Corporations across the globe are offering employees more than the standard benefits to attract prospective employees. From on sight child care to acupuncture, businesses are upping the ante. Microsoft competitively offers employees health insurance, 401k retirement plans, and has one of the best benefits plans offered to employees.

Generous Maternity and Paternity Benefits

Microsoft recognizes that welcoming a new life into the world takes a lot out of new parents. Not only do they offer both maternity and paternity leave, it’s paid. According to Business Insider, Microsoft ranks this benefit at 10 out 0f 18 of the Best Perks at Top Employers, but the support Microsoft gives employs in begins with fertility assistance and includes adoption assistance.

Family Friendly Benefits

Microsoft offers some unique benefits that are centered on the preservation of the family. These Family Friendly benefits include: childcare, dependent care, military leave, family medical leave, extended unpaid leave of absence, flexible hours, and work from home. All of the benefits offered to Microsoft employees under their Family and Parenting categories are constructed to help make life a little easier when it comes to raising a family. Microsoft is interested in helping communities and works with employees to find local charities to support.

Tuition Reimbursement and Free Job Training

Microsoft values education and offers both tuition reimbursement and over 2000 internal training programs, some of which are offered online, virtually or in classrooms. Students taking undergraduate or graduate business related coursework qualify for tuition reimbursement. Microsoft supports employees in their endeavors to advance in the company and provides the tools they need to do it. Many companies understand how important continued education is and suggest employees train to gain complete mastery of Microsoft.

Superior Health and Wellness Plan

Not only are Microsoft employees offered fantastic health insurance, they also have a wellness plan. Dental, vision, and mental health are all covered under the plan. In addition, employees have health care on site, a very rare benefit. If the employee is feeling ill, help is in the building. Employees also have access to FSA, or a flexible spending account, and HSA, health savings account. Microsoft is the first corporation to offer a benefit for autism therapy. Additionally, employees are covered by accidental death and dismemberment insurance, disability insurance, life insurance, occupation accident insurance, and life insurance.

Microsoft Pay Rate Ranked 18th by Employees

Ranked 18th by its own employees, Business Insider reports that the average salary for Software Development Engineers is $109,375.00 and $107,364.00 for Program Managers. Not only does Microsoft offer competitive salary compensation, they also offer a financial plan, including a 401k, charitable contributions, stock options, performance bonus, employee stock purchase plan and retirement plan. Microsoft employees are better able to prepare for the financial futures with all the tools Microsoft offers.

With so many outstanding benefits available to their employees, Microsoft has no shortage of applicants. Competition for job placement is fierce and those who do land a career at Microsoft tend to stay as the benefits package offered by Microsoft is one of the best around. Aiming for a career at Microsoft is rewarded by benefits that guarantee the employee will be well taken care of.


investment ideas

The stock market hasn’t been doing so hot lately, but that’s no reason to run away because there’s still plenty of room for making solid investments this year. There’s a wealth of positive economic developments that offer some interesting investment opportunities. They are a good place for investors to start looking when hoping to position their portfolios in wake of expected volatility, low-interest rates, a strong dollar, and weak energy prices. Here are a few of the best investment ideas for the year , including those identified by Lou Carlozo of U.S. News.

Tech Companies

It doesn’t take a genius to realize that technology is a winner when it comes to investment; the trick, according to Joshua Rodriguez of U.S. News Money, is knowing how to invest in this lucrative sector. Consider investing in technology companies that supply to major companies and, regardless of which smartphone ends up on top, the investor comes out a winner. Experts expect the market to go “nuts” in a manner of speaking and encourage investors to look at stocks like iShares Dow Jones U.S. Technology ETF (IYW), Facebook Inc. (FB), or up-and-coming Zendesk Inc. (ZEN), amongst a number of other opportunities.

India – A Jewel in Emerging Markets

While not all emerging markets are looking very hot, there’s definitely a diamond in the rough to be scooped up when it comes to India. Though the country has struggled in the past with high inflation and political unrest, a new leaf seems to have been turned with inflation dropping down, energy prices sinking, and projected growth rate jumping to 6.4% in 2015, according to an article in the Times of India. Investors can get on the India train first by putting their money down on India-focused funds like WisdomTree India Earnings Fund (EPI) and iShares MSCI India ETF (INDA). India has mostly slipped under the radar and investors should start taking notice before it’s too late.


