Thoughts on Paying Yourself by the Day

This video showed up on my facebook feed last week, and I shared it on the TDS Facebook page, and I haven’t been able to get it out of my mind since.

How have I never heard this before? Do you know how long I’ve been doing this? Maybe if I’d gone to art school?

I love how simple he makes pricing work for sale. It’s got me rethinking the prices I’d been playing with for the upcoming Tiny Dino Soapworks. Especially since I’ve already been working on how I would batch my oils for soaps and body butters, etc. to save time spent measuring oil for each new product.

Let’s play with some theoretical numbers for a moment, shall we?

If I wanted to figure out how much to charge for a bar of soap, the first thing I do is figure my cost of materials. Say a 10-bar batch costs $15 to make, including packaging. That means cost of materials on each bar is $1.50. If I were paying myself by the day, and could theoretically make 30, 10-bar batches of soap in a 10 hour day, that means I could make 300 bars in a day. That means I would pay myself .$60 per bar, raising total price of the bar to $2.10.

This is far too low. Selling your soap for that little will run you out of business, especially if you’re making closer to 3 batches of soap a day. (If you’re at a point where you’re making all 300 bars, I hope you’ve scaled up from a 10-inch mold!)

If I were to figure the price hourly, still paying myself $50/hour, I still get the cost of $2.10/bar. However, if I figure the pricing model I proposed in Why You Need Wholesale Pricing First, this number would be my starting point, and not my end point. My wholesale price per bar would be (rounding up) $4.25, the retail price $8.50.

Those are numbers I am far more comfortable with for recouping expenses.

If I were still selling handspun yarn, I would never be able to sell it using this method. I could probably spin one, maybe two skeins of yarn in one day, unless I was doing super chunky stuff. That means 1 skein would cost roughly $275. Usually, I was lucky if I could sell the yarn I spun for twice the price of materials at around $50.

For soaping and spinning, I’m not sure this model works, even though I consider those artisan crafts. However, for woodworking, for sewing, I could see how it could work very well.

What do you think? Which pricing model works best for your handmade business?

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Coffee Melt and Pour Soap

coffee soap

While I usually prefer cold process soap, I played around with some melt and pour soap I had laying around this weekend. I cleaned up from breakfast on Sunday morning then chopped it up, melted it down, poured a bit of leftover coffee in it (from the pot, not my cup) and sprinkled the top with grounds for some good ol’ exfoliation. I love how most of the grounds stayed on the surface, but a few floated to the bottom of the mold. Bonus, no added fragrance to this soap, just the caffeinated goodness of the coffee.

The thing about melt and pour soap is that it is deceptively easy. Someone else has already mixed the lye solutions with the oils, so I get to skip the part where I have to clean my kitchen, take it apart, cover it with newspaper, done a mask, goggles, and gloves, and then clean everything again once I’m done. With melt and pour, I put parchment over my cutting board, chop, melt, grab whatever essential oil or additive and be done. The drawback, I can’t control what oils are used in the soap or in what percentages. I have yet to find a melt and pour base that doesn’t use palm oil, which isn’t my favorite.

If you’re interested, I used about a pound of Brambleberry’s LCP White Melt and Pour Base and about 2 oz. of coffee. I got three 4 oz. bars like pictured and three 2 oz. bars from a different mold. Any white melt and pour base should yield similar results, but I particularly like the LCP, which stands for “Like Cold Process”, so it’s mostly lacking that yucky sticky feeling so many melt and pour soaps have.

