Business Resources that Simplify Your Workflow

business resourcesHere’s another Spark Bits Weekly where I ask a panel of homepreneurs a blazing question about running and growing their businesses from home. 

Today’s Q:

What are some business resources you’ve used that has helped you run or launch projects for your internet home-based business? Which ones can you not do without?

Cindy Bidar from The Educated VA says:

homepreneur business toolsI don’t buy a lot of tools or other shiny objects, so my “must have” resources all revolve around people and connections. I’ve said many times that I would not be self-employed today if it weren’t for the friends and mentors I’ve met through various events and forums.

My go-to place for learning everything about online business, from shopping cart setup to email marketing is SoloMasterminds. I’ve been a member for years, visit the forums every single day, and just can’t say enough good things about Kelly and the rest of the man and women in that group. It’s truly a treasure trove of information and support I could not do without.

For networking, my favorite is live events, and among those, NAMS is at the top of my list. I try to go every year, and it’s been invaluable to me as my business grows. I’ve learned more than I’ll probably ever put into practice, and met some of my best friends, business colleagues, and clients there.

Finally, staying connected with my market is equally important, and for that I rely on WordPress (naturally) and Aweber for email management. It’s impossible to run a business online today without a website and an email marketing plan. These two resources make the task much easier.

Tishia Lee from Tishia Saves Time says:

homepreneur business toolsRight now, things in my business are probably as simple as can be. In other words, I’m not doing anything “fancy” when it comes to products. I have a couple for sale and I’ve kept it really simple – just using a PayPal button to sell them. Eventually I’d like to switch to Amember but I’m not ready to make that big of a switch…need to get more serious about creating products and creating an affiliate program first (that’s a whole other can of worms for a different time though).

So, to sum it up these are the tools I’m using:

  • My website – obviously ;-)
  • PayPal
  • Aweber – to collect the names/emails of purchasers to get them into my mailing list funnel
  • 42 Day Launch Incubator
  • Solo Masterminds – a ‘safe’ place I can go to ask an amazing group of smart, savvy internet marketers for feedback, suggestions, help and more when it comes to my sales page, product, etc. for sale

Like I said, I’m doing things pretty simple right now so there aren’t a lot of tools I’m using.

Helena Bowers from Your Message Amplified says:

homepreneur business toolsI’ve used a lot of different tools and resources over the years. The first thing I absolutely can’t do without is a good HTML editor. The second would be a really good graphics program. I just recently took the plunge into the Adobe Creative Cloud so that I get the all in one package and can use it on whichever machine I happen to be working on. Right now my must-have pieces of that suite are Dreamweaver, Photoshop and Abobe Illustrator, but I’m looking forward to learning how to use all the other parts of it too.

Other tools and resources that are essential for keeping my business running are Evernote for keeping my notes and things organized, Dropbox for delivering files to clients, and Aweber for mailing list management.

The one piece of physical equipment I couldn’t do without now (besides my computer, of course) is my Wacom tablet. My son got it for me for Christmas last year, and I love it for creating hand-written graphics and indulging my doodling habit. :)

Stephanie Watson from Barry Publishing says:

homepreneur business toolsPeople — My most important resource to date is Solo Masterminds. Without this wonderful group I would not be as successful as I am. I would not be pushed to grow. I would not have the clients that I have. I feel that finding a group that will be honest with you, make you think, and share real knowledge with you is a true treasure. A good mastermind group will offer you challenge, potential for joint venture partnerships, and an honest mirror in which to view yourself. They’ll kick your butt when you need it, and even sop up you tears sometimes too. They offer that connection to others that solopreneurs so desperately need.

Backup & File Storage – I cannot live without Dropbox (or something like it). I’ve mentioned before that in April of 2011 we ended up without power for two weeks. My external drive was destroyed. We were all fortunate to be alive, and had I had Dropbox fully functional at that point, recovering from this situation would be been a breeze. It’s imperative that you have a cloud-based backup and file storage system. There are many out there, find one you like and use it, religiously.

Accounting, Bookkeeping & Invoicing — Currently I am using Go Daddy Bookkeeping along with Freshbooks to do my books and invoice my clients. They both work together and while I have a degree in business and know how to do bookkeeping the old fashioned way, my business is small enough that this works for me. If you have a bigger business and sell a lot of products though I would use something like QuickBooks Online instead.

