Monday, November 12, 2018

4 Ways to Build Great Relationships with Freelancers

Working on a freelance basis is an increasingly popular alternative to the traditional 9-5. In fact, nearly 50% of millennials already freelance. There are several reasons for this. Some people like the flexibility freelancing offers. Others realize that it’s a great way to earn a side income.

This present certain challenges for businesses though. Managing relationships with freelancers is very different from working with permanent staff. This is partly because the relationship itself is fundamentally different. The crux of this is that you aren’t a freelancer’s line-manager, you’re their client.

The problem is that many businesses don’t adapt their approach to reflect this. They treat their freelance workers the same as their staffers. The danger here is that you waster everyone’s time and harm your relationship.

At the other end of the spectrum, some businesses take a completely hands off approach. This is just as bad, as it makes it impossible to establish a fruitful long-term relationship. This means you’re likely to find your contractors moving on, causing all kinds of problems.

Today, I want to take you through 4 important tips to help you manage relationships with freelancers.

Communication is Key

This sounds pretty obvious right? If you want to build a good relationship with anyone, you need to have decent channels of communication. But what should this look like when your working with a freelancer? Of course, it depends on the individuals involved. Whether you prefer to work by email, or through scheduled Skype calls, there are two main mistakes when it comes to communication.

The first is bombarding your contractor with irrelevant information. It’s good to keep your freelance workers ups to date with what’s going on in your company, but they don’t need anywhere near the same detail as your permanent staff.

I like to work in a little bit of small talk. Adding personal touches to your communication is a fantastic way to build a friendly and mutually beneficial working relationship, but people are unlikely to want to hear what you have for dinner every night. It’s about finding the right balance.

The second mistake is just the opposite. That is, not communicating at all. This means you’re not giving freelance workers the information they need. Then, they either have to find it themselves or make assumptions about what you need. This is extra work that you aren’t necessarily paying them for.

A Little Understanding

If you use a little bit of perception, you can figure out a lot about the working habits of freelancers. It’s easy to assume that just because someone doesn’t have a 9-5 job, they don’t have a routine. This is unlikely to be true though.

Freelance workers usually have very well defined working habits. For example, it’s pretty common to block off part of your schedule for admin tasks, like invoicing or keeping up with emails. This isn’t difficult to work out. If one of your contractors always responds your emails between 9 and 10am, this is probably why.

Understanding a worker’s habits can cut down the need for back and forth, as you’ll have a clear set of expectations. All you have to do is pay a little bit of attention.

Provide Resources

Freelance workers love it when you provide a decent set of resources. Exactly what these are depends on the nature of the work. Writers like to have a well defined style guide. Designers want a nicely catalogued set of assets to work with.

Basically, giving your workers an easy to access and navigate set of resources to refer back to just makes their lives an awful lot easier. This is a sure fire way to become their favourite client. This is the position you want to be in, as they’ll be more willing to go the extra mile.

It benefits you too of course. Particularly if you’re working with a number of contractors. If you want to have consistent work, you need to establish a set of standards. This also cuts down the number of questions each worker needs to ask.

Show Some Appreciation

This one will get you far in life, not just when you’re trying to manage relationships. People respond well to praise. If something’s going well, you should let your freelancer know. A couple of words of appreciation can make the difference between a freelancing arrangement which lasts a couple of weeks and one which lasts for years.

It goes further than that though. Appreciation stems from knowing what someone’s time is worth. As such, you’re unlikely to see good results if you try and lowball someone. Freelancers, by their nature, know exactly what their time is worth.

By the same token, you should always try and avoid unnecessary scope-creep. Of course, it’s perfectly normal for new areas of work to emerge. That’s only a problem if you try and sneak extra work in for free.

Final Thoughts

My goal is to always try to be a worker’s favorite client. This doesn’t mean I want to be their best friend. Rather, I want to establish a long lasting and mutually beneficial arrangement. The key to this is proper relationship management.

The importance of this is too easily overlooked. The cost of doing so is high. On-boarding a new freelancer and bringing them up to speed is extremely time to consume. So when you find someone good, you should do everything in your power to make them stick around. Luckily, with a little bit of human touch, this shouldn’t be too difficult.

