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Old 04-02-2013   #11
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Default Re: Definition of Photography Business

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Is a DBA required if you are doing business as your identity? In addition I realize the importance of limiting liability to ones self so what is the difference/advantages of registering as a sole proprietorship rather than an LLC?



Maybe I have not received what you are trying to say here but you say that people that work 40hr/week or more are defined as blue collar? I would have to disagree with that analysis on many fronts but I really dont think you meant that, but please respond as I am curious. I actually consider myself as a blue collar worker but my profession (outside photography) is defined as a profession. I don't make over 100K either in my day to day career but in combination with my business ventures into photography I do on occasion break 100K



I agree with you about being a craftsman rather than professional. The professional comes into play as the businessman/woman! So in reality the photographer is a carrier of many hats and by definition could actually be called a professional on the premise that they own or operated a photography business. Agreed?
A dba or assumed name may not be required. I elected to name my business something other than my name to help in separating my personal accounts from the business. I didn't want confusion between a check someone might write me as a gift or as payment for some personal item I might sell. Checks made payable to my business must be deposited into the business account. That creates the paper trail. To have a business account, the bank requires some sort of identification for the business, either the articles of incorporation or an assumed name.

I elected to create a sole proprietorship. I do not have others to involve in an LLC. There are some protections against certain law suits which are beneficial for incorporating a business. I'm a pretty simple small operation and sole proprietorship works for me. There are rules and laws that govern incorporation and there are expenses involved. If I had regular employees and operated in a brick and mortar location where my personal exposure to risk outweighed the complications of incorporation I'd strongly consider it.

My blue collar, 40 hour work week remark was in response to your question about if one had to work specific numbers of hours. I was simply saying that people in "regular" jobs consider 40 hours full-time and two weeks vacation a standard. At any rate, I don't punch a clock. I don't think there is any time requirement for considering one's self a professional.

The definition for the word, "Professional" has been modified through the years. At one time, professions were those occupations that required a college degree and the issuance of a license from a state board or commission, such as doctors and lawyers. Not anymore. There are professional athletes who get paid insane amounts of money to play a game. Some divide amateur and professional by whether a person's income is derived from an endeavor. Some people more specifically term a thing a profession if it generates more than 50% of their income. Then there is also the manner in which a person behaves, he acts like a professional or he gives professional (like) service. Photography is one of the only occupations which only requires a declaration to be a profession. There is no state board of Photography Examiners. Sometimes I wish there was, other times I'm grateful there isn't.

Just like not all professional photographers make wedding photos, not all professional photographers are self-employed. I'd venture to say that there are scientific photographs made by professionals who don't consider themselves artist or craftsmen. So, this word, "Professional" its not so easily defined.
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Old 04-03-2013   #12
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"GP and y’all- this is a great question whit great response and really is the kind of subject matter that should be discussed in detail in the business section and its sub-forum. It is especially useful to photographers who are in the profession and wish to advance their businesses, for new people as well as old veterans and to anyone who is REALLY aspiring to a full or part time career in professional photography.

Sub forums are not quite as popular as full fledged forums so I am going to quote from an article that I have just posted elsewhere on the forum only because it answers part of the list of the OP’s question.

QUOTE FROM ME
“There is a problem as soon as semantics overpower the essence of a conversation or even a friendly debate, let alone an argument. Please allow me to throw a few facts out there.

Licensing etc: Governments are reluctant to create licensing and regulations in industries or professions that do not affect health, safety and/or financial well being. There are long lines of various organizations that want to control various interests, however, many are rejected by governments because all the other businesses and professions (where their no safety risks) are governed by ordinary consumer protection laws whereby violators are subject to civil lawsuits or criminal code violations if the defraud or disservice a client. Governments also consider certain types of licensing requests by certain associations as attempts to form cartels and practice restraint of trade- that’s a big no-no in most free enterprise nations.

