How to Start a Membership Site & Attract Your First Members (Transcript)

My membership site is the lifeblood of my business. I started it two years ago and it’s done nothing but good things for my business—and life—ever since. In today’s episode, I talk about a number of benefits that membership sites offer for your business.

This is a transcript of Work Less, Earn More, Episode 26. Listen to the episode here.

We became entrepreneurs because more than anything, we want freedom. We want to be in control of our own schedule, income, and life. But unfortunately, that isn’t always the reality of being a business owner. I’m Gillian Perkins and I’m on a mission to take back entrepreneurship for what it’s supposed to be. In every episode, I’ll share with you how to get the most out of every hour you work so that you can work less and earn more. Let’s get to it.

Hey there and welcome back to another episode. Today we are going to talk about how to start a membership site of your own and how to attract your first members. Now, my membership site is the lifeblood of my business. It is the main program, the main product that we offer and I started it about two years ago and it has done nothing but good things for my business ever since. It has been an amazing experience. But recently I mentioned something about it on social media. Specifically on Instagram, I share all my stories, something I was working on behind the scenes with the membership and I received so many DM’s from you guys asking questions about my membership and how I got it off the ground. And that was when I had a little bit of a light bulb moment and I realized that weirdly, even though my membership is a huge part of my business, I have really never talked about how I started the program or how I run it.

That is changing starting today, because I really could talk about membership sites all day. In fact, I probably could do a week long conference telling you everything about how I run my membership site, how I started it, and I want to start sharing more of that information with you because my membership has had a huge impact on my business’s success and on my life overall. Now, I’m assuming that since you clicked on this episode of the podcast and you saw the title, that you already know most of the benefits of a membership site and you’re interested in starting one yourself. Now, if you’re still trying to decide whether or not a membership is right for you, then you can go back to Episode 19 of the podcast, where I talked about courses versus membership sites and how to decide between those two. But if you’re here and you are interested in starting your own membership site, then I’m sure that you’re aware that first of all, let me just go through a couple of the benefits of a membership real quick.

They can produce recurring revenue for your business, which can really help to stabilize your revenue and your profits. It can also allow you to provide ongoing support for your customers. I’ve found this to be incredibly powerful for me, because I have been able to learn so much more about my customers and support them so much better. And also, your membership is an active and a live and growing product, so it’s not something you just launch one time, put a lot of effort to, and then retire. Instead, it’s something that you can actually build momentum with over time, which is so powerful. Like I said, I’m assuming you already know those benefits so I’m not going to wax on about them, let’s just get into talking about how to start your membership site.

The very first thing is just that you need to understand that starting a membership site is generally a pretty big project and you need to have that perspective before you get into it or else you’re going to get stalled out. You need to understand that you will have to create the content, you’re going to have to create the site, you’re going to have to launch the thing and then you’re going to have to create the content into the future. Now, what I’ve found is that all of this has been well worth the work, because it has had so many benefits for my business and for my life. But you need to understand that or else you will, like I said, get stalled out part way through the process, you’ll never get to the end of the process or you’ll find yourself running a membership site that doesn’t really support your goals. So start there. Make sure that you are ready to be in this for the long haul.

Now, I want to mention that there are some simpler ways to set up a membership site, but because there are so many different aspects of building a membership site and running it, most likely, at least one of them will be a little bit complicated for you, involve a fair amount of time and effort, so it’s probably going to be a fairly time consuming and relatively work intensive process. Just things to keep in mind. The next thing you need to do in order to actually start your membership site is simply to clarify who it is for, how it’s going to help them, what they’re going to get out of it and what will cause them to join. Basically here, you’re figuring out the value of your site. This is going to help you in two different ways.

First of all, it’s going to help you decide what content you should create for your members in your site. Second of all, it’s going to make your marketing much more effective because you’ll be able to communicate to people who you are talking to about possibly joining what they’re going to get out of it. If you want more guidance here, then we have an action plan inside Startup Society called The Attract Paying Customers Action Plan. And it’s an action plan all about messaging for a product. You’re going to use this action plan to get clarity on what the value of your product in this case, your membership site is, and then how to communicate that value to people so that you can effectively close the sales. In this case, sign up members. I’ll be sure to leave a link to that specific action plan in the show notes so that you can to find out how you can get your hands on it, but of course you can also get access to that by becoming a member of Startup Society, and you can do that by going to gillianperkins.com/startupsociety, which will give you access to both that action plan and all the other action plans that we offer to our members.

