Writing a business plan Archives

Writing a Business Plan

If you want your business to succeed, you will need to write a business plan. Whether you have tried to write a plan before and failed, or have never tried before, the best way to prepare for this process is by starting a-fresh.

This website has been created to provide you with the information and resources you will need when writing your business plan and marketing strategies. As you go through the site be ready to capture the ideas that you will have when reading the content, watching the videos or using the business tools provided.

This section will cover a range of topics that will help you better understand your customer, your industry and how you might be able to sell your product or service to make a profit.

It is worth noting what you want your business to become – the end point – and where you are now. This will help you map out the process to move from now to the ideal place you want to be. There are also some pages around business goals and mission statements along with some exercises you can do to help with this.

When writing a business or marketing plan, you begin with finding out where the business is at and what you know. This is called a ‘Fact-Find’. It is important to note that if you do not have a business, writing a business plan is just as important, if not more, than if you did. If you are unsure of any of the answers during this process, ask yourself:

  • What would I …”, or
  • How many would it take …”

Try to imagine what it would be like when your business is up and running. Don’t let your present situation hold you back from what you want your business to achieve.

Fact-Find

Know Your Customer

Know Your Industry

Know Your Business

fact find for your business know your customer industry research your business research
Begin with identifying the parts of your business you know and those you don’t.
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Knowing your customer unlocks the door to your future success.
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Get the facts about the industry you are operating in and where the growth is set to go.
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Understand the various parts of your business that impact on your bottom line.
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Putting the Plan together

Sample business plans

put your business plan together sample business plan
Put your business plan together and learn how to use it to build and grow your business.
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Sample business plans are a great way to start writing your own business and marketing plans.
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Sample Business Plans

How to Define your Business Mission Statement

How to Define your Business Mission StatementA mission statement is your statement of intent – what is the business in existence for. When writing your business plan, it helps to get clear on the purpose of the business (beyond making a profit for you).

Others call a mission statment their Company Vision or Purpose, but they all mean the same thing. This statement defines what it is the business will pursue in its activities. It may include what the business ethically supports and how it intends to serve its customer. It may also be a statement about its approach and attitude to its business activities.

Here are some examples of mission statements:

McDonalds Family Restaurants
McDonald’s vision is to be the world’s best quick service restaurant experience. Being the best means providing outstanding quality, service, cleanliness and value, so that we make every customer in every restaurant smile. To achieve our vision, we are focused on three worldwide strategies:

  • Be the best employer for our people in each community around the world,
  • Deliver operational excellence to our customers in each of our restaurants, and
  • Achieve enduring profitable growth by expanding the brand and leveraging the strengths of the McDonald’s system through innovation and technology.”

Microsoft
Our Mission
At Microsoft, we work to help people and businesses throughout the world realize their full potential. This is our mission. Everything we do reflects this mission and the values that make it possible.

Our Values
As a company, and as individuals, we value:

  • Integrity and honesty.
  • Passion for customers, for our partners, and for technology.
  • Openness and respectfulness.
  • Taking on big challenges and seeing them through.
  • Constructive self-criticism, self-improvement, and personal excellence.
  • Accountability to customers, shareholders, partners, and employees for commitments, results, and quality

Each of these examples state what the intention of the business is. A useful approach when finding out your company’s mission statement is to ask yourself, “The mission (purpose, vision) of (insert company name) is to …….”. Whatever comes first to your mind when asking yourself this question is a great place to start.

Other elements of the examples included are those values that the company holds in high esteem. They often include such concepts as honesty and integrity, but may differ when it comes to the level of intensity, passion, commitment, and so on. Most successful businesses have very similar values, so it is a good idea to model their mission statements. Find a company that you admire and respect, and have a look at their mission statement.

Why is this a part of the business planning process?

As your business grows, you will inevitably employ more staff and have greater impact on other people. Your goals will help you to take action on a daily basis to achieve these desired outcomes, but what overall statement will be the guiding force of the business? This same statement will also influence how your staff operate.

The overall focus of the company and its values sets the tone for all business dealings and decisions. If a company would like to do business with you, but their activities or values are not aligned with yours, then this is a strong indication of whether you should do business with them.

