How to use Twitter to help grow your online business

By Kate Hornsby | August 28, 2014

Did you know that Twitter has been around since 2006? According to eBizMBA, it has around 310 million users and for the month of August, 2014, Twitter was listed as the second most popular social networking site on their list. Despite these impressive numbers, there are still many online sellers who either don’t use Twitter at all or if they do — aren’t using it effectively.

If you’ve been shying away from this popular social media site, here’s some ideas to try that could help you grow your online business:

Let Twitter link to your email account. When you first create your Twitter account, it asks you to allow it to link Twitter to your email account. If you are like a lot of people, you may have told it not to because you didn’t want Twitter poking around in your email (understandably!), but by saying “no,” you actually kept Twitter from finding all the people you already knew that were in your email address book. Fortunately, even if you said no the first time, you can still go into your settings and tell Twitter you’ve changed your mind. This will give you a chance to gain prospective new followers that are people you already know an do business with.

Ask questions and get feedback. Want to know what your buyers think? Ask questions on Twitter. By asking the right questions and gauging the responses, you can find out what types of promotions, sales, and products your followers are actually interested in.

Tie special events to promotions or sales. Live events such as sports and news can provide great opportunities for you to offer promotions or sales. Avoid commenting on topics that are considered controversial, however, as followers may find it offensive and your promotion could literally turn followers off and against you.

Create a weekly content calendar. Coming up with great content can be tough. Making a calendar ahead of time can help you brainstorm and keep things on track. As an example, on Mondays you could do a Twitter-only promotion and provide your followers with a code to receive a discount in your store. On Tuesdays, you could provide a tip to followers or let followers ask you questions and so on. Keeping it consistent will not only help keep you on track, but will also let your followers know when and what to expect for each day of the week.

Retweet the good stuff. People get turned off when a business does nothing but promote itself. Make a point to share relevant content post by your followers as a ReTweet. This not only allows to to connect with others, but your followers will appreciate it.

Topics: Uncategorized | No Comments »

Ebay to perhaps consider PayPal spinoff

By Kate Hornsby | August 27, 2014

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Last week, news leaked out that eBay is reportedly considering a spinoff of PayPal. This is despite the fact that eBay’s CEO, John Donahoe has vehemently argued in the past that he was against the idea, stating the PayPal is essential to eBay’s business and that a split would not make good business sense.

Now, it appears that Donahoe may be doing some backpedaling. Spokesperson for eBay, Amanda Miller has reportedly released a statement announcing that eBay may be looking at the spinoff as a way to increase growth and gain some competitive edge.

This idea isn’t new, by the way. Carl Ichan, one of eBay’s very vocal shareholders has been wanting this for quite some time. In fact, Ichan suggested it months ago, but until now eBay has not been willing to discuss it.

While a spin off of eBay could potentially offer sellers on other venues a new option to receive payments from buyers, it does sort of have to make one wonder how this would affect those who are still selling on eBay. Would it put sellers back to having to invoice through PayPal and make Pay Pal fees go up? What about the the protection that PayPal currently offers eBay members? Would that suddenly go bye-bye?

On the positive side, it could keep PayPal from being able to put a hold on your funds when something goes wrong at eBay. It might also manage to keep Pay Pal from automatically refunding money to buyers who are unhappy with their purchases on eBay. For those who gave up on eBay and moved over to “The River,” there is also the possibility that Amazon would finally decide to allow payments through PayPal if the company was separated from eBay, so perhaps a spinoff isn’t really that bad of a thing.

Interestingly, it seems like only a few years ago that eBay sellers were rumbling about how this would affect them when PayPal was coming on board WITH eBay. Now, it appears sellers are wondering how this next move could shake up both companies.

Although it doesn’t appear that any of this would take place until some time next year (if at all), it does prove once again that the online marketplace is constantly changing and sellers really should make a point to continue looking at other selling venues since these unpredictable  changes in ecommerce will most likely go on for quite some time

What do you think about the possibility of a PayPal spinoff? Leave your comments below.

