On becoming a relationship-focused professional blogger

In the fall of 2012 I set my sights on being a "professional" blogger. This is something I've never shared on the blog.

Here's what I did share.

I want to be a better blogger and I want to earn money from my online endeavors. I went to Allume, in part, to learn more how to do that. And I went to hang out with women who understand why I love blogging so much.


I came home from Allume, with a commitment in my head and heart, to nurture the community of people that already exist around this blog - this wee little corner of the web that, for various reasons, attracts a small following of readers.


I came home from Allume with a desire to serve you. To meet your needs in a way that only FIMBY can. I came home from Allume with a renewed commitment to honest, open and beautiful writing and photography.


I came home wanting to grow as a writer, not so that someday I will be "published", but so that today I can give my best to FIMBY readers.

What I didn't say, in so many words, is that I wanted to "go pro" in serving, connecting and building relationship here at FIMBY.

I didn't spill the beans about wanting to be a professional blogger because:

  • Blogging, unlike, being an engineer, plumber, store clerk, doctor, or teacher, is a hard occupation to define. It's new, it's incredibly varied in terms of what you do and how you earn money doing it, and nailing down a definition has been hard for me.
  • I was scared to voice that dream out loud.
  • I don't identify with many of the models I've seen to making this dream a reality. And so the path forward was not clear.

What does it mean to be a professional blogger?

Let's talk about earning money first.

In the whole wide world there are two ways to earn money.

You produce and/or sell a good or service. Or you work for someone who does.

All paid work comes down to this. Teachers work, or sell, their teaching services to the government who collect taxes to pay for that service. The same is true for all government jobs.

Lawyers sell a service to their clients. You could argue that their assistants sell their services to the lawyer who employs them, but usually we just say "they work for them".

Blogging is no different. You earn money doing it by producing and selling goods or services, or working for someone who does. I see affiliate marketing and advertising in the "working for someone who does" category. You promote a business/product/service/person, they pay you for doing that. You are working for them, kind of.

It's not so important where the lines are drawn. The important thing is this: creating and selling products and services is how people earn money.

I love blogging. I can easily, if time isn't an issue, spend many hours a day doing blog related stuff without compensation. But blogging also allows me to explore and develop other work, contributing to other people's projects, and having a platform launch our own projects.

I trusted that somewhere in that mix I would find my sweet spot. I just wasn't sure what that would look like.

Business and Entrepreneurship

Blogging allows me to do something I love - writing and sharing beauty - while working with people in creative and relationship-focused ways.

This is the kind of income earning work I want to do. But finding a sustainable rhythm and blazing a path that feels right for me hasn't been straight forward.

I'm not a business-minded person, at all. It's taken me three years to be comfortable with the phrase "we're self-employed".

And I'm not particularly entrepreneur-y either. I don't lay awake at night with money making ideas, or project ideas, floating in my head. Entrepreneur does not show up anywhere in my ESTJ career profiles, (neither does professional blogger).

It wasn't until last summer, when I fully committed myself to working with my husband on our trail and video project that I found my online working groove. That I found a way to make professional blogging possible.

I was so tired of beating myself up for not measuring up (to my own unrealistic expectations) in the creative mom-preneur online world. I was tired of feeling insecure.

I'm not wired to be a one-woman or front-woman entrepreneur/writer/blogger. But family entrepreneurship I can do. It even fits my loyal, service minded, traditional, work-for-the-team-but-be-a-key-player personality profile.

How do I earn money as a blogger? What does professional blogging look like for me?

Earning money as a blogger has involved a lot of trial and error. Experimenting with different ideas and seeing how they fit for size. Small streams of income for me have been:

  • Amazon and other affiliate sales at FIMBY.
  • Small freelance writing projects.
  • Selling ebooks, teaching, and coaching. I could push these streams more and could develop more products and services around homeschool help but I have decided to invest my time in other projects right now.

Moving forward however professional blogging looks like partnering with my husband in larger online media projects which utilize my writing, photography, and other skills and depend on strong relationships to launch and support those projects.

