How To Earn Paid Sick Days As A Self-Employed Entrepreneur

paid sick days, PTO, self-employed, freelancer

When compared to the typical corporate office job, there aren’t too many downsides to being freelancer or business owner. You decide who you will work for and with, where you’ll work, and best of all, what kind of work you’ll do. For the self-employed, work is almost always a personal passion, which brings both challenges and satisfaction to an entirely new level.

But it’s not all a bed of roses. As Heidi Kerr-Schlaefer (former member of Cohere and current member of the Armory Workspace in Loveland) recently wrote on her company blog, there are “no sick days for the self-employed.” When the flu attacks the typical office worker, all they have to do is cash in a few paid sick days, and they can wallow in tissues and tea without worrying about how to pay the bills. When a freelancer gets sick, there are only two choices: work through the pain, or lose the money.

Well, we think that’s crap. The self-employed work just as hard, no, harder than the average cubicle dweller. Why should we suffer, financially and physically, just because there’s no HR department to dole out PTO? We deserve a day off now and then. We looked into it, and there is a way for freelancers to earn paid sick days. It takes some pre-planning and long-term goal-setting, as well as the ability to set a work schedule and stick to it, but the payoff is guilt-free rest and relaxation.

Four Simple steps to earning paid sick days via Andrea Ruiz/Yahoo!

1. Decide how much money you need to earn. This amount should be factored yearly. Use last year’s earnings as a guide.

2. Divide this amount by how many weeks out of the year that you want to work. Don’t get sick that often? Set aside a week. Got kids that love to bring home nasty viruses and spread them around the family? Two weeks. So, if you’re the family example, that would mean your goal annual earnings divided by 50 weeks of work.

3. Deduct any weekly unearned income you receive from this amount, such as child support, alimony or disability insurance, that you are counting toward your annual income goals.

4. Divide this amount by how many days per week you want to work. This is the amount of money you need to make every day in order to earn your target annual income and still afford yourself paid time off.

If you’re flexible about how much you want to earn, or don’t mind working six days a week, simply work this into the formula. And hey, there’s even a way to accrue vacation days as well! And if you’re having trouble with the sticking to a schedule part of this equation, that’s what we’re here for! Coworking instead of fighting off distractions at home or in a coffee shop will ensure that you meet your earning goals so when there’s a sickness or an urge to take off to Mexico, you’ve got the days set aside.

Image via mikecharliealpha/Flickr

The Online Portfolio: A Freelancer’s Virtual Handshake

A handshake says a lot about someone. I find it especially annoying when people have sucky handshakes. Too limp-fish or too break-your-hand-off-at-the-wrist, and it’s all I can think about for the first five minutes of our conversation. Handshakes are an important element of the first impression, and first impressions affect my decision to be your friend/client/vendor.

We work in a mobile, virtual world. Often the first impression a client or collaborator forms about you comes from your online presence. Let’s say someone does a Google search for you or your services. The results are your very first virtual handshake. If you’re a creative professional and don’t have an online portfolio, your handshake sucks.

Maybe you’ve got a website but it’s just a landing page and a contact form (that’s like the limp fish handshake). Maybe your online portfolio has pages of text detailing your entire professional experience, from college graduation to present day (this is the “I’m gonna break your arm” handshake). The trick is to present just enough of yourself and your past work to leave the viewer wanting more. And wanting to pay for it.

If you’ve been putting off your online portfolio because you think it’s too time consuming or costly, the jig is up. Here are 4 different tools and sites that will help you build a kick ass representation of yourself online.

1. About.me

This site is all about the essentials: a bio, links to your work, and your beautiful face. This is a one page site that can be set up in a matter of minutes. Font, background, and ways to contact/collaborate with you are all customizable. If you’d rather not have your direct email and Facebook profile out there on the interwebs for all to see, this is very convenient. Also includes analytics! Only downside: it’s not a personal URL. Your page will be about.me/yournamehere.

2. Weebly

This popular free service  makes web design as simple as a few clicks of the mouse, while still giving users the ability to customize HTML. You can upload 5MB files, including documents such as resumes and writing samples, or purchase a pro account and get unlimited uploads of up to 100MB. There are ample free templates that can be used to customize the look and feel of your portfolio, and even free accounts allow users to optimize web pages for easy online searchability.