Productivity & Project Management — I mostly use Dropbox but some of my clients use Basecamp and I love it. Anytime I am lucky enough to get a client who uses Basecamp I know it’s going to work out swimmingly because they are organized. I am very deadline driven so it’s important for me to have clear instructions, expectations of deliverables, and deadlines.

Simple Graphics — I am in love with Canva right now. I cannot live without. I use it for all kinds of things from social media memes to creating well laid out graphics for reports.  I also love ImageMonthly because I get tips on using images, fonts, and usable graphics too.

Aside from WordPress, Word & Adobe Pro I think I can run a complete business with just these things. I can’t pick one that I can live without. As my business grows though, I am starting to see the need for more integrated systems. I’m looking into Ontraport right now. I’m curious if anyone else is using it and how they feel about it?

Christa Jensen from ChristaJensen.com says:

homepreneur business toolsThere are many great resources out there to help those who want to work from home or are working from home. I will share my favorites, which are the ones that I have seen be the most useful in my business over the years.

Could not do without:

I have also interned in a blogging course and have had a writing coach in the past, which proved very valuable for those who want to write well for the internet.

Samantha Pointer-Foxx from Get It Together says:

homepreneur business toolsTo run my business I rely on my iPad and a few favorite apps. The main one I use is Evernote to just brain dump into. I also use the Quickbooks Online app to keep up with accounting and to invoice my clients on the spot. I use the SproutSocial app to do all of my social media posting and to schedule posts. I use Google Drive, LiveDrive, Onedrive, MobilLogic and Dropbox to handle my files that I need on the go and for computer backup.

Now that you can get Microsoft products on the iPad, it is easy for me to work on documents. I use the Sunrise Calendar app to keep up with my appointments on all platforms. Because I do podcasting and blogging, my Samsung Note 3 is really indespensable when it comes to capturing audio, taking photos and jotting down quick ideas.

I use Soundcloud as well to give my audience quick organizing tips while on the go. These are just some of the apps and products I use on a daily basis to run my business.

Alicia Jay from New VA Advice says:

AliciaJay100x100There are a couple of online tools that make working online so much easier for me. I’ve made an effort to keep my business mostly paperless, so all of these tools help in that area, and they also allow me the freedom to work anywhere I want.

The first and most important for me is Dropbox. I run my entire business out of Dropbox so that I can access it from any device whether it’s my desktop, laptop or my phone. No matter where I am, I can access all of my information. It’s also super handy because I have private folders set up with my clients so that we can easily share information.

Next we have Aweber. List building is such an important business-building tool and Aweber helps me do that without the need to be a master techie. It’s easy to use and I can access it anywhere to schedule broadcast emails or set up autoresponders to help me work a little more passively in my business.

Then there is Evernote. It just has so many awesome uses. I have a folder for each of my businesses and then note sections underneath those filled with my to-do lists, things that I want to research and new product or course ideas. I can just open up Evernote to check my list for the day or grab ideas for a new project.

My Insights

home business resourcesStarting and running a business from home can invite some trials in setting up an infrastructure that systematizes your workflow. Lack of organization and distraction can easily penetrate the workday since there is a fine line between home and business life. At the end of the day, because you are running a real business, you’ll need some resources to help you manage through the day. But depending on your business model, market, and personality traits ‘must have’ tools vary from person to person.

Many of the Sparkplugging advisors mentioned cloud services as a top priority in home business management. You can’t beat being able to access all of your data online, no matter where you are. Long gone are the days you’ll have to carry around a hard drive in order to get some work done.

For me, some resources I can’t do without, are pretty much under the umbrella of Google. Tools like Gmail, Analytics, Adsense, You Tube and Web Search – who can live without using at least one of these right? From productivity to research tools and marketing, Google, more that likely, has a product for it. And the best part is that they are free to use.

Other must haves right now are things like Paypal for my payments, Rescue Time for productivity, Buzzsumo for social research, WordPress for website management and most recently I’m exploring the CamScanner app.