Once you’ve figured out what the value of your membership is, then the next thing you’re going to do is create a content plan. This is where you’re going to map out what you’re going to actually give to your members each and every month. Will you be recording video trainings? Will you be doing live video group coaching calls? Will you include PDF resources, templates, checklists? Will your membership have a community forum? You need to map all of that out so that you can get clear about what will be included in this membership, again, that’s going to help you with your marketing. It’s also going to ensure that you are really clear about how much time it’s going to take you to actually manage this membership and support your members.

Now we’re going to get into pricing. Oh, there’s so much we could say about pricing. Unfortunately, pricing for membership sites isn’t very clear cut. A few things you should keep in mind here, first of all, just that pricing for memberships can be all over the place. There are memberships that cost as little as $1 a month, all the way up to memberships that cost thousands and thousands of dollars every month. Most membership sites that are for education type products, which is what I’m assuming you’re probably creating, are going to cost somewhere between about $15 a month, all the way up to a few hundred dollars a month. But like I said, tons of variants. But here are a few things that you can take into account when you’re trying to pick your price.

One of them is what are your competitors charging? Are there other membership programs out there that are similar to what you’re going to offer and how much do those cost? Another thing to take into consideration is the prices of your other products. A lot of the time you’ll want your membership to cost about 10% of what your premium products cost, although that’s certainly not a hard and fast rule, but then there are situations where your membership is actually more of a group coaching program, you’re providing a lot of support to your members and is actually more valuable than other programs or services you might offer. In which case you might charge more for your membership every month than for your other products.

And then one final thing to take into consideration when deciding your price is how much is this actually going to be worth to your members? That’s really the most important question, but it also can be perhaps the most difficult to figure out, which is why I left it to last. But if you can figure out how much the value you are providing to your customers, the information you’re providing, the problem you’re solving for them is worth to them, then you can figure out how much you should charge. Now, of course, you’re not going to charge the full value every month, since it’s an ongoing membership subscription price. So what I mean by that is because people are paying you every month, if the solution you’re providing to them is worth, say $200 to them, you don’t want to charge $200 every month. You need to think about how long they probably need to remain a member in order to get the full value of the program, and then divide that price by that number of months. If people probably need to stay a member for about six months and the problem you’re solving would be worth $200 to them, then you want to be charging somewhere around $33 per month.

Again, pricing can be difficult. Main point here is just that you need to pick a price so that you can move forward with starting your membership. Don’t worry too much about the price because you can change it in the future. If anything, I would start on the lower side of the price you want to charge and raise it over time, because if you start with the higher price and then you lower it, then your original members may be a little bit frustrated, some of them may ask for refunds. Some of them may leave the program because they don’t feel like they’ve gotten the best service, and that’s why I say it’s best to start with the lower price point so you can grandfather your original members in. If you raise the price in the future they’ll actually be incredibly happy that they get access to your membership for a lower price than everyone else is.

At this point, you’ve figured out exactly what the value of your membership is, you have a created content plan and you’ve put a price on it. Now it’s time to get into the tech. And this is where things can get sticky. A lot of people get stuck here. They have a great idea for a membership, but then they’re not quite sure how to actually create the membership website. So, one of the most common ways people set up a membership website is with a membership plugin that is added onto a WordPress website. Personally, I tried a bunch of these, I found most of them to be quite a headache. There are a few good ones out there, some of the most popular ones are WishList Member and MemberPress. I don’t personally have experience with either of them, but a lot of people do like them pretty well. Still not my top pick for an option, but it’s an option you could consider at least.

A lot of these membership plugins tend to be quite glitchy and give you a lot of problems, which is definitely something you want to avoid if your membership is going to be a major asset of your business. Most of these membership plugins charge you either a one time fee or an annual fee, and they’re going to cost you a couple hundred dollars. Now, I actually do use a membership plugin, but it’s one that’s rather different from the rest. It’s called AccessAlly. I stumbled across it accidentally. It’s a small startup company, but a very well run company, and they have a really high quality product, but it is quite complex. So even though I use it and I love it, again, it’s called AccessAlly.