Topics: eBay | No Comments »

Tips for working at home

By Kate Hornsby | August 7, 2014

Recently I was in a conversation with a couple of others writers and one of them wanted to know how we all spent our days. What they were really wanting to know is what kind of schedules do we all keep. Do we research in the morning and write in the afternoon? Do we write in the morning and spend our time marketing in the afternoon?

Although most of us understood that what the writer was actually wanting to know was about time management, the mentor for our group made a point of stating that no two people are the same and just because someone else does something, doesn’t mean it will work the same way for everyone else.

While I agree with her to to a point, I also feel that whether you write from home or list items for Amazon and eBay, you can feel a little bit lost as to what you are suppose to do and how you are suppose to do it. After all, when you have a “day job” you have someone telling you what to do and your time is basically spent doing what they want. When you’re the boss, however, all that goes out the window and you have to figure out what your priorities are.

I will confess that I don’t have the time management stuff figured out all the way yet, but here are a few things I’ve learned that can help with the rest of it.

Get up and get dressed

It might be tempting to stay in your pajamas all day, but getting out of bed and getting dressed first thing in the morning helps you prepare for the actual work day. Although I do know some people that prefer to wear business attire even as they sit in their own home working on the computer, I don’t really feel like it matters what you wear as long as it is non-pajama wear and something that signals to your brain that it is time to get serious and get to work.

Set business hours

One of the biggest problems I use to have with listing on eBay was that I would often find myself getting items ready to ship right at bedtime. Why? Because I was spending the rest of the day doing everything else (work and non-work combined) and my business day would get scattered across the parts of the 24 hours that were available. While this might work for some people, I have found that it is better to choose certain hours that you will work and then attempt to schedule your time into them. As an example, you may like the normal business hours of 9 to 5 or maybe you would rather list at night from 7 to 11. It doesn’t really matter, but the hours need to be the same and stay consistent.

Make daily goals for yourself

When you work for yourself, it can be easy to be kind of unsure about what to do with yourself. There are usually so many things you WANT to do, that you don’t even know where to begin. Creating a list of four or five goals to accomplish each day can help you stay on track. It can also help you to know what days you will handle what. As an example, you may want to source on Monday and Wednesday and then list on Tuesday and Thursday. If you know what you are doing each day, you can then set goals around these tasks to ensure that everything gets done.

In conclusion

Finally, keep in mind that although you are actually working from home, it may take the family a while to get on the same page. All they see is that you are home, so in their mind this should (in theory) give you more time to clean, run errands, or do other things for the family. Set boundaries and keep it clear that you are in “work mode” at certain times and even though you might not leave your house to go to a brick-and-mortar job, you are still technically “at work.”

Topics: Motivation, Online Business | No Comments »

PayPal now providing sellers with working capital

By Kate Hornsby | August 6, 2014

kat2If you were one of the lucky few last fall, you may have received an invitation for a PayPal pilot program that was offering small businesses a line of credit. The program, which is actually a service offered directly through PayPal, allowed small business owners an opportunity to borrow lines of credit for a fee and pay back the credit through a fixed payment plan based on their sales.

 
I mention this plan because PayPal recently launched this offer to more small business owners under the name “PayPal Working Capital.” According to Market Watch, they have now funded more than $150 million in loans to 20,000 United States businesses. They also state that PayPal will soon offer this to small business owners in the United Kingdom and Australia as well.

 
What you need to know

As a current small business owner with a PayPal account, you can apply online through PayPal for a line of credit between $5,000 and $60,000 and have the money in your account almost immediately. You then pay back the loan and a fee for using the service through your sales.

 
The thing I really like about this is that the amount you pay back ties directly into your sales. If you have a bad week, the amount coming out of your account won’t completely wipe you out. There’s also no credit check, which is always good for small business owners since we all know that some times things can get a little tight when you’re in business for yourself.

 
Do you have to sell strictly on eBay?
Interestingly, even though eBay has owned PayPal since 2002 — you do not have to use the money to buy inventory to sell strictly on eBay. Although 60-percent of their loans are to eBay sellers, they also loan about 40-percent to other types of sellers. The caveat, of course, is that you have to be an established PayPal account holder so they have an idea about how much money you are bringing into your account each month.

