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  1. #1
    SitePoint Zealot ninjayong's Avatar
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    What's your business strategy ?

    I've been in software development for 6 years but these past 6 months I've also been studying and researching from home so that I can start freelancing from home (web development), with a hope that I become successful enough with my ideas that I can start my own business.

    Now comes the hard part. I have confidence in my product and my ability to sell. But what about a business strategy, where do I start and what do I need to think about ? It doesn't seem to be a hot topic here so now am faced with scouring the likes of Amazon for some book or other in the hope that it will give me some clues. Not ideal ! Any tips ? I'm not after a nice report to hand to my bank for a loan, I mean real strategies that will help me start a successful web development business. I have basically no clue but know that I am missing a big chunk of the puzzle !

  2. #2
    Word Painter silver trophy Shyflower's Avatar
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    Instead of scouring the lists of Amazon, first scour the articles here. There are several good SitePoint articles on beginning a business.

    Start with those on making a strategic business plan:

    http://www.sitepoint.com/search/sear...&submit=Search
    Linda Jenkinson
    "Say what you mean. Mean what you say. But don't say it mean." ~Unknown

  3. #3
    SitePoint Member 6amMedia's Avatar
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    ninjayong - I'm afraid that beneath the question you've asked lies a closely guarded secret by those who know it. Anyone can hang their shingle and off their services as a web developer. My guess is that most freelance developers would like to create something bigger than themselves; to grow their company to have multiple devlopers or expand in other ways... and each one of them will do it in a different way.

    My best advice would be, above all else, to be certain that you understand how your business will turn a profit. What is the general idea? Will you outsource low cost offshore labor and compete on price? Will you bill clients hourly for completely custom work? Will you develop applications for sale? You get the point.

    Beyond this, brush up on your business know-how. Understand what a corporation is, how to incorporate. What a P&L Statement is; how to read a balance sheet. Also, create a business plan > this is an overlooked must. Even if it is one page create a plan and chart your progress against your goals.

    One last bit of advice, if you lack determination and the ability to sacrifice yourself for your goals, dust off your resume and look for a job. Starting and running a business is extremely hard and extremely rewarding. Half the time, you feel like Superman; the other half, you feel like the village idiot. Find ways to increase your personal motivation. Exercise and meditation do it for me.

  4. #4
    SitePoint Enthusiast Swankie's Avatar
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  5. #5
    Webwellwisher Robert Warren's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by ninjayong
    Now comes the hard part. I have confidence in my product and my ability to sell. But what about a business strategy, where do I start and what do I need to think about ? It doesn't seem to be a hot topic here so now am faced with scouring the likes of Amazon for some book or other in the hope that it will give me some clues. Not ideal ! Any tips ? I'm not after a nice report to hand to my bank for a loan, I mean real strategies that will help me start a successful web development business. I have basically no clue but know that I am missing a big chunk of the puzzle !
    This is going to sound pithy, but truth told, it's the all-purpose freelance business plan:

    1. Rush boldly, where angels fear to tread.
    2. Screw up big, probably expensively.
    3. Get drunk, depressed, angry, etc. at your stupidity/lack of progress.
    4. Commiserate with friends, lose some in the process.
    5. Sober up and decide to stick around.
    6. Appraise the situation, learn from it.
    7. Realize that, at least, you're not Casey Serin.
    8. Work up whatever enthusiasm you can muster, however you can, to keep going.
    9. Start over again from #1.

    You're in for a ride, believe me. And that's not even getting into taxes.

    If you're not absolutely determined to make it, no matter what, at any price, go find another job. If you're married and/or have kids, go find another job. If you have any sort of ongoing health issues, go find another job. If you spend a lot of time worrying about retirement, go find another job.

    I don't mean to be a downer here, but you'll be happier, your relationships will be healthier and you'll probably make more money. Working freelance has a certain romantic appeal, no doubt, and the good days are pretty good days - the bad days, though, make you want to tear your eyes out with rusted nails. It also takes a very special type of person to cope with that kind of stress in a relationship, as I'm sure plenty here can attest.

    If I could go back to when I first started and give myself one piece of advice about running a business, it would be this: don't worry about being successful, because survival is the real chore. Stick around long enough, and just being still standing is a genuine accomplishment. Unless you're ready to truly pull out all the stops to reach that point, you're far better off staying in the cubicle.

  6. #6
    SitePoint Zealot webfinity's Avatar
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    The business strategy depends on who you are targeting. Take a look at your local competion, and see where your niche is.

