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Put It in Writing

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North Miami’s Museum of Contemporary Art (MOCA), and the City of North Miami, Floridaare in the middle of dispute. To be fair, disputes involving creative businesses are nothing new (I wrote about a couple of doozies in a previous blog post), but the disagreement between MOCA and North Miami is very much out of the ordinary in that the dispute includes something so basic as who actually owns MOCA’s collection. Both MOCA’s board and the City of North Miami claim that they own MOCA’s collection.

How could a museum possibly be involved in a dispute about something as fundamental as the ownership of its collection? The answer, unfortunately, is that the agreement between MOCA and the City of North Miami appears to have not clearly defined what party owned the collection.

It is common thinking that contracts are really only of use when there’s a dispute between parties. That’s mostly true. The regrettable truth, however, is it is often very easy to avoid spending the time required to develop and execute a detailed, written contract when entering into a new venture. The future can look rosy as a new business or relationship gets underway. Visions of a beneficial business relationship can abound, and the efforts required to get put a detailed contract in place can seem like a buzz-kill at least, and counterproductive, at worst.

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Three Simple Rules for Successfully Balancing Creativity and Innovation

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on Monday, 13 October 2014
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Creativity and innovation are commonly confused. Both activities are key to growing most businesses; however, creativity and innovation fulfill very different functions.

Creativity generates original ideas, while innovation is the result of changing existing ideas or methods. Both creativity and innovation are required for most businesses. A screenwriter, for example, may create a brilliant screenplay, which may be utilized by a producer in an innovative movie. This example shows both creativity with the screenplay that had heretofore not existed, and innovation by the making a different type of movie.

All too often, we see examples of companies that suffer because of a lack of balance between creativity and innovation.

Here are three simple rules to follow to help you balance these two concepts in your business:

1. Promote creative ideas in excess of what is required.

Every creative idea is not a smash hit. A composer, for instance, may experiment with different chord progressions until he or she lands on something they’re happy with. To expand upon this concept, I submit that creativity needs to be given the latitude within a company to miss the mark, every once in a while. The phrase “Think outside the box” has become overused to the extent that it’s become somewhat of a joke, nowadays, but whoever thought of that term could have more accurately said “Keep the good ideas that land outside the box”. In other words, don’t be misled into thinking that all “outside the box” ideas are good, but you’ll never get the gems if you don’t dig through the mine. To quote Michael Jordan: "You miss 100% of the shots you don't take”.

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Tim’s Vermeer

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on Sunday, 17 August 2014
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As someone who appreciates art, technology, and the combination of the two, I was thrilled to have recently watched “Tim’s Vermeer”, a film by Penn & Teller. This film had everything a creative nerd could ever dream of – beautiful paintings, lost technology of the past, and a dash of Penn Jillette’s sarcastic irreverence.

Tim’s Vermeer tells the story of NewTek founder Tim Jenison’s obsession with the work of Dutch painter Johannes Vermeer. Throughout the movie, Jenison relates his observations about Vermeer’s almost photo-realistic paintings, and arrives at the conclusion that Vermeer likely utilized optical and/or mechanical tools to achieve stunning visual realism in his work.

The movie follows Jenison as he constructs a system that may well have been quite similar to that which he postulates Vermeer used in his work. The end result is a painting created by Jenison that is eerily similar to Vermeer’s The Music Lesson.

Of course, a movie such as Tim’s Vermeer is not for everyone. There are no explosions, no superheroes, and apparently no aliens (admittedly, though, some have made an argument for Penn and/or Teller being alien). For anyone with an interest in visual art, or optical technology, however, Tim’s Vermeer is a must see.

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The Effects of Theatre Mismanagement

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on Thursday, 07 August 2014
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A little over three years ago, Rome’s Teatro Valle was occupied.  Teatro Valle, a theatre and former opera house in operation since 1726, was not occupied by an invading army (at least not this time), but rather by a group of actors, stage technicians, and costumers concerned about plans to privatize the theatre, following what the occupiers have characterized as the Culture Ministry’s abandonment of support for Italy’s arts community.  At the time of the occupation, even Italy’s Deputy Culture Minister conceded that money had been spent unwisely.