Maintaining a good working relationship has other benefits too. If you establish an arrangement which both parties find beneficial, you have a better chance of receiving some good will. This might come in the form of leniency if anything ever goes wrong on your end. It even is a potential source of new contacts, as freelancers tend to talk to each other. If the stars align, this can even lead to new business opportunities.

Photo Credits: Pixabay

Westchester Networking for Professionals (WNFP) is a business organization focused on providing our members and guests with an extraordinary networking experience, bringing business professionals together for the sole purpose of generating new relationships and developing new business opportunities. Not a member, learn how you can become a member and join this awesome group of professionals to connect and grow your business.

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Monday, November 5, 2018

Want Your Business to Grow? Complete One Material Action Per Day!

When you are running a small business, it is really easy to get distracted. Firstly, your own CEO job most likely has a lot of different tasks, from chief strategist to chief bottle washer. Secondly, your team makes many demands on your time, mostly to help point them in the right direction on their projects. And, thirdly, it’s just too easy to get sucked into the random inbound contacts that come into your email box or through social media.

All I can say to you entrepreneurs who are “floating in the wind” of poor time management is: unless you are doing at least one material thing each day to move your business forward towards new revenue or profit heights, you are never going to grow your business as quickly as you could. Allow me to explain.

What is a material action?
To me, a material action is something that has meaningful revenue or profit implications from its output. On the revenue side, it could be things like launching a new marketing campaign, or making a new sales call, or ideating a new product line, or expanding into a new target-customer or geographic market, or hiring a new salesperson, or negotiating business merger opportunities, etc. Anything that will drive new revenues.

On the profit side, it could be things like cutting your cost structure, or improving your business efficiency. Or, it could be improving your company morale and productivity, or similar tasks. Anything that will drive higher margins for your business.

What is not a material action?
On the flip side, there are a lot of demands on your time that you think may be important, but just are not a material action, as defined above. This could be things like producing your monthly financial statements, or posting to your social media accounts, or writing a new monthly email newsletter. Or, it could be managing your ad agency, or doing one-on-one meetings with your direct reports, or running payroll checks, or upgrading your systems, or relocating your home office, etc. Yes, these are important tasks that need to get done. But, none are going to propel your business to the next level.

Budget more time for more material action.
I bet if you did a critical assessment of how you are spending each of your working hours, most of you are spending the vast majority of your time, if not all of your time, on “less material” action. To me, if you are not spending at least 20 percent of each day on “material actions” you will not have a reasonable chance to grow your revenues and propel your business to the next level.

So, it is important that you actually carve out “material action” time into your daily schedules. For example, maybe you block out 8-to-10 am each day for you to think and act strategically and materially about your business. Note that I intentionally did not suggest 3-to-5 pm each day, when you are most likely tired and not doing your best thinking.

A case study: Part one, the good.
We recently acquired a business in February 2018. At the time, they were doing around $2.5 million in annual revenues. Within four months of acquiring the business, our annualized revenue run rate had doubled to over $5 million. How did we do that? We focused on material actions to drive the business forward. We quadrupled our marketing budget and hired a new ad agency; we launched an SEO effort, opened new sales and marketing channels, expanded our sales team, grew our margins, etc. Our focus was on driving revenues as quickly as we could, and our time was firmly focused on making those material actions happen.

Case study: Part two, the bad.
To continue the story above, with the increase in revenues came an increase in time demanded for “less material” projects in months that followed. We learned our customer relationship management (CRM) platform could not handle the extra volume, and we needed to upgrade to a different CRM, a decision that needed to be researched. We learned our product information on the website was out of date and needed to be updated. Our product offering needed to be fine-tuned, to make the business more scalable.

Moreover, our ad agency suggested we make some technology changes, which resulted in some unexpected hiccups and fixing time required. To double our staff, we reviewed hundreds of resumes and held dozens of interviews. Sometimes those hires worked out, and other times they did not, spinning our wheels right back to where we started. Quickly, the time I had to focus on “material” projects, started to get consumed by “less material” projects. And, guess what happened: sales growth started to slow down!

Hand off less material work to others. 
I get it, small businesses are typically undercapitalized and don’t necessarily have the luxury of large teams of staff to help leverage your workload. But, even in small businesses, you need to figure out how to keep yourself moving the business forward with “material” projects.