I have lots of experience in theses matters because one association that I have been part of for decades actually tried and succeeded to get certain restrictions. As it turned out, The Corporation of Master Photographers of the Provence of Quebec now control of the titles of “Professional Photographer” and “Master Photographer”. One can not use those titles unless they are members of the corporation and qualify for those titles. There are written tests, certain academic requirements, print competitions merits, service requirements, teaching requirements and adherence to a code of ethics. To my knowledge, the CMPQ is the only such association with those powers. The hitch is that the word “PHOTOGRAPHER” is too generic to restrict so in the end; the regulations have little impact unless the association continuously advertises the details- NADA! Each photographer is on his own to promote his title and where and how it was awarded.

In Europe, many trades and professions do have guilds, unions and organizations that do regulations. This requires (by law) membership, training and apprenticeships that need to be attained before one receives a mastership which allows them to go into business! Wanna move to Europe any time soon?

Here in North America y’all on your own. If you fail on an important assignment; ain’t nobody is gonna die or become ill, no building will collapse or burn down as a result of poor workmanship and no one will be defrauded out of their money at the hands of an unethical financial adviser. If you goof up- you will be the victim of shark type lawyers, a bad business reputation and possibly suffer the loss of your business- all self inflicted if you go into business while you don’t really know what you are doing!

Semantics: Trying to define “professionalism” is a job for the English professors and not humble photographers. Nonetheless I’m gonna try. I truly feel that professionalism is both a trait and an intrinsic component of one’s personality. It is an ethic rather than a college degree or a level of education or experience. It is a desire to do things right, to satisfy one’s self and their clients. It is a willingness to bend over backward when the occasion arises in order to please customers. With this philosophy in mind one will make it their business to secure the proper education and experience that enables excellent performance. This ethic prepares one to seek out mentorship, attend educational programs, hit the books, do the research and work hard.

Kudos to those who do all of this WITHOUT mandatory adherence to set regulations. Membership in the organizations that promote excellence in photography and jump through all the hoops, do the tests and teaching and qualify for all the degrees, all on a strictly voluntary basis is admirable and practical. As business people it is also our job to permute ourselves using all our accomplishments and accolades as good public relations tools.

Wanna call yourself a “Professional”, or a “Tradesman” ? well that is up to yourselves as to how you want to be perceived by your clients and what you are most comfortable with.

Personally speaking, I am not big on self aggrandizement. I do hold a degree in photographic chemical engineering and a number of masterships with 4 different associations. That’s all nice, however, my lovely wife had to dig all those certificates, diplomas and awards out of the basement or attic and insist that I display them in the office. I preferred to show my pictures and hoped I would secure bookings strictly on my photography. I figured that this was fair enough but it’s a good thing that I listened to my wife. There are many potential clients who are visually inclined and they will base their buying decisions mainly on the images; however, there are a good number of auditory potential clients who base their buying decisions on INFORMATION! They react to my “wallpaper” of diplomas and certificates before they get into my imagery. What can I do- some folks will judge me by my taste or lack thereof in my manner of dress, my magnetic personality or lack thereof and lots of various and sundry elements that have nothing to do with my images?

One has to be aware of all theses OTHER things like; dress for success, understand the vital elements of salesmanship, know how to become OMNIPRESENT in their respective communities, fully understand the concepts of good public relations and appearances. Theses are all elements of professionalism. The most important element is having a good product and great service. Theses are at the foundation of all the aforementioned good stuff. Structures without good foundations will eventually fall down.

So…in my opinion, this explains my philosophy about what is needed to become a real, unmitigated, savvy, and consummate PROFESSIONAL PHOTOGRAPHER. Of course, business management is a vital aspect of the business as well, however, for certain folks who are more artistically inclined than business management inclined; would do well to have a spouse or business partner who is into money handling to look after purchasing, accounting matters, taxation requirements and pricing policies. If you don’t have such a person you will have to go it alone but not without some professional advice from a good accountant, lawyer or other professional business adviser. The fees for this advice are monies well spent- just as important as equipment investments. Theses professionals can help you set up basic a system that keeps you up to date with your business growth or potential decline by allowing you to make periodic adjustments before actual problems set in.