More than 5000 miles away from Teatro Valle, Coconut Grove Playhouse, a renowned facility located in a lush Miami neighborhood, in operation since 1927, and host to some of America’s most renowned stage productions of the latter 20th century, closed its doors in 2006 amidst a mountain of debt, and questionable financial management.  Reportedly, state grants had been misused by the theatre’s management, all while the theatre’s board was either unwilling or unable to effectively oversee the person or persons that were mismanaging the theatre.  As a result, a historically significant theatre, that helped drive the economy of a small Miami neighborhood for decades, now sits as a rotting ghost of its former glory.

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Crowdfunding Your Creative Project

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on Wednesday, 30 July 2014
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Creative endeavors are often a reflection of contemporary society.  In musical theatre for instance, Gershwin reviews are now few and far between, while productions featuring more kickstarter-badge-backerup-to-date musical styles such as hip-hop, and rock abound.  It stands to reason, therefore, that funding methodology for the arts should move with the times, as well.

Crowdfunding has quickly become a popular method for grass-roots capitalization of creative projects, mostly through websites such as Kickstarter and Indiegogo.  Larger and more mainstream productions now seem to be jumping on the crowdfunding bandwagon with projects such as Zack Braff’s new movie "Wish I Was Here" having been funded through a Kickstarter campaign, and Jaime Hendry’s new production of “The Wind in the Willows” being funded with small investments via the production’s own funding website.  The lesson for all of us in creative businesses is that as audiences change with the times (fans of Gershwin are becoming quite rare, for example), the capitalization methods for projects in the arts are undoubtedly changing, as well.

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The Importance of Live Entertainment

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on Monday, 23 June 2014
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The-Importance-of-Live-EntertainmentIt’s likely that all of us, in our lifetimes, have come away from a number of live performances feeling enthralled after having been captivated by a show that we found engrossing.  Certainly, not every example of live entertainment can be filed as a “classic” in our memories, but in my experience, it’s very rare that I’ve regretted seeing live entertainment.  In fact, those few instances of regret I’ve had for seeing a particular performance are far outnumbered by astonishingly fascinating experiences I’ve encountered as an audience member.

Strangely, however, it seems that the rate at which Americans attend live entertainment events (musical performances, comedy shows, live theatre, etc.) continues to drop.  A survey by The National Endowment for the Arts reports that over a 12-month period, just over one third of Americans attended any arts activity in 2008 (the most recent year for which data was available).  It’s troubling to note that this figure is down from 41% in 1992.

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Inventory Planning

Posted by Super User
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on Wednesday, 04 June 2014
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Companies can find great benefit in effectively managing their inventory, just as they can find great peril in ineffectively managing inventory.

For the small business, or for a business just starting out, planning initial inventory levels, setting up inventory control processes, and managing logistics can seem like daunting tasks.  To make matters even more difficult, folks in inventory and logistics management often communicate using language that’s challenging, at best, for the novice to understand (just what did he mean when he referred to our shipment as “JIT via 3PL, FOB Origin”?).

As intimidating, and not doubt boring, as it may seem, however, inventory planning is very important, and should be given great consideration.

Let’s take a brief look at the importance of determining the amount of inventory your company should have on hand.  There are many companies that have struggled greatly from overloading their inventory to address every possible scenario that could possibly happen (and some scenarios that couldn’t happen), and there are those companies that wrestle with having too small an inventory of fast-rotating items, thus limiting production & increasing transportation costs.  The key to finding the correct inventory levels for your company is determining the right balance between tying up your assets in slow-moving inventory, and being unable to meet your company’s production requirements.  In all cases, however, avoid the “yeah, that looks about right” method of determining inventory levels.  Instead, utilize quantitative measurements, and well-considered forecasts.

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Apple’s Purchase of Beats Electronics Signals a Change

Posted by Super User
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on Monday, 12 May 2014
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Last week, news of Apple’s upcoming $3.2 billion purchase of Beats Electronics, the company formed in 2008 by Dr. Dre and Jimmy Iovine, was leaked to the press.  Neither Apple, nor Beats Electronics have confirmed this news, but Dr. Dre’s announcing that he’s the “first billionaire in hip-hop” would seem to provide confirmation of this leak.