Preparing Your Mission Statement

Completing this part of the plan requires you to put a personality on your business. For many, this means defining their own values and intentions, as they are the only operator in the company. For others, it may mean a round-the-table discussion with key personal in the business to develop the values and the mission statement.

To help you in this process, you can use our Mission Statement Workshop Exercise. Use this in conjunction with your goal-planning worksheets to help you get clear on the purpose of the business.

Using Your Business Plan

Using Your Business PlanGrowing your business is an exciting, and at the same time can be an overwhelming experience. Having written and prepared your business plans for the next five years, you now need to implement them.

One of the traps that many business owners fall into is taking short cuts. The reality is that there are no shortcuts to success. There are no ‘get-rich-overnight’ schemes that truly work (apart from the lottery). The plan you now have is your detailed map taking you from where you are to where you want to be. Don’t try and skip a step in the hope that you will reach success faster.

Another important consideration for any business is how it manages the tasks that need to be done to achieve its goals. Most often, this means that a new business starting out is restricted to one or two people doing ALL the tasks that a business has – being the bookkeeper, the cleaner, the receptionist, the managing director, the marketer, the IT person, and so on.

If you can, and finances permitting, outsource these tasks so that you can be free to pursue what you are best at. If your passion and experience is in sales and marketing, and you have no desire to be bogged down with numbers, have someone else do your books for you. It is vital that you can focus as much as possible on those areas in your business that you are good at, and find others to do those areas that you aren’t good at.

Limited Capital

If you have a small budget to begin with, and have not had any success with obtaining finance to support your new (or established) business, begin with the least costly options of your business plan. Whilst you should work towards implementing the whole plan, this can sometimes be impractical to begin with. Not only are you learning new things about you and your business, but if you do have a small team and limited resources, then you will not be able to do it all initially.

Some options you might want to consider starting with should include a web site. If you already have your own website for your business, then begin by marketing it more on the Internet and in your daily activities. Add a link to your site at the bottom of every email that you send out, both personal and business related. Place your website address on every letterhead, fax, or other communication with suppliers and customers. Get the word out there.

If you haven’t yet got a website, then start one. As mentioned earlier in the guide, you can either build one yourself or have an agency do it for you. You can also check out the resources on the site to help you get up and running with a website.

Pace yourself – Rome wasn’t built in a day, and nor will your marketing plan be launched in a day (or even a month). Roll it out in stages, making sure that you are comfortable and confident in each stage you complete.

Another inexpensive option to begin with is your publicity and public relations campaigns. Despite what you may think, you have many newsworthy stores in your business each week. It might be a special customer of yours, a way that your business can help a charity, or something you are doing in the community.

Practice writing media releases, and read what other businesses do. Grab a copy of your local or regional paper, and flick through the pages until you find articles that promote a business, but tell a story. See what the journalist has presented, and how they have begun the article. Then, copy it. By doing this often enough, you will get to make the Media working for your business – getting your name and brand out there.

Following your Business Plan

As you develop and grow your business, there will be times that you will feel overwhelmed and possibly lose sight of your goals. If so, keep the following things in mind:

When to Change Your Plan

Many business people are tempted to change their business plan if they think that it isn’t working. If that is the case, then quite frankly, they didn’t spend enough time in preparing it in the first place. Using this guide, you have researched, understood and planned your business accordingly.

Don’t deviate too quickly from your plan if you think it isn’t working. If your industry has had a massive shift in demand or over a period of extended time your business performance has dropped, then of course you should review your plan. It might need ‘tweaking’ a little. Don’t re-write the whole plan unless you know in your heart that you have done your best at implementing the strategies you mapped out. You don’t want to spend your business life writing one plan after another.

Review your plan weekly or fortnightly. See how you are performing with your budget compared to your actual results. Make sure that your promotional campaign is rolled out systematically, and you are using your Pulsing/Continuous chart to help with your timing.

Have a Routine

One thing that has worked many successful businesses is the routine of doing at least one specific thing each day, every day. if you set a task and complete it every day, no matter how big or small, then at the end of a year, you have completed 365 tasks towards your goals and part of your plan is realized. You inevitably get more than one task a day done each day, and this will help you remain on track with your business plan.

