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Monthly Archives: December 2011

On feedback

Feedback is an important thing. Without feedback from the world around us, through our senses, we wouldn’t know where we were, what we were doing or where we were going. In business, without feedback from our clients and prospects … well, we wouldn’t know where we were, what we were doing or where we were going!

There are two important sets of feedback we should all try to gather as we go through our business life, whether that business is a one-person enterprise or a multinational company.

Customer feedback, aka references and testimonials

Whenever I complete a job for a new client, along with their invoice I have some text I send them which includes a request for a reference or testimonial, if they are happy with my work. I used to link to my Facebook page where they could add their own reference, but since that feature has been removed, I now just provide a link to my references page where they can see what other people have said about Libro’s services.  I don’t get one from everybody, but when I do, I make sure I put it up on the references page, first in the “new” section at the top of the page, then when I add some more new ones, I move the older ones down into their categories. I arrange them into categories so people can find work like theirs to look at, rather than just having a jumble of stuff on the page – and I highlight important phrases to break it up a bit. By the way, sometimes I hear back from someone weeks after I asked. I never hassle for a reference or remind someone, though, as I feel that would be a bit pushy.

So how do I use these references? First of all, I put a little announcement up via social media when I get a new one. Hopefully people will pop over and have a look. This has a few benefits: people will see I’m doing well and be reassured that I’m a viable business to work with; people will see that I do a good job; people might see that I work in a different area to the ones they know about (I have diversified my services along the way so some people I met early in the life of Libro may still only know me as an editor) and then have some work they can put my way or someone they can recommend to me.  Obviously, having the references there means that I can direct people to them if they enquire about my services or ask what I can do for them. And quite a few companies I work with have asked for a CV – having taken some advice from peers, I put together CVs for my different work areas, using the references I’d collected but adding more detail about the kinds of jobs I’d done for the clients.

As well as using my own references page, I am on a few advertising sites which have references – and of course LinkedIn, which has a recommendations feature. I’ve had to be a bit more blatant than I might wish to be in asking people to add references onto these – and I usually only ask regular clients with whom I have a good, ongoing relationship – but no one has minded so far, and it’s helped build my LinkedIn profile and my profile on other sites.

So I make these references work for me – and I am convinced they help me when people are considering whether to use my services.

As an additional point, if the person giving me the reference has a website, I’ll pop a link to the site at the end of my reference. That’s a Google-pleasing link back for them and a touch of generosity on my part that they might remember for next time!

Oh, and if you’re building up your business and doing bits of work for free, make sure you make it a condition of your doing the work that the client gives you a reference. People actually value something more if they have to pay for it, and ‘paying’ by giving you a reference gives you that kind of relationship, plus you have something useful to add to your references page!

Market research

The other kind of feedback that’s vital for businesses large and small, young and old, is market research. You may have done this in the initial stages when you were seeing if there was a potential market for your goods or services. But it’s important to keep checking that you’re on the right track, that you know what your clients and prospects want. I’ve tended to do this myself for my blog rather than for my business as such, although I’ll look at that as I go along. After I’d been running this blog for 6 months, I put up a quick survey asking if I was posting too frequently/infrequently, posting about the right kinds of subject, and whether I was alerting people about the posts in the right way. Actually, in this case, the results I got pretty well balanced each other out: for everyone who thought I posted too much there was someone who thought I could post more, and a majority saying it was just right, and for everyone who was bored by my monthly updates on what I’d been doing, there was someone who said that was their favourite bit! But at least that told me I was on the right track, and this and subsequent feedback on my alerting process led me to minimise the alerts about blog posts on my personal Facebook page.

