SMB Nation Blog

SMB Nation has been serving the Bainbridge Island area since 2001, providing IT Support such as technical helpdesk support, computer support, and consulting to small and medium-sized businesses.

The 15 Most Profitable Small-Business Industries in 2016

Profitable Small Buseiness

 

by: Carolyn Sun

This article originally published March 4, 2016.

Being talented with numbers can really pay off if you’re looking to start a profitable business.

Accounting and tax services takes the top spot on the list of the most profitable type of small business with a generous 18.4 percent net profit margin followed by real-estate services (15.2 percent), law firms (14.5 percent) and doctor’s offices (13 percent) reports Sageworks, a financial data service that analyzed the net profit margin of more than 16,000 small businesses (that earned less than $10 million) between September 2014 and August 2015. Companies like Due.com are helpful for tracking time and invoicing.

What makes these industries profitable? For one, they’re driven by human capital.

“Service industries,” says Sageworks analyst Jenna Weaver, “are very common to find on the most profitable small-business list. This is generally due to lower overhead and startup costs. A lot of these industries you can start from your house.”

While profit isn’t the only matter for an entrepreneur to consider -- other factors to consider are whether the business matches his or her skills, what sort of licensing or training is required and how the business would fare during a recession -- it’s an important place to start.

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Overcoming the Challenges of Starting a Business

Every entrepreneur faces challenges which need to be dealt with persistently and regularly, though few would disagree such difficulties are more prevalent than when you are starting your business.

Sage collaborated with business owners and entrepreneurial support groups to Start up Challenge 1understand the common trials new leaders face, offering guidance to give you the best opportunity when starting your enterprise.

Marketing & Costing

Every new business marketing strategy should begin by examining its competition. If they are successful, find out where they are advertising and how. Use their same marketing techniques to give your own business a jump-start.

Once customers are visiting your store or website, if they are not making purchases, don’t adjust your prices. If you think they are fair, others will, too.

Instead, it is likely they aren’t convinced by your business. Ensure your website is modern-looking and using high-quality images, advertise your most high-end clients by publishing testimonies or getting permission to feature their logos, and offer incentives, like discounted prices.

Customer Contact Information

Most websites feature pop-ups which invite users to sign up to the business’ e-mail campaign so they can stay updated, though it may surprise you that the most effective place for this link is actually on the About page; Blog Tyrant noticed it’s the same customers that are interested in learning about your business that want to know more later, too.

This process can be a little trickier for brick-and-mortar stores, but instead of just asking purchasers to leave their contact information at the till, you can increase the number of sign-ups and purchasers in one go by placing your sign-up forms throughout the store alongside purchase incentives.

Admin

As much as every entrepreneur wants to focus on generating income, every business has to deal with administration. Fortunately, the digital age is making this easier than ever.

From hiring an online virtual assistant who can help you from anywhere in the world, to utilising smart applications, which can do anything from managing your business’ finances to enabling small teams to collaborate and share files, cloud-technology is reducing the time business owners need to dedicate themselves to repetitive and mundane tasks.

Relevant Technology

From AI applications and social media trends, to building responsive websites, technology is changing quickly. Even after following all the best-practice guidance available, one new piece of technology can be enough to cast your enterprise into obscurity.

Thus, it is essential to try and stay on top of the latest trends and innovations which might be relevant to your business strategies. Task your employees with each tracking a key technological area and meet for monthly updates. Alternatively, listen to business-technology podcasts in your free time or hire a virtual assistant to provide you with reports.

Of course, these are only the most common challenges business leaders confront when starting a venture, but the underlying lessons can apply to the majority of issues. Use your competitors’ strategies to break into their customer base, entice customers with attractive displays and incentives, and stay up-to-date on relevant technology that can improve customer experience and make your job easier.

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101 Small Business Marketing Ideas

By Alyssa Gregory
Updated July 31, 2017


TatOne universal small business goal is to sell the business's products and services. This is usually best accomplished by positioning the business in front of the target audience, and offering something that solves a problem or that they can't refuse or find elsewhere.