    Just for fun, go through the yellow pages and call every one of your competitors in there. Pretend you need a website, and ask the typical questions. You will get an idea pretty quickly what you are up against.

  7. #7
    Webwellwisher Robert Warren's Avatar
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    Came across this in my travels today. Since we've had a bit more "how I do make a million" posts than usual lately, I thought I'd pass it along. It's an essay by Bob Parsons, founder of GoDaddy. Great, practical advice for making it as an entrepreneur.

    "They Can't Eat You", by Bob Parsons

  8. #8
    SitePoint Zealot ninjayong's Avatar
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    Well I ended up reviewing books on Amazon and bought no fewer than 5. Here's the best one by far, really excellent stuff: The Small Business Start-Up Workbook by Cheryl Rickman. Two weeks ago I had a great idea and tons of determination.... but didn't know which direction next. This book has helped me with a definite plan and has given me insight into market research techniques and how to tailor your product before you even start the business. And I'm only half way through it.

    I also bought Sitepoint's 'The Web Design Business Kit.' Top quality information, what more can I say. I was a bit nervous spending so much money but it's top notch !

  9. #9
    SitePoint Zealot ninjayong's Avatar
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    Yes I've got kids and commitments would why should that stop me ? If there's one thing I'm reading in ALL these books I just bought it's that determination and belief in yourself is the key to success.

    Robert, I read that story about Casey Serin. What an idiot he is !! My idea doesn't involve borrowing any money until my idea has taken off and shown success, can't believe someone would risk as much as he did after going on a short course to learn about the market he was moving into. A prize plonker that's for sure !

  10. #10
    Webwellwisher Robert Warren's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by ninjayong
    Yes I've got kids and commitments would why should that stop me ?
    "Why should that stop me?" Do you even really have to ask?

    If you have a family, the question you have to ask is how much you're willing to let them suffer if/when things get bad. Are you willing to forego the occasional meal yourself so that your kids can eat? How is this whole experience going to affect them? Are you willing to risk your family's health and lives, your children's educations, and everything else that comes with taking a headward leap into financial uncertainty? Are you planning for any scenario other than runaway success?

    That's the biggest reason why people are ripping into Casey - on top of lying to get loans, and being a gullible nitwit who believes every motivational book he reads, he's dragged his wife along for the ride without thinking twice about it. That's thoroughly reprehensible. Even now he's so wrapped up in his recent notoriety that he still doesn't fully appreciate the situation he's put his wife in. She's been in school studying to be a CPA, for God's sake - for just starters, he's completely ruined that effort and her future career. Under California law, she's mutually liable for his debts. Casey's been so determined to be a "well paid rich person" that he's (remorselessly) ruined his wife's life. It's all been about Casey.

    Part of growing up is realizing that your responsibilities limit your options, and being okay with that. If you have a family, you need to think hard on that before jumping into the world of an entrepreneur.

    If there's one thing I'm reading in ALL these books I just bought it's that determination and belief in yourself is the key to success.
    The map is not the territory. I telling you from hard experience, none of those books are accurate reflections of reality - it takes a lot more than healthy self-esteem to succeed, starting with an ample supply of good luck. Don't make the mistake of underestimating the role of fortune, both good and bad, in influencing your business plans.. a good deal of success is actually mere survival.
    Last edited by Robert Warren; Nov 1, 2006 at 18:50.

  11. #11
    Not now, I'm kinda busy. pdxi's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Robert Warren
    1. Rush boldly, where angels fear to tread.
    2. Screw up big, probably expensively.
    3. Get drunk, depressed, angry, etc. at your stupidity/lack of progress.
    4. Commiserate with friends, lose some in the process.
    5. Sober up and decide to stick around.
    6. Appraise the situation, learn from it.
    7. Realize that, at least, you're not Casey Serin.
    8. Work up whatever enthusiasm you can muster, however you can, to keep going.
    9. Start over again from #1.
    Oh, Robert. It's great to see you're back again! I really missed these posts
    Jeffrey Hunt, freelance PHP & MySQL developer
    Resume: http://www.jeffreyhunt.org/resume/

  12. #12
    SitePoint Addict irkyo's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Robert Warren
    This is going to sound pithy, but truth told, it's the all-purpose freelance business plan:

    1. Rush boldly, where angels fear to tread.
    2. Screw up big, probably expensively.
    3. Get drunk, depressed, angry, etc. at your stupidity/lack of progress.
    4. Commiserate with friends, lose some in the process.
    5. Sober up and decide to stick around.
    6. Appraise the situation, learn from it.
    7. Realize that, at least, you're not Casey Serin.
    8. Work up whatever enthusiasm you can muster, however you can, to keep going.
    9. Start over again from #1.
    I think the main thing is to believe that you can do it (build your business) and to believe that you really need it. This assurance will give you the power not to give up in some situations when it seems to be the end. But it only seems often. I like the rules which Bob Parsons has written. I think there is one very necessary condition. It's the assurance of the right efforts you should make to reach the aim=to build business. OF course, you should be very persistent.
    Off top:Oh, it's a great plan, Robert I reallly believe it works
    Your comments are always so "alive" and stylish I think
    Last edited by irkyo; Nov 2, 2006 at 07:50.