That’s the thing: you do need to respond to feedback and to do something if something needs doing. We’ll talk about that in  a minute …

Other kinds of feedback

You can also seek other kinds of feedback – another interesting and important area is when you are heading down a path and you need to check you’re going the right way. The Entrepreneur meetup I attend in my city is a good place to chat about what you’re doing and what you’re planning and see if you have the right ideas. I was talking to the owner of a cupcake company a few months ago and persuaded her to look into doing a range of low-fat as well as the usual gluten-free cupcakes; if I want the former, I’m pretty sure there’ll be a set of other people in the city who want them too. A couple of months ago, I had a bit of a tricky business problem that coincided with the Social Media Cafe I attend. So I talked it through with my peers – and I did that recently over email with a couple of peers too; it’s so useful to get feedback from other people in the same line of work, or same size business, as you. On another practical note, many of the authors and publishers I know will distribute online or print copies of their new books to a few selected readers (Joanna Penn calls these ‘beta readers’). They might then use their comments to improve the book, or use their reviews to publicise it upon publication. All useful interstitial feedback.

Take feedback on board and do something about it!

It is, of course, important to take note of the feedback and generate something useful from it. If your clients all describe you as friendly, and you like that, build your brand to include and emphasise that aspect, as if that’s what a lot of your clients like, then more will like that too. If people are being driven mad by your constant alerts about blog updates on your personal social media, scale it back to one round-up per week. If your beta readers hate your character’s name, look into changing it!

No request for feedback is without an ulterior motive – you want to tailor and target your outward face to match what your potential clients are looking for. If you’re going to get something out of people …

  • make sure you say thank you
  • use it

Oh, and talking of ulterior motives, I’ve got a survey on the go at the moment to try to find out how I can post the most useful articles possible on the language sections of this blog. Do go and fill it in, please. You know I’ll take note of the answers!

 
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Posted by on December 28, 2011 in Business, Ethics, Organisation

 

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A new survey

I’ve set up a new survey to see how I can best make this blog useful through 2012. Please take a moment to answer as many of the questions as you can – I really want to know the answers!

You can find the survey here on SurveyMonkey.

Thanks for reading … and filling in your answers!

 
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Posted by on December 27, 2011 in Blogging, Writing

 

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Liz Broomfield (now Dexter)

Welcome to Saturday Business/Freelancer Chat. And it’s with … well, me! I realised that I should have interviewed myself, plus this will be published on Christmas Eve and it didn’t seem fair to give anyone else a slot when not many people were looking at the internet; this way there will be 50 interviewees, plus me, plus a rest on New Year’s Eve! I run a company called Libro through which I do proofreading, copyediting, writing, transcriptions and localisation for companies and individuals around the world. I have some great regular customers and then do one-off jobs for people too. I’ve launched my business the way that felt comfortable to me as I went along – a “soft launch” which involved me still being supported financially while building the business. Now it’s a whole new chapter for Libro, which is very exciting!

So, I’ve been running Libro for a couple of years now, I went full-time with the business recently, and I’m enjoying that (and writing a blog about it). Here are my answers to my own questions …

What is your business called? When did you set it up?

My business is called Libro. I set it up in August 2009 when a colleague at the library where I worked at the time mentioned he had some students who needed help with dissertation proofreading. It’s blossomed from there!

What made you decide to set up your own business?

I had done writing and editing work in a lot of my previous job roles, and done (unpaid) proofreading and editing for novels and journals in the past. When I discovered a need for my services, and close at hand, I decided to go for it and register my business with the Inland Revenue, etc.

What made you decide to go into this particular business area?

I knew I was good at the work and could provide a good service. As I’ve gone along, I’ve added more services to my portfolio, mainly in response to demand, but knowing they were skills I could cover. I started off working with students, as I used to type up dissertations for people back in my own student days, and I had access to the client base via colleagues, many of whom were post-graduate students who could put up posters for me in their departments or recommend me to their friends.

Had you run your own business before?

No! And anyone who knew me before I launched would be very surprised – I am an unlikely entrepreneur!  Just because I’ve always been in the background, doing admin, setting up systems and helping people, rather than being out at the front promoting myself! I have done a lot of different jobs in several different companies, and those have come in handy.

How did you do it? Did you launch full-time, start off with a part-time or full-time job to keep you going … ?

I worked full-time at my library job from when I launched in August 2009. I went to 4 days a week at the library in January 2011, 3 days a week in May, and officially leave the library completely at the end of December 2011, although holiday owed to me and university general holidays mean that I’ve actually been full-time since December 12.