To this end, one of the smartest things a small business owner can do for his or her business is to take the time to develop a small business marketing plan that will set them apart from the competition.

A marketing plan clearly outlines how you will reach your ideal customers by effectively implementing your marketing strategy.

There are thousands of ways you can promote your small business. With the right mix of activities, you can identify and focus on the most effective marketing tactics for your small business. Here is a list of 101 small business marketing ideas to get you thinking about all of the different ways you can promote your business.

Marketing Planning
1. Update or create a marketing plan for your business.
2. Revisit or start your market research.
3. Conduct a focus group.
4. Write a unique selling proposition (USP).
5. Refine your target audience and niche.
6. Expand your product and service offerings.

Marketing Materials
7. Update your business cards.
8. Make your business card stand out from the rest.
9. Create or update your brochure.
10. Create a digital version of your brochure for your website.

11. Explore a website redesign.
12. Get creative with promotional products and give them away at the next networking event you attend.

In-Person Networking

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The Complete Guide To Human Resources For Small Business

by Rob Wormley in People Management

Human resources is probably one of the more complicated aspects of running a small business. The complexities of working with people don’t fit nicely on a spreadsheet. Yet HR is incredibly important; employee salaries and benefits make up a huge chunk of your operating expenses.

Your employees are one of your greatest assets. You must protect and manage that asset.

This blog post will teach you everything you need to know about human resources.

What Is Human Resource Management?

Human Resource Management (HRM) deals with your employees, whether in regards to recruitment, management, or other forms of direction and assistance. HR will often be in charge of (among other things):

  • Hiring
  • Performance management and reviews
  • Employee development, motivation, and training
  • Safety and wellness
  • Benefits
  • Communication between employees and/or management

HR carries a big responsibility. They have a huge effect on the culture and environment in your workplace, setting the tone for how employees communicate, settle disputes, and work with each other. Some small businesses prefer to outsource a large component of human resources, but there is no getting around human resources completely.

Human Resources: The Three Basics
HR is rife with laws and regulations, which is part of why small businesses often put off dealing with it. Generally, for businesses with fewer than 50 employees, there are three basic things you must implement to cover the bases, according to HR expert Jack Hayhow.

1. Employee Files
You must keep three specific files for each employee in your business. These files are:

  • I-9 File: This form is used by the U.S. Government to identify and verify that your employees are eligible to work in the U.S. Keep all of your employee I-9 files together, in one file, instead of under individual employee names.
  • Employee General File: This is a file you create for your own benefit. It contains any documentation associated with that employee that you’ve collected during their time with you. This includes resumes, reviews, disciplinary action, training verification, evaluations, W-4 forms, payroll details, and so on. You’ll use this file often.
  • Employee Medical File: These files will contain notes from doctors, disability information, and any medical information that you have on an employee. Because you are dealing with medical information, you must protect and secure these files from others. That is why these are separate from general files. Be sure to keep them in a locked and secure place.

2. Employee Handbook

Having an employee handbook is a must. Your handbook serves two important purposes: letting your employees know what you expect of them, and protecting your business in case there is a dispute.

An employee handbook can be as simple or as complex as you want, but there are some general approaches, depending upon the nature of your business, that you need to consider. According to the Small Business Administration, your handbook might include:

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7 Common Legal Issues Entrepreneurs Need to Consider When Starting a Business

When it comes to starting a business, you might be a pro…

But, what about when it comes to working through all the legal issues you must Entreprenuerconsider as an entrepreneur when launching your start-up?

The world of business can get complicated quickly when you add in all the laws that apply – liability, finances, trademarks…

The list goes on. 

Most entrepreneurs get caught up in the midst of starting their business and quickly forget about the legal aspects that need to be considered.

To ensure that you avoid the negative repercussions of an avoidable mistake, there are a few common legal issues you should be aware of:

1. Non-disclosure agreements.

It seems like a given – don’t talk about anything that is considered “top secret.” But, it isn’t that obvious to everyone and to some, it just isn’t a priority or even a concern…

Particularly those outside of your business who might become involved with you in some way.

Anyone who interacts with your business – from the business side, not your clients – should sign a non-disclosure agreement (NDA) to ensure they won’t run and share your ideas with the competition. 

