My @LetsBlogOff writing process

With all of the benefits a writing exercise like @LetsBlogOff provides, they can quickly be forgotten when we stress over it too much. The nature of the challenge is to help you become more comfortable with the creative process. There’s no right or wrong answer here. The challenge is having the confidence to push publish and get your thoughts out there.

So, here’s what I do when I prepare a LetsBlogOff post… (and any other post for that matter)

 

  • I know that I’ll write a LetsBlogOff post every other Tuesday, so I schedule it in my routine. The topic is usually posted the Friday before (the intention is to keep it a bit spontaneous, not giving you too much time to stress over what to write). On that Friday, I go to the site, check the topic and let it marinate over the weekend. Sometimes clarity comes right away, other times I’m not sure what direction to take.
  • Regardless, I go to my other favorite writing resource:  750words.com, an online journal where you can log in and ramble, unedited, punctuated and spelled however you please. It’s password protected so you don’t have to be afraid of anyone reading your mish-mash mess.  The premise is from a writing exercise from The Artist’s Way, which suggests that it takes 750 words (or 3 pages) before you get to the heart of what you’re trying to say. Buster Benson took this concept and put it in online for those of us who are more comfortable with a keyboard than cursive (and want a more private forum for aussie online casinos releasing thoughts than a bedside journal, open to anyone who finds it.) He also created cool ways to track your writing & thought process, like these charts:

 

 

  • 750 words may sound like a lot, but it only takes about 20-30 minutes. You’d be surprised how much you can go on and on. I guess the speed depends on how fast you can type. Just remember, you’re not doing this with perfection in mind, you’re simply aiming to get the thoughts out of your mind and on the screen. For LetsBlogOff topics, I start writing the name of the topic over and over, until I go off on a tangent or an idea. By the time I get to 750 words, I’ve usually gotten to the gist of what I want to say in the post.
  • Then, I’ll paste that into Word and maybe edit a bit, or go on for another 20-30 minutes or so and leave it for a few hours or a day.
  • When I come back to it, I read it and start editing. I’ll put the finishing touches on, like format and finding photos, which can sometimes take longer than the writing itself.  I enjoy that part, so I do it anyway.
  • The entire process takes me about 4 hours. Sometimes I spread it out over a few days, other times I do it all at once. It depends on my schedule. The most important part is to plan for it…. and allow yourself some time for ideas to marinate.

This process helps me with blog posts or brainstorming new projects. What process works for you?

 

 

5 things you'll get from @LetsBlogOff

Every other Tuesday, I participate in a writing challenge called @LetsBlogOff.  A random topic is presented and a variety of bloggers present their insight. I happen to think that its process provides better bloggers and humans. Here’s why:

1) you’ll have a safe place to practice 

LBO provides a safe environment for new and established bloggers. You’re bound to get a few comments and re-tweets, which feel really good, especially when your own blog hasn’t quite got it’s groove down.

 I still remember the first comment on my first LBO post (September 7, 2010; Topic: Where’s your slice of heaven?) where Cindy Frewen Wuellner http://urbanverse.posterous.com/ welcomed me aboard. I felt so special.

2) you’ll get a sense of a genuinely caring community

Spending a couple of hours every Tuesday reading the other posts on the same topic opens your mind to new ideas for your own blog and with this insightful bunch, your bound to find yourself pondering ideas for your own life…

You’ll want to comment on their blogs…. You’ll want to see them grow… You’ll feel part of their world and genuinely happy for their success… You’ll feel a sense of community…

If you’re not getting that connection with your own blog, you’ll at least get a sense of it through this challenge. And, you’ll feel more comfortable reaching out in other communities, commenting on other blogs. You’ll be more likely to incorporate this into your blogging routine which is just as important as writing thoughtful content.

3) you’ll shake the sales-y, marketing-ish tone

While the topics might not seem productive or relevant to your own blog or business, the process of writing about random topics like obituaries and thumbtacks, makes you a better marketer. It makes you more comfortable being “you.”  You’ll be surprised how you can tie a topic to your business…. you don’t have to, but when you’re doing something you online casino love, it naturally shows itself.

4) you’ll discover your unique point of differentiation

As you start shaking the corporate tone you think you should have, you find that when you write from your heart, the real you is the one that gets the most comments and encouragement from your readers. That’s what they want to hear.