3. Dribble

Dribble is a portfolio networking platform where designers share “shots,” small screenshots of the designs and applications they are working on. All types of creatives are welcome here – Dribbble is designed for show and tell – to promote, discover, and explore design. Bonus! Dribble also features a “Find Designers” section, where prospective employers can search for designers by skill and location. Members of Dribbble who can post are called “Players,” and new members are called “Rookies.” New members sign up as “Prospects,” who have to be recruited by Players to become Rookies. Dribbble offers a jobs board for designers to find work.

4. Carbonmade

Carbonmade Portfolio

Carbonmade is a personalized online portfolio building tool. It features ingenious, quirky graphics and copy throughout their entire site which really makes you feel at home as a creative. Carbonmade offers both a free and a paid ($12 mo) offering; the free option is great for getting a feel for the site, but the paid option has all the features that you need to make a robust portfolio, like the ability to add up to 50 projects, 500 images, 10 videos, custom domain binding, and access to technical support.

Have other tips about how to make or use an online portfolio? Share them in a comment!

Top image via buddawiggi/Flickr

Top 25 Freelancer Apps for Work-Life Balance

The emergence of the mobile workforce has placed unique demands on industries that exist to serve working professionals. From office furniture to mobile apps, America’s 42 million freelancers need different tools than those who spend their day in a cubicle. We need apps that will help us stay on top of our work load, issue invoices on the go, and connect with clients in person even when we’re hundreds of miles away.

Software and app company BestVendor recently polled 100 freelancers and put together an infographic of some of the most favored apps used by location independent professionals. Which of these do you depend on daily and which have you never heard of before? What miracle app is missing from the list? Share your thoughts in a comment!

Freelancer Tools

Infographic courtesy of Best Vendor

Leap Into Action With Smart Business Planning

Leap Day Business Planning

Unless it happens to be your birthday—in which case, we raise our coffee mugs to you—Leap Day is usually an uneventful happening.  But it is an extra day, and anytime the universe gives us more time in which to be productive, it’s a good policy to take advantage of it.

We say, with an inspiring action word like “LEAP” in the title, why not make it an every-four-year prompt to take action?  As freelancers and entrepreneurs, we’re all challenged to stick to our business growth plans—or even to make them in the first place.  Here are some ideas on how to make Leap Day a day of forward momentum in your business planning initiatives.

1. Be A Business

When you’re first testing the waters of freelancing or running a side business, it’s fine to simply count the profits as an extra blessing. But if you’re interested in taking the next step, to full time freelancing or entrepreneurship, it’s important to indicate to the universe (and yourself) that you mean business. Whether this is creating your LLC or INC., or finally opening a separate business bank account, it’s time to do what’s necessary to make it official.

2. Create A Brand

Once you business is official, it’s time to introduce yourself to the world. They need to get to know your personality, your strengths, your expertise. They need to trust that you can get the job done, on time, for the right price. In order to properly convey these characteristics to your audience, you need a brand. Maybe it’s finally creating a logo, or switching your site URL from “iamanexpert.blogspot.com” to a bonafide web address. Maybe it’s finally making a list of your ideal project, client, and pay rate, and then finding out a way to get there. Yes, maybe it’s finally setting up professional profiles on the most popular social media sites. Growing a business means marketing yourself, and unless you have a brand, your message will be muddled.

3. Have A Contract

This could probably have been lumped under point #1, but it’s so important, it needed to be stated all by itself. The comprehensive contract is the freelancers’ first (and sometimes only) line of defense against crappy clients or slacker sub-contractors. Use one, every time. If you’re not sure how to make one that covers all the bases, ask around to some of the more experienced freelancers at Cohere. You can also take advantage of this handy contract creator tool over at Freelancers Union.

4. Track Your Time (Accurately)

It took you days (maybe weeks) to settle on an hourly rate that would keep you away from Ramen noodles while accurately reflecting your experience and portfolio. But all that agony does you know good if you’re always guesstimating hours when it comes time to draw up the invoice. Talk to member Matt Rose about the time tracking software he created for himself, or check out these six cool tools for tracking your time (some are free!).