Musicians’ images have been used for years to endorse products (see what Elvis Presley or Frank Sinatra are selling, nowadays), but this reported purchase of Beats Electronics represents something new for the music industry: the large-scale purchase of a musician-created brand.  Certainly, many musicians have diversified their business well outside of music in the past, but Apple’s purchase of a musician-owned mega-brand by an even larger mega-brand is unprecedented.

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Arts Education and the Benefits of Early Introduction to Children

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on Monday, 28 April 2014
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artsMuch has been learned about ancient societies by studying human creative endeavors of the past, such as ancient instruments, cave paintings, and architecture.  While fossils and bone fragments can teach us about the biological details of the past, it is yesterday’s artistic creations that help us form an understanding of how past societies functioned.

So, with the clear understanding that the arts contributed so greatly to the development of human society, it’s troubling to witness the push towards limiting arts education, and it’s encouraging to find examples of arts education being valued.

A recent Miami Herald article provides a clear example of how introducing an arts curriculum into a school provides clear and definitive benefits.  The introduction of a music program to North Miami Middle School, in which half the school population has enrolled, has led to a 30% reduction in student behavioral issues.

A common misconception exists that an arts education’s sole benefit is as vocational training.  Clearly, there are many more benefits to an arts education that merely churning out new artists and musicians (as is evident at North Miami Middle School).  The National Art Education Association has provided a list of additional benefits in their “10 Lessons the Arts Teach”:

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Funding the Expansion of Your Creative Business

Posted by Super User
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on Tuesday, 22 April 2014
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money smallI’ve learned over the years that the excitement of starting or expanding a creative business is often upstaged by the entrepreneur’s anxiety over seeking financing or investment.  Let’s face the fact that with us creative types, sometimes the electives we took in school were more likely to have covered the difference between syncopation and polyrhythm than the difference between debt and equity.

Any entrepreneur should take the time to understand the different ways to fund their business, and even though there may be a steeper learning curve for a creative businessperson versus an investment banker, taking the time to develop a good understanding of your funding options is very important.

The good news is that many of the practices you’ve followed to hone your craft can be put to good use when considering your financing options when expanding your business.  For example:

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Berklee College of Music Students Musical Response on the Anniversary of the Boston Marathon Bombings

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on Tuesday, 15 April 2014
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On the anniversary of the Boston bombings, Berklee College of Music students Ben Johnston and Jordan Lucero have produced and release a powerful yet beautiful response called "I Don't Have a Song for That."

Berklee College of Music resides in the same neighborhood as the finish line to the Boston marathon as was obviously effected.  Our thoughts are with you, Boston.

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Theatre Growth: Measure, Measure, Measure

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blogThis blog exerpt is taken from an interview with Craig Chamberlain regarding challenging issues Theatre owners might facing during growth and expansion.

Moderator: We're very excited to speak about growth in the theatre industry.  Discuss if you will how, as the reputation and the business grows, some ways that theater companies can either control growth, manage growth, or measure the results of the growth?

Craig: Well, you've hit the nail on the head when you say--when you use the word "measure." That's really the most important thing, I think, for not only theaters, but all creative businesses to embrace, is measurement. And by measurement, I mean objective measurement. Theater companies are so used
to measuring things subjectively. You know, "Am I going to sing this in a major key, am I going sing in a minor key?" Or "Is this a blue wash, or is this a yellow wash?"

Taking that left brain, right brain approach, and then looking at the management of your theater company objectively can sometimes be a hard step.
So as you grow, and as your theater company is being managed through this growth process, it's important to identify metrics by which you measure your company. And basically, to answer the question over and over again of "how we do it."

Every company's different, but you learn basic accounting skills, or get somebody in that can be your business manager, and measure. Measure, measure, measure. Know what your margins are. Know what the cost of doing business is. If you have capital expenditures, plan for that and measure that. Create a simple operational budget, and measure your business against that. That way, you'll be able to know how you're doing; whether you're doing better than planned, or not meeting the requirements of your business. This way you don't end up with surprises.

