Working for yourself - starting a business [p.1]
What I've tried to do is pull together some really practical advice and guidance as if you're thinking about starting a business. So what I've tried to do is think, if I was in your shoes because I was in your shoes a long time ago, and thought I want to start this business, I've no idea what to do, what would be really useful? I worked for a short time as a business adviser as well. So I've tried to pull together some practical guides and tips, and you might go away with more questions, but that's, generally, when we're starting a business, that's normal. I'm going to tell you a little story about me and my business journey and how I started. I'm telling you this because it puts a little bit into context. I didn't go to university. I got a job, and then I ended up… Most of my corporate career was working in financial services, and I ended up working in Bank of America, and I had a really good job there. I was a people manager, for want of a better word, but I worked in lots of different departments. That's where my fascination with people and teams started.
I wasn't unhappy there, but I just thought I should be doing something else. I was on a leadership programme, and I was asked a question, 'Did I set personal goals?' I remember walking back to my desk thinking, well, why would I set personal goals? I've never really thought about it. Our HR manager at the time said that when she was 50, she 'Was going to write a book and live in France.' I remember walking back to my desk thinking, well, when I'm 50, do I want to be still here? What do I want to be saying that I've done? Something inside went; this isn't where you're supposed to be. So six months later, I'd done something absolutely bonkers, and I'd bought this little cart which you can see in front of you. It was called Caffeine Rush. It was 2002. It was when Starbucks and Costa hadn't even hit the high street, really. If you did an event - like an outdoor event - you couldn't get fresh coffee. This was a little Piaggio truck. It had a 50cc engine. It sounded like a hairdryer, and it was powered up by a generator. I knew nothing about business. I didn't know anything about coffee, and I wasn't very practical! [amused tone] Two years later, we won a business award with it. So I've got the T-shirt. I was so scared inside I thought I was going die because most sensible people go and take their knowledge of what they already have and use that to set a business up. I didn't. I guess the message in there was that that's where my journey started about where I learned about myself. I also learned about starting a business, and actually, most of the mistakes that you can ever make in business I've made, so I love to share it with other people so they don't have to go through the trauma. That was really the step to my what next because it was never really about a coffee cart. It was also about finding my purpose, and so I did some other stuff after we got the award. I sold my business, and then I trained as a professional coach in 2010. That was my purpose. That's a little bit about me. What I do know is that I've been working around the university since 2010, and I originally started working with students, who didn't want to be a medic, or they didn't want to do whatever they were on a course. They wanted to start a business that they didn't know. I've been working in this space for quite a long time, and so I'm hoping that some of the questions and some of the things that I've pulled out today will be helpful. I really want to co-create this, so I've got some ideas, and you might go, no, we want some more stuff on this. I'm going to give you an opportunity to do that shortly. What I do know is that when we step forward to do something different or make a change, as you've properly discovered on your prosper journey, a big inner critic jumps out and goes, no, you can't run your own business because… I'm sure you know that voice well. I had a huge voice and actually proved it wrong. So if you've got a big, loud inner critic voice, we'll do some work to keep that a bit quiet. This is what we're going to cover today. I'm going to talk about your big why? I'm going to talk about what makes a great business idea. The other question is how much research is enough? So what I see is people research for seven years, but they don't actually go into action. So what do you need to know in your research? Have you got a business plan? I'm going to offer you some thoughts about that, and these are more building blocks. We're not going to be going into huge amounts of detail, but I'm going to do a sprinkle. I'm hoping that by the end, you've got enough to move you forward to the next step, wherever that is for you. What do you need to know about finances? Unfortunately, I don't have a big bank account to give you lots of money. What I learned about a business is I didn't need as much money as I thought I did to live on. I've got some little tools that you might find really helpful. How do you select a business name and then a simple structure around keeping it simple on your company structure? That's what we're going to cover today. I'm not going to touch too much on this, but I've mentioned it. I think one of the things is, I always say to someone who's thinking of working for themselves, it doesn't matter about the idea, what's your big why? What I hear is, this is the bit where… When you know why you want to do this, this is the bit that keeps you going when it gets tough. I hear words like; I want to have a better balance. I want to be able to have more freedom. I want flexibility. I want to be more creative. I think I should be doing something else. If I use my own journey, when I started the coffee business, for the first two years, some of my values were really met. Actually, what I found was that one of the values about working on my own for long periods of time, particularly afterwards, didn't really… I'm a connector, so it didn't really fit my values, and I started in the business to feel this isn't quite what I want to do. That's what made me start searching, and that's when I found the coaching which has to fit all the bits. Sometimes what I'm saying is, your what next might not be your final. It might be a step to your what next, and it might meet some of your values. It's just a really great question to go; why is it that I want to do this, and what am I hoping that it will give me? If you've got the answer clear to that, and every answer will be different, then you're on to it. That's really the question. What will working for yourself give you? I think the great news is - and what I know - is that business skills can be learned. What did you know about life sciences or whatever discipline that you're in? Actually, there's two parts to running a business. There's what you need to do, which is your marketing and putting the plan together, but there's also who you need to be and those qualities. I know that I had to pull all sorts of things out inside me and learn stuff that I never even thought was possible! [amused tone] I wouldn't change any of it. What makes a great business idea? Is anyone familiar with the Innocent story? I had the privilege to meet the guys who started Innocent - the drinks - I heard them speak at a business conference in Liverpool, and I just love the story, so I'll share it. They were at uni together, and they noticed that there wasn't on the market at the time any really good smoothies. They lived in London, so they did some creating, and they came up with their first smoothie. The reason they did it was they liked to go to festivals. So they did this. They went to this festival in London, and they made all this batch of smoothies. They took two buckets, and one of the buckets was yes, and the other one was no. The question was - and they gave it away for free - they said, 'Drink the smoothie. If you think we should resign from our jobs on Monday, throw it in the yes bucket, and if you don't, put it in the no bucket.' At the end of the festival, the yes was overflowing, so they all went in and gave up their jobs. I just think that's so cool! [laughs] You don't have to be sitting there. That's how you can be so creative, and it's up to you. Obviously, they've sold it now, and it's a multi-million business, but it's, again, finding that new idea when there's a market for it as well. Let me share what I've got on a couple of slides here for you. It doesn't have to be new, so you bring your skills to a job. Again, there can be a need for it, so very often, I'll hear, 'Oh yes, but there's hundreds of those.' I'd go, 'Yes, but no one's going to do it like you.' If there's something you really want to do, it's finding an angle that might be a little bit different. Identifying that there's a gap in the market. I don't know