5. Delegate/Collaborate

If this isn’t your first time around the calendar as a business owner, you’ve managed to stay in the black most of the time. That means soon (if not already) you’ll find yourself with more work on your plate than you can handle. Don’t fret–just look around you. Cohere is a honey pot of other independent professionals looking to pick up work or collaborate on projects. If a client is demanding work that you just don’t have time for right now, ask around to see if anyone’s interested in subcontracting for you. If this high demand is an every day occurrence, you might talk to some of the other members about how to go about hiring an intern to whom you could delegate some less-than-essential tasks.

These are only a few ideas of how to use Leap Day as a chance to get more organized for the year ahead. Got some more? Share them in the comments!

Image Credit: Flickr – dnorman

Best of Cohere: Why A Coworking Space Is Important To The Local Economy

Coworking Space 

There are some who still view coworking as a a quirky niche instead of the future of work. That might be hard for those of us who love coworking to believe, but important for us to remember as we try to grow our communities.

While it’s true that coworking isn’t for everyone, and certainly doesn’t work for every industry (we still need grocery stores and plumbers), coworking can serve as both a model and a hub for creating better communities at large.

Most people can imagine what shared office space looks like. It’s harder to understand the larger economic benefits of participating in such a space until you experience it first hand.

If you’re on the fence about joining a coworking space, here are some big picture positive impacts to think about.

Coworking Keeps Stellar Talent In Town

Coworking spaces are “office buildings” for those who had the talent (and balls) to create their own job in a crappy economy. Without coworking, many in mid-sized urban areas like Fort Collins would have to commute or move their families to bigger cities with more opportunities. Coworking helps them stay in town, preserving their money, talent, and enthusiasm for use in the local economy.

Coworking Supports Small Business

Don’t let the mega-corps fool you: they are not job creators. They employ people only because it’s necessary for the creation and dissemination of their products and services, not because they want to revitalize a town. Small to mid-sized businesses are the lifeblood of a local economy. They live and work and shop locally, and give a crap about the personal lives of their employees.

Shocking fact: 95% of coworking desks are occupied by a small business. (Ok I made that stat up, but you get the picture — most). It might be a freelance writer who just formed her LLC or couple of buddies who decided to create their own design company. Either way, these businesses are driving down unemployment rates at a time when multi-billion dollar companies are still laying people off. Joining a coworking space means these tiny businesses will have a safe place to grow and learn from more experienced members. When’s the last time you saw Wal-Mart swapping trade secrets with the new family-owned retailer?

Coworking Creates A Network For Collaborative Consumption

The quest for bigger, better, faster has crippled our economy. People are tired of keeping up with the Jones’ and just want to keep their families fed. Collaborative consumption means reusing, growing, renting, bartering and making instead of buying. But the sharing economy demands a network of friendly, trustworthy people to make it work. Like the people who work right next to you in a coworking space.

Yes, coworking allows you to share your professional expertise and network with other successful freelancers. But you could do that at a once a month meetup. What makes coworking unique is the sharing that takes place on a personal level–be it a potluck meal or vegetable seeds or a ride to a conference in Denver.

When a community is connected and open to sharing, people save money, learn new skills, and reduce their impact on the environment. New ideas emerge, problems are solved in creative ways, and the community at large reaps all the rewards of a happy independent workforce.

What other “trickle-down” benefits have you seen in the coworking community? Share your experience in a comment!

And if you’ve got friends who are still unsure that coworking is worth the monthly investment, share your experience (and this article) with them as well!

 Image Credit: Flickr – mdanys

4 Enlightening Events For Indy Professionals In 2012

Events For Independent Professionals

Happy New Year Coworking Community!

This is a wonderful time when the new year stretches out before us like an untouched canvas. The possibilities of what can be accomplished over the next 12 months seem endless at this moment.

As location-independent professionals, January is a great time to set goals, plan strategies, and identify the opportunities for connection and collaboration that will expand our own networks as well as enrich the larger community.

Even if you’re a regular at your local coworking space, it can be easy to become comfortable with your limited circle of friends and colleagues. But as a freelancer or business owner, it’s essential that you find new ways to challenge yourself, and new people who will expand your mind. Attending events, both inside and outside your chosen industry, is a great way to continue your education while also increasing your friends and followers.