2. Future of the business – the what if’s?

Life happens. Unfortunately, sometimes people leave this world too soon. If that is the case, what will happen to your business?

It is important to invest in a will kit to ensure the assets of your business are protected and have a designated owner should you become unavailable. 

Have your attorney send your will kit to the post office for easy pickup.

3. Vesting.

Finding the right co-founder for your business is quite the task…

Who do you trust? Who will make a good fit and lead your business in the right direction?

It is important that you have a similar work ethic and timelines for investment – you need to have chemistry. 

Instead of getting all your shares at once, once option to consider is vesting. Your equity can be vested over time so that if you don’t have the chemistry you thought you did, there is a fair solution. 

4. Intellectual property.

While your business is still small, it is hard to imagine that you could potentially face the issue of people infringing on your intellectual property assets (or vice versa)…

But, it can happen easier than you think.

It is worth the investment of both time and money to get your trademarks, copyrights, patents and trade secrets legally registered. It will be a lifesaver if, or when, an issue arises. 

5. Trademarks.

You just thought choosing a business name was difficult…

But, did you consider that even as creative as you might have been, someone else might still have thought of it first? 

Invest in performing a killer search to ensure your business name is not already another company’s trademark.

6. Compliance.

There are corporate compliance laws in place that affect companies in various industries. The laws that apply specifically to your business will vary based on the type of business entity you are, the state you do business in, and several other determining factors.

Do some research, and consult the help of an attorney, to ensure you know what documents should be generated and maintained by your business to remain compliant. 

7. Business structure.

There are several different business structures…

Partnerships, S corporations, corporations, sole proprietorship and a limited liability company.

All business structures hold very different meanings and offer a variety of different benefits. You should consider if your business is going to remain privately funded, if you plan on taking on investors, and what type of growth you expect your company to have in the future. 

You’ve already put in all the leg work to get your business up and running, don’t let a simple – and costly – legal mistake cause you to lose it all.

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6 Digital Marketing Trends and Tips for Startups

Startups usually run on a shoestring, which means that they have limited marketing budgets. In order to reach their target audience and boost their business, startup owners have to be very creative and use every possible digital marketing Trends 1marketing strategy they have at their disposal. There are lots of cost-effective tactics that can be used, but having a well-defined strategy is essential for their implementation and success. If you do everything properly, you can expect a 50% increase in conversion rates.

Instant Messaging
Apps such as Viber, WhatsApp, Snapchat, or Tango are dominating the world of digital marketing. No wonder this is so when they offer easy audience segmentation as well as personalized communication. Messages that companies send their customers via instant messengers have very high open rates. As messages are precisely targeted and sent directly to customers, their reach is significantly higher than that of social media channels. Due to the fact that instant messages, even though they’re commercial, add a human touch to faceless and generic advertising communication, people open them within a few minutes, and their impact is instantaneous.

Outreach
There’s no better way to promote your business than to partner with an influencer from your industry. First of all, select someone who shares the same values and who doesn’t have a huge following. These, so-called micro-influencers with 10,000-100,000 followers, are more accessible to startups and SMBs, and they’re not too expensive. Besides that, although their following is smaller, it’s very loyal which means that your products and services will be presented to a relevant, target audience interested in what you have to offer. Another factor is even more important than the number of followers, and it’s their engagement. Always go for an influencer, or a Facebook group with responsive followers who like, share and comment a lot.

Mobile optimization
Google has reported that 9 out of 10 people leave a mobile website if they can’t find what they’re looking for right away. At the same time, a statistic has shown that 22.3% of all retail e-commerce dollars in the U.S. were spent through mobile devices. Obviously, if you want to grow your business, you need to optimize your website for mobile. If you take into consideration that more searches take place on mobile than on computers, it’s clear that you’re wasting a great opportunity to improve brand visibility if your site isn’t mobile friendly.