As technology evolves you will find yourself trying new things and adopting others. But in the grand scheme of things, as some of the Sparkplugging panel described, the ultimate resource is the people. Without them, on either side of the spectrum, you have no business. Shiny new toys will then become irrelevant.

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How to Clarify Your Business Direction

Business DirectionAs I was combing through older content on the blog, I came across this blog post, Three Business Lessons Learned from a Robot. The analogy is funny but the tips where full of insight. It made me think about how important it is to have a sense of direction when it comes to your business.

I think it goes a little beyond steps to setting goals, especially for a small internet home business run by solopreneurs. Sometimes  fear, lack of clarity, limited support and having no sense of direction gets the better of us.

See, you and I were trained to fail in entrepreneurship because we weren’t given the tools to manage through the hardships, fight through the struggles and withstand the unpredictability that frequently comes with running a business.

When we were younger, we followed house rules and directives from our parents. In school, we were guided by lesson plans facilitated by our teachers. At a job, we were given a set of tasks based on a job description. So when it comes to taking risks in entrepreneurship, resistance sets in because we’re not given a “guide” to follow. Take a look at this inspirational yet informational video featuring Seth Godin – Failing Until You Succeed.

Overcoming Limiting Beliefs: Who’s In Charge?

Many people I’ve come across have fantasized about starting a business at one point or another. My sister, who has a business degree, has specifically admitted she is afraid of failing. My best friend has had a longtime dream of opening up a childcare center. She quit her job last December and got very close to closing a deal on a property several months ago. The deal folded and she became paralyzed by disappointment. She is she now back to working a job. Another one of my friends grew up with an entrepreneurial father. She has dreams of starting a horticulture therapeutic center but feels she is not “organized” enough to even know where to begin.

There’s nothing worse than the hopeless feeling of jumping around aimlessly and later rationalizing your “failure” to a set of circumstances you created a belief around. You either have an internal or external locus of control, meaning things happen because of you or to you. Your viewpoint can affect your success.

I’ve always been passionate about facing fears and making breakthroughs. I encourage my clients and patients to give themselves permission to be bold – it’s cliché but true. But if you don’t know where you are going, it’s much more difficult to stay focused and grounded.

Visualizing what you want

There’s a lot of research done about visualization. Some people swear by vision boards. I, for one, believe that it definitely helps to envision and image  and actually feeling what it’s like to get there. It creates this energy and momentum and keeps you zoned in, even when you are not consciously thinking about it. I use something similar where I place a description of my ultimate business vision on my bedroom night table that way I see it as soon as I wake up. Not in a Law of Attraction kind of way but I feel it helps to remind me while my brain cells are fresh of what I need to do to get one step closer.  Check out these tips I found on how to use visualization to achieve your goals.

Setting Intentions

Goals are very individualistic. There is a reason why you want to accomplish “that thing”. The tangible outcome is rarely what you are after. Not to get touchy-feely but normally it’s a search for a feeling (accomplished, loved, smart, sexy, free, etc.). Get to know yourself. Self-awareness can be fun. It’s almost like putting a puzzle together.

Heighten up your senses to what stands out for you during the course of a day. It helps you identify what’s important to you so you can factor those into your business journey. For me, it’s noticing children, happy couples, and people’s moods. I love to people watch and notice when a person looks sad. I take note of businesses that go out of business and speculate on the circumstances. I wonder, did the owners give up? You can almost always find something that will satisfy you and the needs of the people you serve.

A Measurable Contract With Yourself

In business, setting measurable goals can help your business direction and ultimately its success. Most people find business success using a combination of their interests, values, passions and skills. Write down the actions you will take and what behaviors will you change in order to get there. Make your it specific enough where you can see progress and allow you the opportunity to praise yourself for small wins that will eventually turn into larger ones. Writing it down also makes things more concrete and establishes a contract with yourself. You’ll keep growing, refining and expanding as you move along.

The Power of Masterminding

This point was brought up in Lynette Chandler’s post. She says, “Now to figure out, what or who can be the GPS for your business? I think the answer is fairly obvious. It is a good business coach or a group of like minded people like a mastermind group made up of people you can trust.” Think about the power of gaining the insights of an expert or group of experts brainstorming and networking together and gaining perspective at a much quicker pace. Plus, it’ll help you stay accountable. Here are a few I belong to Blogging Concentrated, Solo Masterminds, Lynn Terry’s Private Brainstorming Group, MyNams (some of these have free and paid memberships).