Investing in silver comes with some intrinsic values, a precious metal valuable for its tangible nature and many uses. One of the ways to hedge against inflation, a result of probable interest rate increases in 2015, is to put a significant percentage of the portfolio into precious metals. Silver is a good bet, currently undervalued relative to gold, and with significant demand against a diminishing supply, thanks to its many uses in tech devices, it makes for a solid investment choice. Precious metal investing has its own intricacies and according to investment magazine Silver Monthly, there are many things to keep in mind when playing this market.


Investors looking for a solid commodity to place a bet on may want to think about wood. There’s little risk in this investment with systematic, long-term price growth currently on the horizon, fueled in major ways by the global demand for green energy.  Both foreign investors and ongoing domestic demand are going to be pushing up prices for timber. One of the catches is that timber usually requires a substantial investment amount, but for those who have the means, money may actually grow on trees.

ETFs and Index Funds

Exchange-traded funds (ETFs) and index funds are a good way to diversify portfolios. These type of stocks allow people to buy shares that bet on the whole market winning out rather than a single company. They have lower management expense ratios and have historically performed better than actively managed funs.

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Congratulation, humans! You are all now connected. You have cell phones, tablets, and soon enough, watches, that will keep us thoroughly in touch with everything and everyone around us at all times. Cool! So, how do we use that to make things better? How do we use that to improve our businesses, communities, financial flows, and interpersonal relationships? The sky’s the limit, and you can pick and choose your methods as technology progresses until you are happy with the balance you’ve achieved. That said, take a moment to consider the very basics of community engagement as a business practice.

What Is Virtual Community Engagement?

Virtual community engagement, in this sense, is using social media or other public forums and post opportunities, to find the needs of people, and meet them. For example, Park View Legal specializes in improving individuals’ credit ratings. Their Twitter account is essentially a list of links for public consumption that points to valuable information about credit ratings. It’s advertisement in the form of public service, and when well done, great companies show themselves to be not just looking out for the own benefit, but for the benefit of the public at large. This goes a long way into getting the trust that’s required in competitive markets such as the legal industry.

How Can You Use It To Define Yourself?

One of the more creative and defining aspects of virtual community engagement is the fact that companies have total control over design and presentation. By creating websites, they are presenting themselves in a very specific way. Everything from color choice to font choice to making sites mobile friendly tells users very specific things about the company. If companies pay attention to that fact, they can define their purposes very narrowly to match the desires and needs of their chosen online demographic, and there are a lot of people in the world who will come across the web presence – so why not make it perfect? It’s very, very important in the definition stage, however, not to fake motivations. People are getting much more savvy checking sources and ensuring accurate background information on social media presentations, so be genuine if nothing else.

Individual Vs. Company Engagement

There’s also a difference in engagement when it comes from a business based on a person or based on a company. For instance, starting an individual Kickstarter campaign requires a certain type of social engagement to get people interested in a personal story. It would be a very different engagement required for an established business to start a crowdfunding campaign, for instance getting funding for a new video game. Because the virtual community reacts differently to different needs and different approaches, there are a number of factors that should be looked at very carefully before choosing the engagement techniques. It can very well be the difference between and successful project and one that fails!


Hard Work Ahead Yield Sign White Background

Small businesses face a variety of challenges in the marketplace and with the increasing need for creating a web presence there’s yet another obstacle. Many small businesses probably have heard of SEO and know that it’s important, but don’t really know where to start when it comes to incorporating it. They might be wondering if they can afford SEO, how long the process takes, and if it’s so complicated, is it really necessary. Here’s some of the challenges small businesses have to take on when looking at SEO because they will play an important role in marketing strategy and the business’s future.

Less Time & Money

Less time and less money aren’t exclusive problems to SEO in the small business world. Almost with everything, small businesses have to stretch time and money, making compromises to accommodate for the limits. Businesses would do well to remember that money must be spent in order to make money. SEO isn’t a place to cut corners because spending more for a quality job will get better returns, says Adam Stetzer in an article on Search Engine Watch. Time is also limited, especially if there are few people working in the business, and SEO can be a time consuming process. However, rushing the process or not doing it at all will result in less traffic and poor rankings.