That’s what expresses the only true point of differentiation that you have in this world…

That’s what will give people a chance to see if they connect with you in some way beyond the service you’re offering. Do they want to let someone like “you” into their home, their life?

5) you’ll build confidence

I think the LBO process makes you a better human being. It cultivates confidence in expressing yourself… and reaching out to others. The LBO routine, of reading and commenting on other blogs shows you how it works. It can take time to get that sense of comraderie with your own blog. Having a place to experience what it feels like to give and receive encouragement makes you more likely to continue.

For more background on LBO, read this. To check upcoming topics and start participating, go here. To read about my process and how much time LBO takes, go here.

 

 

What is @LetsBlogOff ?

 

This week, the @LetsBlogOff crew is asking what inspires us to participate in their bi-weekly challenge and what they can do to broaden its appeal.  I happen to think LBO not only creates better bloggers, it creates better humans…

So, I’ve taken today’s challenge and created three separate posts to explain why…. the first is here, with some background on why I started participating … the second  is what you’ll get out of it… and the third is about my process and how much time it takes.

first of all, what is it?

In August of 2010, a handful of bloggers, mainly in the home design industry, started presenting a random topic for other bloggers write about. I’m not sure what their motive was… but I saw it as encouragement for other home design professionals (architects, remodeling contractors, interior designers, etc.) who also happen to be small business owners without big marketing departments to jump into this blogging / social media thing and start marketing themselves.

how did i find it?

I’m not a home designer myself, but I’ve worked in marketing for building products companies. When I discovered LBO I had just finished writing a blog for architects for James Hardie Building Products.  So, I only found it because I happened to already be connected to some architects (Bob Borson & Jody Brown) who were participating…

why did i start participating?

I loved its premise. It was doing what I had hoped to do … showcase architects’ more human side. After James Hardie’s blog ended, I wondered if I should keep participating because maybe it was only intended for building industry and home designers. I found that when I didn’t participate, I missed it, so I just kept going, No one has kicked me out yet.

 (Since September 2010, I’ve tagged 29 posts with LBO. Not all are actual entries, but that’s how much I talk about it and believe in it.)

what do I get out of it?

I’m now writing another home design blog and starting a health & lifestyle counseling / coaching business… I believe both were decisions and opportunities that came to me through the process of writing and blogging from my heart.  The LBO process is a big part of that. I wouldn’t come up with topics like obituaries, thumbtacks and slices of heaven on my own. (I can blame the random-ness of them on LBO.)  It also gave me a writing routine to follow while my own voice and interests were still being formed.

how to broaden its appeal?

One way might be to clarify that it’s okay for everyone to participate (if that’s what you want to do). Here’s my rough attempt at a broader elevator pitch / positioning statement:

“For anyone wanting to start or build a blog, write in a more real, less sales-y, marketing-ish voice and connect with others through their blog, @LetsBlogOff offers a routine, a way to practice and build relationships along the way.”

Needless to say, I’m a big believer… I hope the powers-that-be extend its appeal and continue @LetsBlogOff for years to come.  I know I’ll keep promoting it and recommending it through my coaching business. In case you’re interested,  here are 5 things I’d tell people they’d get out of it… and, my process for writing the entries…. 

Read everyone else’s thoughts on why they participate here… and join us next time!

 

 

Setting your blog up for big-ness

Even if you launched your blog more as a creative outlet than marketing strategy, a funny thing happens. If you’ve been thoughtfully blogging (genuinely expressing yourself, listening and reaching out to readers) your blog will get bigger.  It might even become a business.  So, why not set it up for big-ness right off the bat?

To do this, you’re going to have to get a bit tech-y, typically not the creative type’s forte. Fortunately, there are great teachers out there to guide us…I met one of them at Tobi Fairley’s Blog Camp. Thomas Wallace, Professor of Information Science at the University of Arkansas, knows a trick or two about SEO, hosting, design and happens to be the technical genius behind Tobi’s blog.

Tobi started her blog as a creative outlet and way to organize projects. She had no idea it would become the marketing engine that would drive her brand.  Tobi and Thomas have lived the transition to big-ness. Here, they share a few tips they learned along the way:

Own your own domain.