if you watch Dragon's Den and you listen to those stores. Like new mum, and I couldn't have this. Duncan Bannatyne, who used to be a dragon, he had a chain of old people's homes at one point. His story with that was he couldn't find a good residential home for his elderly mother. So he decided, as you do. He also tells a story when he was setting that business up that one night, he went to bed knowing the risk. He put a gamble on this investment, and there was a potential that he would have lost millions in the night. Now, that's a bit far. I could never have done anything like that. That's just a step too far. So that's the real entrepreneurial risk taker, but you don't have to be like that. You can be a little bit more like me, a little bit risk averse. Sometimes a hobby into a business. I've seen that done really well. It doesn't become a hobby anymore. I've seen people do cake making, and muffins, and all the little fancy cakes, and they've gone, oh, okay. Again, I have seen it done well. Selling your skills and expertise. You all have skills and expertise that is marketable. The other great question to ask is, what's the problem that you're solving? A good business idea is, am I solving a problem? A great business idea is, am I solving a pain? So if someone's got a real pain - here's a good example in terms of… When I first started, I was selling stress management workshops, and actually… Actually, that wasn't the business. What I was doing was helping businesses keep their sickness absence down. I went to QVC, and they thought I knew what I was doing. They were one of my first clients. Someone had got me in there and was like, oh, my gosh. They said, 'How can you help us reduce our sickness absence?' Oh, okay, and that was a real pain for them. It's a great question to ask, what's the problem that you're solving? What do you need to know? You need to know who else is in the market, and you need to know about the competition. Very often, people go, 'There isn't any competition.' You'll do it in a different way, and it's not to put you off, but actually, it's good to know who else is in your market and how you're different to them. There's lots of coaches in the market, but I specialise in certain things. When you're selling a service, and if you're consulting, you're selling you. People are buying you. I don't think I've been asked for my qualifications in the last 12 years, apart from if I'm doing a big piece of corporate work with a group of other coaches. So people buy you, and if they like you - that's really important, again, from a service perspective. You want to, in terms of the competition, know what their strengths and weaknesses are. You need to know how you compare on quality, price, customer service, and the brand values. You can do that pretty easily with the web now. Price is a tricky one. I'll come on to that later on. Sometimes, we don't always know, but there's usually a market rate, particularly if you're consulting. If you're consulting, you might go out on a day rate, and you'll probably be able to find that out. One of the great questions I'll ask a new customer if I've no idea is, 'What budget are you working to?' Great little tip, and then you can work out whether that's a piece of work that you'd want. The other option with consultancy sometimes is what we call working on a retainer. Someone might buy so many hours from you a month. Again, that's what it is. What makes you unique, and what makes you different? What do you need to do to retain your market niche. Growing a business is not just starting it up. It's continually changing and refreshing, like any brand work as well. I'm going to talk a little bit about the business plan. What we know about business that make plans survive longer than those that don't. I'm going to show you what you would put in a traditional business plan. There is tons of stuff on the net about what you'd put in a business plan template. I've got a lovely one that Santander use, and I can send that out afterwards. Also, Santander have got great links with the universities as well. In Liverpool, certainly, they used to fund all the start-up support for the students and their programmes. So they're very supportive. There are other banks available, but they are very supportive in terms of start-ups. Most of the big banks will have a business plan template. You really need a business plan if you're looking for funding. You also need a plan, and I'm going to share some things. Do I make a plan? Yes, I did at the start, and then I set some goals every year, and then I look at that. I don't sit down and type it out every year, but I do use it as a function in terms of where I'm heading. So let's have a look at some of the things. You do an executive summary. What you need to have in your business plan is a bit of a vision and a strategy. Where are you heading to in the next three to five years? This is your vision. Some people really struggle with that. I do because I only think 12 months ahead. So just think, well, this is where I'm heading. Again, it's your plan, and this needs to be really accurate if you're looking for funding, but for you, it gives you an idea of where you're heading, focusing on. Business Description. So what's your product or your service? Life coaching service, or… If you asked me what mine was, I'm a coach facilitator, and I specialise in career leadership and business coaching. Again, getting really succinct in focusing on what you do rather than what you don't do. It's really normal to go, 'Oh, I can't do this.' When you really hone in on what's the value that you bring, that's your service. A delivery framework. That's basically how you're going to deliver it. How are you going to deliver it? I do face-to-face coaching. I do virtual coaching. Again, with consulting, it's how you're going to deliver that. What's my customer profile? Who's my customer? Where do they hang out? I have different customers, so my business customer is different to my career customer. I work a lot in the not-for-profit sector. That customer is very different to somebody who works in a corporate. Again, and I'll be absolutely honest, I have no idea who my customer was. I thought I did at the beginning, and what happened was you'll get your first customer… You only need one customer, and then the rest will come. You know this bit about how much research I do. I call it - it's a bit like walking along a diving board - and you get to a point, and you go, you can go back and climb back down the ladder, or you can just jump in, and there gets a point where you have to jump in. Market opportunities, you can do a competitor analysis. So who's the competition? What do they offer? Where am I different? Again, from a business plan perspective, if you were putting a plan together for funding, this is probably one of the most important boxes, and it's the team. So that's you. Actually, it's the team and the skills that you bring, and you are all so marketable right now. You have to believe your own promotion and manage your inner critic at the same time, but the banks or the funders will focus right in on the team. Again, going back to Dragon's Den, they're really interested in that journey. Who's this person in front of me? Do I think they can deliver? You don't have to have all the knowledge, but they do have to have a belief. What do you need to operate, like operational requirements, premises, any legal requirements? That's generally a limited company. I'll touch on that and then a little bit about the finances and the financial planning. That is a bit about business planning. When I was at the university, we used to use something called the business canvas model, and I'm going to send the link out. So it's a three or four-minute. It's a different way to look at a business, and I think it's really useful because it looks at your value proposition. It looks at your customer segments. We used to use it with the students to get them to think in a different way about their business. For anybody who is doing spin-outs in the university, we used to help them put this through their business model because what we were looking for is a fail-fast. It's not going to work; make sure you fail fast. They're what I call the more intricate businesses. Again, it's just another thing to be thinking about, and it will give you more, oh, I haven't thought about that, so we'll do that. So that's your plan. You should have a little document called personal survival budget which I'm going to talk to you a little bit about financial planning. I'm just going to touch on this. This is one of those things where people go, 'Oh, I'm going to need lots of money, and how am I going to pay my bills? One of the things that I knew, and it goes back to knowing yourself, is I'm not a risk taker when it comes to money. I knew