It’s not actually what I would recommend for most people who are starting a membership. I didn’t set it up myself, I hired a company called Flourish online out of Australia, that’s a web design and development company and a creative agency to build the site for me. They did a phenomenal job and then along with AccessAlly’s help and customer support, we got the site up and running and it works beautifully. I love it, but I would definitely not have picked that and would not pick that even now, if I was setting it up myself, just because it’s quite complex. And unless you are incredibly tech savvy and systems oriented and very familiar with WordPress, you’re probably going to run into some problems. Anyway, but I definitely wanted to mention that because it is what I use.

Now let’s get into some options that I actually would recommend. The first one is Teachable. This is a great option if you are on a budget. It’s what I recommend for course creators all the time, because Teachable is just a fantastic product. They make it so easy to build an online course, they have fantastic customer support and they provide a really good experience for your customers. So your members, your students, are going to have a great experience with the course or the membership that you create with Teachable. Now, like I said, Teachable is a really affordable option. They actually have a free plan that can get the job done for you, or you can buy one of their paid plans to get access to some more features. So like I said, if you’re getting started, Teachable, great option.

The one downfall of Teachable is that it isn’t as feature rich as some other options that are out there so it’s going to cover all your basic bases, but it’s not going to add a lot more. It’s not going to have a lot of frills or a lot of extra features and if you want to get more of those features, you’ll need to integrate it with other software. If you want more features and you are willing and able to invest a little bit more, then in that case, I would recommend Kajabi. Now, of these options that I’ve mentioned, Kajabi is the most expensive. It starts at about $120 per month and the price goes up from there, depending on if you have more members or if you want more features. So yeah, it’s a little bit expensive, but it is a very well built software and it is very feature rich. It’s kind of a one and done solution. It can be your website, it can be your membership platform, it can be your shopping cart. It can even do your email marketing for you. If your business is growing quickly and/or you’re starting a membership that you anticipate to be rather large from the start, then Kajabi could be a really good option.

This episode is brought to you by Startup Society. If you run an online business or you’re thinking about starting one, then Startup Society is the place for you. It’s a bootcamp training program for entrepreneurs plus an incredibly supportive membership community. If you’re looking for a framework to make building an online business as simple and straightforward as possible, then that’s exactly what you’ll find inside Startup Society. Every month we create a step-by-step action plan for our members to follow, to create a specific result in their business so that they can keep moving forward and growing. Past action plans have helped our members write their websites, launch online courses and hire their first employees.

And when you become a member, not only will you get access to our future action plans, but you’ll also get access to our entire library of past action plans, including the ones that I just mentioned. You’ll also get business coaching directly from me during our live monthly coaching sessions. During these sessions, you can ask any business questions that you have so that you can make sure that you get the answers you need in order to be able to keep moving forward and not get stuck. As a member you’ll also be invited into our membership community where you can connect with other online entrepreneurs who are crushing it, so that you can be inspired and make some lasting connections. If you’re interested in becoming a member of Startup Society, then there’s no time like the present to make that happen. To sign up, just head to gillianperkins.com/startupsociety. Again, that’s gillianperkins.com/startupsociety.

And as a listener of this podcast, I have a special offer for you. You can become a member of Startup Society for $10 off every single month. Just use code ‘EARNMORE’’ when you are signing up. Again, that code is ‘EARNMORE’ all one word, and it will give you $10 off your monthly membership cost. If you want to turn your online business into a success as quickly and as strategically as possible, then I would love to work with you to make that happen. And now let’s get back to the episode.

So, now you’ve got these different pieces of the puzzle. You know what the value of your site is, you have a plan for the content you’re going to create, you’ve picked a price, you have your platform chosen, but how do you put these pieces together? Well, first I would recommend creating your first month of content. You could create more than that and you also don’t have to create that first month at all, but I’d recommend that you create at least your first month or two of content so that you can, A, get that practice in because you don’t want to sign up a bunch of members, promise content is coming next week only to find out that the content takes you a lot longer to create than you thought. So, get that content created so that it is plugged in and ready to go, ready to share with your members, but don’t create too much content in advance because it’s possible that you won’t sign up as many members as you thought or that you decide to take the content in a slightly different direction based on feedback from your members. Things can come up, so I’d recommend starting out creating one or two months of content.