Where you can, hand off the “less material” work. Let your bookkeeper produce monthly financial statements. Let your head of marketing manage your ad agency. Let your head of technology review various systems needed. Take yourself out of those processed, at least until the busy work is done, and then you can review the final output in each area. Don’t let the “less material” work get in the way of you having the time required to drive the business forward by completing material work.

Executives in small businesses are typically very busy people, wearing many different hats at the same time. The real challenge you will have is making sure that 100 percent of your time is not consumed by “less material” projects. You need the discipline of: (i) knowing what projects have the highest odds of moving your revenue or profit growth to the next level (which is an art of its own); and (ii) making sure that time slotted to work on “material” projects is actually getting used to get it done. Remember the scene in the Pixar movie “Up”, where the dog kept getting distracted by squirrels running by? The “less material” work that you find yourself doing are your “squirrels," distracting you from where your focus needs to be.

Image Credit: Busakorn Pongparnit | Getty Images

Westchester Networking for Professionals (WNFP) is a business organization focused on providing our members and guests with an extraordinary networking experience, bringing business professionals together for the sole purpose of generating new relationships and developing new business opportunities. Not a member, learn how you can become a member and join this awesome group of professionals to connect and grow your business.

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6 Ways to Hold Yourself Accountable and Crush Your Goals This Year

I've been on a networking mission as of late. In an effort to create a free online community for entrepreneurs and business owners, I have been speaking to as many people as possible through in-person meetups, social media and other various online communication.

Entrepreneurs have to motivate and support their team, while holding them accountable, in order to be successful. But, what about when it comes to holding ourselves accountable? This is one topic that came up often -- and one that I discussed in detail with a handful of entrepreneurs. Those discussions led to this list of six ways to hold yourself accountable, which can help you crush your goals.

1. Write everything down
This is one thing that I take to the extreme simply because I am a very visual person. Writing down everything, from to-do lists to short and long-term goals, just works for me. I like to see them constantly, which allows me to focus on each one.

I write my daily to-do lists on multiple sticky notes and place them all over my monitor, and as I complete them, I take them off and toss them in the trash. Those bright colored sticky notes stare me in the face, and my goal is to rid my monitor of them as quickly as possible every day.

Derek Jansen, who founded Grad Coach, writes down both short-term and long-term goals in a journal. He says, "I like to create a plan to reach every goal, which are all part of my big picture plan. Having them in writing and constantly looking at them results in me obsessing over them and working hard to make sure each one is accomplished."

Like Jansen, my goals are written down -- they are on a large whiteboard that hangs above my standing desk. It's literally impossible for me not to constantly look at them -- they stare me in the face while I work.

2. Identify your personal mission statement
I have a very simple mission statement: Live life to the fullest, work relentlessly to create amazing companies and brands and give selflessly.

"Your personal mission statement doesn't have to be a long-winded statement. It simply needs to define you as a person and define what it is that you are working toward each and every day," says Xie Zhuopeng, CEO of IoT Chain.

Zhuopeng's definition of what a mission statement needs to be is spot-on. Using mine as an example, it explains who I am and what I get out of bed every morning for. Recite it in your head every morning or print it out and hang it in your office. When your mission statement fuels your fire, you know that you have found the right passions and path.

3. Reward your accomplishments and milestones
I used to never take vacations -- I would work nonstop with very little breaks. It was so unhealthy and had a negative impact on my heath and overall happiness. Once I came to terms with the fact that it was not only fine to take vacations, but actually beneficial, I started to use accomplishments and milestones as indications of when I would take off and unplug to recharge.

Frank Grimes, President of The Associates Home Loan of Florida feels that this approach almost forces you to get away for a much-needed recharge. "It's very easy to make an excuse and say that you will take a longer vacation next year, but it's important to step away occasionally to regroup and just relax. Rewarding myself with a vacation to my favorite destination every year helps me reach personal goals, while also feeling like the time off is well-deserved," he says.

I too have a favorite destination, and that's Hawaii. For me, it's the perfect setting -- the beach, the vibe and the activities -- and I always return fully recharged and full of new ideas.