Where Do Your Customers Come From?

customer researchIf you can understand where and how far your customer (or ideal customer) travels from to buy from you, then when writing your business plan you can factor this in to your marketing and operational strategies.

What customer-base do you have? If you haven’t got a customer list yet, what customer-base would you want? To calculate this, it might be as simple as counting the number of registered customers on your database. Or it might be a little bit more complex.

If you currently do not have a database of your customers, then consider setting one up on either a software program like Microsoft Access, or in a simple diary/notebook. Then you can begin to record names and addresses, and any other useful information about your customer (e.g. when they made their last purchase, what they bought).

This information will help show you where and how far your customers are coming from. Armed with this information you can target your promotions and marketing efforts more effectively.

Gathering the Data

How do you begin getting this information? You ask for it. And how you do this in business is by conducting a survey. These marketing tools are the secret to unlocking thousands of dollars in potential sales. They will tell you in much more detail than any other form of research what you should be doing to meet the needs of your customer.

You can ask customers to either complete the survey during their shopping experience, or you can give them a ‘take home’ copy of the survey for returning at a later date. You can even encourage more customers to complete the survey by providing an incentive such as a discount on their next purchase.

As with most businesses, Steve had the same problem with knowing this information about his customer. He had no definite idea of where his customers came from apart from the deliveries he did. He prepared a simple questionnaire, and asked each of his customers if they wouldn’t mind filling it in. When they asked him what it was for, he explained that it was to help him understand what his customers wanted, so he could offer them a better service.

The results that this questionnaire provided gave Steve an understanding about WHAT his customer wanted, WHY they came, and what areas he could IMPROVE on. He also was able to build his database with the names and address of those that filled in the questionnaire. This is a great tool that you can use to gather information.

Most customers will enjoy the fact that you are interested in hearing their thoughts, and want to improve your service to them.

The Next Step

We have provided you with a downloadable word document that you can use right away with your customers. All you need to do is modify it to suit your business and industry, and you’re on your way!

To get started, download your sample questionnaire template.

Competitors

Business competitorsWhen assessing your industry and your business, take a look at your competitors. Try and understand what it is they are doing and how successful/unsuccessful they are. This will help you to learn more about what you need to do to grow your business and then to include this in your business plan.

When you stop and think about the product or service that you are offering, you will be surprised when you realize how many other businesses are out there trying to get the ‘almighty dollar’ from one of your potential customers for the same or similar product.

One of the reaons why you should take the time to understand your competition is to know how they promote their business. Where they advertise and how often. Find out what their product range is and how it differs from what you offer/plan to offer?

One of the best ways to begin the process of identifying and ultimately researching your main competitors is to brainstorm your business. By thinking about the different aspects of your products and services, you can think about other businesses either locally positioned against yours, or competing via the Internet.

Ask yourself:

  • Where could my customer purchase the products and services that I provide?
  • How much would they pay at these outlets for these products?
  • What makes these outlets different to my business?
  • How can I highlight my Point of Difference to the customer?

To give you an example of this brainstorm, have a look at Steve’s efforts. Here you can see that he thought of all the possible outlets his customer could purchase from. From this list he identified those businesses that were his competitors, providing a similar shopping experience to a similar customer.

Top Shelf Groceries – Competitor Brainstorm

competitor brainstormClick the image to enlarge it.

As you can see from this diagram, Steve has number of competitors. How many competitors does your business have? Go ahead and do the brainstorm now.

Once this is complete, you will have a picture about who your competitors are. You will now need to find out how much market share these competitors have, and what threat, if any, they have to your business.

Market Share refers to the amount of the available market, or customers, that this business services. If the total available market for your product was 100 people, how many people shop at each of these competitors? The size of their market share is a good indication of their success and potential threat to your business.

To do this, separate your competitors into categories. For example, Steve had three other outlets similar to his, in terms of size and industry (small grocery stores). The others he was able to place into the large supermarket industry.

Once he did this, he was then able to research these industries, and gain an idea about their market share of the overall sales from grocery items.

Buyer Behaviour: Gathering Customer Data

Gathering customer data and research is vital in your business planning preparation. The first step in this process is to get inside the head of your customer, or a customer you might have. Why do they buy their products from a particular location (yours or elsewhere)? How do they come to make that decision? How do they feel after their purchase?