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31 Things for 31

1. Today is my 31st birthday.
2. Normally I write a nice long New Year-sie type post, but my car almost blew up, and one of the things I was going to write about was the need to push toward goals, but also knowing when you need a rest. For me that day is today.
3. OK, so saying my car almost blew up might be a bit of an exaggeration.
4. It was smoking and squealing and being all sorts of scary.
5. Plus, I was parked in the garage beneath the Kansas State Capitol. I was not going to be the woman who exploded the capitol because her ancient-ass Honda decided to throw flames as a birthday present.
6. I might slightly afraid of dying in a spontaneous car fire.
7. Does anyone else realize how scary combustion engines really are?
8. I was hoping to buy a new car this year anyway.
9. But I was also hoping to use my tax return to do it, and that’s at least another month away.
10. Readers, this car is 18 years old. It is time to die, but it also needs to last another month without costing a fortune to fix.
11. There’s another reason we need a new car.
12. The Honda barely fits Felix’s car seat, and sometime in August, it looks like we’ll be adding another. If we try to fit two car seats in the back, Brock and I will be riding with our knee to our throats, and where will we put Athrun? The trunk?
13. Yup, you read that right, I have now made two cavalier jokes about illegal activities that would likely get me arrested were I serious.
14. Oh, and if you’re wondering about that second car seat, we’ll need it because I am pregnant. Again.
15. The reason I haven’t kept to my update schedule is because morning sickness hit me like a ton of bricks in December.
16. It was so bad, and I was so sick that we thought for awhile I might have another miscarriage.
17. After a week of tests and and a couple of ultrasounds, everything is looking normal.
18. That pregnancy limbo did not do good things for my psyche. In addition to being afraid of exploding cars, I’m also pretty attached to not bleeding to death.
19. And…I kind of actually wanted this pregnancy to stick.
20. Even though I hate being pregnant.
21. Even though Felix got so angry about changing out of his pajamas and into clothes this morning that he threw the hamper into the door.
22. It was empty, but still, he’s not even two!
23. He totally gets that temper from me. I throw shit when I’m angry too.
24. The sickness has evened out now and I’m feeling all right now. Not spectacular, but I am no longer angry at the world for my misery.
25. I have a lot of other things I’d like to do while I’m 31 besides have a baby and buy a car.
26. I’d like to find an agent for the novel I wrote last year.
27. I’d like to revise the story I wrote in November.
28. I’d like to KonMari the heck out of my house.
29. I’d like to finally get the soap company I’ve been planning in my head for the last two years off the ground.
30. The list could go on, but those are the major points.
31. Now I’m gonna go eat some of that carrot cake I’ve been enjoying for two days already.

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Selling Without Fear: Why You Need Wholesale Pricing First

wholesalepricingpin

Now that you are thinking of yourself as an entrepreneur and have started on your branding journey, you have to be ready to sell, right? What’s left? You’re never going to make any money if you don’t sell, right?

Correct. If you never start selling, you won’t make any money–but you know what else makes you no money? Setting your prices to low.

I know you’ve heard that your prices are probably too low before, and there is a reason for that. A lot of new entrepreneurs want to sell their work for the lowest price possible because they are afraid no one will buy it otherwise–it is a chronic problem. It is also a trap, one that I am begging you to avoid.

Prices are hard. How do you even start to quantify your hard work? Is the love that you put into your pieces worth a number? Does it matter if you would keep making those scarves, mugs, prints, earrings, lip balms, etc. even if you weren’t selling them? Yes. It matters.

If you want to continue your business long term, you have to make enough money to keep it going.

Chances are, you probably want to make enough money to quit your day job. To do that, the prices on the items you sell have to accurately reflect not just the cost of their production, but also cover your mortgage. And if you don’t want to eat ramen for every meal, it’s good to be realistic up front about how much you need to make and how much you can reasonable expect to charge for your product.

How to Figure Your Pricing:
Step 1: Figure the cost of goods sold. You need to know how much everything costs: your supplies, shipping and packaging, branding materials, website, studio space, advertising. This also includes your hourly rate, and feel free to give yourself a raise. You are working your ass off to get this business off the ground.

Add the cost of the supplies that goes into each product plus the amount of time you spent on each product plus the costs of packaging and promotion. This gives you the cost of goods sold. (The investment you have put into each individual product.)

Step 2: Do your research. How much are other makers selling similar products for? Take a look at etsy and local shops that sell items similar to what you make. What are their price points? Keep in mind that some markets vary a lot on the sort of product they can sell. A gift shop at an art museum is going to have much higher price points than a corner grocery store, which is going to be different from an artist’s collective or boutique. Where does your product fit best? If you’ve done your branding homework, this should be an easy question to answer.