that if I was going to step into starting a business, I live on my own, I work on my own. That wasn't anyone else that was going to be paying my rent or mortgage. So what happens if it doesn't work? There was the bank of dad, but I didn't really want to ask him. What I worked out was, that for me to start a business, I worked out what did I need to earn every month? I picked this up from a start-up training session I did years ago. It was called personal survival budget. It's a lovely way to get yourself thinking about how much money do I need every month to live off? I say that when I started the coffee cart, I went from a very well-paid salary to minimum wage overnight. I went from like designer Clarins to Aldi special, but it was fine. I hadn't thought about that, but this document really helped to go, what do I need to pay my bills, and how can I… I couldn't be creative if I was stressed. So what I did was I took a job two days a week to pay my bills. I picked a job that would help me in the business. So when I first started, before I was coaching, I was doing this stress management mental health awareness stuff, and I went to work in the mental health service. It gave me more information, and it got me into a different network of people. It was a lovely little way to keep myself safe, but actually make it… I didn't have millions. I also had what I called a survival budget. I saved some money up. I had three months' worth of money in the bank to pay my bills. Everybody's different. Some people will go, well, I don't need that and I'm just going to wing it. That's fine, but I couldn't be like that because it was important to me. I suppose my message there is there's ways to do it, and there's ways to do it in the way that's comfortable for you. I also took a few pieces of bits of work initially that I might not have really wanted, but I did it for the experience. So my first year in business, just try everything, and then what I liked, and what I didn't like. That's yours to take away. You can change some of those things you might not have as an expenditure. I think my message was I didn't need as much money as I thought I would. It was quite fun going, well, I'm not doing that for now, and I need to save up because it's giving me the freedom and flexibility to do that. Let me share my screen. Some other things to think about on the financial planning. Hopefully, you've got a big piggy bank, not a little one. I love this picture. So set yourself a financial goal. This might sound a bit weird. I didn't do that, really, at the start. I was a bit realistic. I would say set yourself a financial goal which is a bit of a stretch. Those of you who have worked with me before know that I'm quite into the neuroscience of how our minds work. If we set a financial goal that's quite realistic we'll probably bring that in. If we set a financial goal that's a bit of a stretch, and we focus, our brain will look for ways to make that happen. Once I got the hang of this, I put a ridiculous amount of… I have a little vision board. I have a creative vision board with what I'm trying to create in my life and my work. I've got a professional one, and I set up what somebody might have thought was quite an unrealistic goal. I didn't bring it in the 12 months. It took me five years to get that figure, but what it did was it helped me. When I went out, I didn't charge enough money for my service. I didn't value my service because I made a story up that people wouldn't pay. The people in my network wouldn't pay because I was in the wrong network. We all have a money model. My money model growing up was just enough. We always had just enough. That's no good in business, you want plenty! [amused tone] You want abundance. Again, the brain will focus on what you tell it to. So set yourself a financial goal, and again, if you've done your research, you can kind of, you know if you're on a day rate or whatever, and then you can work out… Let's just say you set yourself a - let's just for ease - we go £50,000. I don't know. You want to turnover £50,000, and you go out at £1,000 a day. That's 50 days work a year. That doesn't sound much. Again, it's how would I do that? The start-up at the business you're going to get… Your cash flow will be coming in and out because you just get… That's really normal, but if you've got a little reserve, then you're going to keep yourself safe as well. Start-up funds. Years ago - because I'm very old - we used to have grants in the city, in Liverpool. They would give you money. They'd give you £2,000 to set your business up. How fantastic is that? They don't have them anymore. They're loans. There are some start-up loans, and they're quite low interest rates. In the city, in Liverpool, you've got the Enterprise Hub, which is where I would send people. It's really worth looking at their website. They've got everything on there. They do all types of business courses and stuff. Then they've got the Women's Organisation, which is predominantly women, but the Women's Organisation and the Enterprise Hub work hand in hand together. That's just Liverpool-based, but you can also… There's lots of, as I say, start-up advice on the dot gov websites, and what you'll find is that local councils are usually responsible for start-up business in their certain areas and cities. It's always worth having a look around. When I say there's no grants, there are sometimes, very occasionally, ERDF funded programmes that come out if there's a specific niche or there's a shortfall in a specific area. That's going into a bit too much detail. I suppose my main message there is there used to be grants. There's not many of those, but you could probably get a start-up loan, but then that's where your business plan would come in because they'd want to know how they're going to get their money back. In your financial plan you need to look at your pricing structure. How much are you going to charge? Again, like I've said, it should link in with your financial goal. Then also think about your monthly fixed and variable costs. I did this simple Excel spreadsheet. What was I spending every month? I didn't get any software until quite recently, I used to keep a little spreadsheet. When I did an invoice, I put my own invoice template together, so all those things you can do really simply. Also, if you're thinking of starting a business and you haven't started yet, keep your receipts because you can put this against your start-up costs. If you've got a book on something, or if you've attended a course and it's in relation to… The Women's Organisation do a great course on financial planning, which I used to bring them in to do it at the university for the students. My message there is, you don't have to have hundreds and thousands of pounds to start a business. It's all very easy to start, but you just need a little bit of planning on that. Here's your typical overheads. Travel and subsistence. Just let me say that you can't take all your maters out for a beer and put it through your business! [laughs] You can't even buy someone a coffee, actually. You can buy yourself a coffee if you're not near home. The other question I get asked is, 'Should I get an accountant?' The answer is it depends. I got an accountant right from the beginning because it was more cost-effective for me to bring in an accountant to sort all that stuff Again, it was a way of me keeping safe. You don't need them from day one, but actually, I did most of my own records so I could keep my costs low, but some of that advice was invaluable. They're your typical overheads, and again, they'll give you more… I use a software package now called Xero which is super helpful. You don't have to register yourself for VAT unless you turnover at least £86,000. Naming your business. There's some super names. Some things to think about. You may want to choose something obvious. My business is called Denise Chilton Coaching, does what it says on the tin. [amused tone] You may suggest about it might be something about your product, so a good mood, food, whatever. Some people like to keep something short and memorable. Before I became Denise Chilton, my very first business before Caffeine Rush was called Barceidillo, and people went, 'What? What's that?' Actually, it was my initials in Latin for reasons we won't go into, but everybody used to say, 'What's that company called that you have?' So it was a great talking point and there was a story behind it. It's generally better to have it easy to spell and say, however, not always. Check there's an available domain name because you're likely to want to get a website as well. Again, if you're selling a service - and I know you've done lots of work on Prosper on LinkedIn - LinkedIn is a great way to get visibility. Also, check it out with Companies House. You can go on the