Begin gathering this information by interviewing people. Start with yourself, your family and your friends. You may find that these people give you enough information to fully understand your customer. If not, you will need to interview your neighbors and others you meet on the street.

Make sure that you are honest about your intentions when surveying others. Let them know why you are asking them the questions, and how you will use the information they give you. As an extra assurance, provide them with your business card and contact details, so they can be comfortable with your requests. Be sure to fill in the questions for them. By conducting surveys in this manner, you increase the chances of getting more information from the interviewee than if they had completed the survey themselves. Ask questions in an open and neutral manner, so you get their response in the most truthful way.

As before, we have produced two samples to help you in preparing and using your Buyer Behavior survey. The first is a copy of Steve’s questions and his summary of the results. The second is a downloadable sample survey that you can use. Simply fill in the details in a word processor like Microsoft Word, print up, and you are on your way.

Download your Buyer Behavior Sample Questionnaire.

Here is a copy of Steve’s questionnaire:

Top Shelf Groceries – Buyer Behaviour Survey

Hi, my name is Steve Ferdinand, and I am the owner of Top Shelf Groceries, and we are researching the way people choose to buy grocery products. Would you mind answering a few questions about how you choose and buy these types of products?

  • How do you gather information about grocery products?
  • What type of situation leads you to buy grocery products?
  • What are the criteria you have for choosing the store to buy from?
  • Who influences your decision to buy the products you do?
  • How do you feel after you make your purchase? Are you happy with it? Why?

Thank you so much for taking time out of your day to answer these questions.

Top Shelf Groceries – Buyer Behaviour Survey

Steve asked everybody he knew, and some people he didn’t, about their grocery shopping habits. These were his results:

How they gather information about grocery products – My customer looks through the local paper to see if there are any specials on. They will ask their friends and neighbors for any recommendations as to where they should buy their fresh food from. Because I do some advertising, and am listed in the phone book, they can gather my details from seeing my posters and signs around town, or from flyers I mail to letterboxes.

Another area they get information from is their own memory. If they have shopped here before and liked the experience, then they will remember it when they need us again.

Situations that lead to buying grocery products – My customers usually buy from me because they have a number of occasions they need food for. These are:
* Normal weekly food shopping
* Special foods for a meal with friends
* Specialty items that cannot be ordered from a larger store
* Last minute shop – to get something they forgot before it is too late

Criteria of choice – They have a selection of criteria that stores are measured by. These were:
* Customer service
* Ease of parking
* Range of products
* Friendly staff
* Good quality food
* Value for money
* Convenient shopping

Influences on the decision to buy – This depended on who was buying the products. If it was the mother of the household, then the family’s preferences and the children’s behavior had a direct impact on what they bought and when they bought it. If it was a younger shopper, then the choices that their friends made had an impact on their purchase. I also found that price and quality impacted on their choice. Not always would the cheaper versions be selected. If the customer perceived or had experienced better quality from a different brand, then that influenced their decision.

How they feel after they buy – Many of my customers, and customers that buy grocery items, feel good after a purchase, so as long as they felt they received value for money. That might come from buying items on sale, or receiving exceptional service.

Interpreting the Data

Having gathered the information you should have a clear understanding of what motivates a customer to buy your product or service, and why they would chose to buy from you. This data will be used in developing your marketing plan. Your advertising, sales promotions, customer service and other areas will all make sure that the needs of your typical customer are satisfied. This is the surest way to build a profitable business.

Fact Find – Building Your Business Knowledge

This stage identifies those parts of the business and business model you know, and those you don’t. A useful way to complete this step is to talk about your business knowledge to a friend – someone who can write down your words and take notes. If you don’t have anybody who can do this for you, a tape recorder is a great alternative, and you can transcribe it later.

To help in this process, work on finding answers to some investigative questions. You are trying to uncover the things that you know, and determine the gaps in your knowledge about your business and industry.

 

Some questions to ask yourself include:

  • How many competitors do I have?
  • What is my customer base like?
  • Who are my customers? – describe them
  • Where do I get my best sales from – which product(s)?
  • What has been the historical performance of my business?
  • What is my geographic market share – how far away do my customers come from?
  • What is my profit margin?