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Home-based Business Workspace: Ideas to make it work

home business workspaceYet another Spark Bits Weekly where I ask a panel of homeprenuers a blazing question about running and growing their businesses from home.

Today’s Q is:

Tell us about your workspace at home and how do keep your business endeavors organized?

Stephanie Watson from Barry Publishing says:

home business workspaceI’m very fortunate to have a dedicated office in my home. I have two  file cabinets, two desks, a printer, two computers, a laptop, and from years of doing this, all the office paraphernalia one would expect plus two comfortable chairs and some bookcases. Since my husband helps me in my business one station is his and one is mine. I barely use the filing cabinet or the printer or other stuff anymore. I use Dropbox to keep all my files organized. I scan receipts to keep them in a file for tax purposes, which is practically the only reason the printer is used, and file warranty information in one of the file cabinets.

I use my office only for working. When I want to have fun and play around I go use my laptop in the living room on the couch. This gives me a nice feeling of separation, so that when I am off work, I am off work. Plus it keeps me from wasting time on social media. I use my laptop for work when I am away from the house, or sometimes, like now, when I’m writing something like this and need a change of pace after writing all day long. But mostly, I use my lap top for “off duty” stuff.

I have a desk that allows me to sit or stand. I read that sitting for more than 4 hours a day increases your chances of sudden and early death exponentially, so I had my husband build me a desk that enables me to stand while working. At first I thought it would be hard, but I find that I am actually more productive when I stand.

I have set working hours and days. I do work “over time” when needed, but mostly I try to limit that and get my work done within the parameters that I’ve set. I used to feel like I worked 24/7 and now I don’t. Sure, sometimes I work overtime and on my days off, but that only happens when I need to rearrange something or before and after going on vacation.

I’m very fortunate having this space and all the supplies and equipment that I need. Back when I first started, I had an office in the living room stuffed behind the couch. It was difficult, with the kids running through the room, watching TV and so forth, but it was all I had at the time.

One great thing is that today,  working from home virtually means that I need very little paper or other supplies other than a computer, the Internet, and the right software since I now keep all  files organized in my Dropbox, there’s not much to it. My expenses are low, and I run lean and mean.

Brenda Trott from Done4UMedia Marketing says:

home business workspaceAfter going through 3 computers in one year, I decided to store everything on the cloud. I use Evernote to capture things online or store them on my Google drive where I can grab them from my phone as well as any computer. I store things in folders based on the product I’m creating or the client I’m working with.

Although I have a home office, I often find myself working from my bedroom.  The biggest fault is that it is easy to lose track of time, and I’ll send emails out at 3am.  Once upon a time that didn’t matter, but now that smart phones are notifying people of emails, it becomes a problem when I wake someone up with my late night (or early morning) emails!

My Insights

home business workspaceWorking from home can offer many perks. For one, it offers the opportunity for flexibility, which is especially gratifying for people like me who value freedom.  But with the perks also come disadvantages and one of those is maintaining an organized space for your business, which can be quite difficult when you have the distractions from your home life.

Working from home requires some thought especially when you are just starting out. A goal should be to create a working space that is suitable for you and works for both your personal and business life. For me, feeling physically comfortable when I’m working, noise control and keeping things organized are pretty important.

Although I do have an extra room with a desk, like Brenda, I find myself working out of my guest bedroom because my back and legs get tired from sitting for long periods and I also like to elevate my legs on the bed. I find that I tend to stay more productive in that position. I do bursts of exercise in between to keep my circulation flowing and mind clear. I’ve also considered getting a higher desk to work while standing like Stephanie discussed because of the negative health effects of sitting for long periods.

I also need complete silence to work effectively because I get highly distracted and lose my focus really quickly. It takes me much longer to get it back. Therefore, when I start to work, my husband knows that I’m in work mode and doesn’t overstep that boundary. Maintaining boundaries with your family is really important especially if you are sensitive to noise and distractions like I am. Having a chat with your family or even putting up a sign on your door or work area can help establish an understanding where after a while, you won’t even have to say or do anything.