The second thing that you’ll need to do is actually create the website. Depending on which of these different membership software options you’ve chosen, this will look quite different. It might involve building a website with WordPress and setting up your plugin, or it might involve setting up your school inside of Teachable or your membership inside of Kajabi. But whatever it looks like, you need to actually create the site and then you’ll move on to the third step of the process, which is simply to add the content to the site. This is generally one of the easiest parts of the process. Once you have the content and you have the site, you’re just putting them together.

The final part of the process which often takes a little longer than we anticipate is setting up the onboarding emails and any other systems that are necessary for your membership to actually work. Basically when someone signs up for your membership, which they’re going to do via your membership plugin or your membership software, then they need to get a few emails to actually onboard them, to welcome them to the program, to help them get the most out of it. If you don’t send them these emails, they might not be able to access your program at all, or they might access it but then not know how to really get the most out of it, in which case they will cancel it when they see that charge on their credit card or bank statement the following month and they realize they haven’t even logged in and it’s really not worth the money for them, because they haven’t even seen what you created for them. That’s why these onboarding emails are so important.

In order to set up the onboarding emails, you’ll need to make sure that your email marketing software is connected to your membership software and that you have actually written the emails and plugged them into your email working software and set up the connections so that when someone signs up for your membership, they get those emails. Pretty straightforward, but there are some intricacies along the way, which is why I say that this can take a little longer than you anticipate. I would recommend setting aside a week or so to get these systems set up.

Now, as I mentioned, you might also need some other systems. And what I mean by that is maybe you need to schedule coaching calls with Zoom, or maybe you need to set up a Facebook group, or maybe you need to set up a forum inside your membership community, whatever it is that you need to do in order to be able to deliver all of the content that you want to deliver to your members. Those are all the basics of actually getting your membership site started.

Now let’s talk about how to launch and get your first members. I’m going to do another episode in the future that dives way more into the process of launching, because really there’s so much that could be said about it, there’s so much strategy we could talk about, and just the marketing is a whole other issue as well. I’m going to touch on some of the most important things for you to keep in mind as you’re launching, and some tips, but more to come on that later. And if you have any questions about launching, be sure to let me know. You can either shoot me a DM on Instagram at @gillianzperkins, or you can just head to gillianperkins.com/podcast, and click the get in touch button to send me a message that way. But I would love to hear your questions about launching, specifically launching a membership program.

The first thing that you need to consider when you are launching, and really you should do this before you even start planning your program. As soon as you have a general idea of what your program would look like and you’ve picked a price, then you need to run an analysis. You need to figure out is this going to be efficient? Is starting a membership site actually going to be a smart decision for your business? Let me give you an example of why it might not be. If you created this whole membership program and it was amazing, and you promise all this content that you’re going to offer to the members every single month and all these different ways that you’re going to support them, and then you launch and you sign up five members at $20 a month, that means you’re going to have completely tied up all of your time to earn a hundred dollars a month.

This can make it impossible for your business to grow, because if you’re so busy creating content for those five members and those five members are sticking around because your membership is awesome, well, how are you going to have the time to market your business? How are you going to have the time to expand your team and to get the support you need? How are you going to have time to attract new members and actually grow your program to a point where it’s making you real money? You won’t be able to, or you’ll find yourself working around the clock, which is definitely not the point of starting this membership program. Before you start your launch process at all, as soon as you have a plan for what your membership site will look like, you need to do this analysis and you need to figure out how many members do you need to sign up in order to make this actually be a smart decision for your business.

You’ve already picked a price, so you can do this. Let’s say that your membership site is going to cost $25 per month. If you have four members, that’ll be a hundred dollars a month. If you have 400 members, then that will be $10,000 a month. And then you need to look at that content that you have proposed to yourself to promise to the members, how much content are you going to create every month? How long is that going to take you? If you think that you are going to have to spend about 10 hours a month creating the content then how much do you need to earn in order for that to be well worth your time? $1,000, $5,000, $10,000? Only you really know the value of your time, but I would say here, we want to make sure that you’re overestimating a little bit how much you really need to earn from this, because you might not sign up as many members as you thought, you might have to take more time to create the content than you thought, you might have more customer service emails that you have to deal with than you thought, and you need to just be a little bit generous here because in order to be able to grow the program, you need to make sure you have plenty of time left over and that it is really paying you really well.