  13. #13
    SitePoint Zealot ninjayong's Avatar
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    Good grief, you make it sound like I should just give up. Anyway, swiftly moving on, if anyone did want some positive and useful advice then reading books *is* actually educational.

    Sorry Robert, I'm not looking to explain myself to anyone on here. I was just passing through here for some advice on reading. That's all....

  14. #14
    Webwellwisher Robert Warren's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by ninjayong
    Sorry Robert, I'm not looking to explain myself to anyone on here. I was just passing through here for some advice on reading. That's all....
    Not looking to make you explain yourself. All is well. Just trying to say that no one should blindly take the jump unless they're willing to take the lumps. As the Demotivator poster says, "Before you try to beat the odds, be sure you can survive the odds beating you."

  15. #15
    SitePoint Wizard bronze trophy bluedreamer's Avatar
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    I don't really have a "strategy" as such but use my own methods:

    1. Always listen to the customer
    2. Never force them to have anything they don't need/want
    3. Offer advice on how to get the best results
    4. Talk in plain language - never baffle them with technical terms
    5. Always go the extra mile to keep them happy

  16. #16
    SitePoint Addict jtresidder's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by ninjayong
    Good grief, you make it sound like I should just give up.
    It sounds to me more like everyone is trying to get across the main thing that I learned, which is that being a freelance web developer is more about running a business than developing websites. A lot more.

  17. #17
    Webwellwisher Robert Warren's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by jtresidder
    It sounds to me more like everyone is trying to get across the main thing that I learned, which is that being a freelance web developer is more about running a business than developing websites. A lot more.
    Exactly.. but just speaking for myself personally, I guess I'm just tired of watching dreamers throw themselves on the rocks. It gets old, man. They don't even do anything interesting on the way down - it's always the same swandive, the same dawning realization, the same sickening crunch. They could at least flail wildly once in a while, or maybe try for a somersault or something. (That's probably why I'm so obsessed with Casey Serin. That's an entertaining trip to the rocks.)

    Seriously, of the dozens of freelancers I've personally known and worked with over the last five years or so - good people, most of them - only a small handful are still in the game today; five years makes you a grizzled veteran in the freelance world, damned near an old man. And the failures all seem to be for the same basic reasons, the same motivational-book sins committed over and over again. Call me bitter and cynical if you'd like, but once in a while I'd like to see a dreamer fly instead of fall. Sure doesn't happen often.

  18. #18
    Design and Promotion Crimson77's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Robert Warren
    This is going to sound pithy, but truth told, it's the all-purpose freelance business plan:

    1. Rush boldly, where angels fear to tread.
    2. Screw up big, probably expensively.
    3. Get drunk, depressed, angry, etc. at your stupidity/lack of progress.
    4. Commiserate with friends, lose some in the process.
    5. Sober up and decide to stick around.
    6. Appraise the situation, learn from it.
    7. Realize that, at least, you're not Casey Serin.
    8. Work up whatever enthusiasm you can muster, however you can, to keep going.
    9. Start over again from #1.

    You're in for a ride, believe me. And that's not even getting into taxes.
    So other than the above and if you do have a family and mortgage. What advice would you give other than not trying at all.

    I'd also like to fly and I view the world through a realists eyes most of the time. I see having the family and mortgage as a great motivation tool to keep me focused on success. Since it's not just me in for the ride.

    I've started a small business part time and am working fulltime. The part time is now starting to earn more than the full time gig. I'm going to earn myself a buffer of money in the bank. Perhaps close to a years salary to keep me a float if everything doesn't go my way as soon as I start out.

    My overheads are small. I have most of the equipment I need. I'm happy to work from home to start with. I'll simply be visiting the client most of the time rather than the other way around.

    Taxes. Well, I'm currently sorting all that out and won't make the jump until my accountant sees a decent structure in place.

    I'm not planning on employing anyone in the first 2 years. If I need to get help with the work load. I have a number of good people I can source work to.

