Zhou had thought, even with her summa cum laude degree from the University of Memphis and years of working as a senior software engineer and technical product manager at Avolent, a leading enterprise application software provider.

“I was a software engineer for a long time,” Zhou says. “It was a difficult proposition to take my credentials and make them appeal to business school, to find the right way of describing myself so as to stand out from the very qualified applicant pool.”

Blackman noted that Zhou had emigrated from China at age 15 with no knowledge of English.

“Stacy asked me, what did I learn from that experience, the process of learning to speak English, learning about a different culture and finding an identity for myself with a blend of my cultural background and the U.S. culture,” Zhou explains.

Blackman added to this the fact that Zhou is fluent in Mandarin and volunteered at the San Francisco Asian Women Shelter, providing support, advocacy and Chinese language interpreting for domestic violence victims.

As a result of Blackman’s marketing, Zhou was accepted at MIT’s Sloan School of Business, the University of Michigan and Kellogg, where she is now completing her first year.

“She helped me design a strategy as to what to emphasize in my background and helped in writing the essays,” Zhou says.

Being a minority, from another culture or an immigrant family, provides an applicant with a unique perspective that can be an advantage, Blackman says. Even a not-so- perfect GPA doesn’t have to deter a business school hopeful, as was the case with a Hispanic client who’d failed a class in college.

“He grew up with a lot of challenges, in a poor family in a terrible gang neighborhood,” Blackman recalls. “But he’d developed so much as a human being, his essays reflected his accomplishments and maturity. He got into Harvard Business School and Wharton.”

Relating personal challenges that have been overcome is a big plus on an application essay, Blackman maintains, as is identifying a weakness that has been dealt with.

“For example, if you had low grades in college, business schools will question how you would handle their curriculum. Identify this as a weakness and let them know that you’re taking a calculus or accounting course to overcome this,” she says.

Blackman’s services aren’t cheap: her price for the first school is $2,750; the second school, an additional $1,500; for the third school and beyond, $1,000 per school; and a four-school package for $5,750. She also offers a $250 hourly service for clients who need specific help with a particular aspect of their application.

But her clients feel that the success they have hoped for is well worth the price. So much so, in fact, that the majority of her clients come to her through word of mouth.

“Don’t be afraid to expose a weakness. Sometimes a weakness can be turned into a strength. A ‘perfect’ person can show a lack of self-awareness,” Blackman advises.
“The key is to look at what you have going for you, who you are, what you can bring to the table. Market yourself.”

In other words: think of the nuggets that make up the unique product that is you. Just like Rocky Road.

Don’t Lose that Great Idea: Keep a Notebook During Spring and Summer

By Jeremy Dann Jack Kerouac kept a notebook before he went On the Road. Larry David’s notebook of wry observations and embryonic comedy routines was lost and then found by annoying fans on Curb Your …

By Jeremy Dann

Jack Kerouac kept a notebook before he went On the Road. Larry David’s notebook of wry observations and embryonic comedy routines was lost and then found by annoying fans on Curb Your Enthusiasm. Now, YOUR notebook should play a big part of your business school admissions process.

This spring and summer, commit to carrying around a notebook to scratch down your thoughts about your applications. Some of these might be random ideas that come to you while you’re working at your desk, sitting on a plane or braving the morning commute (if you drive, however, please keep two hands on the wheel at all times). But you should also plan to spend, say, half an hour of scheduled quality time per week with your notebook for the next several months. You may choose to use your notebook computer as your notebook in order to more easily reformat your thoughts into essay outlines.

Applications have not been distributed yet, but most of the themes are universal from year to year and should not come as a surprise to applicants. Take time to write down your preliminary ideas relating to:

1. Your main career accomplishments to date: not responsibilities or your job description, but your achievements
2. Examples of your leadership abilities
3. Your outside interests and passions and main achievements you’ve had in your “extracurricular” life
4. People and events that have influenced you
5. Your career goals after business schools”¦and your life goals
6. Areas in which you need improvement or personal development: these may be demonstrated skill or personality weaknesses you’ve committed to improve on. Also, these may be areas you have just not had a chance to develop yet.
7. How business school will benefit you: everyone benefits from “the diverse student body, world-renowned faculty and active alumni network”; you need to move well beyond this level of analysis. What specific things do you want to learn? What classes do you want to take? What would be your ideal summer internship?

Don’t settle for writing down your general thoughts. Be specific. As a matter of fact, be incredibly specific. I encourage my clients to employ what I call “microexamples” to bring their essays to life. That means finding those discrete moments that encapsulate major experiences in your life. That one negotiation session where your idea led to a breakthrough”¦the discomfort of the first time you had to fire someone”¦that phone call where you lost an important customer’s business”¦the “ah-hah” moment when you decided to invest in a certain entrepreneur’s company.