 
The interest rate isn’t exactly cheap and is at a reported 7 to 15-percent (PayPal doesn’t quote out exact interest rate figures), but since some credit cards have interest rates at 25% and higher, this could be the way to go for sellers wanting a line of credit, but who don’t want to worry about maxing out one of their credit cards.

 
While sales at eBay have been painstakingly slow for many sellers, there will hopefully be a rebound as we move toward the holiday season and this type of loan could help sellers who want to up their business from now through Christmas. What about you? Is this the type of loan you might take advantage of? Leave your comments below.

 

Topics: eBay | No Comments »

Finding the Right Lawyer to Defend You in a Lawsuit

By Kat Simpson | August 4, 2014

cliffOne of the primary goals of any small business is to avoid lawsuits at any cost.  Even if you are 100% in the right, and even if you ultimately prevail, any sort of court proceeding will take months or years to resolve, and will cost you tens of thousands of dollars in lawyer and court fees that you well may not get back from the other side.

But no matter how hard you try to avoid litigation, sooner or later a customer, supplier, or creditor will threaten to sue your business.  What do you do?

The normal kneejerk reaction is to call your business lawyer for advice.  You will no doubt be frustrated, however, when your lawyer – even though he has worked with you for years and knows every aspect of your business – says he cannot help you defend the lawsuit because he doesn’t do that sort of work.

You need a different type of lawyer to represent you in court.  What should you look for in such a lawyer, and how do you find one?

John Balestriere, founder of the New York City law firm of Balestriere Fariello LLP (www.balestrierefariello.com) and a seasoned trial lawyer, says you should speak to a litigator as soon as a lawsuit has been threatened against you, even though you hope (and plan) to settle the lawsuit out of court.

“Delay is the Number One mistake I see clients make when a lawsuit is threatened,” says Balestriere.  “It’s understandable that the client hopes they can settle the dispute on their own, or shop around to try to save money, but delay almost always causes problems, for a number of reasons.”  Among the reasons Balestriere cites are:

Ironically, according to Balestriere, getting a lawyer who specializes in courtroom work (called a “litigator”) on your side early on can actually help facilitate an out-of-court settlement.  “Litigation is a different world than what most businesspeople are used to,” says Balestriere.  “It has its own language which can be somewhat arcane.  Hiring someone who speaks that language and can communicate with the other lawyer will often get a settlement quickly.”

Balestriere says he personally has settled more than a dozen disputes before the filing of a complaint or notice of claim in court.  “There’s a perception that litigators make money only if someone actually sues, and it’s simply not true.  Most litigators I know would much rather get a favorable settlement for their client than spend months battling in court with no assurance they will prevail.”

Once a lawsuit is filed, things get out of hand quickly, as both sides tend to get their backs up, emotions are engaged, and it’s much more difficult to achieve a settlement because both sides are looking to score points against the other.  Balestriere says he has never seen a lawsuit resolved in less than six months.

So how do you find the right litigator for your case? Balestriere offers the following advice:

“The best advice here was originally given by Theodore Roosevelt,” says Balestriere, “who said that when negotiating treaties with foreign countries you need to ‘speak softly but carry a big stick.’  If the other side knows you are prepared and willing to fight a battle if it becomes necessary, they often will calm down and look for the middle ground that will lead to a compromise solution.”

Unfortunately, many attorneys – even some holding themselves out as litigators – don’t have a lot of actual trial experience.  When interviewing attorneys, Balestriere says you should ask them point blank how often they actually go to trial and how comfortable they are with that process.  “One of our firm’s biggest advantages is that people know we are not afraid to go to trial,” says Balestriere, noting that in a recent case he was able to get a jury award that was 60 times what the other side offered to settle for.

Cliff Ennico (cennico@legalcareer.com) is a syndicated columnist, author and host of the PBS television series ‘Money Hunt’.  This column is no substitute for legal, tax or financial advice, which can be furnished only by a qualified professional licensed in your state.  To find out more about Cliff Ennico and other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit our Web page at www.creators.com.  COPYRIGHT 2014 CLIFFORD R. ENNICO.  DISTRIBUTED BY CREATORS SYNDICATE, INC.

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Changing Your LLC Operating Agreement as Your Company Grows

By Kat Simpson | August 1, 2014

 

cliff ennico“My two partners and I formed a limited liability company (LLC) several years ago.