Step 3: Take your cost of goods sold and multiply it by two. Then multiply it by two again. The first number is your wholesale price. The second is your retail price. Compare these numbers to your market research. If the number is too high, work to get your costs down. Look for new suppliers, make more efficient use of your time, but do not decide to pay yourself less. That hourly rate is non-negotiable.

The other thing that’s non-negotiable, is that step where you figured your wholesale pricing.

I know it’s tempting to make that wholesale price your retail price. You will probably sell twice as many $1.50 lips balms as you will $3.00 lip balms, so it’s no big deal, right? Sure, maybe you will, but then you’ll have come up with containers and oils and packaging for twice as many products on half the money. If you’re selling your lip balms at shows and online one tube at a time, $1.50 isn’t a very big return, even if you’re selling ten a day. That’s $11.50 per day vs. $30.00 per day. (See how that number more than doubled there?)

The other major thing to keep in mind is that while most artist-entrepreneurs start out at shows and online, getting into brick and mortar stores can become your bread and butter. Brick and mortar stores like to place large orders all at once. That’s good for you, because instead of getting your money in $3.00 at a time, you can sell a shop 50 tubes of lip balm at a time and you get $75.00 all at once. That’s money that it normally would have taken you three to four days to make that you just made in one.

The lump sum is the first reason you need wholesale pricing. Another is that if you don’t offer discounted pricing on your work to stores that are buying from you in bulk, they will flat out not buy from you again. If you charge a shop the same $3.00 you retail lip balm for, that means the shop has to sell it for $5.00 to $6.00 to recoup their investment. That’s getting to the high end of the lip balm spectrum and could be difficult to sell. On top of that, if customers find out that they can undercut the store by going directly to you, you might get the business of a few people buying from you one time, but you’ll lose multiple large orders from that store because they can’t sell your product. You want those consistent lump sums.

The most important reason of all that you need to know your wholesale pricing before start selling is because knowing your wholesale price gives you power. Whether you’re trying to sell at a show, working with a buyer or negotiating with a collaborator, you know the bare minimum amount that you can accept for your product, and you can even set a minimum amount that a person needs to order to get that price. Setting your terms up front makes you look good and engenders trust. When your customers trust you, they are a lot more willing to give you their money so you can pay your mortgage. And that is always a good thing.

Next week we’re talking the glory that is a line sheet. Hold onto your hats, ladies and gentlemen, it’s going to be a blast.

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Hurray, it’s December!

And I made it through another year of Nanowrimo. I hit 50,000 words the day before Thanksgiving, and haven’t touched the story since…It still needs an ending, and I’m not sure I’ll ever do anything with this one, but it was a needed break from the novel I’ve been working on for a year, and it feels fantastic to hit that 50K mark.

For December, I have a few other goals in mind. First and foremost, I’d like to make up for some of that blogging time I missed in November. I missed you guys. I hope your Novembers rocked. (I know many of you are waiting for the latest installment of the Selling Wihtout Fear series. Look for that next week.)

My other goal for this month is to get some Christmas crafting done. I’ve been experimenting with candles lately–which could easily become a new obsession. Little tins like the ones in the photo below are so fun and easy to make.

Christmas gift crafting in progress.

A photo posted by Marla (@tinydinostudios) on

And of course, I’ve been making a little Christmas soap. I love how pretty the rose petals are.

Grapefruit Rose soap out of the mold.

A photo posted by Marla (@tinydinostudios) on

Something about winter makes me want to experiment with balms and body butters and bath salts. It’s all I can think about lately, but that could just be that my brain needs a wee break from fiction writing.

What are your plans for December?

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Snooty Books and Reading Ruts

I’ve recently finished all of the books on my kindle. Well, all of the ones that I am going to read anyway. Sometimes a book sounds really good. It might have even won some prizes. It has good reviews and critical acclaim. And then you try to read it and they spend the first two pages talking about why their furniture at home is far superior to the furniture in this filthy place.

Good lord, I got it after the first overwrought sentence. After the second and third, I can see you are a privileged asshole. Can we please move on? No? Then we, sir are over.

Sorry, does that sound bitter?

It’s not often that I put a book down. I used to pride myself on never not finishing a book. Then I decided that I had better things to do with my life than waste it reading snooty books.