If you’re looking for a few key events to attend this year, here’s a short list of favorites to get you started:

Worldwide #Jellyweek 2012

A “Jelly” is like coworking, only without a dedicated space, time or set of attendees. Often catalysts use the Jelly format to explore their community’s interest in coworking before opening a permanent space. International Jelly Week is a decentralized global event during which independent professionals will come together (in a person’s home, a coffee shop, a public space or an office) to work and network for the day. Topics of discussion include: What important needs can be fulfilled by coworking? How can coworking help solve local and global problems? How can coworkers use the global coworking infrastructure to foster their businesses and projects? Which people and networks aren’t yet connected to the idea of coworking, but should be involved? How can business-oriented networks and NGOs use the coworking infrastructure for their global community building and actions? Learm more at jellyweek.org and on Facebook.

2nd Annual Global Coworking Unconference – Austin, Texas – March 8, 2012

The premier event for coworkers and coworking space owners returns for its second year…bigger and better than ever! This year, the Global Coworking Unconference (GCUC or “juicy” for short) moves to a bigger location and will feature two tracks: an “unconference” track with exceptional peer-to-peer breakouts (great for seasoned coworking space owners) and a more structured conference track (perfect for newer owners and folks who just want to learn more about the movement.) Anyone can jump back and forth between the two tracks throughout the day. The larger keynotes and breaks will bring everyone back together in one large group, making it a cohesive experience for all. Learn more and register here.

International Freelancers Day 2012

International Freelancers Day is the largest FREE online conference exclusively for self-employed service professionals. You’ll learn from some of the world’s most respected professionals and thought leaders in the areas of freelancing, marketing, social media and personal development. They’ll reveal proven and actionable business-building ideas, insights, tactics and strategies that will help take your “business of one” to the next level. International Freelancer’s Day 2011 took place in September and was a huge success. Watch this website for an announcement of this year’s conference.

HOW Design Live 2012 – Boston, Mass., June 21 – 25

Registration is now open for HOW Design Live—not one but four high-energy creative conferences rolled into one. Individual tracks focus on Designers, Project Managers, Creative Freelancers, and Packaging Specialists. Choose one—or all—of the conferences detailed below and produce your most inspired and professionally rewarding creative work ever.

Check out the main web site, HOWDesignLive.com, now updated with full conference information on sessions, workshops, tours, speakers, and networking events. Sign up by March 30 and take advantage of Early-Bird Savings!

Do you know of a stellar event that independent professionals would be crazy to miss? Share it in a comment!

 

Image Credit: Flickr – opensourceway

Why You Need A Few Days Off (And Why That’s OK)

Out of office vacation

The average freelancer works almost twice as long as the average nine-to-five employee. So, why is it that we feel guilty taking some time off for the holidays?

No matter how you celebrate, the holidays are a time for sleeping ridiculously late, eating way too much, spiking the egg nog, and hugging everyone you know.

To that end, the holidays are one time of the year when traditional workers have an advantage over the freelancer: They get PTO, and we get guilt. The average 9 to 5-er waits for the clock to hit quitting time, and bolts out the door. The thought of the emails waiting to be answered or presentations to be assembled won’t cross their mind again until Monday morning.

Here’s the difference: most freelancers love what they do.

We are obsessed. We think about our business every waking moment. We’re always networking, worrying about clients, checking our published work to make sure our names are spelled correctly. While we are completely in charge of when we get work done, the thinking about it never stops. We ALWAYS feel like we should be getting work done.

Maybe it’s because we still don’t feel like our job is as legitimate as one that happens in an office. Or maybe the lack of a salary safety net makes us feel uneasy about earning a few hours less this month.

Whatever the reason, I’m here to tell you that the guilt you’re feeling is unfounded, and you totally deserve a day (or seven) to completely unplug from your business.

This is not the corporate grind. You’re not competing for the corner office. You’re building a business, a legacy. You’re in there for the long hall. The work will always be here, but your friends, family, and the opportunity to make memories with them may not.

So go ahead. Activate that “out of office” email response a few days early. I know you planned to work right up until Christmas Eve, but I’m challenging you to scrap that plan. Bake 1,500 gingerbread cookies with your kids. Craft some presents for your best friends. Stay in your pajamas and read a book all day.

I’m writing you a prescription for laziness and self-indulgence. Take daily and repeat as needed. You’ll be surprised how much better you’ll feel when it’s time to be brilliant. Next year.

Happy Holidays Cohere!!!