These questions are by no means exhaustive, but they help to give a good basis of where to start. Ask yourself questions that will help you gather information about all aspects of your business – sales, customers, expenses, products, etc.

To help you understand how some of these questions might be answered, we have created a fictitious character known as Steve. Steve is a grocery store owner and has been for the past 4 years. His business is called Top Shelf Groceries. Throughout this site we will use Top Shelf Groceries as a case study about how you can go about putting a business plan together.

Just as you need to prepare a Fact-Find for your business, so does Steve. Here you will be able to see his answers to some of the example questions above, which may help to give you a starting point.

A couple of points to note before moving on:

Steve’s answers are frank and honest. This is NOT a test. Be honest with yourself and you will know quickly what areas you need to focus on to increase your understanding of your business.

Some of the answers are vague, and that is okay for now. The following stages will help you get to the facts, to know where your customers are coming from and what it is they are buying.

Once this stage is complete, you will have established the areas that you will need to research to complete the ‘picture’. Then you will be fully equipped to launch your marketing campaign to grow your business.

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Top Shelf Groceries – Fact Find

How many competitors do I have?

I have three competitors in the immediate area, and they are Jo’s Fruit Shop, Corner Goods and Fresh Foods R Us. Each have a shop similar in size to mine, and are approximately 5-10 miles drive away.

What is my customer base like?

I have about 750 or so loyal customers that come in each week, or order over the phone, as we do home deliveries. Some of the customers I have are older, and some have only moved into the area recently.

Where do I get my best sales from – which product(s)?

Our best selling products are the fresh food goods, including items such as bread and eggs. Bread is such a popular item, and our eggs are very popular. We sell them in trays as well as per dozen, and some people like to buy them in bulk.

What has been the historical performance of my business?

We have been performing quite well. Over the past 18 months, we have held steady at a turnover of $350 000 per year. After I take away my expenses, and now paying for three other staff, I make a nice little profit. We haven’t really increased our sales much in the past 8 months, but it has slowly gone up since 2001.

What is my geographic market share – how far away do my customers come?

I think we have a good market share. Our customers will come from 5-10 miles away, and we deliver to places a little further than that. It depends on what products they want to buy. Some of the products we have more of than others, or no other shop has it unless the customer drives 50 miles away. I don’t know about a percentage, but I think we have a pretty good market share.

Customer Research: Find out What You need to know

Finding out the basics about your customer is one of the key areas of your customer research when writing your business plan. It is the demographics of your customer – which refers to categories such as age, marital status, income, education and occupation.

Another key area to research is that of psychographics, or a customer’s attitudes, motivations and beliefs. This is an important area as this determines the motivating factors behind a purchase and a choice of product or service. I.e. a company stands for the environment, and the ideal customer for that company is someone concerned with how we treat our planet. This knowledge would increase that company’s chances of selection for purchasing from.

So where do you begin? You begin with finding out how much you already know about your customer. To help you do this, here is another exercise for you to assist with uncovering this knowledge. When you are thinking about these questions, try and picture your ideal customer – what they are wearing, saying, doing, and so on.

To open up a printable page of this workshop click here.

In order to grow, a business must satisfy the needs of its customers and target audience. This principle has been proven time and again throughout the Industrial Age in the early 1900’s and now in the Information Age.

When you know who your customer is, you begin to understand what their basic and self-awareness needs are. Your job as a business owner is to make sure that you can meet these needs.

By working through this process you will have a deeper understanding of your customer, which means you have increased your business’ chances of success.

After your initial fact-find about your business and your customer, you will need to fill in the gaps by completing some secondary research. When conducting this research, you should also add to your customer profile by gathering data on your industry and the ‘typical’ customer of the majority of organizations. This will also add more depth to your customer image that you have developed.

Steve completed the same process – finding out what he knew about his customers. This is how he answered these questions.

Top Shelf Groceries – Customer Profile

Is my customer male of female?
They are both..

Are they married/single?
Once again, they are both. I have customers who are students, who are parents of young children, and even some with older children.