Video
Modern consumers are annoyed and fed up with traditional, intrusive ads and pop-ups. They want something to engage, educate, and entertain them. Valuable, relevant content can do wonders for your brand building efforts and awareness, which is why you need to come up with a stellar content strategy. Video has to be its essential part, as surveys say that people spend 1/3 of all their online activity watching videos. Live streaming adds a sense of urgency and interactivity to your video efforts and helps you connect with your customers on a more personal and direct level. However, in order to benefit from videos, they need to be well-produced and of high quality.

Social media
Social media platforms can amplify your brand message and help you expand your reach. Spreading the word on Facebook or Twitter can help you crowdfund your startup, grow your customer base, or generate traffic. It’s true that certain social media websites try to capitalize on paid ads, but their price is still moderate, which makes them affordable even for businesses with small budgets. Social proof, one of the most effective marketing tools, can be successfully generated and shared via social media, thus adding credibility to your business. Apart from improving brand visibility, social media channels can help you obtain valuable information about your customers and improve both your products and customer service.

Big data
Big data has the power to transform digital marketing by providing marketers with the necessary information, crucial for understanding and improving the results of their campaigns. Predictive analytics is highly useful for predicting customer behavior, customer profiling, reducing churn, and lead generation. All this can turn a modest startup into a highly successful venture. Many SMB owners fail to take advantage of big data because they believe that it’s too expensive, but as a matter of fact, there are more affordable options in which you can invest. Implementing this technology can be a real game changer for your business.

Digital marketing offers any startup a great chance to stand out and be noticed among the tons of its competitors’ commercial messages.

Nate Vickery is a business consultant and an online author mainly focused on latest trends in marketing and growth hacking. He is also the editor at Bizzmarkblog.com.

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WA SMB Cloud Summit- April 18, 2017

Editors Note - this is a excellent partner/customer event in the Seattle area in a month. Please support the community (and yes- you can bring your toughest questions about Azure in small business, etc.)

Your Business, Cloud Ready in 100 Days
A one day immersive experience designed to help you build not just the knowledge but a roadmap to becoming a cloud ready business. Cloud readiness means that you and your business have the ability to:

  • Generate new customers and recurring revenue
  • Quickly identify areas for Cloud investments
  • Strategically invest time and resources to build a Cloud Practice

SMB Cloudsummit 01

We are providing a proven model that will deliver results for you in terms of growth and help your customers transform their businesses.
This trusted methodology has been adopted by the Microsoft Partner Community and endorsed by leading Tech Companies, along with the Economic Development Commission of King County and Seattle and City of Bellevue. This summit is focused on supporting Independent Software Vendor, Resellers, Managed Services Provider, Cloud Startups and System Integrator to build and grow their cloud practices. Join us to learn how to become cloud competent partners with leading Cloud Technologies companies such as Microsoft, Salesforce, Google and others.

We have invited cloud experts who not only understand the cloud but have built their businesses on it. They will share knowledge, expertise and open the door for partnerships accelerate your cloud business.

Space is limited to 100 participants and will fill up fast.
Register - http://bit.ly/2mOEQ99

Use Discount Code: SMBCLOUD to get 10% discount during the registration process.

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Start-up; Poverty and Entrepreneurs

Start-up; Poverty and Entrepreneurs

Harry here and be forewarned. I’m about to go intellectual on you. This is an interesting New York Times article about how entrepreneurial communities do and do no develop in non First World countries. Hint: It has to do with savings and capital.

Laura Doering was at a rest stop in Panama about five years ago, waiting for her bus to refuel, when she saw six vendors clustered together selling almost exactly the same snacks. She wondered: Why doesn’t anyone sell something different?

Read on here 

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Breaking News: I Love Work! Read This True Confession...

Story by Harry Brelsford, CEO, SMB Nation - 

Where to begin. Early on, I was the “business kid” in grade school through high school. That continues to today with my continued pursuit for work that marries business and technology. And of how it’s changed from my first Apple II+ with a Hayes 14.4k modem connecting from my college apartment to a centralized VAX computer. Or has it really changed? In this blog, I’ll explore Work 3.0. and point you to some amazing resources.