This is the direction we want to grow our business and our work as online entrepreneurs.

It was such a relief and huge burden lifted from me to step into a working relationship with Damien where we each bring our best and compensate for each other's weaknesses.

Relationship is my business model.

I believe it can be the foundation on which I "go pro". I see this happening on two distinct levels.

Firstly, relationship with my husband is my business modus operandi.

Damien and I have different approaches to our online work and almost two completely different skill sets. I'm not interested in the "business" part of blogging, he is.

By working with Damien I can fulfill my desire to be a professional blogger without always fighting against the things I don't like about "professional" blogging, namely the numbers game.

Instead I can focus on what I love to do - connecting with people, teaching (and plain old talking), writing, sharing beauty, and encouraging.

Even with that clarity of purpose and desire though, I was hung up on something. This work - connecting, encouraging, sharing - though very rewarding for me did not seem financially rewarding for our family.

Yes, I love doing it and that is worth something, but good feelings don't buy the groceries, do they? And good feelings don't exactly put you in the professional blogger category.

But that's where I was wrong.

The relationships I've built over years of wholehearted (and engaged with readers) blogging were a significant factor in the financial success of our Kickstarter campaign.

My work - blogging, connecting, answering e-mails, commenting, sharing as much as I'm able to give while also being a homeschooler and homemaker - was the foundation for the success of our campaign. As were the relationships and connections Damien has built over the years. Not to mention everything else that made that campaign successful, Damien's technical skills, the help of friends (relationships), etc.

Watching the way things have unfolded in our work over the past few months, seeing some stuff come together that we have been building for years, has given me a new perspective on professional blogging.

I can be a professional blogger rooted in beauty, relationship, creativity, adventure, health and family.

We, as a couple, can hold relationship - with each other, God, our kids, nature, our blog communities, our clients - at the center of our work and still succeed at growing a business and supporting our family.

It's not about numbers. It's actually about people.

In my last post I wrote this:

Blogging for all these years should have yielded more than this, shouldn't it have?


More readers, better stats, more advertising revenue, whatever. And it could have (theoretically), if that had been the goal.

A couple times a year I write a post like this one, processing why I blog.

In reading those old post I see I did have goals, I did aim somewhere, and (surprise, surprise) I've actually hit my mark.

I think I've known this intuitively for a while, sometimes it takes black and white proof to convince me though. In part, because things didn't evolve in the way I expected.

I'm not a portrait photographer. I'm not a book author, though I have a few ebooks for sale. My readership isn't large enough for small business advertising to be a significant income source. And I don't sell soap. I haven't yet released the ecourse I have vision for. These are all ways I thought I might hit my mark.

Although I can't earn money right now, someday I will. And I'm hoping (don't laugh I have a fragile ego) I'll be able to sell/trade/barter my creative skills in exchange for things our family needs and wants.

Dare I even say it? That someone will value my writing and photography (and who knows what else) enough to exchange something for it.

There I said it. I want to go somewhere with photography and writing.

November 2008

Since writing those dreams five years ago I've had seasons filled with with tons of self-doubt about whether I could actually be who I am in reaching these goals.

Since partnering with my husband and working to support our project and our goals, I have found my footing.

We need each other to do the work we want to do. He needs my skills as much as I need his.

I'm finally walking with more confidence and less insecurity.

And good thing too. I'll need all the sure-footedness I can get for this next path.

This next journey is a project both professional and personal. Wholehearted, creative, inspiring, adventurous, and relationship-focused, which is exactly the work I want to do as a professional blogger.

PS. If you are a blogger and have questions, observations or experience about what I've shared here, I welcome your input. Also, if you have blogging how-to questions I might be able to answer a few of those. I'm not a blogging expert, at all, but I have experience with a lot of different blogging-related income earning projects.

Renee Tougas participates in affiliate marketing, including the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program. Whenever you buy something on Amazon from a link you clicked here, I get a (very) small percentage of that sale. See disclosure for further explanation.