    What else do I need to nail down? Am I looking like I'm in a position do take the leap? (or at least nearly).

    Other than not finding the work and not keeping a accounting structure in place why should I fail?

  19. #19
    Webwellwisher Robert Warren's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Crimson77
    So other than the above and if you do have a family and mortgage. What advice would you give other than not trying at all.
    I'm a big believer in getting out there and seeing what you're made of, as long as you're not putting innocents in harms way to do it. I'm just not a happy camper about blind and stupid blundering, fantasy motivational nonsense, or wrecking kids' lives simply because the parents weren't listening. That's all. If that doesn't describe you, then you're not the type I'm addressing here.

    Other than not finding the work and not keeping a accounting structure in place why should I fail?
    Legal pitfalls, for one - you can't know everything up front, and you'll learn a lot as you go, but some wrong steps are nasty (and potentially lethal) ones. Learning your way around clients who may be commonly off their meds; on top of everything else, you have to be a diplomat that Kissinger would envy. Bill collection and practical cashflow issues. Being broadsided by sudden unexpected expenses. Carving out a thriving market for yourself that doesn't depend on a bubble dynamic or wishful thinking. There are a whole lot of day-to-day realities that happy-shiny doesn't prepare you for, and you'll have to spend a lot of time thinking on your feet. (For God's sake, just read some of the posts here. Every day, someone is hitting a landmine.)

    The other issue that comes up with a family is that the sacrifices add up a lot faster. Again, will the trusting spouse stand behind you through thick and thin, or is their support basically reliant on the promise that there won't be financial problems? It's hard enough to start a successful business as it is - fighting a second war at home over it can be hell.

    The biggest killer of full-time freelancers (the ones not supported by working spouses) though, I've found, is just good ol' fashioned stress and eventual burnout. It's not an easy way of life, peppered with good times and bad, and it does grind a guy down sometimes; you're going to have to stay optimistic even after you've learned that the self-motivators were no good. You'll have to learn to run on internally generated optimism rather than expectation and external input, sometimes almost (but not quite) to the degree of being outright delusional. If you can't manage your head through seriously uncertain conditions, you'll break.. and the only way to do that is to be prepared for war, to do whatever it takes to get through. Only you can know whether you're really prepared for that battle. It requires a certain mindset.

    My point here isn't to kill dreams.. but honestly, anyone who thinks that I'm doing that, probably isn't ready to jump. They're still too defensive about The Dream. You have to be at a spot where you're prepared to make any sacrifice to succeed, because that's what you may be called upon to do. If you have a backup plan, you'll likely take it when times get bad enough.

    And if you honestly think you won't see bad times, God help you and anyone following you. The good days are frakkin' great days - I wouldn't trade the life for any other - but they're the prize for surviving the bad ones, which can be pretty bad indeed. It's the extremes that make the life tough to do, exactly what "Think It And You Can Do It!" doesn't nearly prepare you for.

    (As far as advice goes, that's all I've been giving here. Be coldbloodedly honest with yourself and those in your life about what they may be called to face. Have your priorities ruler-straight. Make your personal relationships your absolute top priority, above all else, because they'll likely end up saving your life.

    Always be educating yourself - and the business motivational books don't count. Skip the pop business guru rack and go straight to military history and warfare theory; that rack will be a lot more relevant. Keep your eyes and ears open at all times, and always be willing to be lucky. That last one is harder to do than you may think.)

  20. #20
    A Smarter Way to Web! zivo's Avatar
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    Thumbs up Can't do it alone

    Here's my US$.02 to this...

    You can't do it alone. It helps to have some relationship with a bank, even if just for a bank account and credit card. Then there's an accountant and lawyer to make sure your books and contracts are in order. Other fellow entrepreneurs in your area or virtually - like here at Sitepoint - can also be a good sounding board and resource. And sometimes it is your spouse or partner who is there for simple support.

    When people talk about going out on their own, at first they think it is just themselves. At some point, they may make a decision that they want to grow beyond themselves and start some semblance of a firm or shop. That is the time when you truly realize you need others on your team.

    Myself, I am going on 2 years of my own business. It's been a heck of a ride! But I wouldn't have it any other way!

    mp/m

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    Design and Promotion Crimson77's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Robert Warren
    I'm just not a happy camper about blind and stupid blundering, fantasy motivational nonsense, or wrecking kids' lives simply because the parents weren't listening.
    I hear what you're saying about some people. But surely putting the food on the table for your family has got to be one of the greatest motivations.