Registering your domain (I use GoDaddy) and hosting it at BlueHost (Tobi’s and my choice) means you own the content vs Blogspot or Facebook…which could come in handy if they go away one day.  While not necessary, you might consider using your name vs a catchy business name.  It’s easy to remember and less limiting in terms of growth (who knows where your blog will lead you?)

Use an SEO-friendly blog platform.

WordPress automatically sets your blog up to be easier read by search engine machines. Google doesn’t read visuals like bolding, highlighting and colors, so it doesn’t really care how it looks. It cares about weighted content and WordPress themes have built this into the design.

Keep design simple and manageable.

When you’re ready to change the look of your blog (you will be one day), with WordPress, you’re just a couple of clicks away from a new design.  If you find yourself wanting to customize a bunch of things, like colors, columns and fonts, look for a new theme…there are thousands to choose from.  If you’ve made a lot of custom tweaks, you’ll have to repeat those changes by hand in the new theme. So, what could have been easy, is now more complicated.  Unless you’re html savvy, you’re  probably going to need a freelancer to help you. (Which is what I do…..money well spent, in my opinion.)

Choose Categories over Tags.

While there’s nothing wrong with Tags, Thomas thinks Categories show more clarity and consistency. If you use Tags, make them relevant to how someone might search for content.  Maybe list the name of the designer (Tobi Fairley) and the overall subject (blogging). No need to list all of the subjects and emotions covered in each post.

Google rewards real relationships.

Don’t let anyone tell you they can put you at the top of the Google rankings. Metatags (title, description and phrases) are just a piece of the puzzle and the post is just the conversation starter. Google looks for people linking back to your site. This means you’re providing content others are finding helpful. You can’t pay for that… Reaching out to other bloggers is key. Leave genuine comments and promote their work (without expectations).

Consistency is key.

While Google likes frequent updates, consistency is just as important, especially for your readers. Once a week is a nice, manageable start.  Get ahead of your content so you don’t fall behind. Post at regular times. Have an editorial calendar or a running list of ideas at the ready because life will inevitably get in the way of your blogging.

Subscribe to Google Analytics.

This isn’t just for the big guys. You can learn all kinds of interesting insight about where your readers are coming from. If they’re more from Twitter, spend more time there than Facebook. If other bloggers are referring you, send a thank you note to them or look for opportunities to partner with them… you never know what could evolve.  How much time are people spending on your site? If it’s 20 seconds, they’re not consuming your content……why not? If the bounce rate is high on a specific page or post, notice how it’s presented. Is it too long, too busy, hard to read?

Don’t be afraid to try new things.

Run an ad or change your blog’s look if it’s not consistent with the experience you want to create. Ask a thought leader for an interview or a like-minded blogger for a guest post.

Most importantly, keep all of the above in mind but don’t get overwhelmed.  Take a deep breath and think about how you build relationships off-line.  Be as thoughtful and generous as you would to a friend, co-worker or potential client and your blog will naturally become bigger.  Sure, you might run into a few tech-y glitches. But, you don’t need to be a tech expert to be a great blogger. Google one and let them clear your way to big-ness… and by all means, bond with fellow bloggers in person at events like Tobi’s Blog Camp!

What’s holding you back from big-ness?

7 ways to build your blog by getting away

One of the things I enjoyed most about Tobi Fairley’s Blog Camp was getting out and about. There’s nothing better than travel to open your mind to new ways of doing things.  I tend to get stagnant spending too much time at the library and coffee shops.

Tobi says, “You can’t sit home and think you’re going to build your business or your blog. You must get out there and build relationships.”

You don’t have to necessarily get on a plane. There are probably all kinds of events, classes and networking opportunities happening near you, right now.  Here are 7 reasons to shut the laptop down and get away, even if it”s just down the road:

1. You learn you’re not the only one who doesn’t have it all figured out.

It’s easy to forget that when you spend your day following all the gurus who do seem to have it all figured out. There’s a whole world out there still learning, just like you.