(This is where my husband cracks a joke about how many times I’ve read Poison Study in the last three months. )

Snooty books, a definition: books that are technically well-written, but are so well done they have no flavor left. The beauty of the sentences, the characters, the plot, can’t be felt for the difficulty of trudging through words.

I’m all for reading books you really have to tear into, but I’m not into books that lord their greatness over me. I want a book that engages rather than shuns.

The truth is, when I find a really good one, I read it a few times. I read it the first time for the sheer joy. The second time through, I read to break down the characters. Again to look at pacing and plot, etc. etc. Don’t look at me like that, it’s fun, but it leads to reading ruts. I get stuck. Afraid of getting burned by snooty books, or just plain bad books, I have trouble branching out.

I keep thinking I need to start some sort of book swap for high volume readers like myself. It would be something where you trade good books with awesome people, and then when you’re finished, you have someone to geek out about them with.

I have no idea what this sort of swap would look like, but I’m desperate for a bookish community that doesn’t center on reviews. So many online reviews are negative just because they can be. I want to avoid that.

Who’s with me?

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Selling Without Fear: Your Branding Journey

brandingjourneypin

 

This is not a post about how to build your brand. If you are looking for a quick guide to branding, look elsewhere. There are professionals out there who can help you do this a whole lot more effectively than me. But be warned, if you are new to selling, there are no quick fixes. Branding is a journey. When I work with artists, this is the part I pray they have done already, because it makes my job loads easier, and I literally cannot do it for them. I can interpret their brand for my store, but I can’t give them their identity. If you have a clear idea of who you are and what your company does, it makes it a million times easier to sell your work.

This is why you need things like the following:

  • a mission statement
  • a vision statement
  • a logo
  • business cards with your logo on it
  • any pertinent labeling for your product that is consistent with your logo and business cards
  • a website
  • social media accounts that reach the right demographics and a plan for how to reach them
  • and most importantly consistent presentation across all of these
An example of branding: instantly recognizable and consistent photography
An example of branding: instantly recognizable and consistent photography

Full disclosure, to me, this is the scariest part of starting a business. This is the step that takes a lot of reflection and introspection. It takes work. Real work. It is the opposite of doing all that fun creating, but deciding how you represent what you create is just as important as creating it. And yet, this interpretation is also the part that is most often skipped or half-assed. My best guess at why artists-as-entrepreneurs, myself included, have difficulty with this step is because it can be really, really scary.

If building your business were a story, this would be the part where the hero has to confront his demons before he can go on to be victorious. That is how scary I find it. It is like Harry Potter going into the Forbidden Forest to give himself over to Voldemort scary.

meteor shower trex sock yarn

Why do I find this so scary? Because I’ve read a ton of those business branding guides. I’ve got notebooks full of notes on who I think I am and what Tiny Dino Studios could be. What I have never once seen is someone deal with the emotional side of what these guides ask you to do. They ask you to knock down all of your protective barriers. They want you to demolish the walls you’ve built around yourself, take a step back, and examine your true self. They might ask you in ways that don’t feel so navel-gazey, but for each exercise they give, they are looking for an authentic answer. No perfunctory words will do.

You are not going to be good at branding unless you are 100% honest with yourself about what you want your business to be. And if you don’t like yourself, if you are afraid of what you’ll find if you lower defenses, confronting that can be the scariest thing in the world.

jurassic trex sock yarn

It takes guts to fill out one of those brand building guides and mean every word of it. It most likely won’t be quick, and a lot of it probably won’t be fun. Don’t let fear hold you back from tackling this. Just like any business, if you put in the hard work now, it makes your life easier in the long run. Developing your brand is like a good workout, getting up the motivation might be difficult, and the work is hard while you’re in it, but the way you feel stronger afterward is worth it.

It’s OK to wrestle with yourself. It’s OK to not like yourself very much or feel inadequate or scared. It’s OK to ask for help. What’s not OK is giving up before you’ve even started. No one can do this for you. They can guide you. They can coach you, but in the end, it’s just you and Voldemort.