Companies House website and check if there's a name registered, and you can also see… Sometimes you'll find you might have a name, and you'll find that there was one, but the business was folded, so you can use it. Just pick a name - have fun with it - you might want to think about some really great business names. Finally, just a few words before some time for questions, is the legal bit. The easiest way is to set yourself up as a sole trader. It's not complicated. The downside to it is that if you get into financial problems, then everything that you own, your debtors could take back, sorry, creditors could take back. So the best way to do it is what we call a limited company. There are some extra costs with a limited company. I think it's something like £30 a year for the registration, and some others. The great thing if you're doing consultancy and limited company that if the business does go into difficulty, they can only take anything that's owned by the business, so it's a much better way. Also, you need to think about who are the clients and who are your customers. As a limited company, as a coach, it gives me more kudos if I'm going to be delivering with bigger companies. Again, you need to be not just thinking about that for the financial and the legal bit, but also about your perception. Partnerships are very similar to sole traders. I was in a partnership with my coffee cart, and it worked fine. We were really good friends, but we also had our own partnership agreement. So many people go into partnership, and then they have a fall out. Make sure that you have a partnership agreement, and also make sure that you… What's a really great idea is say I'm going to be responsible for this and you're responsible for that. So in my coffee cart, I was responsible for getting the business up and running, doing all the marketing, and my business partner behind the scenes, she did all the finance stuff. So when we did exit the business, and we did sell it, then we were still friends at the end, rather than I'm doing all the work! [laughs] A social enterprise has a slightly different structure. A social enterprise is a business with, obviously, a social impact. Social enterprises actually attract more funding. So if you're thinking of setting up a social enterprise, there are different ways - they call it a CIC, a C I C business - so again, you can get some advice on that. Basically, they're the four main ones, sole trader, limited company if you're doing consultancy… Also, on the finances as well, make sure that if you are doing a service and limited company, then you get some good professional indemnity insurance and public liability. It does sometimes feel a little bit like the picture. Opportunities don't happen. You create them. Actually, what's interesting is it's a different working… Yes, there are some long hours. I think you're still in control. When I first started, I was probably working six days a week. I always made sure I had one day off because otherwise that would be ridiculous. The flexibility is, well, actually, I might choose to get up at seven o'clock this morning, and I'll work till 12 o'clock, and then I'm going out for a coffee or I'm going to go… I think you design it the way you want it, and actually, I think if you ask anybody, it doesn't feel like work because it's yours. You're not doing it for anyone else. You're doing it for you. No one will love your business as much as you do. So when it comes to… That's a really great question. You'll find that your money comes in and out at different things, at different times, so you can plan your holidays around. So I know at Christmas, no one's going to want coaching. That's when I'm going to have my two weeks holiday then, that's fine. Also, you factor that into your business. How many holidays do I have? I might have - I don't think I have two weeks - that's a personal choice. I might have a week, but actually, I'll have quieter times, and also, I think, again, depends on your business. Once your business grows, you put somebody in to manage it, again, depending. Then again, that distances it from there. I think it depends how you recharge, and how you manage yourself as well to make sure that you're not burnt out. When I came out of working for someone, I used to say we, and I wasn't, it was me. I would get up in the morning, and my partner would go, 'Why are you getting up? I was like, 'Oh, no.' It took me a while to go, 'Oh, actually, this is my business. I can do what I like.' I have a very high work ethic anyway, so that really helps. I think the point is that you just need to decide for you, do I want to be working seven days a week 24/7, or when do I work best on my time off, and what do I need to recharge? So, with me, in the coaching world, I got a few clients to start with to test it out. I think I launched on the 1st of April. I'm not sure whether April Fool's Day was a good day to launch a business, but actually, I'd had clients about three months before. I did a bit of pro-bono work, so come and have some coaching; let me see. The official line of when you start your business is when you get your first paying client. So if I'd have got my first paying client on the 1st of April, that's the start date of my business in terms of the revenue, the HMRC, and all that sort of stuff. What I'd done was I'd done some test trading and got everything ready and said, 'Right, that's when I'm going to launch.' So we just launched! [laughs] I went, 'Oh, right, I'm open now for business,' and waited. Then the phone didn't ring, and you're like, oh, okay. Then you can have a launch. You're never going to have everything ready; you'll have most of it ready, but if you wait to have everything ready, you'll just keep waiting. You do have to get to a point where you go; I'm just going to do it. What's the worst thing that can happen? I had, also, what I call a plan B, which meant if I see these early warning signs, and it's not going well, and I can't come out of it, then that's the point where I know this isn't going to work. That kept me safe. I never had to go to that point, but actually, that gave me a little bit of comfort to jump off the diving board. The worst-case scenario was I'd go back to the bank.
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Working for yourself - starting a business [p.2]
Very good afternoon and welcome back to session two of ‘Work for Yourself’, and a very warm welcome to the lovely Linda, who I… She didn’t really volunteer; I kind of asked her and said, ‘Come and tell your little startup story.’ So welcome to you, Linda, and thank you, and I know you’re limited on time, so we’re going to do the session a little bit back to front. So we’re going to get her to talk about her story and then I’m going to give you the goodies that I’ve got today. So today is around how do you get started quite quickly on a limited budget, especially when we start to talk about marketing. So we’re actually going to talk about the practical postdoc setup story, which sounds very posh, Linda – no pressure. So we’re going to start with that in a little bit. Then I’m going to talk a little bit about branding and what we actually mean about that. Again, this is the basics. I can’t say that when I set my business up, I spent huge amounts of time, but there are things that would be helpful to know. So I’ve thought about what would be useful again if I was in your shoes and what would I need to know. We’re going to talk a bit about customers – who they are and what do you need to know about them – because there are some things that you absolutely need to know. Then what I’m going to do is link that up with how do you use your network to get customers and talk a little bit about what’s in your network and who’s there and who isn’t there and how some of that could work, and get you to think some little bit out-of-the-box thinking, as well. I’m going to then finish with some things around marketing yourself and, again, I’ve thought about doing that on a budget. It would be lovely to have thousands of pounds and bring in an agency, but life’s not really like that at the beginning. There are some real top tips that you can take away, hopefully. We’re going to focus particularly on the digital marketing, so how do you use that to raise your awareness, and I’m going to give you some little pointers. Then I’ve got three or four top tips, which is nothing to do with all of that, but here’s some really useful stuff that I wish I’d really known when I set up. So I’m going to stop my share and then I’m going to hand you over to Linda, I’m going to let Linda explain a little bit about herself. I’ve been coaching Linda through the Prosper programme and I’m just going to invite you for ten minutes to talk a little bit about your journey and what you’ve noticed. So over to you.