In my little example, where you’re signing up members for $25 a month and you think the content will take you 10 hours per month to create, plus likely another 10 hours a month for customer service and supporting your members, so that’s 20 hours per month to run your membership site aside from marketing. So, let’s say you feel that you need to earn at least $4,000 a month to compensate you for that 20 hours. That would be $200 per hour for that time. Now, I know that that might sound like more than you need, at least from an hourly perspective, because I mean, who earns $200 per hour? But here’s the thing. A lot of the other activities that you have to do in your business if you’re running a membership type business, they’re not going to pay you anything. You’re not going to get paid to do admin, you’re not going to get paid to market your service, you’re not going to get paid to answer emails. You need to make sure that just doing the work that is directly paying you will actually be enough to run your business and allow you to have the time to do those other important activities required to grow your membership to a larger level where you can increase your profits.

So, all that to say, how many members do you need to sign up to hit that $4,000 a month mark and to make it worth your 20 hours of time invested every month? Based on my math, you would need to sign up 160 members. Then the second part of your analysis is figuring out how likely it is that you sign up at least 160 members. If you’re not going to sign up 160 members, then you either need to make some adjustments to your plans, such as raising the price or minimizing the content so that it does make sense, or you need to wait to launch until you have built your audience or your email list up to a point where you feel confident that you can sign up at least 160 members.

Now, I know that this might be a little bit hard to hear, because right now you’re excited about starting your membership, you see the potential and it sounds like such a good opportunity and maybe you have something that you really want to share in this membership that you are so passionate about, but I don’t want you to make a poor strategic decision and start a membership that ties your hands and keeps your business small for many, many months to come. Now, if you find yourself in the position where it doesn’t quite strategically make sense for you to start your membership, that doesn’t mean that you can’t start it, but it means that you’ll likely want to at least wait a little bit longer before you do. Or, you could alternatively launch a limited length beta program instead.

What I mean by that is instead of launching this indefinite membership where people pay you $25 a month and they can keep doing that as long as they keep liking the program, instead, maybe you launch a six week program with a fixed cost for those six weeks, or a two month program where people pay a certain cost per month for two months. That is first of all, going to really limit your liability, which I just mean you’re not going to be stuck with members who you have to keep supporting on into the future. You will know when your time commitment is going to end. Second of all, it can allow you to make some money in the short term. And third, it will allow you to test drive your program, both in terms of judging the demand. You’ll get to see how many people are actually interested in this value you’re proposing at the price point that you proposed it. And then second of all, it will allow you to test drive the program and see what aspects of the program the members find to be the most valuable, what questions they have, what they would like to have added to the program, and to really gather some testimonials and some case studies so that your future launch of the program can be as successful as possible.

Doing a limited time beta launch could be a great alternative if your audience is quite big enough to really make this strategically make sense to launch a long term membership. Whenever you are ready to launch, how do you actually get those first members? That’s the big question that so many people have when they’re thinking about starting a membership. First thing, and I know this probably won’t be what you want to hear, but the first thing that you really need to think about and do is market research. I completely skipped this when I started my business and started launching products, and as a result, I didn’t make any sales for quite a long time.

Market research, it’s all about finding your customers before you’re trying to sell to them so that you can learn from them and learn what they really want. When I finally started doing market research, it was because I realized that I had to find customers at some point. If I wanted to sell anything, at some point I was going to have to go out and connect with those people, they were going to have to learn about my product. So why not do it a little bit sooner so that I could talk to them ahead of time and make sure that, A, I was building a product that was something they actually wanted, and B, find out which aspects of the product they actually cared about so that when I marketed it to them, I could tell everyone that it had those particular features or would help get those specific results that they were looking for. Otherwise, I was just guessing about what people wanted and I might’ve been selling something that people wanted, or I might’ve not. And even if I was selling something that people wanted, I might have not been highlighting the features of it or the benefits of it that they really cared about, in which case my sales would really suffer. This is my advice to my former self, do your market research. It will pay off and you have to find those customers at some point anyway. So why not find them now?

Second thing you should do to find your first members is to start a wait list at least a month before you start your program. Starting a wait list can help you to build momentum for your lunch and it can help you to make a better prediction about how many members you’ll actually be able to sign up. Now, signing up people for your membership really is a numbers game. You might sign up anywhere between 1% and 50% of your launch list, and I know that that is a huge range, but it really depends on how focused your launch list is and how effectively you market your product to them. And when I say launch list, I essentially mean your wait list, but this is just a slightly more generic and broad term here.