What do you wish someone had told you before you started?

That I could do it, and that I should have faith in myself.

What would you go back and tell your newly entrepreneurial self?

Go part-time – or more part-time, earlier! Enjoy the process and start a blog!

What do you wish you’d done differently?

I do wish that I’d taken the opportunity to go more part-time earlier. I could have dropped two days at the library from January 2011 but I lost my nerve at the last moment. I then had a very hectic time of it as Libro expanded to fill the space!

What are you glad you did?

Went on the HMRC “becoming self-employed” course. Started my blog – hits on my website increased hugely when I started blogging, and I really enjoy it, too! I listed Libro on a few free ads sites and joined a professional translators’ website which has brought in lots of jobs and a great return on investment. I’m also glad I’ve done it, full stop: I’m really quite proud of what I’ve achieved!

What’s your top business tip?

Trust your gut instinct. Put good systems in place including strong terms and conditions. Treat every mistake and mishap as a learning experience – you’ll get a blog post out of it, at least! And give something back, too. Sharing advice and doing bits and pieces for people I’ve met at the Entrepreneur Meetup and helping out at the Social Media Surgery has helped me stay true to who I am. Oh – and be honest – with your clients, setting expectations – and with your peers. Allow yourself to be vulnerable and seek support from those you can trust.

How has it gone since you started? Have you grown, diversified or stayed the same?
I’ve grown and diversified as I went along. I started off proofreading student dissertations, then was asked to write something; well, I’ve written plenty of procedures and newsletters so went for that. Transcription – well, it’s just audio typing! And being on the translators’ site has brought me localisation work where I can bring my experience working for a US company to bear on helping “translate” text from US to UK English. I’ve basically done anything to do with words, even copy typing. I think it’s important to have a range of services to offer. And I have clients all over the UK and in America, Canada, across Europe, India and China!

Where do you see yourself and your business in a year’s time?

Well, I’ll have been full-time with Libro for a year. Hopefully I’ll be earning enough to support myself, I’ll have taken a holiday or two, and have a good solid roster of regular clients to keep me going.

Exciting times, then, for me, and a good, if different, year ahead! Where was I in a year’s time? Here!

You’re on my website already. You can email me – and you can also find me on Twitter  and Facebook.

If you’ve enjoyed this interview, please click here for more freelancer chat, or here for information on how you can have your business featured.

 
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Posted by on December 24, 2011 in Business, New skills, Small Business Chat

 

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Confound or confuse?

I’ve been working my way through the last of Gill’s massive list and this is one of the final ones … I have had some more suggestions here and there, though, so the supply won’t run out just yet!

So, today we have confound and confuse.

To confuse someone is to make them bewildered or perplexed – “He confused her with his rapier wit until she would agree to anything”.”1% fat or 99% fat-free? I’m confused”. In a linked way, it also means to make something less easy to understand – “He confused all the issues with each other until it was impossible to understand his arguments”. And it also means to identify wrongly – “Is that Busted? Oh – I’ve confused them with McFly.”

Now, confound does carry a meaning of to surprise or confuse,  but it’s more used in the sense of proving something wrong or causing it not to work, defeating a plan, a hope or an aim “Her hopes of living off her savings were confounded by the low interest rates”; “Ha! With my intelligence and wit, I have confounded your dastardly plot!” A useful and flexible word, it can also mean to mix up with something else: “in his formula, x is confounded with y, and that makes it come out wrong”.

Special bonus word: to confute – is to prove to be wrong (shall we do confute and refute next time?)

So, a simple rule – confuse if you want to perplex or mix up; confound if you want to ruin the dastardly plans. Got that?

“She was confused by the bright lights, and he confounded her plan for escape by tripping her up.”

That’s probably the last troublesome pair for 2011 – will anybody be on the internet reading blogs next Friday?

You can find more troublesome pairs here and the index to them all so far is here.

 
 

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Top Time Management Tips: For Santa … and You!

Cartoon of Liz dressed up as Santa

Liz or Santa?