Harder to Keep Up with Changes

Yet another resource issue for small businesses is keeping up with the changes that take place in the technology game. The fact is that SEO isn’t a stagnant area and with Google releasing yet another significant update to the rankings, it’s time to rework strategies again. Someone who is working exclusive on SEO will undoubtedly have more time that a few people running a small business, but that doesn’t mean they shouldn’t try and keep up with the latest trends.

Big Business is More Established

The big businesses have been working on SEO for some time now, so they’re already ahead of the game, but the good news is even they started small. It’s harder for newer websites to grow in website rankings and rank high, especially on competitive keywords. It is, however, not impossible and though Google tends to favor older domains and brands, small companies can slowly build their rankings by incorporating SEO and adding strategies like blogging to give a constant flow of content.

Harder to Get Links & Media Coverage

Having been in the game less time also puts small businesses at a disadvantage because they don’t have the same leverage when it comes to building links and getting media coverage. For the big companies, sometimes links just come to them without any effort because their names already carry a great deal of weight. Small businesses don’t have this advantage and it’s another reason that SEO is challenging to dig into. Just because they’re at a disadvantage, doesn’t mean small businesses can’t become masters at the SEO game, says Eric Layland, co-founder of Point It Digital Marketing in a webinar.

Is SEO Worth the Effort?

Despite all the hurdles small business may have to jump over, working on SEO is still worth the effort. The results are already in on whether or not SEO is worth the time and money for small businesses. In fact, companies that let their SEO marketing efforts slip or stopped with them altogether saw their traffic and keywords plunge. According to Megan Haley on the Pear Analytics Blog, up to 30 percent loss in top-ranked terms, in just the space of a year.


project management

Effective project management requires a variety of knowledge and skills, from knowing how to run meetings efficiently to the ability to implement effective IT governance. Not every person is born knowing how to manage projects with ease, but an individual can learn how to become a great project manager. By exploring a few of the most fundamental skills related to project management, an individual could become an invaluable member of a company’s management staff.

Know the People Within a Company

Knowing something about the daily operations and culture of a company will give a project manager insight as to how to approach a particular project. As Project Smart contributor Gina Abudi states, a manager needs to know how various departments, managers, and employees communicate with each other. It’s also important to be aware of how things are done on a daily basis. If a project manager tries to change the office dynamic too quickly or radically, people may resent both a project and its manager.

Run Meetings Efficiently

Much can be accomplished by holding regular meetings with the team assigned to a project. Such meetings should be productive and efficient for everyone involved. Holding a team meeting can be an excellent opportunity for getting feedback on how things are progressing for people. If individuals are faced with problems they cannot solve, regular meetings can give them a chance to discuss what is and is not working. A project manager should organize the agenda for a meeting before the meeting is in session, and team members should be encouraged to stay on topic.

Delegate Certain Tasks

Almost every successful manager knows that learning to delegate is integral to effective management. A project manager who tries to do every task or who attempts to micromanage team members is ultimately wasting valuable time. A manager is assigned to a project to manage it, which means overseeing the project as a whole.

Another benefit of delegating tasks is that doing so encourages team members to strengthen their skills. Unless employees are allowed to try new things and contribute to a project, they are not likely to grow as productive members of a company. Assigning tasks to employees also shows them that they are valued and trusted by management personnel. People who feel valued are far more apt to be productive than employees who do not feel as though the management team trusts them to do good work.

Implement a WBS

As discussed in an interview conducted by Fast Company contributor Kevin Purdy, a work breakdown structure (WBS) can help a project manager to make more accurate estimates regarding the details of a project. This type of organized structure is a viable tool for organizing the many aspects of a project, from the project’s budget to the amount of time that is expected to complete the project.

Exercise Effective IT Governance

IT is typically a major factor for many companies, so employing effective IT governance is crucial. IT must be aligned properly with a business. Even if a project manager is not directly involved with the IT governance for a company, knowing the company’s policy and procedures regarding such matters will help that manager to make appropriate decisions.

Project management can be an exciting field, especially when a person knows which strategies are worth utilizing. By employing various skills and tools, an individual can ensure that a project is managed in an efficient way. Every project may be different, but many of the methods used in project management can be applied to a wide range of projects.