« I blog for relationship
Interest-led learning (& living) career planning »
  • maria cordner

    maria cordner on March 1, 2014, 5:51 p.m.

    Renee, I am not a blogger, except for a private blog that I wrote for the preset limited time of none months about my childhood memories when I turned fifty. I love to read your blog because it comes from such genuine expression from your core beliefs. I lead a live quite different from yours but I find sameness in your desire to express yourself as genuinely as you can. Thanks for writing.

     

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  • Lisa Zahn

    Lisa Zahn on March 1, 2014, 6:49 p.m.

    Oh dear Renee, this post makes me cry a little because I can so relate to it. I have not quite yet found my own "sweet spot". Like you, even though I'm an introvert, one of my greatest values is relationship and connecting with people. I have not yet found what lifts the burden from my shoulders, like you did when you realized you could work with and for Damien. Even though I'm having early, good success with my coaching business it still often feels like a giant slog. Not  quite sure where to put my time and energy, not sure I really want to be an entrepreneur (idealist, dreamer and healer are my personality keywords as an INFP--none of which make a lot of money!), and longing always to connect with like-minded souls but often timid about it or about asking for help, ack! I'm having a down day, can you tell? Your words give me much to think about. I think it's time to go back to my own drawing board, think, re-think and maybe give up some things. And keep reaching out to some friends. Thank you for this!

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    • renee

      renee on March 1, 2014, 6:51 p.m.

      We should chat. How can we support each other? That's what comes to my mind. Let's email and then get on skype... xo, Renee

      reply

    • nomo74

      nomo74 on March 6, 2014, 4:21 a.m.

      there must be something in the air!  I don't blog but am the exact same personality type and I have been feeling in such a rut! Not knowing where I should focus my energy and all this worrying about not doing SOMETHING has left me with NO energy! Haha. How to find your passion, this is what I am struggling with. Renee, I just read your interest-led learning post and loved it! I admire the freedom you have and think it is very exciting. My 13 y.o. and I feel that we are trying to live two seperate homeschooling lives - one for us and one for our charter school. It's not going to last much longer and your words are encouraging, thank you! I would love to school this way!

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  • Jessica

    Jessica on March 1, 2014, 7:09 p.m.

    Renee, I find this post so encouraging. I am relatively new to blogging, my blog has only been up and running for a year and it's teeny! In many ways I'm still finding my voice but I still love blogging. I enjoy having a creative outlet and a reason to write and I also love communicating with people around the world, it makes blogging worth it despite the low stats and lack of money. I look at writers/bloggers like yourself and aspire to have a platform to share and inspire the way you do. Deep down I would love to 'go pro', to turn something I enjoy so much into a way of earning an income. I have no idea where to start or what going pro would look like for me, and I know it will take time and probably lots of it. I look forward to watching and learning from your journey.

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  • Mystie

    Mystie on March 1, 2014, 9:24 p.m.

    I am starting to take my blogging/writing effort more seriously this year, but still keeping it very part time because I'm in an intensive phase with homeschooling and mothering 5 kids, ages 10-1. I was really surprised about how much figuring out my personality (INTJ) and what I resonate with and do best with helped clarify what I should be doing on my blog and online. Just last week an "elevator pitch" for me, based on my personality's unique abilities came to me: I make big ideas practicable. 

    Now to figure out how to do that consistently, humbly, and helpfully....

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  • Shelly

    Shelly on March 1, 2014, 10:28 p.m.

    You are honestly my favorite blogger. It was your posts on homeschool philosophy that gave me the courage to fulfill my dream of unschooling. You are so much more than a blogger- however excellent you are at it. You're a mentor (even though you're a year younger than me), an inspirer, an encourager, and a friend. I've only been blogging for about two months now, but I hope to be as successful (relationship-wise) as you are. God bless!

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  • Lori

    Lori on March 2, 2014, 2:38 a.m.