If it feels like too much, check out my blog and business tips pinterest board. It’s full of people who break marketing and business planning down step-by-step. I’ve also found that just because the advice is for writers or bloggers or etsy sellers, doesn’t mean it won’t be compatible with your business.

Have fun. Grow. Sell!

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Selling Without Fear: Believe You Are an Entrepreneur

Believe banner

Welcome to Selling Without Fear. This is my first foray into writing about specialty retail, but I’ve been working in the field for the last ten years. My particular niche in specialty retail is seeking out up-and-coming artists in my home state and getting their work into stores. While my perspective is colored by working as a buyer for a brick and mortar store, my niche is so precise, that I meet a lot of artists who are just starting out. (For brevity’s sake, we’ll call them artists, but this applies to you, reader friend, no matter what type of work you are trying to sell.)

boothpreview2
One of my early yarn displays from 2012

Imagine a scenario with me. You are at your first art fair. You have a table and a display and prices on your pieces. You know your pieces rock. You are confindant in your work and you are ready to sell. Your prices seem fair, your display looks nice, and you have put in a ton of work to be there. Then, someone like me walks by. A buyer. She recognizes your genius immediately. She asks for your wholesale price sheet. If you have business cards? A website? An facebook page? She might tell you that your prices are too low. She might even say that she’d like to work with you, but if you don’t have a least one, though preferably all four of the things listed above, chances are, she’s not calling you on Monday. (Or in my case, in two or three Mondays, because that’s far behind I usually am.)

boothpreview
Another early yarn display

Suddenly, all of that work you did to get to the fair doesn’t seem like enough. There’s so much more to do to, and it’s not nearly as fun as making things. And honestly, it’s a little intimidating. Do you really need all of that stuff to be successful? Maybe not, but your chances improve a whole helluva lot if you do.

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been in a meeting with an artist who wants to sell with me and the artist has said, “I don’t really know what to sell for, I’m just an artist.” No. You are not.

If you are an artist selling your work, you are a business owner.

If you want to be successful in selling your work, you need to act like a business owner. Pull on your entrepreneur boots and start thinking beyond your product.

Yes, your product is the basis of your business, but if you don’t make it easy for shoppers (the public) and buyers (people like me who are stocking store) both to buy your products, you are doing yourself a disservice. You need a wholesale price sheet. A facebook page and possibly a website. And for the love of God, please at least have a business card with your email address on it. One that you check.

Why do you need these thing? Because they make you think about your branding.

My super simple logo
My super simple logo.

Brand. Another scary businessy sounding word. Good news is, when you’re a solo entrepreneur, a maker of handmade things, designer, a seller of one of a kind goods, words, food, etc. more often than not, you are your brand, and your products are a representation of you.

Business cards are you at a glance. They should represent your style, and tell me how to contact you and where I can find you online.

A wholesale price sheet shows that you know the value of your work down to the last penny, that you are confidant in your prices, and that you consider yourself a professional, not a hobbyist. (It doesn’t matter if you are a hobbyist. The world doesn’t need to know that. When you are selling, you are a professional.)

A facebook page and/or website is your way to connect with an audience. Share with them. Intrigue them. Let them know where you will be or if you’re developing new products. Tell them your story. The whole point of buying handmade is to buy something with a story, to give a gift with a tangible connection. Give your audience that connection.

We’re going to talk about each of these things in turn, starting with branding, then moving into pricing, and then confidence building over the next few weeks. Ask me questions, leave comments, argue with me, and feel free to email me at tinydinostudios at gmail dot com.

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Nanowrimo 2015

(All of you checking back for the start of my series on specialty retail tips I promise you, it is coming. Every time I sit down to write about, I realize there is more and more I need to cover to be truly thorough. Honestly, I could write a book on the subject. Maybe someday I will. For now, I’m just going to geek out over writing books.)

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Nanowrimo kicks off in just under two weeks, and I couldn’t be more stoked. I haven’t been writing regularly since I finished the latest draft last year’s Nano project at the end of September, and I don’t know what to do with myself. I’ve been reading like crazy, tinkering with the novel project, working on blog stuff, but really, I have been counting down the days to when I can sit down and lose myself in a new project.