You manage a restaurant. You’ve got great food and a great menu. You’ve got excellent servers and fantastic service. Every customer who physically comes through your door to eat promises they will come back and bring all their friends. Even with all these things going for you, there are issues that can arise when advertising your restaurant online.

According to web design firm Restaurant Den, one major problem is that many food industry owners and managers aren’t familiar with search engine optimization. Without a grip on the process and function of this vital aspect of online design, you may be missing out on a huge opportunity.

First, Set Yourself a Realistic Business Goal

Before jumping into advertising too far, make sure that you know what you’re aiming for. Start with a simple budget and a deadline, get the right people in charge of the project, and work slowly. Survey your customers to find out what they like about your location, your food, your hours, and their experience. Ask your employees what they like about working there. Get all of this data on hand so when it comes time to describe things, you have all the language you need all ready.

Next, Tighten Down Your Menus  

The words that are on your menus should be descriptive, concrete, and easily searchable. It’s fine having interesting names for special dishes, but make sure somewhere there are words that describe all of the qualities is ways that people can search for them – words like hot, spicy, tender, juicy, etc. Those are the words people are looking for in advertisements, so begin by getting them on your menu. Just be sure to be accurate – no need for hyperbole if you have great quality food.

 Lastly, Pull Everything Together with Consistent Design

Does your restaurant have a particular theme or color scheme? Be sure that is always part of the branding when it comes to online presence and online design. If customers and consumers immediately associate these elements with your business, then they will have that much more of a reason to trust your advertising and follow links that are built toward getting your site traffic and attention. By hiring a great team of coders and designers, you’ll be giving yourself a huge advantage by not having to waste your own time trying to figure out how online bases are created and maintained.

Ultimately, many people will grow to automatically trust a brand that presents itself consistently, especially if they have great experiences to go along with it. And remember, with great search engine optimization in conjunction with the right descriptions of your business, people will find your restaurant when they start searching for the food that they like.


Almost every business experiences a financial emergency at some point. The key to getting through a crisis—with the business still intact—is knowing how to access cash when internal resources are not immediately available. One way to accomplish this is through invoice factoring. According to the Wall Street Journal, a company uses this method when they need immediate access to cash and chooses to sell one or more unpaid invoices to a factoring company in exchange for up to 90 percent of its value upfront.

Before the factoring company forwards the money, it checks the credit worthiness of the invoiced company. Assuming it is good, it then forwards the majority of the balance of the unpaid invoice minus a processing fee. This option is often attractive for businesses that bill customers on a net 30, 60, or 90-day basis as it allows them to improve their cash flow immediately rather than waiting for payment from their customer.

Business Cash Advances

A business cash advance, also known as a merchant cash advance, provides business owners with an immediate lump sum of cash in exchange for a share of its future sales. According to Imperial Advance, a provider of small business loans, after the company receives its advance, the loan provider takes a percentage of daily sales that are processed through its cash register.

Retail companies, restaurants, service providers, and others with a high volume of credit card sales are all good candidates for this kind of emergency business financing. This type of funding is particularly helpful for start-up organizations because it allows the owner to pay in small daily amounts and does not have the strict qualifications of a bank loan.

Personal or Business Credit Cards

One of the most convenient things about credit cards is that most business owners already have them. For those who don’t, it is a good idea to apply for both a business and a personal credit card before an emergency pops up. That way, they won’t have to wait for the credit card company to make a decision and then wait again for the card to be issued. Whenever possible, a business owner should use the credit card issued to his or her company for financial emergencies. This ensures the ability to keep business and personal expenses separate.

Many owners of start-up businesses do not have a sufficient credit history yet to apply for a credit card in the name of his or her company. The next possibility is for the business owner to use a personal credit card, although this should always be the last resort. If the business needs cash and not just a way to charge purchases, most credit cards include a cash advance limit as part of the overall credit limit. Cardholders should be able to write a check to themselves or withdraw money from an ATM using the credit card.

Business Loans Through Finance Companies

Small business owners with poor credit, lack of collateral or an insufficient credit history often have trouble getting a traditional bank loan. A post on BizFilings notes that finance companies tend to be less conservative about qualifications and can provide the money the business needs quickly. Loans provided by a finance company are typically for a shorter term and offer more flexible repayment options than business loans through a bank. While the interest rates are higher, this can be a fair trade-off in the right situation.