4. Create micro-goals
Micro-goals are responsible for several successful brand launches that I have been a part of. When you identify several smaller goals, and commit to hitting each one, it keeps you accountable in terms of the overall success of the end goal.

When we launched an ecommerce brand in a week, it was a result of a well thought out plan that had several micro-goals we needed to knock out of the park -- manufacturer, branding, website, logistics, financial goals, marketing plan and the launch. Without the smaller goals identified we would never have gone to launch in a week's time.

5. Review your performance
As an entrepreneur, it's important that you are brutally honest with yourself. In the end, it's you that is responsible for your success or failure. I'm constantly reviewing my own performance, and I'm not afraid to tell myself when my performance is not up to par.

If you really want to be held accountable, constantly keep yourself in check. "As a business owner, if you start to slack, and your sales slow and business is down, there isn't anyone to blame but yourself. A business owner that blames others is destined to fail, because he or she would rather point fingers rather than review their own performance," says Ozer Taysun, of Westchase Roofing Services, a business he founded ten years ago.

Taysun is correct -- blaming someone else is an excuse that unsuccessful entrepreneurs makes. If your personal performance is suffering, own up to it and commit to making a change. If you don't review your performance, who will?

6. Seek feedback from your team
I just talked about reviewing your own performance above, and it's very effective -- as long as you are honest with yourself. If you want completely unbiased feedback, ask your team.

You might be thinking, "Employees won't be completely honest with their feedback because they don't want to get fired," but that won't apply to most businesses, provided you have nurtured a strong company culture within their business.

Image Credit: Caiaimage/Tom Merton | Getty Images

Westchester Networking for Professionals (WNFP) is a business organization focused on providing our members and guests with an extraordinary networking experience, bringing business professionals together for the sole purpose of generating new relationships and developing new business opportunities. Not a member, learn how you can become a member and join this awesome group of professionals to connect and grow your business.

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Friday, November 2, 2018

The 6 Things You Must Drive Yourself to Do to Find Business Success

When you’re just starting out, you need to find what you’re good at and push hard to “invent” yourself, so to speak. You need to really want it badly. Professional athletes make it to the highest levels by pushing themselves -- they stay longer than other players at the gym and work harder on their skills. It’s also about having the drive to stick with it no matter what. Plenty of business owners got started and hit their stride later in life, such as Colonel Harland Sanders, who was 56 when he founded Kentucky Fried Chicken after many failed businesses. Then there’s Richard Branson, who founded Virgin Cola, Virgin Vodka, Virgin Cosmetics, Virginware (lingerie) and Virgin Cars, among many other failed businesses, before he saw great success with Virgin America. These type of athletes, business owners and ordinary individuals like myself have one thing in common ... drive.

Stay determined and find your passion
Finding your path is important -- finding your passion is also important. Then staying driven until you get to where you want to be is essential. Rather than having a single, solitary focus, however, it helps to open yourself up to various opportunities so you’ll have a better chance of finding something that works for you. But you need to be searching with an open mind and looking at everything as an opportunity.

Too many people aren’t open to new opportunities -- they’re determined to do what they want on their own terms. But if there’s no market for it, or they focus on themselves rather than on their customers, they end up with a failed business. In other cases, people find an opportunity they really like but walk away too soon without giving it enough time. Often, they fail to put in the hours and research to find the best path to making it work. If I lost my drive and walked away from real estate after my first failed deal, I would not be where I am today, and you would not be reading this book. I knew that I had found my passion and that no matter what, I had to stay driven.

When you stay driven for as long as I have, you eventually find the right path. It’s all about persistence and a need to keep on building on that mindset.

Do you really want it?
It’s important to gauge your desire when it comes to thinking about your goals. You have to really want it ... and if you want it badly enough, you’ll find a way and, somehow, you’ll get there. The forces of the universe work in a crazy way, and at some point, you end up crossing paths with the right people. That, along with the powers of your subconscious and, yes, a little bit of luck, can sometimes make the stars align for you.

To really want something badly, you need to have a source of motivation. What is motivating you to succeed and to stay on the path to your destination? Where is your drive coming from? For many people, it’s a desire to provide your family with a good life or have the financial freedom to buy the finer things in life. Desperation and escaping poverty are also strong motivating factors; they certainly were for me. I was desperate to get far away from the hardship I experienced when my family came here. I never wanted to go back to living in a car and was going to keep on trying to do better no matter what life threw at me.