Full CircleHarry at Work

Above I’m both dating and telling on myself as I’m alluding to time sharing. Imagine the idea of having the heavy lifting occurring in a data center and you could work from anywhere with a thin client? Your applications were hosted and your data was safe. That was timesharing where I started my career in computing. With the emergence of the PC and client/server computing, certainly those days were gone forever. The “local” in Local Area Network (LAN) loosely translates in GeekSpeak to “within these four walls”, and that was the development paradigm of our beloved Small Business Server. It created a generation of commuters who believed in server gods and gurus at work. You thought nothing of driving to work.

But then a back to the future phenomenon emerged at the start of the Great Recessions when the Internet was validated as a secure tool (thanks Salesforce) and IT was used to save money with mobility. Just yesterday I was using a thin client (Google Chrome on a USB stick) working with Salesforce online with my mobile phone held to my left ear, while I listened to a conference call via a headset hooked up to a VoIP desk phone. And all the while working from my home office (I’ve upgraded from my college apartment!).
What does this before-and-after storytelling mean? I’m telling the exact same story. Timesharing is cloud computing. Period.

You’ll Feel Like You Are Talking to Yourself (You Are!)

I’ve thought a lot recently about the nature of modern work. How has technology changed the way we work? Over the years I’ve written blogs about office sharing schemes like Regus locations (remember my week in Istanbul in the Spring of 2014?) to online labor markets (remember our use of WorkMarket in the late 2013/early 2014 timeframe with Windows XP migrations?) to our giving up our office space when our commercial lease expired (see my February 2015 blog). But I had never crystalized my thoughts about modern work into a single missive. And that frustrated me.

Fortunately, I bumped into an amazing report titled “WORK 3.0 – The Next Generation Model for Smarter Business.” I felt like I was talking to myself. Over a dozen pages, remote offices, portfolio careers, and the human cloud revolution are explored. I’ve posted the report HERE so you can download it, read it and motivate on it. Let me know what you think?

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The Evolution of The Way We Work

Story by Mitel -

Changes in the interplay between technology, location, culture and business are transforming where, when and how we work.

Workers are taking control of their work / life balance with traditional ‘nine to five’ commuting patterns changing. Employees are also seeking more control over the communications devices and applications they use.Big Mitel

There is also an interesting sub-trend involving the development of portfolio based careers.

These trends are confirmed by evidence from SMB Group about the changing use of business communication technologies with 92% of SMBs using at least one cloud solution, 60% saying that mobile solutions are critical and 86% using mobile applications.

Rob Charlton, CEO of Space Group said “As a company we are moving towards keeping and managing everything in the cloud…Whatever we need, whenever we need it, accessible from whichever device is most suitable and available at the time.”

Small and medium sized business today face the challenge of providing workers with flexibility while at the same time maximizing their productivity, controlling costs and ensuring that teams retain good interaction.

Stephen Tanner, Founder of OfficePOD Ltd commented “An organization cannot promote the idea of flexible working and merely cover the provision of a desk and a chair in a spare room. Employers have a duty to provide staff with the tools they need to work effectively and productively; this should include a suitable working environment, wherever that happens to be.”

To explore these issues further the team at global business communications vendor Mitel asked business users, leaders in innovation, architects, psychologists and human resource experts for their perspectives in four key areas:

• How technology trends are setting the agenda
• Next generation workplaces
• The impact of a global market
• Cultural changes and the impact on work.

To discover more insights download the full guide at http://www.mitel.com/knowledge-hub

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How To "Suk" At Social Media: An Indispensable Guide For Businesses

Story by Avinash Kaushik - 

Facebook, at last count, has 1.5 billion monthly active users. YouTube has 1.2 billion users (watching 6 billion hours of videos!). Instagram has an estimated 400 million users.violets

Those are some big gigantic numbers!

I believe that every human with time to spare, and a connection to the web, should be on social media. The benefits are numerous. Facebook allows you to stay close to people you choose to. YouTube has democratized entertainment and education. Instagram allows you to express your creativity, and soak up expressions from others. Twitter, Pinterest, Google+, others have a role to play as well.

Humans, check.

But, what about businesses? Companies small and big? In India or Japan or the United States?