    I can relate to your comments about the blogging conference, because I went to a conference/convention for a large scrapbooking company once, when I was a consultant, and I was sure I could come home and knock it out of the park, income wise.  I believed in the product, and if others were doing it, I thought, why not me?  It never worked out that way, which I think is one reason why I am so satisfied with my current status of "employed".  I know how much work it would have taken to be a successful consultant for that company to earn what I do today (and my salary isn't high).

    Blogging is different than what I was trying to do.  Blogging is true self-employment, where you are developing your own product (unlike what I was trying to do as a consultant).  However, in many ways, it seems similar, very much dependant on when you got into the game, and also based largely, (but not entirely) on luck.  

    You are every bit as good a writer and blogger, (if not better), as the other bloggers I read.  I was relieved for you when I read your post about working with Damien, because I could sense your frustration at not earning what you thought you could as a blogger.  I think I have enjoyed your writing more since you made that announcement, probably just because I felt stressed for you before.  

    I don't know how much authors earn, but I can see you writing a book someday, maybe about your hike on the AT.  

    I only read a few blogs, but I thoroughly enjoy my blog reading (and relationships!).  What I like most about your blog is that you have a good story, and you tell it well. 

    (By the way, I had a heck of a time posting this comment; my first time ever having problems.) 

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    • renee

      renee on March 2, 2014, 5:18 p.m.

      Lori, you are very astute. And I'm always both delighted and surprised that readers pick up on "my heart" so easily. I love that, because it feels real to me. But it makes me feel vulnerable, because I think, "wow, I'll never be able to hide things from these folks :)"

      Yes, I have enjoyed my writing more because I feel free and I love that! 

      I write at FIMBY for the joy of it, because I just love it and I think that's what comes through when income earning directly via blog content does not hang over my head. 

      And thank you for taking the time to post that comment, even though it was hard. We're working on it..

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  • Sara

    Sara on March 2, 2014, 5:02 a.m.

    I too started a creative business on my own (I sell fabric labels, name tags, etc. on Etsy) and was never really comfortable with it until my husband joined the business.  There is something about having two minds, two sides of a coin that fit together pretty well anyway, working on a project, that makes the project run a lot smoother and with a lot less stress.

     

    Your photography is lovely.  Have you ever thought of selling photography prints or services as an additional income stream?  I can see how you'd want to focus on where your heart is (blogging, relationships, home, family, etc.) but it is really exceptional photography.

    reply

  • lauren

    lauren on March 2, 2014, 5:40 a.m.

    Another amazing post!! You should sell some of your photos on ETSY as prints. They are just breathtaking!! 

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    • renee

      renee on March 2, 2014, 5:14 p.m.

      Lauren,

      Thank you so much for your kind words about my photography. I'm not interested in selling prints (I've done some of that in the past). The best fit for my photography so far has been in support of the other stuff we do produce and sell. It's part of my "writing package". But I appreciate your encouragement :)

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  • Kelly

    Kelly on March 2, 2014, 4:54 p.m.

    As I too am trying to grow my blog into whatever it is to become, I so appreciate your transparency about what I have found to be a topic that is not so transparent on the web. I often come here when I'm in a place of wondering about so many things...thank you!

    reply

    • renee

      renee on March 2, 2014, 5:11 p.m.

      Kelly, I also find there isn't a lot of transparency about this. I have a couple thoughts about why that is.

      I'm a very open blogger and I don't have problems sharing my dreams and goals about blogging and even I struggled to publish this because a lot of non-bloggers read blogs and I think "hum, how useful is this to those readers?" But then, I also know a lot of bloggers read my blog and so I went ahead and spilled the beans because I want to encourage other writers, creatives, wanna-be mompreneurs, etc. to think about a lot of different options and ideas in turning their blogging passion into income.

      There is not a set path to do it (in fact, I came home from Allume with that knowledge and encouragement, some of which came from Pro Blogger himself Darren Rowse, who I enjoyed having a chance to talk to about my very concern - the numbers game). I've enjoyed my own journey so much more when I did what fit best and felt best for me, and stopped comparing myself to the marketing genius, advertising savvy, graphic designer, big idea slinging, book writing bloggers, not saying one blogger is all that (ok, a few come to mind and they are quite successful).