This time of year is a busy one for Santa, but maybe not for you. Maybe you’re off work for the seasonal holiday now, on vacation from your studies, or your clients are on holiday so you are too, by extension. Maybe it’s time to have a bit of a think about how you’ll manage your time more successfully in the New Year. As it’s Christmas, as well as sharing some tips on time management in general, I’m going to relate them to Santa’s life, too. If you’re reading this, F. Christmas, I hope they’re helpful!

Work to your strengths

I think this and the next point are key. You should know by now when your good – and not so good – times are for concentrating and getting things done.  The key is then to arrange your day to match these peaks and troughs, aligning your work patterns to your personal patterns. This is easier when you work for yourself, but is manageable when you’re employed, too. I hope Santa’s best late at night, as his main workflow is obviously when he can zip through the dark skies! I’m best in the early mornings, so now I like to get a chunk of work done before breakfast, and when I was working, I liked to start as early as I could. I have a slight lack of concentration after breakfast, so I am scheduling in some down time or some smaller, achievable tasks for then, and I’m hopeless after lunch – but I can work fine if I have a big deadline, so I either work to a deadline there or accept it’s not a great time and do something else. People think ‘larks’ can be annoying and smug, but I’d love to be able to work late into the night. I know I will make mistakes then, as I’m not a ‘night owl’, so if I have a big project to push through, I’m more likely to get up extra early. When are your good and bad times? How can you tweak your work schedule to get the most out of them?

Blocks of time

This is the other important one, in my opinion. Say you’ve got presents to wrap, letters sent to the North Pole to read, and deliveries to make. Don’t hop from one to the other: put aside a block of time to concentrate on one thing and that thing only, whether it’s catching up with emails for half an hour, spending 15 minutes reading Twitter, or putting in an hour on that big project. When I was a training manager I learnt (from theory and experience) that people can’t concentrate for more than 45 mins to an hour at a time, so make sure you work in a 5 minute break after each hour-long block. If you have something that you don’t fancy doing, set a timer to 30 or even 15 minutes and do just that thing for at least that length of time. Often you will get into the swing of things and may be able to carry on longer.

No distractions

When you’re concentrating on one thing, don’t let the others distract you.  Santa doesn’t screech to a halt just above your chimney to answer his elf and safety hotline, and if he does, he needs to stop doing that (wear and tear on the reindeer, for a start!) There’s rarely something that won’t wait an hour. Phone calls, OK, but if you really need to concentrate, turn voicemail on, too. I keep my BlackBerry on my desk: it alerts me if an email comes in and I can very quickly check if it looks urgent without opening and reading it on my PC – works for me! Doing something wholeheartedly for that block of time will work far better than swapping to something else part way through.

Lists and priorities

It seems so obvious, but write a to-do list, either at the end of each working day, or the beginning of the next one. I split mine into work to do, work admin and other – as someone working from home there is always something like posting letters to do, and even if you work with other people you may need to pop out on an errand. As for Santa, well, his to-do list will vary according to the season, but I doubt there’s ever only one task, even on Christmas Eve (stock up on reindeer fuel, schedule toilet stops, get red suit dry-cleaned … ). I tend to write one set of lists then actually order the things for the day, with closer deadlines taking priority over more distant ones (I use a Gantt chart to record those).

Not all time is billable time

I record my billable hours in a diary every day. That’s hours I’ve worked on projects that I’m getting paid for. I can then see how much I’m making per hour, per day and per week, to make sure I’m on track with my targets. Santa needs to get a certain number of presents delivered to a certain number of houses per hour. But I’ve learnt that, just because you’re sitting at your desk for 7 hours, you’ll rarely do 7 hours of billable work (unless you’re a lawyer or suchlike and every single task is assigned a project code). You’ll have emails to answer, blog posts to write, social media to engage with, toilet breaks – and if you work at home, that mid-afternoon shower, gym session, answering the door to salespeople … Even Santa has to refuel the reindeer and restock that sleigh. So don’t beat yourself up and feel unproductive if you haven’t done 7 hours billable work in 7 hours at the desk. But do use chunks of time for the non-paid work and even take a note of it to see where you can refine the process.

