24 networking tips that actually work

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The idea of networking makes many people uncomfortable … or confused.

It’s easy to see why.

When most people think about networking it seems insincere at best — and selfish at worst. This, of course, is the complete opposite of what networking is supposed to be — friendly, useful, and genuine.

It’s easy for most of us to be friendly and useful with people we know. However, because networking is a “business activity” it’s easy to think that we need to act in a different way.

Unfortunately, most networking strategies come across as pushy, needy, or self-serving — even though the people using them rarely act that way in day-to-day life.

Don’t worry, there are definitely genuine ways to self–promote. So, in the spirit of helping everyone become a better networker, here are 24 networking tips, which from my experience, actually work.

The real goal of networking

1. The goal of networking should be to help other people. Yes, it would be nice if they helped you out as well, but networking is a two–way street. And your side of the street is all about helping others, not asking them to help you. Asking for favors should only become a possibility once you have learned more about the person and provided some value to them.

2. It’s far more important to understand their needs before you tell them about your needs. Your goals should not be on the forefront of your mind. You’re trying to develop a relationship with someone, which means you should be thinking about them. It’s your job to understand the people in your network, where they are coming from, and what’s important to them.

Setting expectations

3. You don’t need to know the most people, just the right people. There is no need to shotgun your business cards across the industry or to pepper everyone with emails. Instead, focus on finding people that are relevant to you. As time goes on, you can decide if the interests that you share with someone are worth pursuing further. It’s better to have 5 people willing to help you out than it is to have 500 that simply know your name.

4. Don’t expect anything. The fact that you reached out and made contact with someone does not put them in your debt. No one is required to “pay you back.” Instead of approaching networking with the goal of gaining favors, try reaching out with curiosity. Contact interesting and relevant people and see what happens. Some of them will respond and some of the won’t. Learn about the people that follow up. Find out what makes them interesting and how you can help them — and don’t expect anything in return.

5. Don’t leave networking to chance. Take some time and define what you are looking for in your network. Every once and awhile you’ll stumble across someone amazing on accident, but it’s a lot easier to find who you’re looking for if you know who they are in the first place. Be proactive and create a list of people that you want to contact on purpose.

6. Go beyond your industry. Connect with people on a variety of levels from a wide range of areas. By growing your network outside of the usual areas you will be more valuable to people that are in your immediate industry. The people you work with have personalities and multiple interests, right? With a broad network you can be the person that connects people across industries.

7. Don’t dismiss anyone as irrelevant. Maybe you don’t think a local blogger would be a good contact because you work at a medical practice. However, when you open a new branch and you want to let people know about it, you’ll be glad you reached out to someone with an audience.

How to reach out to someone new

8. Quantify how much time you’re going to take. People are busy and when someone new starts talking to them, the first thing that comes to their mind is “How long is this person going to talk to me?” or “How much time is this going to take?”

Address those concerns from the start by saying something like, “Hi. I have one item that I’d like to briefly discuss with you. It should only take two minutes. Do you have time now?” Asking questions like this not only shows that you respect their time, it also gives you the option of speaking with them later if they are too busy now.

9. Start by offering praise, not requesting help. Unless you have a mutual contact that is putting you in touch for a specific reason, it’s best to avoid asking for anything when you meet for the first time. Don’t ask for favors, for promotion, for advice, or even to meet up for lunch or coffee. Simply start by offering a short compliment. After they respond to this initial contact, you can begin moving things towards a more lengthy meeting.

10. Keep your emails short. If your first contact is via email, then split the message into smaller segments. Instead of reaching out to someone new with a long-winded, five paragraph explanation of why you are contacting them, use that first email to focus on a small bit of praise. You can send further details to them after they reply. Keep that first message friendly and short.

11. If you must ask for a favor, then ask for permission to continue. There are some situations where you need to ask for something, but don’t have the luxury of time to get to know them. Most situations don’t fall under this category, but if you must ask for something, then weave in requests for permission before you make an offer. I’ll give a real example.

I was recently talking to the director of an organization about offering a new course to his clients. I started by asking for permission to continue. “I’ve run successful courses on X before. Would you like to know more?”

He was interested and we ended up having a great conversation.

An additional benefit of this strategy is that you are getting the other party to say, “Yes,” to you. As a general rule, if you can get someone say yes to you three times, then the odds of your offer being accepted by them drastically increase. You don’t need to ask permission for everything, but if you’re opening a conversation where you will need to make an offer, then it can work wonders.

How to build the relationship

12. Try to provide as much value as you possibly can. The more value you create, the more it will come back to you many times over. Focus all of your networking efforts on helping the people you contact.