I hope this helps!

Ed”

OK then- now for the rest of the questions: Answering theses question can be a hard job only in that there are different expectations, buying habits, traditions in different geographic locations. If you are in the wedding/portrait business there are traditional, religious, socioeconomic conditions, religious and ethnic concerns that will effect or affect your business style. If you are in the corporate, industrial or commercial business there are another set of variable expectations on the part of your potential customers. Some are similar to those of the portrait business and some are diametrically opposite in terms of buying habits. There are the nasty parts of all business which are the politics and some of the unfair business practices that go down. I can write a book about those aspects of the industry but I will try to minimize the negativism around theses matters.

Let’s look at some of the variables that have occurred over the decades. There was a time when big corporate entities maintained their own photographic departments with a staff of photographers to accommodate all the photographic needs of the company- everything from soup to nuts. Maintaining such an instillation is very expensive so many companies now outsource their photographic work. If the corporation manufactures small products, a photographer can set up on location in a warehouse or an unused office and do the entire range table top work. This would save the company the time and money to transport for transport of the products to and from a studio or the photographer can set up a medium sized “studio” in his or her home. If however, the company manufactures cars or larger pieces of furniture would likely expect a rather large brick and mortar instillation that can accommodate the size and weight of the products and have a heavy duty loading dock or service elevator to insure safe access to the shooting area. The one time I had a contract to photograph room settings of furniture for a department store. I could shoot theses after hours in the store because I have the display staff at my disposal and those guys could whip up a room set in very little time. So there is an example of a problem I could solve without a big studio but I could not spend too much time approaching the furniture makers and retailers in my city because I was not really equipped to handle big stuff in my existing location.

At one time people wanted “real” studio portraits of the family group so the expected a professional photographer to have a studio that could accommodate all groups- small and large- year round! The more well-to-do crowed wanted to be photographed in their opulent homes, their beautifully landscaped gardens or in natural surroundings. So there I was paying all the expenses of a brick and mortar studio at an expensive location in an upscale shopping area and doing most of my work, including weddings on location. I needed the fancy location to attract my target market so I was stuck between a bolder and a hard place. At that point I had to take in more restoration work, passport and ID work and picture framing services just to pay the operating costs of the location. All of this has to be figured before opening a studio. You may end up better off working out of your home and your car and making house calls.

There are tons of marketing techniques that must be employed. I always worked in big cities where different preconceptions of what a photographic business is or has to be and theses geographic locations were only within a few blocks away. Ethnic communities often stage BIG weddings with plenty of the budget assigned to photography. Some areas are big on snob appeal and the people there will choose the most expensive studio in town almost regardless of the quality the offer. Other folks feel that 500 bucks is an excessive rate for a photographer regardless of their income or the quality of the work. I have seen big expensive wedding go down with totally inapt photographers- this has to do with values.

All businesses, especially new ones require TIME AND VERY HARD WORK! At first multitasking is the name of the game in the name of maintaining a lower overhead especially in the area of payroll expenses. You need to be chief cook and bottle washer, chief photographer, business manager, chief usher of the flusher which includes washroom maintenance and vice president in charge of sales and promotions all at the same time. DON’T UNDERESTIMATE THIS PART OF STARTING A NEW ENTERPRISE! Starting a new business takes on a life of its own and you will need the blessing and support of your family to survive the impact that your new responsibilities will have on your family life.

COMPETITION: It is important to know your competition but NEVER to become preoccupied with it. Becoming too preoccupied with your competition is one of the worst things you can do in your business. I did not learn this in my photographic training or experience. Oddly enough I learned this from my high school track coach. He told us that when we are running in a race; NEVER look at the guy in the next lane but keep your eyes on the finish line and incorporate your good timing. My attitude and approach to competition is to find out what they are NOT doing to satisfy their customers and then introduce new and better services. This goes for many benefits and features such as our manner of dress at weddings and social functions, extended coverages, more unique work, more impressive albums and accessories and more services such as expert picture framing, restoration work and many commercial and industrial services.