Systematise

This is a posh word for putting systems in place – whether on paper or using the computer and various bits of software. Santa has a production line of elfs taking care of gift wrapping and labelling. When I do a transcription, I upload the tape into my software and create and save the Word document. Every time I finish a project, I put it on my invoice spreadsheet, generate and send the invoice (or add the line to the client’s monthly cumulative invoice) and change the colour of the red line on my Gantt chart. Morning, lunch and evening I check my bank balance and enter anything that’s come in or gone out on my spreadsheet. On the last day of the month I prepare and send my monthly invoices. If you have systems you don’t have to think about, you won’t waste time reinventing the wheel every time you come to do something.

Take advantage of other people’s peaks and troughs

I know that not many of my clients are up early, so when I’ve dealt with anything that’s come in from America or Asia overnight, I will have a good few hours without interruptions to get on with projects on which I need to concentrate. I also know that a lot of emails are likely to come in just after lunch – both from awakening North Americans and other people who seem to work hard in that hour or so. Santa, of course, needs to take advantage of his clients’ hours of sleep. So I can plan around that, and also use other phenomena, like the gym being quieter and more pleasant to visit (and more efficient to get round) in the daytime – the other Saturday I got what amounted to a free personal training session because I went early and no one else wanted the Lower Body Workshop class on the mats!  Use your knowledge and experience to take advantage of what you know about how other people work – and use it to help you be more efficient.

Build in breaks

If you’re working in an office as an employee, the Working Time Directive (or your country’s equivalent) comes into effect, telling you when to take rest breaks and how long you should work for in a day/week. If you’re a student, self-employed, or packing presents in your own Lapland factory, it’s harder to make yourself do this. But it’s vital to take breaks, to get yourself moving, get away from the screen and revitalise yourself. I recommend taking some exercise every day – be it a gym trip, a run, a walk in the park or some energetic hoovering. You’ll get a better perspective on things, too – I’ve written many blog posts while out running that I couldn’t think up in front of the computer! And get away to eat something at lunchtime, rather than snaffling a sandwich at your desk.

So, I hope these tips have helped you – and Santa – plan your time a bit more efficiently and use it more effectively. If you have any more tips, I’d love to hear about them!

 
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Posted by on December 21, 2011 in Business, New skills, Organisation

 

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Season’s Greetings and Happy Holidays from Libro!

Just a quick post to say Season’s Greetings and Happy Holidays from Libro – and thank you to friends, Matthew and my lovely clients for making it a happy and successful year. I hope 2012 is full of health, happiness and success for all of you!

 
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Posted by on December 19, 2011 in Celebration

 

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Mohammed Zahir

Welcome to Saturday Business/Freelancer Chat. Today we’re meeting another of our young entrepreneurs – Mohammed Zahir set up cleaning  business, Sabka Cleaning while at University and now plans to expand  it further. I keep saying that if you can start a business in a recession, and do well, then you’re going to do well overall, and I also think Mohammed’s final point, that in a recession you need to be able to differentiate yourself (whether a student or in another environment) and have plenty of interesting things to put on your CV, is a very valid one.

Mohammed’s doing what I did now, and working full-time while launching and growing the business. I know from experience how hard this is, but he has established good practices, learned about networking and gathered some mentors around him, all things that will help.

Family is obviously important to Mohammed, as it is with many of our other interviewees, but here it’s his father to whom he wants to give something back after seeing him as an inspiration. I hope he builds a business they can both be proud of!

What’s your business called? When did you set it up?

My business is called Sabka Cleaning Services and it was established whilst I was in my 2nd year at university in Birmingham in 2009. We provide domestic, office & window cleaning services to homes and offices across Buckinghamshire and surrounding areas.

What made you decide to set up your own business?
I have always been extremely self-motivated and always wanted to be in control of my own destiny. Since a very young age, I have seen my father fight the odds to get where he is today. This provided me with great inspiration, and having graduated from university recently, I feel it is now my duty to start giving something back to him for everything he has provided me with, and I believe starting my own business will allow me to do this.

What made you decide to go into this particular business area?