I also felt a lot of pressure to help my family get through the financial hardship we were experiencing. I was laser-focused on becoming successful and making the pain of loss and struggle go away. Had I been born into a lot of money, I probably wouldn’t have tried so hard. To be honest with you, sometimes it’s better to be poor or come from “humble beginnings.” It gives you tremendous motivation to be successful. Having a lot of money can make you too comfortable. This isn’t to say that many people who come from money don’t work hard to succeed on their own and go on to do great things. But for some, the comfort holds them back.

Stay on track
Once you find your source of motivation, cultivate your passion and “invent” yourself, staying on track is important. To do that, set up weekly and yearly goals. I find that yearly goals are supercritical for me. They’re goals I want to reach at some point during the year. They’ll take a while, so I don’t anticipate reaching yearly goals quickly. I review my yearly goals every month to see how much progress I’ve made. If I’m not making progress, I pick up the pace.

As for the weekly goals, I make a list of what I need to accomplish and check the items off line by line as I go through the week. These lists are critical for me to stay on track. If you don’t write goals down, you can get lazy, go on vacations and do other things that are unproductive. Pretty soon, you’ll see that six months have gone by, and you’re nowhere closer to your goal than when you started the year.

Whether you keep a daily “to-do” list or work from a weekly list, look at it often and prioritize what you need to do next, then check each item off or delete it from your phone as you go. This is super important when it comes to being productive: When you write things down, your mind is also taking mental notes and your subconscious is working in the background for you. If you’re looking for an app to help manage your schedule and keep track of goals, check out Todoist, OmniFocus or Planner Pro.

Image Credit: David Crotty | Getty Images

Westchester Networking for Professionals (WNFP) is a business organization focused on providing our members and guests with an extraordinary networking experience, bringing business professionals together for the sole purpose of generating new relationships and developing new business opportunities. Not a member, learn how you can become a member and join this awesome group of professionals to connect and grow your business.

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Stop Planning and Take Action

If you look close enough, you will see the faces of miserable human beings stuck behind a counter, in a cubicle or working some other job sucking the life out of them. I get it. I know there are jobs and people have to do them. However, my early adult life was squandered by frequently changing jobs. Maybe this was the result of diving head-first into life at the age of 18, or maybe it was the fact I was trying to find fulfillment and success in a place I was never meant to be. You see, entrepreneurs don’t understand the drive behind a 9-to-5 and those who drive the 9-to-5 don’t understand the entrepreneur.

There was a time when my goal was to stay with a particular job for at least five years -- since longevity in a single job was the measuring stick of success in my community. What success is there if we stay in a job for half our life, and we are miserable? Maybe you made a lot of money, had a lot of perks and great fringe benefits, but does it matter if you're not fulfilled?

We live in a world of opportunity. Literally, anything is possible. There is a caveat, however. You are required to put in the work. While this sounds cliche, it goes a little deeper. We’ve heard the phrases “Live your dreams” and “Never quit.” The deeper meaning of this lies in the action. All the dreams, plans and goals are useless if we never take action. Taking action, in and of itself, is not enough. Strategic action is the key to success.

In my day-to-day interactions, I hear people claim they will reach their goals “one day” or be debt free “one day.” We sit in our cubicles and talk about starting a business one day, having a life of freedom one day or even being in better physical health one day.

Average people see the goal they want to attain but fail to take action to achieve it. While there are many different factors involved, planning and action are the two keys that separate the elite from the average in any area of life. Some ambitious entrepreneurs have a tendency to see the end result, get excited about it, and then fizzle out with talking -- no action taken. The single greatest key to achieving success involves thorough planning and strategic action. Without either being executed, the chance of success is significantly lower.

In his book, Do Over, Jon Acuff writes, “Dreaming is fun. Future results are enjoyable to talk about. Present efforts are not.”

For me, being unemployed nearly 10 years ago seemed like rock bottom, and there was nothing fun about it. It was one of the darkest and heaviest times of my life. It was my understanding we were supposed to punch a clock most of our life, spending thousands of hours working at a job we don’t love to create a life that is average.