I run as fast and as far as I can from low-ball operations, price cutters and inapt photographers- they are not my competitors and I don’t worry about them. I never base my prices and fees on any other photographer’s price lists. Every photographer has to base his or her rates on his or her caliber of work and the income and volume they need to maintain their individual and family’s lifestyle. Every price list has to be custom tailored to the business owner’s needs and all business must operate on the profit motive. Why go into the photography business and not earn a reasonable and fair profit? Yes- it is fun to a degree but there is no fun in the “poor house” or the bankruptcy court.

Relationships with amateurs and part time photographers: Any real pro has got to be just plain stupid to form adversary relationships with amateur photographers, part timers, weekend wedding photographers and especially aspiring pros. I hate the term “weekend warriors” in a way it is demeaning. I will never despise amateurs and a NEVER mind good competitors. To my clients my “helpers” are known as lighting technicians, assistant photographers or photographers in training. All staff has to be treated with respect and dignity. I do not have “second shooters” I do have candid photography specialists and first assistant photographers.

I have been a speaker and print judge at camera clubs on many occasions and I derive many customers that way. Although many of theses hobbyists know their way around cameras they still hire me and recommend me to friends when an important social event comes up or when a large family portrait is required. Most of them know their limitations and talents and do not want to delve into things they need expert attention.

Now where do I go if I want to expand my business and need additional staff? I go to the talent pool of aspiring photographers, train them in finite techniques and hire them. Over the years I have found many talented folks who just don’t want to run their business and prefer only to shoot. Some of theses photographers are already accomplished in other fields of photography such as commercial and industrial work, medical and scientific photography and other specialized areas and like to shoot weddings on weekends for the additional income.

Yes! Some of my friends feel that I should not freely dispense information to other photographers because the will eventually become my competitors. That is why I do it! We live in a free enterprise society where nobody has a right to restrain trade and create monopolies. When people are well trained and ethical, they usually become good competitors rather than bad ones. I prefer to bring amateurs and aspiring pros into the fold of professionalism in a positive manner. I bring them in to out associations and foster ethical relationships. As a result of this attitude I have gained many long term loyal employees, fine competitors who will be willing to back me up if I should become ill or unable to attend at a wedding or convention. We refer clients to each other and put up a common front against unethical clients who violate our copyrights and forget to pay their photographer’s bills. Customers are impressed when their professional photographers are not fighting like cats and dogs to attract their clients and book jobs and their leverage caused by serious undercutting is almost eliminated. We don’t nor are we allowed to fix prices but we try to sell ourselves on our own merits rather than by knocking each other.

TAX ETC: The first thing I advise new photographers to do is to register for all the legalities that accompany businesses. As far as taxation is concerned; I follow the rules to the letter. I tell folks that are “wise guys” and want to do under-the-table work the fact of business life: I explain that they go to work every morning, strap on your camera (so to speak) and get to work because that is the way you earn your living. There are other guys called tax inspectors and auditors who strap on the brief cases and man their desks and they derive their incomes by tracing down tax evaders and fraudulent violators of the various tax acts. Theses regulation include income tax, taxes withheld at source for employees, employer’s benefit contributions and all things that are considered “monies held in trust”, sales tax and whatever else the tax-man can conjure up. Messing around with the tax-man is eventual business suicide in that when you get caught the fines and penalties are outrageous even for little mistakes such as late remittances. Tax fraud is the fast track to the federal, state, municipal or provincial jail house and the sentences can be more lengthy and severe that for folks that are convicted for robbery, assault or even manslaughter. It is a sobering though that Al Capone, who was responsible for all kinds of vicious crime and criminal activities was finally jailed for tax evasion and (as I recall) postal fraud. The feds hold a dim view of theses things. In plain terms- never screw around with the government. Open a separate bank account for monies held in trust and write the check before the due dates. You can put theses funds it in an interest baring account and at the end of the year the excess money can be spent on a nice holiday vacation or a piece of new shiny gear. Reward yourself for good business habits. See your account for specific questions regarding your jurisdiction as to the exact regulations and tips for good money management. Make sure to apply all the legal deductions that are to your benefit- they are there for your benefit and usage. Make sure you bookkeeping and all your documentation is intact and easily retrievable at tax time.