      Another reason bloggers hesitate to talk about this stuff is because we're telling the very people we write to how we're making money from our connections with them and this can feel awkward. I doesn't feel awkward to me anymore because I feel totally ok, great even, about how I earn money from blogging, and I don't mind telling my readers that. Readers have good reason to be skeptical and ask questions about how bloggers earn money. And a blogger who feels good about their business model should have no qualms about pulling back the curtain on how it all works. 

      I treat FIMBY readers like I would a friend, I care about them (and their finances) and invest in relationship via e-mail, comments, support etc, and because of that it has been my experience that the FIMBY community, or the choir as my friend Sarah Mast described it, responds positively to my work - buying my products, backing our kickstarter etc. It really is about relationship for me :)

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  • jacinda

    jacinda on March 2, 2014, 6:20 p.m.

    Oh Renee this is great. I stopped blogging because I wanted something more but then couldn't come to peace about how to do that. I'm certainly not a numbers person and money has never interested me only as much as it pays the bills :-) But I had a bit of a realisation over the weekend. I love writing and one of my gifts is also to mentor and encourage families to live in freedom and a self/family-designed life (I do this now in my life). I also love working in strengthening communities and right now am coordinating an event which invites a deeper conversation around the gift economy and growing in trust and cooperation in our communities. I realised I could build all these loves into a blog that offered some of my gifts as services and expand people's ideas about how to reciprocate.

    Thanks for sharing your process - I always value your transparency

     

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  • Johanna Hanson

    Johanna Hanson on March 2, 2014, 7:50 p.m.

    I love this. And I consider you more of a mentor than a blogger (I hope you don't take that negatively because it's a compliment!). When I come to your blog I know I'll get the real you, not the "I'm getting paid to post this..." and honestly, it is the you behind the blogging (which you do amazing at) that keeps me coming back.

    I need advice blogging. When I first started I wanted to "make money" so I read a lot of blogs about blogging but it just has never felt right to the point that I have let it go multiple times trying to figure out why I blog, etc. But when I'm not blogging I miss it. And I am a better person when I am processing and blogging (is that strange?)  Just this past week (crazy timing!), I told my husband that I wanted to turn it into more of a story blog that will hopefully inspire and build relationships, but I'm honestly not sure I am gifted at writing story. It scares me. I want to write about cross cultural living, etc, our vision, our philosophy of family/education as I am growing into it (not as an expert because I am mostly just learning at this point), but I'm still unsure how to communicate that voice....

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    • renee

      renee on March 2, 2014, 8:29 p.m.

      Johanna,

      That doesn't scare me at all. I'd actually rather be thought of (and view my work) as a mentor than a blogger, and ust use "blogger" as the medium or means to do the "real work" of encouraging.

      I absolutely believe you have what it takes Johanna. And I totally get that you feel a better version of yourself by writing and processing via blogging. When I don't blog I get antsy and anxious. Even having written these last 2 pieces brings great relief to my mental state. "there, I've processed it, I don't need to hold it in here anymore, let's move on."

      As for story writing, here's the thing, I feel the same way, I'm not sure I am gifted at writing story (and probably a lot of casual passerbyers on the internet would agree with me!), but I do it anyway. And I keep doing it. And I keep doing it and I'm getting better.

      I didn't train to be a family story writer. I still don't even know half the grammar terms, preposition?? I just write what comes most natural to me (that's not to say I bang off posts, I don't. I spend a lot of time editing).

      I write what brings me most the joy and fun. I write the ideas that come to me in the living of family life. And I think that is how you find your voice and your niche. By finding your writing sweet spot and then doing it, regardless of if it fits the mommy-blogger success mold. This is interest-led living and learning as an adult. I know you encourage your children to do the things they love, develop their "voice", which is simply the way they express their gifts, talents, experience, skills with the world. You need to do the same (smile).