I believe starting a business at a young age is the best time as you have no commitments or expenses. Being at university, I thought this was the best time I would ever have if I was to ever go into business. Being a student, I wanted to start a business which would have low start-up costs but great potential. To earn some extra cash whilst at university, I used to clean student apartments, until one of my mates suggested I should turn it into a business. After looking into it a bit, I decided to take her suggestion and go for it!

Had you run your own business before?

My only experience of business before this was selling things on eBay (not sure that’s quite business). Occasionally, I would come across opportunities to buy things cheaper than the average market price so I would buy them in bulk/wholesale, and sell them on eBay. It was a good source of some extra pocket money, but it wasn’t a proper business like Sabka Cleaning Services so I gave it up when I went university and hoped to establish a “proper” business.

How did you do it? Did you launch full-time, start off with a part-time or full-time job to keep you going?

I launched Sabka Cleaning Services in Birmingham whilst studying full-time at university. Now I am living back with my parents in Buckinghamshire and looking to grow the business. I have been fortunate enough to have landed a graduate job only a month or two after graduating from University and I am looking to grow my own business whilst working full-time.

What do you wish someone had told you before you started?

Before starting Sabka Cleaning Services, I read numerous books and watched endless programmes on other entrepreneurs and I learnt a lot from doing so.

What do you wish you’d done differently?

Whilst at university, I came across opportunities to buy other, already established small/ medium-sized cleaning business. At the time, it didn’t seem like a risk worth taking, however, in hindsight, I wish I had purchased them as I would have had a much larger business now.

What are you glad you did?

I am glad I networked and sought mentoring from the right people, and read the right books and watched the right programmes when in need of inspiration. No stage of the business is particularly easy, and even though you may be self-motivated, there will be challenging times where you may want to give up. In those times, it is the people you network with and the things you turn to for inspiration that will keep you going that little bit further.

What’s your top business tip?

My top business tip comes from my personal experience, as I didn’t used to be too confident in meeting new people to sell my cleaning business to them. However, over time, I have learnt to focus on the end goal, and not focus on the hardship you have to face in the process of getting to that goal. If you’re not comfortable with doing something, keep doing it anyway! Eventually, there’ll come a time where you become accustomed to it.

My other tip would be to seek a mentor when starting up. The assistance mentors can provide is incredible and they are a fantastic source to get some second opinions from as friends/family aren’t always the people to ask.

How has it gone since you started? Have you grown, diversified or stayed the same?

I would love to say we have grown much larger since we started, however there have been many changes (for instance, moving back to my family home in Buckinghamshire and full-time employment) which have led us back to the start-up phase. However, we are beginning to grow again – albeit slower than we did in Birmingham, but as with anything, it takes time, and I strongly believe we have a great future ahead of us.

Where do you see yourself and your business in a year’s time?

At present I am working full-time, and developing my skill set which will benefit me in my career and in business. Although this will leave me in a fantastic position later as I am meeting some amazing people at work and through business, the downside at present is that it means I have less time to commit to the business. However, in a year’s time, I hope to have grown the client base for my own business and hopefully have an office.

Mohammed’s added another question of his own to the end of my set: fair enough, as it’s a good one!

What would you advise other graduates?

With the current economy not looking too great, I believe entrepreneurship is the way forward for graduates and would encourage others to consider going down this route whilst also looking for a job. It is a fantastic experience and is a great thing to put under your list of achievements on your CV.

Good luck to you, Mohammed, as you enter into a busy, but hopefully rewarding, phase of your life, and we look forward to hearing from you in a year’s time!

The Sabka Cleaning website is available at www.sabkacleaning.co.uk and of course you can email the company and  find them on Twitter  and Facebook (where you can book cleaning services or make an enquiry).

Mohammed didn’t provide any further updates after this first interview. As far as I know the website is still live as of September 2013.

If you’ve enjoyed this interview, please see more small business chat, the index to all the interviewees, and information on how you can have your business featured. If you’re considering setting up a new business or have recently done so, why not take a look at my new book, Going It Alone At 40: How I Survived my First Year of Full-Time Self-Employment.

 
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Posted by on December 17, 2011 in Business, New skills, Small Business Chat

 

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