Your launch list is the people who have already said yes to the idea. They haven’t bought yet, but they are people who have expressed interest. These are the people on your wait list, it also might be a slightly bigger number than that, People who have, in some way, raised their hand and said, they’re interested. Oftentimes in education about launching or online sales, you will hear people say that a 2% conversion rate is common. But when people say that they’re not generally talking about 2% of your overall audience or 2% of your entire email list, rather they’re talking about 2% of your launch list, the people who you are actually launching your product to because they have expressed interest. This might be people who have signed up for the wait list, it might be people who have signed up for a webinar or for an opt-in offer that directly relates to your paid offer, but just keep that in mind.

As you’re trying to make that strategic decision about whether or not a membership is really right for you and your business right now, whether it’s a smart decision at this point in time, you can use your wait list to inform that decision. I would recommend waiting to launch your membership until your wait list is at least twice as big as the number of members you can just sign up, and it would be safer to say wait until it’s 10 times the size. With our example earlier, where we needed to sign up 160 members for this to really be a smart financial decision, in that case, I would wait until you have at least 320 people on your wait list. And you’ll be even safer if you wait until your waiting list is 1,600 people. Now, I’m not saying you need to wait that long, but I’m just saying in that case, you’d be really safe.

Now, like I said, we’re going to do another whole episode all about launching and getting your first members but my final big tip for you right here is to make your launch an event. This means that you need to build momentum leading up to it. You need to have a countdown leading up to when your membership opens. You can do this with email, you can do this with social media. And then on top of that, ideally you have some sort of actual event that is happening around the same time as your membership is opening in stores. This could be some live webinars or workshops, you could run a challenge or do a free course, but you need to do something to get people excited and to make the whole process have a little bit more adrenaline. You can not overestimate how powerful anticipation and momentum of something good to come can be for increasing your sales. Really, if you can build up that momentum, you will see that your sales will be double what they would be if you were to have launched quietly to the same number of people.

Like I said, so much more I could share here about how to start a membership, how to launch your membership, and we haven’t even touched on running your membership, but we’re going to wrap this up because we are hitting up against that 30 minute mark that I’ve promised you I’ll keep these episodes at, or at least try to. I actually find it really, really difficult to keep these episodes that short, because there’s always more that could be said. But thank you so much for sticking around to the end of today’s episode. If you enjoyed it, then be sure to grab a screenshot or take a selfie of yourself listening to the episode, and share it out on Instagram stories, tagging me along with your biggest takeaways, because I would love to hear from you and see you listening to the show.

Finally, before we wrap this up, I have a review that I want to share with you from Apple podcasts. This review came from Story Man 53, who wrote this review title, Truthful, Direct, Inspirational podcast, and gave it five stars. And he said, “I’ve been a fan and subscriber of Gillian’s YouTube channel for a few years and this podcast is as good, maybe even better, because I can listen on my long travel days as anything she’s ever produced. The content is honest and relevant with no pull punches delivered with no fluff in her comfortable, unique, and personable manner. You get loads of information in an organized and thoughtful way that always comes from someone you feel you could be a good friend with, and who’d be a good mentor.”

Thank you so much Story Man 53 for that awesome review. And anyone else who’s listening right now who hasn’t left a review yet, I would really appreciate it if you do that. And if you do, be sure to sign it with your name and/or your business if you want a shout out. Thank you so much for listening to this episode of Work Less, Earn More.

Now, here’s what I want you to do next. Take a screenshot of the episode you’re listening to right now and share it out on your Instagram stories. And when you do that, make sure to tag me at @gillianzperkins so that I can see that you’re listening. Sharing on stories is going to help more people find this podcast so that they can learn how to work less, earn more and take back their lives. And when you share, I want to add it to my stories so that you can get some exposure that way as well.

And if you really love the show, head over to Apple podcast and leave a review to give the show a boost. Every single week I feature a review on the podcast and I would love to give you and your business a shout out. So, if you leave a review, it will help the show, but it can also help your business as well. Okay, let’s wrap this up. I’m Gillian Perkins, and until next week, stay focused and take action.

    Sean McMullin

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