It’s no secret that a business needs to have its finances well in hand in order to succeed. Whether the company is a fresh-faced start up or a veteran of its industry, a successful business is one that knows where its money comes from, where its being spent and whether the return on that investment is worth it. Luckily, there are tools available to help collect data, crunch the numbers and analyze the results. Here are 8 essential finance tools that help make businesses successful.

Comprehensive Financial Management Programs

Whether the business is a small sole-proprietorship or a large corporation, a good financial management program provides a quick glimpse into the company’s financial status. Accounting software, such as Intuit QuickBooks or Wave Accounting, is a great place to start. According to Sara Angeles in BusinessNewsDaily, these programs offer the ability to see income and expenses, check register data, keep and track detailed customer or vendor data, and even chart payroll and operating costs. Programs like these range from the super-complex to the elegantly simple, so finding the best fit is a matter of figuring out what the business most needs.

Bank Register Reconciliation Software

Many financial management programs come complete with reconciliation support. Having the ability to reconcile business bank accounts in a timely manner is vital to understanding and monitoring cash flow, but more importantly a reconciliation program allows companies to keep track of cash flow and track where it is being spent. Reconciling the business bank account at the end of each month, quarter and year ensures that funds are not being mismanaged.

Check Printing Software

Taking care of business expenses and getting payments to vendors has been simplified with new check printing software programs. These programs allow users to enter the correct banking account information and then print their own checks for vendors from financial management programs. These programs often remove the delay of check printing and allow business managers to more quickly send payments. With the availability of quality specialized blank checks (including those with watermarks), industry experts say that it’s easy to ensure that checks are just as secure as those printed by a bank.

Payment Processing Software

Having an easy way to accept payments is an obvious benefit to businesses. With the availability of online payment processing software, as well as apps and accessories for smartphones and tablets, it’s easier than ever to sell products quickly and easily, says Elizabeth Palermo. These payment processing apps and programs correlate with other financial programs or work independently, giving businesses both flexibility and reliability at once.

Spreadsheet Software

Spreadsheets allow business owners to look at financial data from a variety of time periods or events to compare essential aspects and get a better sense of overall trends. Some financial programs even come with report generating options. Another option for creating spreadsheets is to utilize simple, widely available spreadsheets programs such as Google Sheets. These spreadsheet programs can use downloaded financial data or data that is input directly, and are a great way for small businesses to take advantage of available financial tools.

Online Account Management

Online access to accounts and finances are a must in a technology-driven marketplace. Business owners should ensure that they have ready online account access and management features available from whatever financial institution or software they choose. These online features may also offer the ability to download important banking data directly to a computer for use with other financial software, which can be a real time saver.

Budget Programs

Simple spreadsheet programs as well as detailed financial management programs offer the ability to budget as well as track expenses. A budgeting program is ideal for planning as well as evaluation of fiscal decisions and goals. While this may seem like an add-on, financial planning should never be taken lightly, and any tools that can help should be considered carefully.

Scanning and Archiving Software

Tracking all finances through a computer program offers a great deal of information quickly. With so much information stored this way, it is important to have a quality back-up system in place. From backing up financial program data to scanning and archiving important receipts, checks, invoices and other paperwork, this software may be the one most relied upon for record keeping.

These types of programs offer a variety of ways to ensure businesses are tracking and monitoring financial data. Since monitoring financial data is important for ensuring financial business success, these must-have financial tools should be at the top of every business owner’s to-do list.



Whether you are launching a startup, or looking for ways to maximize success in a well-established or struggling business, many business owners struggle with the exact direction to take. Even if the business owner is fairly confident in the direction they want to go, if all does no not go as planned—they may not be able to clearly identify where things went wrong. For business owners and company executives who have yet to seek out the expertise of a consultant, the benefits are many.

Identify The Most Favorable Areas Of Opportunity

One of the many reasons companies seek out the expertise of an outside consultant is because it is so easy to become so caught up in the daily workflow, that daily operations continue as usual without second thought. A consultant will provide a fresh set of eyes, and an outside expert opinion, whose primary focus is to help companies achieve and/or maximize success. Consulting will help to identify where to focus more energy, as well as where to focus less energy. It will help to eliminate redundancies, and help to increase efficiency and productivity.