Image Credit: Flickr – Victor Bezrukov

Top 6 Gift Ideas For Freelancers & Small Business Owners

Christmas Gifts for Freelancers
Wondering what to get the independent professional on your list? Stumped about the best present for the small business owner in your life? 

Although there’s more to the holidays than giving and getting, here are some useful gift ideas that will help your favorite freelancer be even more productive and successful in the New Year. Feel free to add your own gift suggestions in a comment below!

1. Membership at a local coworking space.

(You know I had to…) There’s nothing better than the gifts of friendship and community, and you’ll be giving both when you buy a coworking membership for your favorite mobile worker. Most coworking spaces offer different levels and lengths of membership, so it’s much more flexible than a gym membership or fruit of the month club. Do some light research before you buy to make sure the coworking space is conveniently located and has all the amenities your small business owner will need. Cohere has a wicked discount on 3 day pass packs right now. 3 days for just $25!

2. Cloud storage for precious data.

Freelancers live on, for, and through their laptop and other mobile devices. In the blink of an eye these precious machines can be destroyed by a poorly placed coffee cup or dragged to the floor by a dangling power cord (just ask Julie). Give peace of mind by purchasing a storage unit in the cloud. Online data storage backs up your files automatically, and allows you to access them from any internet-connected computer. Check out these top five affordable online storage services.

3. A stand-up desk.

While freelance work can be done from almost any location, it’s almost always done in a sitting position. According to a study published in the Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise journal, people who sat most of the day had a 54% increased risk to have a heart attack. Therefore, a stand-up desk can literally save a freelance writer’s life. Check out GeekDesk.com for some of the best stand up desk designs.

4. A mobile hot-spot.

While this might be at the pricier end of the holiday gift-giving spectrum, it is absolutely worth the cost. A mobile hot-spot has the power to change a freelancer’s life by creating a little bubble of secure wi-fi that will travel with them wherever they go. Slow, costly airport wi-fi, and unsecured coffee shop wi-fi will be a thing of the past, and your beloved freelancer will never have disconnect anxiety again. Read reviews of the fastest, most reliable hot spots.

5. Portable solar charger.

The only thing worse than having no internet access is dead devices with no power outlet in sight. Ease the fear of running out of juice by giving a portable charger that only needs the sun to work! There are now solar chargers that can power everything from your laptop to your smartphone as long as you’ve got an hour and access to sunlight. Check out the best portable solar charging devices here.

6. Industry-relevant e-books.

As a small business owner, it’s easy to feel like you’re just making stuff up as you go along. Reading books by successful entrepreneurs can restore inspiration as well as confidence. Instead of giving a bulky book that will only end up gathering dust, give a sleek (and more affordable) e-book that can be accessed anywhere. Here are some of our favorite titles:

Guide to Guerilla Freelancing – In this compact eBook (22 pages), Mike Smith packs in information on how to start your freelancing business for a minimum amount of money, red flags to look out for, benefits and drawbacks to freelancing, and more.

What Matters Now   – This free 82-page eBook from Seth Godin is a collection of thoughts and quotes from well-known bloggers and thinkers on important topics. Each topic is about a page long. Use this book for inspiration.

Coworking: How Freelancers Escape the Coffee Shop Office – The only book written specifically for coworkers by coworkers, this is your guide to the who, what, where, why, and how of coworking. Featuring tips for finding and participating in a local coworking community, and personal stories from coworkers around the world.

Time Management for Creative People  by Mark McGuinness from Wishful Thinking – Do you struggle to find enough time to get everything done? This book is here to help. Over 30 pages on how to manage your time better.

How to be a Rockstar Freelancer  – Written by the creators of Freelance Switch, this ebook goes far beyond the creative aspects of the business, giving practical advice on the difficult situations a new freelancer can face: from managing your budget on a freelancer’s changing income to balancing work from multiple clients.

Seek and Destroy  by Peter Shallard – This 61-page eBook discusses some of the common obstacles entrepreneurs face and explains how to overcome them. If your business is stuck and you can’t figure out why, Peter may have the answer

What do you want Santa to bring you?

Image Credit: Flickr – _Fidelio_

3 Reasons You Can’t Afford To Live Without Coworking

Coworking For Your Dreams

The first time a freelancer hears about coworking, their initial response is something to the effect of, “that sounds great but I just can’t afford it right now.”