2. Getting away changes your energy.

Creative juices start flowing. I left Blog Camp with pages of blog post ideas, a completely revamped editorial calendar and blog posts written before I landed in Tucson. What in the world!

sorting through my mishmash of notes & ideas at the airport

3. Spend some time alone while you’re away.

Don’t pack every second.  Get outside, go for a walk, find a great spot and take it all in. Your mind will be swimming with ideas and maybe even some overwhelming “you shoulds.” Quiet your mind and see what settles. Calmly remind yourself that you’re right where you’re supposed to be. Your path is different than everyone else”s. It’s unfolding as it should.

was this right up my alley or H2 Gambling Capital also established that social best casinos online game designers and operators can engage in additional revenues from real-money gambling to leap start its their marketing methods that may eventually give designers by having an RMG presence an advantage over rivals with no presence within the sector. what? a Body, Mind, Spirit wall near Little Rock”s River Market

4. Spend some time with others while you’re away.

Have a glass of wine after the event with other attendees.  That’s when connections are made and real-ness is revealed. Make an effort to stay in touch.

fellow blog campers: (L to R) me, Jennifer Brouwer, her friend Liette, Donna Hazzard and Jasmina Boulanger

5. Use the experience as content for your blog.

Brainstorm all the ways you can share what you learned with your readers. I came up with six different post ideas from this one experience. Writing them while they were fresh in my mind was key. I now have a  few posts “in the bank.”  Perfect, because I have other writing deadlines to attend to this week.

6. Send a thank you note, maybe even a little gift.

We shouldn’t need Tobi to remind us of this. Hopefully, all of us have a bit of southern hospitality within us. Besides, it feels good saying thank you.  Especially when you give something that means something to you. I sent Tobi the book that inspires my creativity, Journey to the Heart, by Melody Beattie. I wrapped it in butterfly paper and enclosed  the butterfly bookmark and poem I sent with my holiday cards.  I hope it inspires her as much it has  me.

7. Simply enjoy the new surroundings.

While you don”t have to stay in a beautiful hotel, it was nice to be spoiled by The Capital Hotel in downtown Little Rock.  Their service was impeccable. The setting was charming. They even prepared a special veggie dish for me when I arrived late Thursday night… and didn”t charge me because it wasn’t on the menu. (I must get their french lentil recipe!)

Do you get out and about for your business? How do you use the experience for content on your blog?

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Design a thoughtful brand experience. Tobi Fairley style.

Maybe it’s her Southern roots… thoughtfulness just comes natural to Tobi Fairley.  She’s savvy and confident enough to express her true self throughout all aspects of her business.  And it’s paid off.  She’s accelerated her brand by applying good old fashioned manners and hospitality.  She naturally creates friendships rather than focusing on “building relationships.” And, she polishes everything off with personal touches that make doing business with her unforgettable.

In Blog Camp, she encouraged us to be as niche as possible by building your brand around what you do really well. She does this by treating her readers and clients as she would treats guests in her own home:

Every staff member sends a thank you note every day.

That’s 50 thoughtful sentiments leaving Little Rock each week.  Sometimes she sends a little gift. It doesn’t have to be expensive. Maybe a postcard and a pencil, a candle or a book.

She goes out of her way to make life easier for others.

Especially when she’s presenting ideas.  When she has a project she’d like considered for a magazine, she presents a well thought out idea that’s centered around making the editor’s life easier. She’s aware of their editorial calendar and deadlines. She has professional photographs ready to go. She offers exclusivity to the magazine before posting on her blog.

Her studio oozes style, comfort, coziness.

You feel elegant just being in Tobi’s space…with pink tulips on the tables (even behind-the-scenes cubicles had fresh flowers), surrounded by beautiful art and lovely candles releasing hints of cinnamon, spice and everything nice.


The lobby is like walking into a home. You get a sense of her style right away.

Photo via @JennBrouwer

Our drinks were served in wine glasses. We had lunch in her kitchen.

Photo via @JennBrouwer

Even the sample room is pretty. Loved the light fixture.


And, what girl wouldn’t want to work in a space as lovely as Tobi’s personal office?

Photo via @JennBrouwer

Tobi has been asked if she could take her Design and Blog Camps on the road. While it would be great to reach even more people, I vote for visiting Little Rock. Part of the experience (and lesson) of traveling to her studio is:

1) the pure act of getting away  (more on the value of this next week) and,

2)  experiencing the authenticity of Tobi’s brand. She’s the real deal…. and she inspired each of us campers to be the same.