Our business has grown substantially, and we now have several investors as well as employees who own nonvoting shares in our company.

We’re still using the Operating Agreement that we signed when we first started the company, but I have to believe we need to make some changes as what made sense back then for ‘just 3 guys’ may not make sense for a fast growing entrepreneurial company. Any suggestions?”

First of all, you are wise to ask this question before your minority owners start demanding changes (or worse, begin a lawsuit to force the changes).

You should ask your company lawyer to spend an hour reviewing your Operating Agreement and make specific recommendations for change. Here are some ideas:

Management by Managers. Your Operating Agreement probably says your company will be managed by the members acting as a partnership. That’s okay when it’s just the three of you, but with so many people involved now you may want to separate management from ownership by becoming a “manager managed LLC.”

The three of you would continue to run the company, only as “managers.” Certain very important matters (such as mergers, acquisitions or a change in the company’s business) would have to be approved by a majority of your company’s members. Minority owners would receive notice of important decisions and the right to be heard – very important for keeping investor lawsuits at bay.

Units of Membership Interest. Your Operating Agreement probably assigns each member a percentage of the LLC’s profits and losses. Time to grow up. Like a corporation, your LLC should authorize “units of membership interest” which function much the same as shares of stock in a corporation. It’s a lot easier to tell a new investor he will be receiving 5,000 ownership units than it is to tell him he’s getting 0.587433333% of the company.

Converting to units of membership interest will also make it easier for your LLC to convert into a corporation if and when you wish to do so.

Voting and Nonvoting Shares. Your message says you have given nonvoting shares to some of your employees. Are their rights spelled out in the Operating Agreement? If not, that needs to be fixed immediately as most state LLC statutes do not spell out the rights and obligations of nonvoting members.

Your Operating Agreement should authorize the managers to issue up to X units of nonvoting membership interest, granting owners of these interests the right to receive profits and losses from the LLC’s business and a percentage of the proceeds of any acquisition or liquidation transaction. A simple statement that “owners of Non-Voting Units have all of the rights of membership in the Company other than the right to vote on matters affecting the Company’s business, operations and affairs” may be sufficient.

Pre-Emptive Rights. Consider giving your nonvoting members the right to buy additional units if their percentage ownership of the company is “diluted” in a later offering.

Restrictions on Transfer of Shares. Your Operating Agreement should contain “buy-sell” provisions restricting members from selling their shares openly without first giving other members a “right of first refusal” to buy them. If it doesn’t, now is the time to add those provisions.

Voting members of an LLC should not be allowed to quit or otherwise withdraw from the business voluntarily without selling their shares back to the company or to the other members. You should allow voting members to transfer their shares to family members in their wills (as long as they convert to nonvoting shares upon the owner’s death). Transfers of nonvoting shares should not be restricted – since by definition these shares have no say in the management of the LLC, you shouldn’t really care who owns them.

Owners of nonvoting shares should be required to notify you when they transfer their shares – otherwise you won’t be able to track them down if they are entitled to payments or distributions down the road.

Valuation of Shares. When an LLC is first getting off the ground, you should use strict mathematical formulas value the company in order to determine the buyout price for a withdrawing member’s shares – for example, two times the earnings before income tax (EBIT) of the company averaged over the past three years, or 50% of the company’s gross sales averaged over the past three years.

As a company grows, however, multiples of sales and earnings may no longer reflect the true market value of the company. Some high-tech companies have recently paid billions to acquire startups that didn’t even have revenue yet, much less profit!

In the event a withdrawing member’s shares have to be repurchased, your Operating Agreement should require the company to be valued by an independent appraiser selected by the managers based on current market conditions. Yes, independent valuations are expensive, but you can afford them now. Congratulations!

Cliff Ennico (cennico@legalcareer.com) is a syndicated columnist, author and host of the PBS television series ‘Money Hunt’.  This column is no substitute for legal, tax or financial advice, which can be furnished only by a qualified professional licensed in your state.  To find out more about Cliff Ennico and other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit our Web page at www.creators.com.  COPYRIGHT 2014 CLIFFORD R. ENNICO.  DISTRIBUTED BY CREATORS SYNDICATE, INC.