There’s no denying that the economy sucks right now, and as independent professionals, we live without the illusion of security that our jobs will always be there. At the same time, we can’t be fired. And when life makes it necessary to increase income, it’s far easier for a freelancer to find a new client than for a traditional employee to get a raise.

But I digress.

The truth is, if you’re a mobile worker with a dream, you can’t afford to NOT be coworking. Consider this: the lightest level of membership at Cohere is $38/month. That’s 10 lattes. And I doubt the coffee shop is doing much for your professional image. Here are 3 more reasons you need to be coworking.

1. Pain-free Networking

Let’s be real: networking events are the worst. People standing stiffly against the wall, juggling a tiny plate of appetizers and a stack of business cards. Name tags. Elevator pitches. It’s not pretty, and most people get nothing from it.

Coworking allows you to network without the pain and humiliation. Your fellow coworking members are some of the most talented, successful professionals in town. And you get to sit next to them every day! Instead of 5 minutes of small talk, you’ll have real, meaningful conversations with people who can and will refer you work.

2. An Elevated Reputation

Joining a coworking space might seem like a big jump for your career. Maybe you’re just starting out, and profits are still tight. That’s fine, we’ve all been there. Even though you may starting a business out of your garage, that’s not the best place to meet potential clients. Coworking provides the professional image you can’t yet afford. A conference room with presentation equipment, quiet areas to take important phone calls, work space for brain storming sessions, etc. You’ll also get a business mailing address and someone to sign for your packages while you’re at lunch. For no extra charge! (P.O. boxes alone can cost more than $20 a month).

3. A Tribe 

Are you looking to grow your business? Want to avoid those first-time freelancer mistakes? Need constructive feedback on a project from someone other than your mother? These are the intangibles provided by your coworking tribe. For about a dollar a day, you’ll have access to some of the brightest minds in the business. People who have been there and lived to tell the tale. Professionals who can give you advice, sympathize with your failures, and rejoice in your victories. Coworkers share their knowledge freely, knowing that strong small businesses are the backbone of our larger community. We participate to help each other become better.

Where else are you gonna get that for $38?

Want to give coworking a try? Claim your obligation-free day pass to Cohere Community right now!

Image Credit: Flickr – mdanys/Hub Vilnius

What The 2nd Global Coworking Survey Says About You

You are more awesome than Helvetica

In 2010, about 600 people responded to the first global coworking survey by Deskmag.com. Without knowing it, those respondents helped to form the very first baseline study on the international coworking movement. A year later, the folks over at Deskmag were at it again, issuing a second survey to help gauge growth and explore the true motivations behind this new collaborative style of work.

The 2011 survey enjoyed 1,500 respondents from 52 countries around the world. Whether you’re a hardcore coworker or participating for the first time, the results are revealing. Even if you didn’t take the survey, you should be proud to be counted among such a productive, independent, compassionate community.

You Are Not Isolated And Lonely

The survey confirmed the key findings from last year’s study, which showed that individuals increase their productivity and networks by joining a coworking space. In the latest survey, 93% said their social circle had increased a lot, 86% said their business network had grown, and 76% reported an increase in productivity. 88% said their isolation had decreased.

You Value And Trust Your Community

96% of respondents said community is an important value among members in their coworking space. To confirm this, the survey also checked how many people knew the first names of their fellow coworkers and vice versa; after all, a community can’t be too cohesive if people don’t know each others’ names. The responses showed that 74% of people know all or many of their fellow coworkers’ names.

Another indication of community is trust. The survey asked whether respondents would feel comfortable leaving their laptop in their coworking space when they left the room; 54% said “yes, always”, 29% said “yes, for several hours”, and only 2% said “no”. Similar results were received in a second group with the same question about mobile phones.

You Think People Are More Important Than Price

The importance of community was repeated in the answers to the question, “What do you like most about your coworking space?” 81% said they liked the people, 61% said the location was the most likeable factor; only 46% said the price was the most important element.

Now, these are only preliminary results, but I’d say coworking is looking pretty good just based on these early observations. Be proud! What other community can boast these attractive characteristics? Help spread the word to other freelancers and business owners by sharing this post on Facebook or Twitter!

Download graphs of the 2nd Coworking Survey results without commentary on Prezi.

Image Credit: Flickr – rafagarces

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