All the best of luck and success to all the brave photographic entrepreneurs around here and I hope that this admittedly very long post will be a good reference source.

Ed
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Old 04-03-2013   #13
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Yes! Some of my friends feel that I should not freely dispense information to other photographers because the will eventually become my competitors. That is why I do it! We live in a free enterprise society where nobody has a right to restrain trade and create monopolies.
In that case, I wish there more businesses like yours around. In the few cities I have lived in I have found quite the opposite and the studio owners are not to friendly to requests to work for free to be able to see and be behind the scenes to learn processes and such.

I accepted a new position in Honolulu that starts in 2014 and I am hoping that the photography scene is a lot less cut throat than here in South Florida. Maybe the Island Aloha will be extended to photographers and then we all can get along and shoot people! (lol)
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Old 04-03-2013   #14
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In that case, I wish there more businesses like yours around. In the few cities I have lived in I have found quite the opposite and the studio owners are not to friendly to requests to work for free to be able to see and be behind the scenes to learn processes and such.

I accepted a new position in Honolulu that starts in 2014 and I am hoping that the photography scene is a lot less cut throat than here in South Florida. Maybe the Island Aloha will be extended to photographers and then we all can get along and shoot people! (lol)
I teach weekly workshops on studio lighting and techniques and have no aversion to freely sharing information in them or online. Neither do I have any worry that I am creating my own competition. As I said previously I believe that those who will become good enough to compete are going to get the info they need one way or another, with or without me anywise.

I do however get very selective about who I will allow to assist me and work with me. This for several reasons.

1. 9-10 guys that volunteer to assist me do so because they think they will get a chance to hook up with the women I photograph or they simply want to be around the models and find the whole process stimulating in a non professional manner.

2. Anyone who is on set with me and working with or for me is a direct reflection of me in the clients eyes. this being the case I absolutely insist on knowing their character, personality and work ethic before they ever get a chance to work with me. I have experienced first hand the damage an intern or assistant with an agenda can cause.

Not to light any fires but just a thought on the reactions you say you are getting from studio pros when you make offers of free assistance. As I said for me I have to know the person working with me has the same standards, ethics and commitment to client service as I do. So if these pros know you as the same unfiltered, call it like you see it, not always politically correct individual that you have proclaimed yourself to be here in the forums in some of the discussions you have participated in then I can understand their reluctance to take you on as that sort of personality has significant liability issues on the set. Granted no assistant has ever gone on set with the intent of torpedoing the pro they work with but it happens everyday and the slights that bring the issues on are often as imaginary as they are real. People can be oversensitive to comments or actions of an Intern and normally harmless opinions can cause atomic explosions in the blink of an eye in sensitive situations. Interns and assistants are in a position to do incredible amounts of professional damage with one ill thought out remark to a subject, client or model. Even what might be thought of as casual off the record conversation can blow back if the intern speaks first and thinks about consequences later.

Note that I am not saying this is the persona you project in person but it is a concern of any studio owner and a big part of why unsolicited offers of intern services are rarely accepted. It has nothing to do with guarding the secrets of the pro and everything to do with a near paranoid level of concern for self preservation as many of us have been burned by free help in the past
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Old 04-04-2013   #15
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Bobby makes good points. I haven't had anyone seriously approach me about interning or learning from me. I have hired a couple of people for specific projects and one of them in particular just can't work for me. I could teach her to do the technical parts of the job but I cannot teach her how to make an appropriate appearance. There is an old saying that says, "You're judged by the company you keep". Whether a paid employee, contractor or intern someone working with or for me is a representative of my business and an extension of me. I cannot risk having someone damaging my reputation and business, even unintentionally.