Innovative Ways To Grow And Expand Your Business

It is essential that companies do not spread themselves too thin by offering so many services or products, which can make it challenging to give each product and service the level of attention required for success. That being said, a consultant can provide invaluable insight as to the most effective ways to grow and expand a business. This may include scaling back on some services and product lines, and offering add-ons and up sells to other services and product lines. This could also include innovative ways in which branching out into other sectors of an industry can prove to be beneficial. This may also include focusing energy on a new or secondary target audience. The bottom line is customer service and improving the customer experience, according to a blog by Michelle Nowak of CSG International.

How To Remain Competitive, Without Sacrificing Company Culture

Companies must remain competitive in both their primary service area, as well as within their industry. However, sometimes the competitive nature of business—both internally and externally—makes it challenging to maintain the desired company culture. Maintaining company culture is essential for both employee and client retention. Forbes contributor Micah Solomon maintains that your business must remain “customer centric” regardless of changes in dynamics. A consultant will ensure that an action plan is put in place, to confirm that all short-term and long-term goals are created with strategies and tactics to ensure a business remains relevant within their industry—as wall as a desirable company to work for.

How To Restructure, And Maximize Success In Times Of Growth

As exciting as it is when a company experiences a surge in business, if the surge in business is not properly managed—there may be some downsides. Even if the growth and business has occurred gradually over time, companies must reevaluate both their daily operations—and how their departments are organized. Growth will not only require companies to onboard new team members, but is likely to create the need for entirely new positions. For example, if one person currently manages all aspects of marketing, a secondary role may need to be created solely for social media marketing. This will ensure that the initial marketing professional is not spread too thin, and that focus on all relevant aspects of marketing is not lost along the way.

Around 80 percent of businesses fail within their first 18 months, according to Eric. T Wagner, a Forbes contributor. Many more achieve success that they are unable to maintain—turning to a consultant can help businesses continue to grow, expand and manage change in a healthy manner.



Even the most accomplished of professionals must take a proactive approach to their ongoing professional development. The most common types of training professionals seek out is industry specific training, or the ongoing training provided by their employer. While both of these types of training are essential, professionals must not forget the importance of expanding their technical and computer skills with training that is transferable across all industries. The five reasons below are just a few reasons corporate professionals of all skill levels should consider online training in software they are familiar with, as well as software they may want to begin utilizing.

Improve Quality Of Work

Once a professional invests in online training that introduces them to new software, or features they were unfamiliar within the software they currently use—they are likely to learn several ways in which they can improve the quality of their work. This could be as simple as new methods to keep their daily to-do list more organized, or ways in which they can create powerful and organized reports and presentations. Employers should consider encouraging more ongoing training, as it shows their team that they are invested in their success, according to Victor Lipman, a contributor to Forbes. Not only that, ongoing training is essential for maintaining a fulfilling and challenging career.

Increase Productivity

While many professionals are proficient in 2 or 3 software programs within the Microsoft Office Suite, few are familiar with more than that. Without training in the other software programs within Office, corporate professionals may not be aware of what tools are available to increase their productivity. On top of that, many professionals are unaware of the full range of capabilities that even common software programs such as Word, Excel, and PowerPoint have to offer.

Increase Value

Knowledge truly is power. The more learned, the more valuable professionals become to their employer. Once new training is applied, professionals can pass their skills along to other team members, or simply allow their new skill set to shine through in their work. Taking the initiative to invest in ongoing technical training will also show employers a higher level of commitment and dedication. Both the desire for additional training, as well as the increased skill set make employees more valuable to their employer.

Remain Competitive

Industry-specific training is essential for remaining competitive within an industry, but online computer and software training helps professionals to remain competitive within the business world as a whole, as outlined by CBTNuggets. Even if online training is not paid for by an employer, professionals should consider making the investment because the skills they gain provide a competitive edge.

Increase Creativity

Many professionals walk away from their online training feeling inspired. Not only do they have new skills they can apply to their daily professional life, but the training often opens their mind to new areas of opportunity. This could include anything from expanding the services they offer, to taking an entirely different approach to their current job duties.

With computers and technology playing a primary role in group presentations, the daily workload, and internal and external communication—increased technical training is essential. By turning to online training courses, professionals can gain the additional training they require at their convenience—without traveling or taking time off of work. In fact, most online training courses can be complete in small blocks of time spread out over several days.


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