In keeping things organized, I keep all of my business related things in one room and just bring my laptop with me when I move around in my home. The majority of my files are in digital format so most of the time my laptop will suffice. If I do work on my desk, it has to be completely bare. I can’t work in an area that is messy and cluttered. It doesn’t allow me to think clearly or creatively.

The key, I think, is to find a space that works for you and contributes to your sanity, health and  productivity. From a psychological standpoint, structuring and finding a “place for business” in your home will separate your home life with your business endeavors. Assess your personality and find a home setup that will best contribute to your business success. Your home-based business workspace and the way you organize your biz endeavors is an expression of your personality. Try to create an environment where you will feel most empowered to do your best work and will enhance your productivity.

Have you assessed and reconsidered your home business workspace lately?

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Search Your Favorite Sites From The Browser

Everyone of us has sites we visit regularly to reference the information found there. For me, these sites are:Add to search bar

  • Flickr – to search for Creative Commons Licensed images to use on blog posts
  • WordPress.org Codex – to search for code snippets, functions and template tags
  • WordPress forum – to look up solutions to problems
  • Youtube – to find videos that I can blog about or add to my site/resources etc
  • Internet marketing forums – to see what people are saying about a topic I want to write about and question they are asking

Each one of those web sites have their very own search feature so what is the problem? No problem. I just like to cut out a few steps and clicks if possible because some of these sites especially WordPress, I search several times a day. Bookmarking and navigating to these sites take time.

So, I installed this cool little Firefox plugin called Add to Search Bar. This lets me add the search function for any web site to my Firefox Search Bar. Which means less looking up for a web site in the overloaded bookmarks folder and less clicking to get to the right page to search.

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8 Tools For The Productivity Junkie

If there’s one thing I learned working around children, it is, you can’t expect 100% productivity all the time. Which means, during the times you can give your work your undivided attention, you’ll want to squeeze every bit out of every single minute. While I don’t see myself as a productivity junkie, some people in my household may beg to differ :) anyways, always one to look out for better ways to do things, I’ve scoped out a few tools that may be helpful.

A timer – it truly is super weird. For someone who works hard not to be ruled by a punch clock, the timer often helps me focus the most. Not only that, it also helps me track billable hours. Yeah I’m old school like that. While I do have a physical timer – preferred for offline work, I also use a digital and tiny timer on my computer. The best in my humble opinion is a simple, dirt cheap but very functional timer, Egg Timer Plus from Sardine software (love the name). Only $5

Evernote – *sigh* I could write a book about Evernote. It is a web clipper (clip text, images etc from the web), a note taker, a task planner, a recipe organizer – you name it, you can probably find a way to use it for that. To me it’s a huge virtual inbox but that’s nothing new. What I love best about this is, you can capture almost any kind of data from anywhere. From your desktop and directly from your cell phone this is a huge selling point for me. The only thing it doesn’t have is a calendar but it is definitely a 2nd brain.

Filebox eXtender – got tired of clicking and clicking and clicking through folders to find the file I want. If you make a concious effort to notice it, you usually revisit a couple of folders pretty regularly throughout the day, week and month. I wanted a way to quickly jump to these folders which are also contained within many parent folders. Filebox eXtender does that. Love it. Sadly, it is no longer being actively support. There have been some reported issues for some people but they do have a Windows Vista and Windows 7 version. It is free.

Filebox eXtender

QTTabBar – lets you have tabs in Windows Explorer. I have not installed it yet, will definitely install it shortly. Going by my love of tabs on Firefox, QTTabBar may quickly be a must have.

Gmail Labels, Filter and auto Archive feature – The sky will not fall on your head if you don’t read every single email that comes through your inbox. A big volume of our emails are probably not supposed to be acted upon anyhow so just – stuff them. You don’t have to see them but you may need them at some point in the future. Create a label and make sure you check the “Skip inbox” checkbox, mark as read and assign it a label – e.g. Receipts. Then filter all PayPal emails or even emails you get from the ‘Gurus’ or subscription list this way. Let Gmail to that petty work for you.