Special thanks to fellow camper, Jennifer Brouwer (@JennBrouwer) for the photos.  As a designer, she has a much better photographer eye than I do. Visit her at Decor by Jennifer.


I’m a big fan of thank you notes... How could you (or do you) create a more thoughtful brand experience?

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5 insights from Tobi Fairley’s Blog Camp

One of my favorite pieces from Tobi's art gallery (tobifairleygallery.com)

I knew I would learn a lot about building a business at Tobi Fairley’s Blog Camp.  I was also reminded how useful and important it is to get away. There’s nothing like immersing yourself in a new environment with people who share similar aspirations (and struggles) to get your creative juices flowing and the confidence to get going.

I’m leaving Little Rock with all kinds of blog and brand building tips to share with you in the coming weeks. I thought I’d start with 5 of Tobi’s insights I’m pondering as I return home to Tucson.

1. Quit wondering if you should have a blog for your business.

Tobi says it’s the most valuable, inexpensive marketing investment you’ll make.  She estimates she was able to accomplish in two years what it would have taken her 10-15 years with traditional marketing/PR methods.  Before blogs, people may only have needed to go to your web site once or twice a year. A blog gives them reasons to visit more often.

2. Think BIG from Day 1.

There’s a good chance your blog is going to be a bigger part of your  life (and your business) than you can possibly imagine.  Tobi’s not only designing homes, she’s now teaching businesses how to build brands and giving DIY’ers tools to create their own space….all because she started a blog two years ago!  So, take some time to consider what type of experience you’d like to create for your readers, yourself, your life. Set some big goals.

3. Create a brand experience, not just a blog.

Infuse all kinds of thoughtful touches along the way to give people a chance to get to know you and the people behind your business.  Tobi and her staff send a thank you note each day… that’s 50 thoughtful notes a week. I’ll share more about how she does this in her studio next week!

4. Don’t over-think SEO.

There’s no use trying to trick or figure it out. No matter what methods Google uses, it’s simply trying to reward people for good old fashioned relationship building. Tobi’s giving nature has formed friendships that have built her brand. Focus on giving (reaching out, leaving comments) vs receiving and SEO will take care of itself.

5. Don’t be afraid to toot your own horn.

“This is a business,” Tobi says. “You can’t afford not to talk about what you have to offer.” Do it thoughtfully and creatively. And remember, people still do business with people. Your blog expresses the person behind the business. If you don’t express what makes you special, who will?

Thank you for stopping by… and tell me, are you giving your blog the time and thought it deserves? What stops you?

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I’m going to camp! (Tobi Fairley’s Blog Camp)

This week’s Thoughtful Blogs features Tobi Fairley, Little Rock-based interior designer and social media extraordinaire.  I’m excited…because this week, I’m traveling from Tucson to Little Rock for her Blog Camp on Friday. I get to meet Tobi in person!

While I’m not an interior designer, I do appreciate good, thoughtful design – especially when it comes to my living space. So, I tend to follow designers because I’m sincerely interested and I appreciate their creative insight. They’re also pretty comfortable sharing their unique style and voice so they are good bloggers to follow if you’re trying to find your own.

However, Tobi takes it up a few notches.  In addition to her design training, she has a business degree and background. This is helpful because running a blog is a bit like running a business, there should be some thoughtful strategy behind it.

I can tell that she looks at her blog with a marketing eye and has embraced the power of social media to build her business.  Her design expertise and projects are featured on television and in magazines around the country.  She also teaches her tricks of the trade at Tobi Fairley Design Camps for the DIY designer.

While it may seem counter-intuitive for a designer to help people design their own spaces, it’s a brilliant business positioning, right in line with the spirit of educating and giving that’s so important in today’s marketing world.

Tobi received so many requests from designers about how to start their own blog, that she has now launched Tobi Fairley’s Blog Camp.  I honestly don’t know how she finds time to do it all, plus run her own blog. (I know she listed doing more yoga on her list of goals for 2011. Maybe I can give her a tip or two in that department  :)

I’m looking forward to learning from Tobi and sharing the experience with you.

Do you have any questions for Tobi? Just submit them and I’ll ask them.  Or better yet, join me….!

Designers, help me lighten the load!

Today’s LetsBlogOff challenge asks, “What are you carrying?”