At this point, most blog posts I’ve read celebrating the imminence of November usually give tips about prepping your story and how to develop your characters. All that’s well and good, but it’s not how I do things. I can’t outline shit. Never could, not even a term paper. I’m a total pantser. Writing for me is about sitting down and doing it. I discover my plot and my characters along the way. I’m totally one of those writers who talks about their characters like they are real people instead of figments of my imagination. Which means that I have no clue what sort of story I’m going to be writing come November 1st, because I don’t even know if my main character is a man or a woman. A criminal or a saint. A vagabond or a homebody. But I am itching to find out.

With nothing more than a starting sentence and a vague notion that it would be fun if there was a brothel and possibly some time travel, I have no idea where my story is going. I’m not giving myself any rules to follow. The project I’ve been working on for the past year was set in present-day in my home town. It should be no surprise, that for this new project, I have no clue, though I might pull a Harlan Ellison and call every place Topeka. It might be a cattle town in the past, or an outpost in the future. I’m sure I’ll know for sure by November 2nd or 3rd.

Do I sound crazy?

Once upon a time I used to think Nanowrimo was a little crazy. Writing 50,000 words in 30 days was insurmountable. Especially without a plan. I was lucky to get a couple hundred words out each day between work and kids and having no time to settle down and think about a story.

But then last year, I sat down and I did it.

That’s all it took. Sitting down and committing to getting 1667 words on the page each day.

They weren’t good words. I’ve changed most of them in the ensuing ten months, but it doesn’t matter. Out of those 50,000 words, I got a story. And I have spent most days since I finished putting just as much work into my manuscript as I did during November when I was composing my shitty first draft, and it hasn’t even been a sacrifice.

Join me this year! Do the insurmountable! Be my writing buddy! I’m tinydino. Find me! Keep track of my progress! (And if you’re curious enough, you might be able to find an excerpt from the (revised) first chapter of the novel from last year.)

Happy Nanoing!

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A New Direction

our first sunflower this year
our first sunflower this year

For the last five years, I have been struggling to find a direction for this blog. I’ve bounced around from yarn and knitting and crafty things to a little bit of self-discovery and a whole lotta lackluster this-is-what-i-think-i-should-be-doing. A couple of times I thought I should be a freelance writer, but I have the same problem with that as I do with working at my day job. The work pays. It’s distracting, sometimes even exciting, but it’s not for me. I am putting all of that effort in so it can be a feather in someone else’s cap. I’m vain. I want all the feathers.

I’ve known my whole life that I wanted to create my own career, but I didn’t know yet what that meant. I knew that I wanted to make Tiny Dino Studios into a creative place, one that motivates and inspires and make’s it’s readers all around feel good while giving them something to think about. Sounds nice, right? Vague, but pleasant, like sitting on the porch drinking coffee on a foggy fall morning. Likable, but lacking in substance.

For a long time, I’ve lacked clarity and a plan because the energy to cut through the fog just wasn’t there. That coffee only got me so far as the porch rail, trying to peer through the mist and make out my hazy goals somewhere out there in the future. I knew my goals and how to get there, but I hadn’t found the mechanism to get me there.

Over the past few years, both in my person and professional life, I have met too many small business owners who have the opposite problem. They know they want to sell. They know their passion, but they don’t know how to make it work. Something is stopping them. Fear. Exhaustion. Trepidation about where to start. All of the above. And because I’ve worked in retail for over ten years, I get asked the same questions over and over again from new and experienced business owners alike.

After awhile, it only made sense to start writing my answers down and share them with anyone who could put them to use. While I could talk to you about why you need to stop, drop, and figure your wholesale pricing all day, I also feel that insight into specialty retail, valuable though I hope it is, does not make a whole person, business, or blog. The things that inspire and engage outside of our business endeavors fuel us and help us succeed, and I want to include them to.

The knitting and the occasional patterns won’t go away. The odd other endeavor might pop up every now and then. I’d love to get a discussion on books going. I read and reread and devour books of all sorts, so expect to see some more talk that way popping up. And there are possibilities for so much more.

Tell me what you want to read about? What’s going to engage you, reader friend?

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