  22. #22
    Webwellwisher Robert Warren's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Crimson77
    I hear what you're saying about some people. But surely putting the food on the table for your family has got to be one of the greatest motivations.
    No doubt it's incredibly motivating, but you still don't seem to be getting my point - that there's a lot more involved here than just motivation and candoitness. It doesn't happen just because you want it to happen, no matter how badly you want it or how much incentive you have to want it. It's also not about laziness vs. hard work, because believe it, you're going to work hard regardless of whether you succeed or fail - long hours and hard work is a given.

    What it is about is will - and more specifically, sacrifice. What are you really willing to do to succeed? What lengths are you willing to go to? What lengths is your family willing to go to? Will your wife understand if just maybe you're forced to move into a smaller house/apartment to save money? Would you be willing to do it yourself? Or are you buried under the delusion that it's all about getting up every morning with a smile on your face, and keeping a positive attitude? If things don't work out the way you expected them to, will you stick it out, hell or high water, or fold up and quit? I still maintain that for someone with health problems or family obligations, the answer to that question is a no-brainer - or at the very least, should be.

    The issue is motivation versus commitment (which is not the same thing as perseverance). Paraphrasing the old joke: ham and eggs - the chicken is motivated, the pig is committed. Both are required to survive and succeed in the freelance world, and if you only have motivation, you're trying to run a marathon wearing only one shoe. Even with both shoes you may not win, but with only one, you have no chance whatsoever, no matter how new and trendy and attractive that shoe happens to be - because you're competing with runners who know better, and who are wearing both.

    People dive into self-employment every day with great abundances of motivation, and terrific and perfectly valid reasons to be highly motivated. And that's good. Keeps a whole bunch of book authors in business - motivation is a serious growth industry - and anything that puts money in working writers' pockets is pretty much okay in my book. But ya know what? Most freelancers hang it up within two years anyway, because motivation does run out - and if you don't have real commitment to back it up, it's pretty hard to recharge it again.

  23. #23
    A Smarter Way to Web! zivo's Avatar
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    Thumbs up Are you crazy to go on your own?

    Allow me to suggest this book about entrepreneurship:

    http://www.amazon.com/You-Need-Littl...e=UTF8&s=books

    I read this book, then gave it to my wife and asked her to read it, telling her that if she wanted em to get a "real job" after reading it I would. When she read it, she was even more energized for my venture!

    mp/m

  24. #24
    SitePoint Evangelist
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    I really have to second Robert here. I've been involved in different businesses the last ten years. Motivation etc is nice, however you need more than that, because after a while it will run dry.

    And man, how hard this business thing is sometimes. There are moments when I wonder why I keep going at it and allow it to put grey hears on my head. Well, I guess it is that inner power that force you to keep trying to create something worthwhile. It's that thing that makes a standard job uninteresting and only a last resort for survival, if necessary.

    So there are significant sacrifices, but I guess some people just can't help themselves, and keep on chasing their success.
    George Skee
    Follow me at GeorgeSkee.com

  25. #25
    Design and Promotion Crimson77's Avatar
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    Well I'm thinking you need to define what you mean by succeed. For me success will be earning the same or a little more than what I'm earning currently working for someone else. And perhaps even the ability to work the hours I want to work. Of course your point of the business having stamina would come into it.

    The type of sacrifices you seem to be talking about are very dramatic. Losing my house, family and everything I own by the sounds of it.

    Perhaps this is how it works in America. But in Australia, owning and running your own business is not an all or nothing obligation.

    Now, I understand what you're saying about motivational books or tapes. You can't just read a book to know what you're getting into. But 10 years of experience helping someone else to build and manage their business, a model of the business you are looking to create, has got to be some sort of foundation to start from.

    Perhaps the 6 years experience and 6 months research that ninjayong has might not be enough. But they might be just fine. Hard to say. I don't know her (I assume it's a her from the photo) personally.

    But all she's asked is where to start. She's not opening tomorrow. She's looking for advice. Motivation is a fine thing. But that's not what she's after. She's after real world advice on where to start.

    So the question remains. What does she need to do next?

    Robert By your initial rant I can only assume that you see the idea of 'freelance' as a bad one. O.K. what would you suggest. I'm really interested. What should her next step be once she has the belief in the idea of not working for 'the man'.

    Let's hear something with some substance. Rather than the all or nothing speech. All or nothing what? Practical steps is what I want to hear.

    By the way, if I sound grouchy I don't mean too. Just want to hear something I can use. Instead of rants I've heard a million times.

    ;p


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