Some other things to scratch on your pad:
1. Your thoughts on what schools are right for you. What departments need to be great? What geography do you prefer? Are programs such as cross-registration important for you? Check out what one applicant did to create the ultimate school selection algorithm.
2. Who will your best recommenders be””and what do you want them to say? We’ll talk more about this in coming weeks.
3. Comments from your friends and family, and colleagues if appropriate. Your b-school application process can be a great time to buff up your ego. Sit down with your buddies and ask them: “What are the best things about me?” Sometimes outside perspectives will reveal things about your character and talents that you weren’t fully aware of. Actually, in addition to buffing up your ego, you should probably also ask these people about their feelings on your required areas of personal and professional development.

Your notes will be an incredibly valuable resource, whether you’re tackling the admissions process by yourself or working with an applications advisor.

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Whether & When to Reapply

Now that many of the admissions decisions have been finalized, many denied applicants are left wondering whether they should reapply. Forrest Gump begins to ponder what to do next in his posting, That Thing Called …

Now that many of the admissions decisions have been finalized, many denied applicants are left wondering whether they should reapply. Forrest Gump begins to ponder what to do next in his posting, That Thing Called Hope.

The business school application process is incredibly introspective. While all of the work that you put in to the process may increase your desire to attend, some of the thinking that you did about your career and life plans may actually have led you to agree with the admissions committee – business school is not the place for you.

If you have been denied this year, this is a time to take a break, perhaps briefly wallow in self pity, and then think about whether you really want or need business school. In many cases, if your goals are unchanged, the simple answer to this question is “yes”.

Have I Hurt My Chances?
Many applicants worry that they have a lower chance of acceptance with a reapplication. This is generally not the case. Many schools actually encourage reapplication. For example, Wharton states that reapplicants comprise about 10% of their applicant pool in a given year, and that about 10% of admitted applicants are reapplicants. This indicates that reapplicants have as good a chance as anyone else in the pool. They have also stated that they generally look favorably upon reapplications.

Some schools, such as Stanford and Harvard state that they do not look at the previous year’s application, and require you to submit an entirely new app. This would imply that a new application provides a completely clean slate.

Frequently, over the course of gathering feedback, you can establish a relationship with members of the admissions committee. This is also a way to show your commitment to the school and enhance your chances the second time around. While you do not want to be too agressive, and need to make sure that your interactions are not frivolous, in some cases you can maintain a meaningful dialog that can actually help your chances.

The takeaway here is that if managed properly, reapplication is not a bad thing, and can even improve your chances. Once you have decided that you want to forge ahead, the first step to successful reapplication is gathering as much honest feedback as you can.

Many schools will conduct feedback sessions to provide insights for denied applicants. Wharton states that they conduct approximately 1,500 feedback sessions each year. Kellogg and Columbia are two other schools that are willing to provide feedback. Be warned that the feedback is not always entirely helpful. Occasionally you will receive a very actionable piece of feedback, such as “you need more work experience” or “you should raise your GMAT score at least 30 points”. More often, the feedback is quite general and it can be hard to really pin down specific takeaways. You should also know that it is highly unlikely that you will hear, “you really do not have a chance here”. Even if that is, in fact, the case.

When to Reapply
When you actually reapply will depend on the outcome of outside feedback and your personal introspection. While some candidates may be in a hurry to go to school and move on with things, there are many reasons why you may want to wait a year before taking the plunge again.
1) If you find that you have a number of important issues to address in your candidacy, you may need more than the six months you still have to tackle everything.
2) You may be plain burnt out. Applying once is a very exhausting process on many levels. Being denied only adds to that. You may just not have it in you to try again so soon.
3) Finally, and perhaps most importantly – demonstrating progress is key to reapplication success. If you apply with the exact same story, same acitivities, same position…if you show that you really have not done much besides apply to business school in the past year, the likelihood of success is low. However, if you can demonstrate that you have begun to make progress towards your goals even without your MBA, that you have been promoted, taken a board seat, refined your goals…all of this will take you a long way. You may need more time to take action and demonstrate that progress. This would be a good reason to wait an additional year or more before reapplying.

These are things to think about now, before applications are posted. Go through the introspection, gather feedback and make some decisions about what you will do this year. Stacy Blackman Consulting can also provide feedback on last year’s apps to help you figure out what went wrong, and provide actionable advice for how to move forward. Just contact us at

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