Young family, older family? Describe their family status.
Mainly they have younger families, with children in primary school

Age?
Usually aged 18 to 45. I sometimes get a few young kids in, but the main shoppers I have are between those ages. However, most of the deliveries we do are to older people, because they like the visits and because they can’t get to the store easily.

What is their household income like? How much money do they earn?
They are definitely middle-income earners, as some of the products I have can be found cheaper elsewhere. I would say that the household income would be range from $50k to $75k per year.

Are they educated? To what level, and what type of jobs they have now?
College education for the most part, with a few tradesmen that come in. But mostly they have an educated air about them.

Describe in a few words their character – are the motivated, relaxed, carefree, risk takers, etc?
They are friendly, but often are time-poor. Sometimes they rush in, get what they need to, and leave without saying much. Other times, especially during the day, they enjoy talking to the staff and learning about some of the benefits of the products we have. I would say that they are good, honest people with an average amount of responsibilities, such as house repayments and the like.

What are their likes?
They like friendly customer service, and to feel that they are special. They also like to be treated fairly and honestly, and as long as they feel that that is done, and if we can’t help them with a purchase, they will still come back.

What are their dislikes?
They dislike a false sense of sincerity when dealing with them. They don’t like it when we say we can get the products in, and then not keep our promise. They also don’t like being treated like a number.

Industry Performance

This section of the business planning process helps you to understand the historical performance of the industry, and its future prospects. It will show you whether the industry has been in a growth phase or a decline phase.

Every industry is growing, stagnant, or declining at any one time. You can also have product lines that may be in a decline phase but the industry is still strong as a whole.

For example, the Fashion industry appears to be growing all the time. However, over the past 10 years, certain styles have been incredibly popular, became average sellers, and then disappeared from the shelves. This is called a Product Life Cycle.

All product life cycles begin as a rush. A quick burst of speed up a sharp incline. Then the pace of sales slows and things level out. Eventually, sales will begin to drop, and the life cycle is then in its decline stage.

To know if your industry is in a growth, steady or declining stage, have a look at its historical performance. This data can be plotted on a graph that will give you a visual representation of the demand for the industry and its products.

If the curve of the graph is on an upward trend, then the industry is growing. If it is on a relatively flat trend, then it is in a steady stage, and if it is on a downward trend, then the industry is in decline.

This information is useful to help predict your future in business. Many large and small companies have survived these trends because they have adapted and introduced new products into their business. If your industry is in decline, then you should plan to introduce a new product or service that is in high demand and is expected to be so for a long time to come.

Understanding your industry

From your secondary research, plot the performance of the industry so far. To do this, you can use a spreadsheet program such as Microsoft Excel. Record the industry turnover (or revenue) per year for the records you have. Then, plot this as a line graph, which will show you a curve.

To help you get started, we have prepared another template that you can use. Download the Industry Performance Spreadsheet. You will need a program that can open a MicroSoft Excel document. All you need to do is fill in the required fields, and the template will automatically create the graph that you can use to interpret whether your industry is growing, steady or declining.

When you have analyzed your data, you should have a graph showing you the trend that the industry is in. Now, using your P&L reports complete the same analysis for your business. Once you have done this, you can compare the two graphs and see if you are performing as the industry is performing

If the industry has been performing at a higher growth rate, then it will show you right away that you will need to make some hard decisions about business growth in the next few months.

As another benefit of plotting your business’s historical performance, you will also be able to see what times of the year are your quietist, and how much growth you have achieved since you began to trade.

To help you and provide an example of how this data can be used, Steve calculated his results for Top Shelf Groceries. His performance has shown that he has grown on average approximately 3-4% each year. The Green Grocery industry, from Steve’s research, has grown at a similar rate, and is actually set to continue to grow at an average rate of 3% pa over the next 5 years. From this research, Steve knows that he can expect a healthy business climate over this time.

What does all this mean?

What this part of your industry research will show you is that if an industry is in a growth stage, demand from customers will be increasing, which means sustained business and revenue. If it is in a flat or declining stage, the number of successful businesses will drop, as the demand will drop.

If you are starting a new business, it is important to know if there is enough demand to make it work. If there is a decline in the amount of customers who might want to buy your product, then don’t start in that industry – UNLESS you have something very unique that will capture their attention.

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