В 

school girls on the street in Paris. their tote bags are overstuffed too. somehow the look is cuter on them.

My first thought was baggage, literally. I travel a lot and am constantly trying to lighten my load.В  An architect once gave me some great advice about streamlining the clothes I pack.В  Since then, I”m pretty much a one-bag, wherever-I’m-going, for- however-long, kind-of-girl. But, I”m still struggling with streamlining the electronics and things to take “to do” while I’m traveling.

My tote bag is typically stuffed with my laptop (aka “the brick” because it’s so heavy), an iPad (that I desperately want to transition to), a wireless keyboard (to make that transition easier), an iPhone, a journal (just in case a thought comes when all of the above needs to be turned off), and my Journey to the Heart book of meditations (to keep me grounded and grateful for getting to go wherever I’m going).  Needless to say, there’s not much room left in that tote bag. There’s barely enough room for my lipgloss… and, no wonder my shoulders are so sore.

What I’m finding is that while I see a need for all of them, the reality is that even on long, overseas flights I don”t use all of them.В  I might open my laptop to capture a few thoughts. I’d rather be watching a movie or sleeping soundly.

The upside of living in a world with such great product designers (like Apple) is that we have so many choices. The downside is sifting through the choices to find the perfect fit – what you’ll actually use, because it fits your way of life perfectly, and gives you pleasure just being in your life.

In the spirit of helping people sift through these choices, and possibly lighten their load, I’m excited to share a new project I’ve been given – I”ve been asked to scour the globe for “thoughtfully”designed home products and write about them for Australia’s LookHome magazine and a new blog that will be launching in May.

I thought I’d turn to my design friends for help, once again. I”m sure I”ll find some great products to feature at Modenus…I’d also like to hear from you:

What are your favorite, thoughtfully designed products for the home?В  Which ones make life a little easier, a lot more beautiful and make you feel good for using them?

Make sure to click here, to read other bloggers” take on “What are you carrying?”
I promise you”ll be inspired and entertained. I hope you”ll join us. It”s a great way to practice finding your unique voice and connecting with a very thoughtful group of bloggers.

Through the eyes of a child (with an architect dad)

I’m starting the week by sharing some thoughtful content from a favorite blogger.  One of the trickier aspects of blogging (especially when you’re also running a business) is figuring out what what you’re going to say, how you’re going to say it, and hopefully…if all goes well, in a way that connects with a human.  Sometimes it takes digging a little deeper than the product or service you provide.   Practice helps, along with watching it in action. Here’s an example that I hope inspires your own thoughtful content:

 

Bob Borson, Life of an Architect

Bob Borson, architect & "Life of an Architect" blogger

I found Bob Borson’s blog while I was writing a blog for architects last year. I wanted to encourage them to open their minds to changing times. I thought blogging was a great platform for them to showcase the way they see the world, the value of common sense design and provide some general PR for an often misunderstood profession.

The reason I connected with Bob’s Life of an Architect blog is because he’s doing all of the above.

He even seems to have found the fine line between blogging from your heart and blogging for business.

While he covers all kinds of architect-issues,  it’s his genuine voice and sense of humor (that’s him demonstrating hiscool face in the picture) that connects whether you’re an architect or not.

Developing that voice is not easy, no matter how creative you are.  You still need the courage to express it and the patience to practice long enough to cultivate it.

In Through the eyes of a child, Bob tells us how he got his restless 5 yr old daughter to actively, happily participate in a 3-hr stay at the Musee d’Orsay …and how the process opened his eyes to a whole new level of art appreciation.

Do all architects lead glamorous lives? is a post from by Michelle (Bob’s wife), who took the blogging reins while Brizo (faucets) whisked him away to New York’s Fashion Week (on their 15th wedding anniversary). Bob has a great sense of humor, so does Michelle…

I’m also looking forward to his new series, Residential Architecture 101. Good design makes sense. When you see the crazy design details he points out, you’ll be amazed how we’ve settled for less than stellar design. Do the world a favor and get informed. Stop bad design!

I hope you’ll spend some time with Bob this week at  www.lifeofanarchitect.com and follow him on Twitter at @bobborson. For more thoughtful content, check out this post on Dr. Kristin Shepherd, a chiropractor, writer and Yoga Journal blogger.

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