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The Innovator's Dilemma

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on Tuesday, 01 April 2014
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screen shot 2014-04-01 at 7.47.35 pmThis blog exerpt is taken from an interview with Craig Chamberlain regarding challenging issues Theatre owners might facing during growth and expansion.

Moderator: Good Afternoon, I am speaking with Craig Chamberlain, business professional, entrepreneur and Berklee College of Music alumnus. Today we are discussing issues theatre companies might consider when they're going through growth and expansion. Can you speak to this?

Craig: Yes, certainly. The three areas that theaters may want to look at when looking at growth or innovation are marketing, technology and creative content. The third item, creative content, is generally the easiest for production companies to grasp and actually accomplish. That's what people get into live entertainment for in the first place, is creation and innovation. So you write a new play, you sing a different song; that tends not to be very difficult for most theatre companies to embrace.

The other two areas, marketing and technology, are a little different. First, with marketing, going to the outside world, from the non-theater world, to market your productions, can be very daunting. You'll be dealing with people that are non theatre people, you'll be outside your comfort zone and it's a different world. Every industry has their insiders and their comfort zone and going outside to market your theatre can be challenging. You'll be dealing with newspapers or online services or whatever, and they're not the same people you're used to dealing with on a day to day basis, like choreographers or composers, and that can be challenging. So that's one challenge that theatres will have.

The other area is technology. It's very hard to keep up both intellectually and financially with cutting edge technology in theare. If you're a company that's large enough, you might have a technical director that keeps up with everything, who reads publications or is on certain mailing lists. That's great and wonderful but it's hard to justify spending all the money to upgrade equipment But if you take a look at the long-term, look at some of the innovations that have come about in the past few years and you can really see how they have benefited theatre both creatively and financially.

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Manage with Measurement / Create with Feeling

Posted by Super User
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on Monday, 24 March 2014
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Yin-Yang-200Examples of yin-yang, the notion of opposites being interdependent, are all around us.  Examples include dark / light, north / south, and Iron Man / Iron Lady (I’m not too sure about that last example, though).

Creative businesses regularly have an interesting example of yin-yang to accommodate; the often opposite concepts of business management and creation.

“Management by measurement” is not a new concept, but it’s one in which I strongly believe.  Businesses, especially those experiencing change or growth, generally find it beneficial to follow key business indicators, and the more objective these indicators, the better.  In other words, measurements of hard data such as margin, return rates, and debt to equity ratio offer companies the ability to quantitatively answer the “How are we doing?” question.

In contrast, creative businesses are also dependent on entirely subjective measurements.  The costumes for a theatre’s new production may be described as “pretty”, “sexy”, or “Elizabethan” and the lead track on a band’s album may be called “dark”, “upbeat”, or “baroque”.  It’s critical for a creative business to design their product by subjective means.

Where creative businesses often experience difficulty, though, is in the balance between objective and subjective measurements.  For instance, I think we can all agree that describing a theatre company’s debt to equity ratio as “sexy” would be neither an objective or helpful business measurement technique.

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A Tale of Two (Culinary) Cities

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GUSI’m certainly no expert in culinary arts. In my family, my sister Christine Couvelier reigns as the culinary expert. I have spent more than my fair share of time in restaurants, however, particularly while travelling for business, so I feel I am at least experienced enough to comment on a disturbing trend I’ve noticed.

Within the span of a couple of days last month, I had very different experiences at two completely different restaurants.

One evening last month, I dined at a very well-reviewed and popular restaurant in Miami Beach. This restaurant has a very creative menu, is consistently very busy, and judging from both the velvet rope, and the very nice cars at the valet, it’s very popular with people far more hip than I. After a very enjoyable course of appetizers, our table was approached by a busboy, who proceeded to remove the cutlery from our plates, then place it on the table before removing the appetizer plates. In other words, this very popular (and somewhat expensive) restaurant wanted us to re-use our cutlery for our entrées after having their staff handle it and place it on a table. To my eyes, this practice has become quite common in and around Miami over the past couple of years.

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When Bad Things Happen to Good Businesses

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planSeven Tips to Help Your Business Plan for the Unexpected

No matter how well-intentioned one is when starting a business, there will be days when things do not go as planned. Sometimes, problems arise that may be unexpected such as a workplace accident, frivolous lawsuit, or natural disaster, and it’s often how well a company has planned for adversity that determines a company’s future.