GridMove - this is one killer app – at least for me. I used to call GridMove the poor (wo)man’s 2nd monitor. Now that I have a 2nd monitor, I find I need it more! It separates your monitor into grids – you can even create your own layouts or download the many contributed by users. When you click on the middle mouse button and drag a window, it will show you the many grids you can drag the window to. It will ‘snap’ into place. Eliminating the need to manually resize windows. This is great for working with code and web sites – see the effect of your changes on one side and the code on another. It’s also come in real handy during household budgeting day. I can see my own spreadsheet on one side and the checking account on the other.

Gridmove

A Macro – Feels like Deja Vu. I’ve mentioned this one before ;-) Oh yeah! Right here. See, they all tie in together. A Macro does repetitive tasks for you so you don’t have to remember or do it manually. Saving you tons of time. It can launch applications for you, perform certain functions on a schedule and even type for you. Get it. Use it. DirectAccess has saved me 17 hours of typing. How do I know? Because it gives me a neat little chart estimate. It’ probably more than than though because I use it launch programs and open folders, I save the time required to search for the program from a programs list – or the time to find that elusive folder.

A Workflow or system if you prefer to call it that – Some people respond better to mindmaps, some people prefer lists – whichever you decide, using tools like wikis and Bubbl.us and Gliffy help you create a workflow faster and also edit them easier so if there are changes in your workflow, everyone else on your team won’t be stuck with archaic versions.

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Sparkplugging Swap Your Labor Weekend

virtual-swap-meetLast year I held a virtual swap meet on the WAHM 2.0 blog and opened things up for readers to share what they have available to barter with the focus being on virtual services that they provide and products that they create or sell.

Bartering your valuable skills is a fantastic way to get the products and services you need to move forward with your business goals.  It’s especially attractive with your business budget is tight!

Get What You Need!

Since this is Labor Day Weekend, and since last year’s swap meet was so successful, I think this is a perfect time to revive the fun and open up the comments for you to share what you have to offer and what you’re looking for in return.

Are you a skilled writer in need of a new blog header graphic?  Offer to write a couple of killer articles for a graphic designer in need of content.  Are you a virtual assistant in need of a gift for your best friend’s birthday?  Offer to provide your services in exchange for personal care products.

The options are endless – just make your pitch and see what happens!

Let’s Swap!

Leave a comment below that shares what you have to offer for barter in enough detail that someone can make a decision about it.  If you know exactly what you’d like to barter for, lay that out to.  If you’re not sure, you can say that you’re open to creative offers.

Be sure to include contact information!  Your Twitter user name would be good.

Who knows what sort of swap connections we’ll make this weekend :)  Let’s go for it!

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Tools That Make An Affiliate’s Life Easier

Kelly’s inspirational post about dreaming bigger, has really got quite a few of us riled up and ready to go. For me, it couldn’t have been better timing because this week is also the same week my kids start school again. I am excited to reclaim those hours and pour 100% of it into my business once again. Since Kelly talked about affiliate marketing and working harder on it, I thought it would be good to follow up with some tools that can help make your lives as affiliates easier, better, more productive which hopefully leads to more profits. So here goes.Tools

Password manager – I use Roboform on the PC and 1Password on the Mac, others I know use LastPass and Xmarks. Whatever you decide on, a password manager really helps logging in and out of those many affiliate accounts a breeze.

Affiliate link plugin for WordPress – there are a few out there. What does it do? You set a keyword for example “SparkplugU” and tell it to link to your affiliate URL each time SparkplugU is found. All automatic and works for older posts too.

Zemanta – this is a Firefox plugin that will make photo, books, DVD and website resources suggestions for you based on what you are writing about. You can link it up to Amazon – if you’re still their affiliate – and make it easy to add links to products found in Amazon.

A macro utility – Tired of typing your affiliate URL again and again? Copying and pasting is OK but still takes time to open your file, look it up, copy and paste. Too many actions. Use a macro utility. I use something called DirectAccess that helps me do a bunch of things, but one of my favorite uses is for it to help me type in URLs. Instead of typing, I enter a short code and hit ‘End’ the software types the links for me, reducing the amount of typing I do.

Image by sanja gjenero

Lynette enjoys discovering new ways to use technology or new technologies to use in a business and in turn help her clients apply them. You can find also Lynette at her blog, Twitter and Facebook

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