      As for being successful, and attracting readers (because that does matter somewhat), think about what makes your story unique and these may be the ideas you are most inspired to write about but feel most insecure about because they are different or not "on the track to mommy blogger success". What is it you love most about your story, or it's most challenging parts, and then write about that. 

      I am honestly fascinated by nearly everyone I meet in person, especially people's stories who are quite different from my own. Maybe it's just where I live but I meet an inordinate amount of interesting people, people who's blogs would be cool to read, but I'm lucky to just know them in person. Your story is also interesting, capitalize on that. 

      And since you're a blogger I'll level with you at the money making level (and everyone else can get a behind the scenes look at affiliate income earning). Choosing select affiliate marketing programs has been a very effective way for me to earn money while writing what I love. 

      I use Amazon affiliates and you'll notice I'm not always selling stuff here (the only thing I usually link to are books) but I still earn from that. And then endorsing select products and services I really believe in, that I really identify with. Reading Horizons has been great for me this way (the program we used and loved for Laurent's dyslexia has an affiliate program), so have a few other small business partnerships.

      I don't go wide, I try to go deep. In my writing and also in how I use affiliate programs. I only have so much time for that stuff, you know. I'd rather write and so I pick and choose.

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  • Lisa

    Lisa on March 3, 2014, 12:35 a.m.

    You are a professional blogger. I bought into the kick starter campaign because I knew the quality of work you would put out for the video series from reading your FIMBY blog the last 2 years.

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  • Kika

    Kika on March 3, 2014, 1:46 a.m.

    I love that you and Damien get to work together in this way, balancing strengths and, I imagine, weaknesses. I still wonder how I might make money being true to who I am, my personality and doing the work that most makes me feel excited and in my element. A partnership could be a wonderful thing...

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  • Nana

    Nana on March 3, 2014, 3:57 p.m.

    I've dabbled in this writing-for-others for about 25 years. Renee, remember that memoir/memories booklet I wrote for my family and specifically, for you and your brother, called Two Beats in My Measure ? Then I wrote a fitness column for a local paper away back, and helped with a church newsletter. Your help getting  my blog launched in 2011, and more recently a newsletter, has been such encouraging and practical help. Following the progression and passion of your writing (with awesome photography) has been amazing personal motivation and inspiration.

    I'd love to make money as a result of my blogging/writing. Maybe that will materialize; reagardless, I love that my daughter can be my mentor -  thanks. With hugs, Mom

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    • renee

      renee on March 3, 2014, 4:03 p.m.

      We challenge and encourage each other mom (smile). And yes, I remember the memoir. I blogged about it a couple years ago.  

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  • Dianna

    Dianna on March 4, 2014, 3:16 a.m.

    Renee, I wanted to view your first video, and I must have failed to complete something because I am unable to login  I am sorry to create extra effort for your family, but I would really like to view the video.  Do you need additional information to help resolve this?  Thank you for all that you are doing!  May peace and love be with you all, Dianna

    reply

  • Stephinie

    Stephinie on March 11, 2014, 12:42 p.m.

    I am so often inspired by what you share here..... this post is up there my list of favorites. I too would like to make a small income with my blog. I struggle with how to do that and be authentic..... but reading your words lifted some guilt from my heart. I'm not looking to get rich, I would just like to provide for my family while offering my time and creativity to my readers. I'm starting to see that this is okay. While I have no idea what the future will hold, reading your words makes me a little less anxious and a little more excited. Thank you~~

    ~Stephinie

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    • renee

      renee on March 11, 2014, 1:29 p.m.

      Stephinie, there should be no guilt in wanting to earn money and to earn money from blogging. I think the guilt enters the picture when we start selling ourselves our products and services in ways that don't fit with our values, like you saying finding how to be authentic in what we do.

      And even if you were looking to get rich - there is nothing wrong in that either! To whom much has been given much is expected. People can do amazing good in teh world with wealth. My own aims, like yours, are more modest and at heart I'm a homemaker and homeschooler and that's not really a wealth-generating vocation! 

      reply

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