Here are a few tips to help you prepare for the unexpected:

1. Ensure that your company is properly set up for the type of business you intend to do. Spend time determining what type of entity your company should be, and be certain that if your future plans include expansion that you will be able to accommodate growth to additional jurisdictions or countries.

2. Be properly insured for your type of business. Certainly, there are specific statutory requirements, such as Worker’s Compensation Insurance, but you should also have a professional provide you with an opinion as to what other insurance you should require. Also, don’t forget to check any insurance requirements that your customers may have of your company. This can be especially important should you plan on performing work on your customers’ premises, or should any supply agreement you enter into with a customer include an indemnity clause.

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Quotations – Not the Boring Kind

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on Monday, 03 February 2014
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Admittedly, when the word “quotation” comes out of my mouth, many of my friends will assume that I’m talking about a step in the purchasing process (see here).  Perhaps this is because of the years I spent working in purchasing departments, or maybe it’s just because I’m a boring conversationalist.  I like to think it’s the former, but I’m not so sure.

In any case, I do enjoy a good quotation – the other kind – every now and again.  I was on Hollywood Boulevard, the other day, and saw this quote outside a pub:

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My Thoughts On The Grammys

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This past Sunday, as I do most every year, I watched the Grammy awards. Here are some thoughts, opinions, and rants:

1.Pharrell Williams should return his hat to the Mountie from whom he borrowed it, and use his residuals to purchase a suit and tie.

2.Nile Rodgers is about the coolest guy on the planet.

3.Don’t forget the “Art”.

The institution that puts together the Grammys is now known as “The Recording Academy”, and is formerly known as the National Academy of Recording Arts & Sciences. With all due respect to Milli Vanilli, and not much is due, the Grammys are disingenuous is recognizing “art” when a “performance” includes recorded vocals.

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Tales of a Business Manager

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screen shot 2014-01-27 at 7.30.36 pm

I must admit that the original title of this blog post was “Exciting Tales of a Business Manager”, but honestly, if a Business Manager is doing his or her job well, there should be few tales about their work that are very exciting.  Be cautious of any Business Manager proudly telling a story involving unusually large reptiles, the mysterious disappearance of a client, and an industrial-scale popcorn popper.

I’ve had the pleasure of operating and investing in some wonderful creative businesses, over the years.  For the most part, my clients and business partners have been a joy to work with, and I’m proud of the work we’ve done.  Creative businesses, however, are rife with examples of poor decisions.

One of my favorite examples of a poor decision involves a well-known musician that found himself in a bit of a financial crush.  Attorneys working towards selling some of this musician’s assets came across a piece of property upon which the musician had had a warehouse constructed to store the toys he had acquired during the heyday of his career.  As many of the toys had since been sold off, the attorneys felt that selling this warehouse would be wise, but when they looked further, it turned out that the warehouse had been built on land that the musician rented, not land that he owned.  As is commonly the case, the rental agreement provided that any improvements to the rented land became property of the landlord.  In other words, this musician spent a great deal of money to construct a warehouse that ended up being given to someone else.

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Communication Matters

Posted by Super User
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writing picIn truth, English composition was not my strong suit in high school.  I had no troubles with mathematics and music, but the study of languages, in general, just didn’t excite me very much.  Strangely, however, I seem to be increasingly called upon by clients and associates to vet their writing.  I’ve become a stickler for proper business communication in my own businesses, and I’ve become somewhat dismissive of businesses that can’t be bothered to communicate clearly.

The examples I see of poor business communication are seemingly limitless.  For instance, I’m particularly puzzled as to why job applicants for positions requiring strong communication skills would submit résumés containing errors in spelling and grammar.  Why would a potential employer hire an applicant to represent their company when the applicant cannot effectively represent himself or herself?

I completely understand that the written word is not everyone’s forte.  In fact, I include myself amongst those whom I do not consider the most skillful of writers.  It’s my strong belief, however, that written communication containing errors demonstrates a lack of respect by the writer for the recipient.

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