Yes. So when I joined Prosper, I wasn’t really sure what I really want to do. I’ve been a postdoc for around 12 years now and in different positions. I’ve been working in the lab and, more recently, probably in the last four years, I’ve been working in this setting of the Centre for Genomic Research, where we basically offer services for other scientists that want to use our platforms, and I’ve done the experimental design and discussion with potential collaborators. I learned a lot during my journey as a postdoc and you realise at a certain point that there are things that you like and things that you don’t like. So on Denise’s supervision, I started to look at the things that I like and how I can potentially use the things that I like for making – say, having a business; at the moment it’s not a business yet, but let’s say having a business idea. So I looked a little bit into consultancy because I thought it was something that I could do, but I wasn’t sure how much of my time should have been involved in that and what to do, really, what are the things that you get involved. I got contacted by one of this company and I started to do some… That’s what I’m doing at the moment is an hour of consultancy a week, or, well, a month or whenever it comes around, really. This is at the moment is the planning of it. So the idea is that… Well, let’s start from what they were looking for that I was quite not aware of that, so I think it’s basically our expertise, we do every day, because most of the startups, they will not have the kind of, let’s say, people in place for giving all this kind of advice. They will deal with clients, and they will not exactly know what they are talking about in a way because they are not from the field. So even like things that are simple or really easy to us, for a person that’s never used that kind of terminology, it will come a little bit more difficult. There is Google, of course, but Google doesn’t give you the kind of strengths that someone that’s been in a position for such a long time would do. Also, the kind of security, because if you come in a meeting with someone who actually is an expert in the area for such and such for that long period, it will give, as a company, a little bit more of a position in the market instead of being just someone that hasn’t done that. So from my point of view, it’s if you are looking into doing something different or just having a little bit of a different, let’s say, income coming, I would look into consultancy as a means of just see if you really like that kind of work. Now, I’ll give you the positive, and I’ll give you also the negative, because there is not such a thing that’s perfection when it comes to finding the next stage in your career. So the thing that I found, and that’s where I consulted a little bit with Denise and probably… So the thing that I found not really straightforward is what you do in terms of what is your – how you pay your taxes or how you raise an invoice, or all this kind of the first stage into setting up in a business. Then I found that I did… I should say I setting up a company before that’s nothing to do with what I’m doing now. It didn’t went in the right direction, but there is a different story, but I learned a lot from that too. So there is a women organisation in Liverpool that supports and gives advice and is now open also to men, so it’s not just for women; it’s everybody based in the Liverpool area can ask for advice. They have different packages. Like they have an initial package where they give you some one-to-one advice and they are based around accounting, book-keeping and marketing. Then they give you a more in-depth, let’s say… There’s a stage two. If you then decide to actually start a business, they will give you another packages of advice that helps. There’s also the Chamber of Commerce in Liverpool that used to meet in the library, the central library, to give more advice. Again, I don’t know if they do it still in that way – they may do it online now – but you were able to, again, have a section where you could speak with someone about your business idea or about what are the thing that you find difficult to achieve. So the whole idea is that, basically, what I’ve learned from this process is the following. So you could go two routes. You could be a sole trader or you could have a limited company. The sole trader is, let’s say, you will just invoice someone, you will pay tax separately as a sole trader, so you have to have what is called a UTR, that is a unique taxpayer number, and you will go and pay your taxes, or you open a limited company. In that case, you will… There are several differences, but the more explicit one is that, as a sole trader, you are responsible. As a limited company, the company is responsible. So despite the fact you are the director, the company is responsible for their own… So it becomes a non-entity. So what I’ve learned about the whole process is that some… If you have an idea, you will find a way of realising it if you really believe in it. If you don’t believe in it… Another thing is don’t listen to people that are really negative, because especially the ones that have never opened a company or they’ve never been a sole trader, they will always say to you, ‘Oh, it’s so difficult. It’s so complicated.’ There’s tons of people I’ve heard that have limited company and have started as a sole trader that can – you know, it cannot be that difficult. It’s more about what you lose from your… It’s a balance that you have to take personally is you lose something and you gain something, because when you are a point when you are an employee of a company, you get all the benefit that comes with the company. So all the little things like your office or, I don’t know, the admin. Now that you have your own company, you either have to do your admin or find someone that does your admin for you. So there are little details that you have to consider when you want to move towards, let’s say, setting your own company. Saying that, there is tons of people out there really willing to help in exchange of a fee. So it’s like how you value your time and how much it will cost you to do something and how much would actually… Also, you have to actually think in the terms how much of this time I could have rather dedicate to something that I know well instead of learning something that I do not really know or enjoy at all. So it’s the value for money that you should… Also, I guess you consider at a certain point how much you value yourself as someone in a job. So I guess you have to get the balances in place. From the little experience that I have so far, maybe it will be good to have this chat in a year’s time where I can tell you more discreetly if this went anywhere or just stayed in the little corner that it is at the moment – just a couple of hours per week. What I want to say here is just it doesn’t have to be the brilliantest idea that nobody had had before. The first time I went on one of these meeting, the first thing that they told me to do is looking into the competitors. So that means that there are other people out there that they are doing more or less what you are planning to do. It’s just a case of doing better or doing differently. This is the only thing that you could do. So I guess if you are here, you already have thought about moving or thinking about opening a… So you already are a step forward in a direction, so it’s just up to you if you stop and you look back or you look forward.