There’s nothing wrong with dreaming, and, I would say, there’s nothing wrong with envisioning grand future results. However, I believe it to be necessary that we also temper those expectations to the amount of work we are willing to invest.

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Westchester Networking for Professionals (WNFP) is a business organization focused on providing our members and guests with an extraordinary networking experience, bringing business professionals together for the sole purpose of generating new relationships and developing new business opportunities. Not a member, learn how you can become a member and join this awesome group of professionals to connect and grow your business.

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Thursday, November 1, 2018

How to Carve Out More Time for Your Business

Any other Harry Potter fans out there? (Silly question, I know!) Of all the magical, fantastical ideas that sprang from the Potterverse, I’d have to say the “time-turner” is one of my favorites. Remember that little gizmo?

Hermoine used it to pile on the extra classes one semester since the little device could literally turn back the clock for her. I swear, if I could get my hands on a time-turner, I’d be ruling the world by now …

Sadly, time-travel devices are still in the works, so we hard-working entrepreneurs must find other ways to squeeze more time out of our days. And today, I’ve got some simple, easy-to-adopt strategies for getting super-efficient with your working hours.

We’ve all got unique time-management personalities, but these ideas are definitely adaptable, so feel free to customize them so they work for the way that YOU work!

Create more time by batching your work
Multitasking seems so effective in theory, but in practice? It can just feel overwhelming. And many of us do shoddy work when we’re dividing our attention anyway!

So instead, batch your work. Jumping from writing to admin work to social media posting is less efficient than spending a couple of focused hours on one type of task.

If you want to cut down on wasted time and effort, do all your writing on one day, record all your podcasts on another, and create your marketing strategies on a different day altogether. Batching allows you to work intensely without interrupting your flow.

Create more time by eliminating underperforming tasks
Why keep spending time on projects and tasks that don’t light you up? Especially if they aren’t earning their keep?

Do a quick inventory of your daily and weekly task loads, and identify any underperformers. This can include items that you absolutely dread, ones that don’t bring in steady revenue, or both. Most of us have 3 to 5 recurring tasks that could be eliminated right off the top!

Create more time by limiting meetings
This can be a tough one—especially for those of us who work with clients—but it still merits mentioning. The connections that occur at in-person meetings are invaluable, and some projects absolutely require good, old-fashioned facetime. But we now have access to dozens of tools that enable us to connect remotely, and using them can save us all loads of time.

Discuss projects in Slack, do team updates in a Google Hangout, or schedule a call on Skype. Meeting in person means commuting, setting up, chit-chat, and often buying or distributing drinks or snacks. Meeting online is quicker, slicker, and a great way to take back some of your lost time.

But even if you can meet virtually, ask yourself if an email or two will have the same result. You might just find you can eliminate several hours worth of meetings from your schedule every month.

Create more time by prioritizing daily
Much of the time we waste each day is sucked up by simple decision-making. We run over our to-do lists in our minds, hem and haw about what to tackle next, and the minutes tick by.

Instead, make your first task of the day the creation of a prioritized list: Put the biggest and most important task first so it gets a giant dose of your energy, then rank the others. Remove improvised prioritization from your working days, and you’ll be amazed by how much quicker your projects get done!

Create more time by outsourcing and delegating
Saved the best for last! I’m a fierce advocate for delegating any task that doesn’t require you, personally. It’s the best way to ensure your time is used wisely while entrusting important workloads to talented, motivated freelancers. (Why not hire skilled experts to do the work you struggle to complete?)

Start with the tasks you procrastinate on, then look at the ones that take the most time, and finally consider the projects that you simply don’t excel at doing. Outsource as many as you can—both in terms of finances and comfort level—and watch your schedule become less and less crowded.

Your time is valuable, beautiful. I hope you’ll use these strategies to create more of it … at least until Target starts carrying time-turners.

Image Credit: LaraHughes / Pixabay

Westchester Networking for Professionals (WNFP) is a business organization focused on providing our members and guests with an extraordinary networking experience, bringing business professionals together for the sole purpose of generating new relationships and developing new business opportunities. Not a member, learn how you can become a member and join this awesome group of professionals to connect and grow your business.

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