 

 

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Amazon Images: Resistance is Futile

By Kate Hornsby | July 31, 2014

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Why is it that every time Amazon makes an announcement about an upcoming change all I can think of is the Borgs from Star Trek and that classic line of “resistance is futile!”? If you’re not familiar with the Borgs or Star Trek, just know that they are an alien race who have what is called a “hive mind” and that means that they all have just one goal. That goal is “assimilation” or rather — to make all species the same.

 
The reason that I’m comparing Amazon to the Borgs today is that they have just sent out a notice stating that as of September 30, 2014, they will start hiding all photos in the U.S. Clothing and Accessories category that don’t have a main image with a non-white background. The requirement isn’t really new. They’ve have this in place for quite a while. In fact, as of October 15, 2013, all new ASINs have had to have the non-white background, but until now they weren’t forcing sellers to change all their clothing listings that were created prior to that date.

 
If you do not assimilate…uh…comply with this change by October 15…Amazon will hide your listings that are in non-compliance from their search and browse. That means they will technically no longer be for sale on their website although they aren’t quite wording it that way. The good news is that they aren’t actually ending your listings by making them disappear so that you have to start over. Instead, they will still appear in your seller account and you can access the listings with this problem by going to “Fix Suppressed Listings” in your Manage Inventory.

 
Once you upload new images and ensure that you have valid and complete product information on each of the products that you corrected the image on, you can then un-hide your listings and they will once again appear in the search and browse feature. Just remember the main photo image for each listing has to have a pure white (what they are calling RGB 255.255.255) background.

 
Do you have photos that need to be corrected? Leave a comment about how you are dealing with this problem below.

Topics: Amazon, Amazon FBA | No Comments »

Etsy Offers New Shipping Experience for Sellers

By Kate Hornsby | July 30, 2014

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Yesterday, Etsy announced that they were releasing a couple of new shipping features for their sellers. This change comes after they tested what they call a “new flow for marking orders” with their Shipping Management Improvements Prototype Team, which they say consists of a group of over 1,100 sellers from all different parts of the world. Here’s what you need to know:

Mark as Shipped: This change sends a notification to your buyer as soon as you mark that their order has shipped. Etsy says that that this will help to ensure that each buyer receives a notification about when their item is shipping and will hopefully cut down on the amount of messages going back and forth between a seller and buyer.

They said not to worry, however, if you have concerns about whether or not you have to add the tracking and shipping information. No changes there. They are still making that optional, so if it doesn’t apply to what you’re shipping, then you don’t have to worry about adding it. If you also sell on eBay, you know that this is one of their little bugaboo requirements, so this should be welcome news to sellers over at Etsy.

Schedule Shipping Notifications: This one I really like. Etsy is now allowing you to set a Ship Date for up to two days ahead of when you are marking an order as “Shipped.” This means that if you like to get your packages ready the night before you go to the post office, the buyer’s receipt simply shows that their order is listed as “Shipping Soon” until the package is actually at the post office and ready to go.

Etsy will then send out an email to the buyer on the day you plan to ship, typically between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m. to let the buyer know their package is on its way. One word of caution, however, if you don’t put in a Ship Date other than the current date, Etsy will go ahead and use the today’s date as the default.

Notes to Buyer: You know how frustrating it has been to have to edit your “Note to Buyer” every time you have an order? Well, now Etsy will allow you to create and keep up to 10 versions of the “Note to Buyer” that usually goes out along with your Shipping Notification. They are calling this new tool “Shipping Snippets.” When you write a note in the “Note to Buyer” field, you will soon see that you have an option to click and “Save” it.

Finally, don’t worry if you’re not seeing all these new tools and options on your page yet. Etsy said they will be rolling them out over the next several days, so things should update on your page soon. You can read the Etsy message in its entirety here.

What do you think about the new Etsy changes? Love them or hate them? Leave a message below!

 

 

 

Topics: Uncategorized | 1 Comment »

4 Tips for Using Hashtags on Social Media

By Kate Hornsby | July 25, 2014

As you probably already know, the use of hashtags on social media sites such as Twitter have become increasingly common. Now, Facebook has even started using them too. What you may not know, however, is that other social media sites such as Google+ and Tumblr also permit the use of hashtags and if you use them correctly it can really help you to promote your brand or merchandise.