It comes down to two important questions: 1. Do the big gigantic numbers imply that your business should use these social media channels? 2. If yes, should your participation be the same as regular humans?

I believe that we have never answered the first question. Businesses were told: "The numbers are HUGE!" The second question was never answered either, but because all businesses know is how to pimp that became their default strategy.

The assumption is: Big Social Audiences + Big Pimping = Big Social Profits.

Big mistake.

You know that of course because for your business, after five solid years of investment, this has not proven to be true. Even the people who powered your investment in Social Media, the Gurus, have, reluctantly, accepted this reality.

I believe that it was erroneous not to answer the two questions above, it was erroneous to be tempted by the Big Numbers and not understand how Social Media channels actually worked (streams, home pages, personalization, rankings and more).

So, let's fix that error.

In this post let's look at each Social Network, see what B2B and B2C brands are doing there today, from that draw lessons as to 1. if your business should be on that network and 2. if yes, what should your content (and marketing) strategy be.

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How to thrive in the coming tech gig economy

Story by Paul Heltzel

The rise of contract and contingent work is shaking up the traditional IT career path. Here’s how to navigate for success.

Disruptive technologies do more than shake up markets -- they drastically alter the way we work. And it’s not only nonstop cost cutting that has businesses favoring IT contractors they can bring on -- or scale back -- as necessary without paying benefits. Emerging platforms, in particular around the cloud, have many organizations shifting their staffing models toward project-based, contingent work in hopes of landing the key skills necessary for their businesses to stay competitive in a constantly evolving technical landscape.agile business maneuver stressed overworked 100613656 primary.idge

In short, the days of decades-long careers in corporate environments may be dwindling for many IT pros, and while millennials coming of age in tomorrow’s gig-based tech employment market may be attracted to the idea of remote work for multiple clients -- as can be seen by the growth of co-working environments -- not everyone is prepared to embrace a nomadic future of career contingency.

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Look to the Sharepoint Ecosystem for Help Getting the most from Office 365

 by Harry Brelsford, CEO, SMB Nation

We’ve been talking a lot on O365 Nation about the financial and management benefits of moving to Office 365. Simply removing the internal infrastructure costs for Exchange can be a compelling reason for a business of any size to consider Office 365. That said, Office 365 is a service from Microsoft that offers so much more than a way to simplify the management of Exchange.help

Are you getting the full advantage?

One area that is currently underutilized by many Office 365 subscribers is the included SharePoint Online license. For example, a recent Radicati Group survey found that only 23% of respondents are using SharePoint Online.

SharePoint Online represents a transformational opportunity for many of today’s business and you should be taking a careful look at all the opportunities. Maybe you don’t have an intranet today or all your internal files are in a file share. Your current Office 365 license allows you to change all this.

So why aren’t more people using SharePoint Online?

Radicati states that the “hesitant majority of enterprises that aren't willing to move to [SharePoint Online is] because of user issues, existing architecture and data security.”

(Source for above: http://searchcontentmanagement.techtarget.com/news/4500245119/Migrating-to-SharePoint-Online-is-a-tale-of-two-realities )

In some areas these objections are tried and true challenges with SharePoint on-premises for which there is a well-established ecosystem of vendors focused. For example, AvePoint, Cryptzone, and Metalogix are just a few of the vendors focused on data migration, architecture and security problems.

So what about user issues? This is a newer area of focus for the Microsoft ecosystem, but promises to help overcome one of the last real stumbling blocks to better adoption of Office 365 across the enterprise.

Depending on your SharePoint Online needs, there is help for the user experience issues. For example, Beezy offers tools to enhance the collaboration user experience on Microsoft’s cloud stack. ShareGate is a vendor with roots in the data and site migration space that is differentiating itself on the SharePoint administrative experience across Office 365. Thirdly, there is Akumina, who is bringing their founders knowledge of the site management and content authoring experience and applying it to a new turn-key Office 365 intranet site that they say you’ll be able to use and manage without being a SharePoint expert.

So don’t hold back on getting the most out of your Office 365 investment. Just as with SharePoint on-premises, there are several ways you can address some of the most common gaps in what Microsoft delivers out of the box.

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