There are no "secrets" everything comes down to the application of some pretty simple stuff. It kills me a little inside when someone acts like they've discovered something or are the possessor of the Holy Grail. I do think there are people who will dismiss someone who they do not feel comfortable with. Now, who are we taught from childhood to be most uncomfortable with? That's right, strangers. I think that if someone wanted to hang around, do a little PA work and schlep some gear and learn to second shoot from a local studio photographer it would be best to develop a relationship first. Cold calling is cold calling whether your selling or giving away.
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Old 04-04-2013   #16
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Not to light any fires but just a thought on the reactions you say you are getting from studio pros when you make offers of free assistance. As I said for me I have to know the person working with me has the same standards, ethics and commitment to client service as I do. So if these pros know you as the same unfiltered, call it like you see it, not always politically correct individual that you have proclaimed yourself to be here in the forums in some of the discussions you have participated in then I can understand their reluctance to take you on as that sort of personality has significant liability issues on the set.
No offense taken, I am who I am and I make no excuses. I could agree that a personality conflict with a potential studio owner would not be the ideal situation either of us would want to enter. One thing that was omitted is how I respond to a forum debate is different in how I would respond/react in a professional paid situation. I don't debate with clients about business or technical issues, there is a big difference in context used. I am as thick skinned as they come so not a whole lot can get under it.

I do understand you point though.
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Old 04-09-2013   #17
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With respect to the initial question of what constitutes a photography business, my personal method of determining whether someone (in my mind) is a legitimate business is this algorithm:

Take the minimum wage in your state and multiply it by the number of hours worked.

Does your take home pay after all business overhead is accounted for equal or exceed this amount?

To consider something a job, what you earn doing it needs to be at least equal to the lowest paying lawful form of employment.

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Old 04-09-2013   #18
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With respect to the initial question of what constitutes a photography business, my personal method of determining whether someone (in my mind) is a legitimate business is this algorithm:

Take the minimum wage in your state and multiply it by the number of hours worked.

Does your take home pay after all business overhead is accounted for equal or exceed this amount?

To consider something a job, what you earn doing it needs to be at least equal to the lowest paying lawful form of employment.

--Mike

Perceptions of Nature | Fine-art nature, scenic, landscape, and wildlife photography. A celebration of the great outdoors, by photographer Michael Robinson.
You mentioned a job, I was not referring to a job, I was specifically asking about a photography business. What defines a photography business, are there prerequisites other then the legal requirements and tax codes.
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Old 04-09-2013   #19
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You mentioned a job, I was not referring to a job, I was specifically asking about a photography business. What defines a photography business, are there prerequisites other then the legal requirements and tax codes.
As far as the government is concerned, the legal requirements are the only requirements. As long as you meet the legal requirements for being a business, you are a business in the eyes of the state.

The court of public opinion, however, is something else entirely. Just because you are a legal business entity does not mean that you will be considered a business by anyone who subscribes to a definition other than the legal one. I, for instance, would not consider a plumber who pays for a business license and files all of the appropriate paperwork, but then does not actually make a living doing plumbing, to be in business as a plumber.

Whose definition of "business" are you concerned about?

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Old 04-09-2013   #20
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You have to venture outside the box!

I am not asking about the legal requirements as they are clearly detailed on our respective government literature and websites.

My question in a nut shell is what does it take to become a viable business in the photography end of the business world. Are there best practices, unwritten "must do's", or something else that defines a photography business. I am not talking about of income because that variable is subjective and is not as important as profits to running a successful business.

Moreso, I was looking for things that are important to running your personal business that you feel that is the reason why your business is viable.

For instance, I know a friend of mind that brings in a sizable income from his business and does very well but lacks every level of proficiency in the technical aspect of photography. His secret is to surround himself with the expertise and pay them well to make him look good. That does not work for me as his business model does not compare to what I am looking at doing.


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