Linda, can I ask, it’s true to say that your first client came from somebody what was already in your network or they knew about you, didn’t they? Was that…
So that first initial… So that relationship, it kind of evolved; it wasn’t like a big linear plan, was it? It was like, ‘Oh, I’ve got this set of skills and I can match that up, and that’s what they need, and here’s a great way of… I’m only doing a couple of hours a month and then we’ll see how we go on,’ and there’s a potential. So last week when I was talking around it doesn’t all have to be, ‘Let’s get this plan, and it’s got to be perfect.’ What Linda has done really well is taken the opportunity. So, ‘I’ve tested out what I need to know and the basics of what I need to know, and I’ve just jumped in and had a good,’ with limited… You’ve done your risks, and stuff, and then started to build her knowledge, which is why I asked her to come along because it wasn’t like, ‘Oh, here’s an amazing start.’ That very often goes, ‘Oh, well, I won’t be able to do that,’ whereas, as you’ve said, you don’t know what will happen in 12 months, but you haven’t got anything to lose by having a go. I think one of the things about the Prosper journey is that bit about learning about yourself and what’s possible; my sense is it’s given that confidence to have a go. Would that be fair?
In the worst-case scenario, it’s an experience and you could put it on your CV, you could put it on your LinkedIn. It’s an experience is part of it, and I think we should value a little bit more the fact that not everything will end up in the dream work or the job of our life. It all comes in a little bit of a bucket of experience that you throw it in there and, hopefully, one day you’re going to take advantage of that.
Thank you. Right. Thank you very much. So any questions for Linda?
So they are a software company. They have this laboratory management system. So they sell the software, so they are called Third Wave Analytics. So they sell the software to other scientists that need to track their samples, and they were interested to expand one of their areas that is next-generation sequencing. So they were look into having someone that looks over some of their documentation and some of their demos and seeing if I could point out any additional thing that they would need or a different way also to explain to clients some of the features of the software. So that’s basically… Our agreement is just when they have hours available, they will tell me, and we agreed on a fee per hour, and I just look over some of the documentation and they basically pay me that fee. That’s basically how it has worked. I also should say all of this is based on a software called Salesforce, so what I would probably ask you to think is what are you usually using for your job, like which software, which tools you normally use in your job that you’re good at. Like if you are in any scientific setting, you will use tools. It doesn’t matter if it’s coding. It doesn’t have to be heavy coding or, I don’t know, Python, or whatever. I’m sure you use software and if you are good at that, you can approach people and ask, ‘Do you need this expertise that has to do with this?’ So you can even ask the company if they need any – direct to the company. Most of the time on their website they have open position that has some vague title like ‘consultant on such-and-such’, but then if you look at the description, probably it will not really jump as, ‘Oh, this is for me,’ but if it has some keywords that you can understand, I would always say go and apply for the job. The worst-case scenario, they didn’t go back to you, the best-case scenario, you actually got an interview and you really find out what the job is about that wasn’t clear from the website.
Thank you so much for taking time out to come and share your story. Okay, so we’re going to move on. So we’re going to talk a little bit about branding. Brands are more than a logo. So I want you to think about the words that you’re using to describe a brand, and I guess at the beginning it’s something to start thinking about is that, actually, a brand is a little bit more than a logo. Every single time you make contact with your customer, it needs to be consistent, and that goes down from the logo. So I think people sometimes think branding is a logo. It’s a little bit more than that. It’s what we call your strapline. So a strapline is the little sentence or two that says something about what you do. So my strapline is ‘your success is my business’, and that actually says what it does on the tin. So, again, you can start to look at other companies and look at what their straplines are. You need to be, what I call you need to be on your website. So if you’ve got a website, that needs to have the right feel and it’s got to be consistent with you and your logo. Every time you go on social media, again, if you have a professional Twitter account or LinkedIn and you’ve got a Facebook and you go on a night out, it’s not a good idea to mix the two. Again, every time you’re on social media, people get an impression about you and your brand. Your product, your pricing and your packaging. If you’ve got a premises… Obviously, we’re all working on Zoom now at the moment, so, again, thinking about how you’re showing up. When and where you advertise, this was a massive lesson to me. So when I started off, I hired somebody to do some promotional work for me, and it’s like a PR agent, and I wanted to get in some newspapers just to raise my profile. He did it really well and he said, ‘I want to introduce you to someone. I think she’d be a really great person for you to do business with.’ Anyway, this person never got back to me, he didn’t respond, and so I gave up. Anyway, about 12 months later, I met this individual – a friend of this individual in a network meeting and she said, ‘You need to meet my friend. She’d love the work that you do.’ I thought, ‘Well, that’s weird because she didn’t want to meet me beforehand, so why does she want to meet me now?’ So I met this lady and she did become a client, a customer of mine. She said, ‘Can I give you some feedback?’ and I said, ‘Yes, sure.’ She said, ‘I know we tried to connect a few times,’ she said, ‘But I don’t actually rate the person that you were using for your PR,’ and I was like, ‘Oh.’ So she said, ‘So because of the types of clients that he deals with generally, I just put you in that bracket,’ and it really made me think about, actually… So every time you have a supplier, you need to be thinking, again, what the implications of you using that supplier is. So, again, we’re looking for consistency. On day one, you’re not always going to get it right, but it is if you’ve got this in your mind around, ‘If I make a contract with this person, what’s that going to say about my brand?’ Then also around dress and behaviour. Again, it’s for you to sort out… I think I’m kind of professionally informal – I think that’s how I would describe myself. Again, when you’re around people, I would never, no matter what I thought about my competitors, I would never give them any bad press because that probably says more about me than it does about my competitors. Sometimes I’m asked and sometimes I’ll be honest, but, actually, I won’t be brutal, and there’s a big difference. So just have a think about, ‘What do I stand for?’ If it’s a service and you’re selling yourself and, again, if it’s a product, as well, then they’ve still got that brand awareness. I always say if you use the supermarket brands, and, again, it’s positioning yourself in the marketplace – do you want to be an Aldi or a Waitrose or a Sainsbury’s or a Morrison? It’s up to you, but, actually, with each of those attracts slightly different customers and, again, it’s just a nice way to think about it. You need to know your customer inside out. You need to know who they are and what their profile is. One of the things I did with my marketing company… So I work with an agency now, but one of the helpful things I did was we created a persona of the businesses and also a persona of the person, so down to whether they had children, or whatever, just to get… Again, when we’re marketing to people, we need to be able to know who we’re speaking to so that they’ll be able to connect with us. We talked about money – how much money do they have to buy your product or service and how are they going to do. So we talked a bit about that. Obviously, the impact of that is going to be on cashflow. So if you’re only actually trading at certain times of the year and there’s going to be holidays, and stuff like that, you can work things around that. How are they going to find you? You don’t want to be the best-kept secret, so we’ll talk about that in a little bit later on. Again, from your customers’ point of view, what do they need or want, what is the…? Actually, sometimes they don’t know. So I don’t know whether I mentioned this, but I got invited in to go and talk to QVC and absolutely thought they know what… I was doing stress management workshops and they went, ‘What can you do? What do you think we should do?’ and I was expecting them to tell me what they wanted. So they just told me the problem and I was like, ‘Oh, okay.’ Again, being really clear about what the benefits are. They’ll want to know what’s in it for them, but you need to be able to really articulate that. We also need to know what they think of the competition, because if they absolutely love it, you’re going to have to work even harder. Again, that bit I said about being professional and not criticising your competitors. So be careful; never be harsh about that. So I’m just going to link in with your network. Again, I was trying to think about my very first stages, and I know you’ve done a lot of work, probably, on the Prosper programme around networking and who’s in your network with a view for a career. So the same thing applies for starting a business, but you might need different people in your network. I’ve kind of got some top tips. So you need to know who’s in your network, and it’s not necessarily who’s in your network, it’s who they know. It’s what we call the second layer down. Actually, what I found is that you’ll get some really, really interesting connections from people that you’ve never met through people who you know. The very first question I’ll ask if I’m working with someone who’s setting up, and this is a very specific question: how many people in your network know that you’re starting a business? Usually, the answer is ‘no-one’. So you need to be telling people, and I don’t mean ramming it home, but just having conversations with people that you know every day about getting enthusiastic about, ‘I’m starting a business and these are the types of things I’m going to be doing.’ Some of those people in your network will become your biggest fans. I’ve got people in my network who have never used me as a coach, they’ve never bought anything from me, but they actually refer people to me. One of them – this a funny one, I’m going to share this – is my hairdresser. I know that on my hairdresser’s seat, he’s got someone for 90 minutes if they’re having their roots done and his type of client is the client that they’re my absolute ideal. I got really curious one day and I said, ‘What is it?’ I said, ‘You’ve never used me,’ and he said, ‘If I can’t sort them out in 90 minutes, then I send them to you,’ which was quite funny, really. Actually, it’s, again, thinking outside the box to think, ‘So I have this group of people in my network and they’re just people who are tried and trusted that I’ve known them for a long time and they come from all walks of life, but I can’t get into their second network.’ He actually sent me a really interesting guy who ran a hairdressing salon in Chelsea in London – it was one of the best clients; he does TV now. I’d never have got to him. I never touted for it, but he heard, ‘Oh, this person’s looking for a coach. I know somebody.’ So you can really get your network to work with you without doing a huge amount. If people like you and trust you and know what you’re good at, they’ll help you. So that’s a good… The other piece of advice would be… I’ve done this a few times. I have a list of those people that, when I’m in trouble, I will ring them and go, ‘Can I come and have a coffee with you? I need some help with this?’ There, again, they’re quite a supportive network, as well. So in your network, you don’t just have to have people who are going to be your customers. They might not be in there yet, but it’s how you’re going to try and get through to them. You might want to also make a list of people that you want to make a relationship with and then get your network to work for you. So I’ve done all sorts of weird things. I know we’re being recorded, so I’ll have to be very careful, but I’ve gone and made a list of people in the business community in Liverpool that I’ve wanted to hang out with and then I’ve worked out where they’re going. I’ve looked at their Twitter – oh, they’re going to a network meeting – so I just happen to pop up, ‘Oh, hello. It’s interesting, I’ve been wanting to meet you, and duh-duh-duh-duh.’ So, again, it’s thinking about where do my customers hang out and how can my network help me to actually open those doors. So you might want to set some goals around who a priority is and choose to try and get to talk to a couple. As I say, you need different people in your network for different things. You generally find that people want to help. So I suppose my question to you is who else would be useful to have in your network. The other thing you might want to think about in terms of your customer and your network is – I’m just going to stop this just for a minute – is who else knows your customers and has relationships with them. So a good one for me is… Again, if you really know your customer and who they are… My customer contact is HR managers in organisations. So what’s interesting is who else does them. So employment lawyers do. So what I did was I linked up with some employment lawyers to have conversations and got invited to some of their network meetings and did some talks to their audience. So there is a readymade group of people that are all my potential clients that have already had a relationship with another company. Does that make sense? So you can link in who else… You think about some of the conferences you attend or where else do your customers go and what other products and services do they buy and how could you link in with that. And be patient with yourself; it takes time. I had totally the wrong network of people when I started initially; I had to bring new people in. The people in my network maybe didn’t have the right contacts, but I didn’t know that at the time. I think people do business with people… It’s about relationships, it’s about building. The final one I’ll say on networking – and you’ve probably – I think, Linda talked about it before – are things like the Chamber of Commerce, Institute of Directors. There are lots of different business organisations that have pharmaceutical companies, they’re got trade members. So, again, there’s those types of organisations that you can hover around and have a look, and generally they’re all small businesses or larger businesses. Again, you can think, ‘Where might they be members?’ One of their roles is really to foster introductions and networks, which is what it’s all about. So, again, thinking about creative ways to use your network and link in to get to your customers. So we’re going to talk a little bit now as we… I’ve just got a couple of things to think about marketing yourself. Marketing yourself is like a three-week session, and so we’ve got about ten minutes. So, again, I’ve tried to think about doing that on a budget. So how can you get going and what’s…? So the purpose of marketing is getting people to know that you’re around and raising awareness. So what I want you to start thinking about is… Probably the easiest way to do that is through the internet, internet marketing. So I’m just going to share my screen again. The whole kind of what I call the whole social media, thinking about where do your customers hang out, what channels are they on. So I know for me, most of mine are through LinkedIn. I get quite a lot of private clients through Facebook, and, again, I’ve done some campaigns. I’ll talk to you a little bit about that. Initially, you can probably do a lot of this yourself, again. So some top tips to really have a digital marketing plan. Where do your customers hang out online? What are they interested about? Again, what you’re trying to do is you’re trying to raise your awareness, ‘Oh, there’s that person again talking about so-and-so.’ You don’t always know all the time… They might not even like your stuff, it’s around following other people, hanging out on groups, and I know Prosper’s done a lot of work on LinkedIn. You can use LinkedIn really, really effectively to build a database of people and contacts, and there are some quite advanced little LinkedIn courses that you can go on for not very much money where they’ll give you the lowdown of how you can do that. So I think it’s really important to think about where in the digital marketing, what space do you need to be in. I know for me, Instagram’s not a place, even though everyone else is on it, but it’s not really – that doesn’t really work for me. Twitter’s okay, but, again, LinkedIn and Facebook tend to be the places where I’ll hang out. A word about your website. Again, there’s lots and lots of people who make very costly mistakes at the beginning. A website, I think the first question you need to ask yourself is what do you need it to do. So initially for me, it was an online brochure. So most people that went on my website had already met me and I directed them. So it’s kind of like your shop window, if you like. So, again, going back to that branding, now… There is a little bit of investment in here, but, again, you need to think about what do you need to get going. Some people will invest. I invested a little bit to start with, but then once I’d got going, I rebranded after a couple of years and then spent quite a bit of an investment in that, which I can talk about. Initially, it’s around it’s like that shop window. Even though I’ve been in business for 12 years, 90 per cent of my work still comes through people I know and ten per cent is new business generated by some work that we’ve done on SEO work about getting people to the website. So, again, I think it’s about what do you… I’m a bit out of touch with… You can spend anything in terms of how much is a website from £500-plus, but you can do that a lot. You only need a few pages and, again, it’s depending on what it is that you need, so… So I do think you need to think about that and make sure it’s all consistent with your branding. Blogs are a great way to get traffic to your website, so sharing blogs on your social media and then linking that back to the website. Trying to get people stay on your website. So the more content you can put out there around LinkedIn and Twitter, again, putting links back to your website, driving traffic there is… Again, that’s like the very basic steps. It’s a good idea to try and set a budget. They reckon that you should have at least five per cent of your intended turnover should be spent on marketing. I think that’s really low. I probably spend about 20 per cent of my turnover on marketing. The idea is that if you’re investing, you should be getting that in return. So this is not about throwing caution to the wind; it’s actually if I set a budget and I spend it wisely, I should be able to bring that money back, and more. So you don’t need to make it complicated. That’s what you need get going, but they need to be able to find you. So a couple of things about working with an agency. I think Linda talked about this before and what is it that you do well and what do you not want to do. I knew that, actually, I’m not particularly great at social media, so I actually brought in a digital marketing person to do that for me. Probably, from the work that she does for me, I generate two to three clients every few months, so it pays for itself and more. So we got really clear on my branding, we got really clear on who my customer was and what were the messages and what were the panes, and then I wrote some blogs around particularly for that audience. So it’s very, very targeted and, again, it’s a bit like, ‘Here I am, and this is a great way to find me.’ So that’s all I’m going to say. As I say, you could do a whole three weeks on marketing, and that, but, again, you could spend lots of money on it, but I think that’s a really simple way to get started and to raise your profile and get people… You can put all sorts of stuff in, and there’s lots of books. The statistics show that if you do video on your social media, that you’re probably more likely to get someone to click if it’s a content… I hate it with a passion, but occasionally my little marketing person goes, ‘I think you should really be doing this, Denise,’ and I’m like, ‘Yes, okay,’ but it does what it does. What’s really interesting, I’d been doing some stuff the end of last year, and out of that somebody on my network, on my LinkedIn, who I don’t really speak to very much has just offered me a piece of work and I was like, ‘God…’ So even though I’ve been doing this 12 years, you’ve no idea who’s looking at that. She said, ‘Oh, I’ve been watching the stuff that you’re doing on leadership, and we’ve got a piece of work.’ So, again, it is a bit like magic, but you have put the work up in front. So you never know where it’s going to come in from, but you just need to make sure that you’re as present as possible. Then, finally, I’m just going to share my top tips, which is from day one, this is it. So prioritise what you call your HPAs; these are your high-pay-off activities. We can spend lots of time when we start a business doing things like going for cups of coffee with people that we probably think aren’t going to help, but they might be just really nice. It can take a lot of your time, so, again, I call it a high-pay-off activity, and my definition of that is if I do this action, ultimately will it do something for my business, or potentially, or is it just something I’m procrastinating about. So I call them HPAs and it’s about having a conversation with the right person, making sure that I’ve done my marketing, all that sort of stuff. So the other thing about from day one is what I call create yourself a sales pipeline. This looks something like… So these are any potential people that you’ve talked to who might be interested in your work, whatever you’ve got to offer. It’s as simple as an Excel spreadsheet with the person’s name, what you had the conversation about, when you did it, and, actually, you can then start to plot in who’s in my pipeline, is it a warm lead, is it someone I’ve got a relationship with, is it somebody who’s ready to convert and change over. So, again, creating a little spreadsheet for yourself with the people that you’ve contacted. You can also then keep going back to them and saying, ‘Hey, I’ve just got this new information you might be interested in.’ I wish I’d have done that from day one. So create a pipeline of people that you’re having conversations with or connecting with and just… Again, it can show you how much progress you’re making, as well. When you’ve got your first client, ask them if you can collect their story. So, actually, again, great for the website. So if you’ve got a case study, you’ve worked with a company, you’ve got a client/customer, whatever it is that you’ve done for them, ask them for permission and some feedback and, ‘Would it be okay if you gave me a reference, or we shared your story about what we did?’ I think if I look on my own website and I can look at the pages, that’s probably one of the most clicked in. Again, people go back to check you out. So if you’ve got those things… It’s difficult when you start, you’re probably not going to have anything, but it’s something to start getting into the habit. Then the other thing is ask for referrals when you’re finishing with a client or you’ve got a really great relationship, a great question to ask, ‘Is there anyone else that you know that you think might benefit from what we’ve been doing together today?’ or whatever. Sometimes that can feel a bit uncomfortable, but if you get into the habit of asking for referrals or making people know that you’re keen to have more business… Being in business, it’s not a time to be shy. That’s all I have for you today and I’m wondering is there any questions. A consultancy model works really well. I work with what I call some associates. They go under my brand, but, ‘Actually, I’m not available, but here’s somebody else,’ or a very transparent partnership. So you might have, I don’t know, ABC Limited and, actually, you might want to then set up – you might agree between you whose brand you’re going under and then you can partner in.
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