The original purpose of using the hashtag was to group together messages of similar content by topic so that they could be more easily be found when someone wanted to add to the conversation. As an example, a lot of television shows use them so that fans of the certain shows can quickly locate other fans on to discuss certain scenes or characters. If you want to see a really good example of this, type in #Scandal on Twitter and look at all the literally thousands of tweets that were made last season for the final three episodes.

Unfortunately, when it comes to using hashtags to promote brands, sales, or products, a lot of sellers seem to get a little lost as to the best way to use them. Here’s quick some tips that can help make you a hashtag pro:

Keep your hashtags specific. Focus on one or two things that you want to promote in your business and use the same hashtag to help keep the conversation going. For instance, if you were running a promotion on purple pillows, then every post you send out during your promotion should have #PurplePillows on it. You may also want to put your brand name as a hashtag when you do this, which we’ll discuss more about this in a minute.

Use your hashtags sparingly. Too many hashtags on a post is too much of a good thing. One or two hashtags per post is best and will usually help you get the most engagement. So, one hashtag for your promotion and one hashtag for your brand name is plenty. Keep in mind that a lot of spammers fill their posts up with hashtags, so you want to avoid coming across as if you are trying to spam your followers.

 
Avoid hijacking popular hashtags. One of the most aggravating things about hashtag users is when someone uses a popular hashtag, but their post has nothing to do with the topic. As an example, during the Super Bowl a lot of people were tweeting about certain plays that were occurring. When you hopped on Twitter to participate in the conversation, however, you would usually find that someone was on there trying to sell something that had nothing to do with the Super Bowl and yet they were still using the hashtag as part of the promotion. Not only is this bad taste, but it has “spam” written all over it.

Finally...Keep those hashtags short. Although you can have longer messages on Facebook and Google+, on Twitter you still only get those 140 measly little characters, so it pays to leave room for your actual message. Plus, long hashtags confuse people and it makes it harder for them to remember what the hashtag actually was when they want to come back to Twitter and rejoin the conversation.

Topics: Social Media | No Comments »

B is for…Back to School

By Kate Hornsby | July 24, 2014

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Well, this summer has certainly flown by. It seems like just last week it was graduation time and now students are about to fill the school hallways once again. While most parents will probably snatch up notebooks, folders, pens and pencils from places like WalMart, Office Depot and Staples, there are still some ways that eBay and Amazon sellers can get in on that back to school rush.

Clothing and Shoes
Although I don’t particularly remember being excited about returning to school every year, I do remember getting excited about owning a bunch of new clothes to ‘celebrate’ the occasion. Students these days want name brands, however, and parents want to save money, so a lot of people will turn to online marketplaces like eBay, Amazon and maybe even Etsy to find some affordable deals. If you have new or gently used clothing items your own children have outgrown, now might be a good time to make a little cash before you do your own back to school shopping. Oh, and don’t forget — many teachers will want to update their look as well.

 
Book Bags
Book bags have really come a long way in the last several years. They’ve gone from being just functional to almost being an actual fashion accessory. If you’re wondering what age group you should target to sell to, high school and college students seem to be a safe bet. Just a quick run through of some book bags already listed on Amazon showed that all shades of blue seem to be popular and the trend for high school students (at least the female ones, which is what I looked at!) are sophisticated and chic.

 

Dorm Room Furnishings
Bed-in-a-bag kits, curtains, pillows, accessories. You name it, college kids need it or want it. The funny thing is, items don’t have to be new either. Retro items remain popular as do off the wall (or literally ON the wall) items, such as pink cookie sheets that serve as magnet boards and unusual shaped and colored baskets. If you have funky, chic or unique items you’ve been waiting to list, now is the time to do it.
Finally, you may think that you’ve already missed the opportunity to get back to school items listed, but keep in mind…reports say that although a little over 44-percent will start shopping a month or so before school starts, there is still over 4-percent that wait until the week of school to even begin.

Image courtesy of [hinnamsaisuy]/ FreeDigitalPhotos.net

 

 

 

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