13. Start by focusing on being friendly and helpful. This is the number one tactic you can use to build your network. Simply spread information in a friendly and helpful way. Did you read a book that someone in your network will enjoy? Tell them about it or send them a copy. Are you using something that would help a friend with a project they are working on? Email it to them. Hear a new music album that a someone might enjoy? Send it their way. Building your network is the same as building friends. Be interested in what they are doing and offer friendly suggestions when you can.

14. Develop the habit of introducing people. Connecting like-minded people is a powerful to enhance your network. The idea of doing this seems foreign to many people, but it is actually quite easy. Do you know two people who enjoy reading the same type of books? Or like the same sports teams? Or love reading about history? Or work in the same industry? You get the point. Don’t make it hard, just introduce the two of them by sharing their common interest. They can decide if they want to pursue the relationship further.

15. Ask if people want to be connected. If you’re apprehensive about connecting two people, then ask one of them if they want to be connected. “I know another person that’s doing Y. Would you like for me to introduce you sometime?” Even if they aren’t interested, they will appreciate the offer.

16. Nurture your current network. Most people think of networking as reaching out to new people, but don’t forget about the network that you already have. (Hint: You probably call them your friends and co-workers.) There is no need to wait to meet new people to start connecting others or sharing useful information. Network within the groups that are already close by.

Making networking a habit

17. Try to contact one person per day. If you reach out to 5 new people every week, that would be about 250 per year. Sending an email or making a quick call will only take about 5 minutes of your day. Not everyone is going to get back to you, but if you contact that many new people, then you’re bound to make significant progress.

18. Don’t take “No,” personally. Everyone is busy. For most people, it’s simply a matter of timing. If you catch them on a good day, then they will happily talk or meet with you. If they’re swamped, however, then a simple “No” might be all that you get. Don’t take it to heart. In most cases, it’s not a reflection of you or what you said.

19. Make it a point to follow up. One or two days after meeting someone for the first time, follow up with a brief email or note. This is an opportunity to develop the relationship by bringing up a topic that you discussed before or making a comment on an interesting topic. Following up with relevant conversation helps to anchor your previous interaction in their mind and displays more personality than just sending a message that says, “Thanks for talking!”

20. Did you fail? Try reaching out in a different way. You don’t want to pester anyone, but if you give them a few weeks and don’t hear a response, then there is nothing wrong with being persistent. For example, dropping in to talk face to face has resulted in great conversations with people that previously ignored my emails. Sometimes switching it up is all you need to do.

Things to remember

21. Network with the intention of helping other people, not yourself. People enjoy doing business with those that they trust and like. The only way to build that trust is to engage with others in a helpful way. Yes, trust takes a long time to build, but insincerity takes even longer to overcome. Once you’ve developed a relationship and created a bond, then you can move on to negotiating for favors and asking for help.

22. Networking is more about listening to what people say than saying the right things. Take the time to listen to people’s stories. You can only provide something of value to them if you listen to who they are and what they do.

23. Sometimes the best networking opportunities involve real work. Volunteer for events, committees, or projects that will have interesting people at them — or better — working for them. Working on a project or task with someone is one of the best ways to develop a relationship. For example, volunteering for a non–profit can be a great way to get to know their influential board members.

24. Email is easy to send … and ignore. Yes, email is quick, simple, and can be sent to anyone, anywhere. It’s also very easy to be filtered out and ignored. If you really want to meet someone, then don’t be afraid to pick up the phone, propose a video chat, or arrange a face-to-face meeting. These communication channels are usually less crowded and more personal, which means that your message will be more memorable. Email can be a great tool, but don’t be afraid to mix it up.

What You Should Do Now

You don’t need to be a master to start building your network. Just taking a moment to reach out is a big step that will help most people. Sharing useful information and connecting like-minded people are simple actions that everyone will appreciate.

In fact, this approach of building mutually beneficial relationships (rather than networking for personal gain) is the very foundation of The Remora Method … which is the best system I’ve seen for building a successful business or side income. Networking can make a huge difference if you focus on being useful and don’t make things harder than they have to be.

What are your best networking tips? How have you successfully built relationships? Share your thoughts in the comments below.

87 Responses to 24 networking tips that actually work

  1. JB says:

    Great tips. Also, make notes on the back of business cards of the people you meet and followup with useful information (e.g., “I thought you’d find this article of interest”, etc.).

    • James Clear says:

      Good one JB. Making notes like that is a quick and easy way to make sure you remember relevant things about the people you speak with. It’s all about finding ways to provide value.

      • Matt says:

        A small technical point, writing on peoples business cards (while they can see you) in some Asian cultures, absolutely isn’t a very good idea. In my experience you wouldn’t want to do that with Japanese, Korean or Russian partners it’s not exactly perceived as respectful.

        • James Clear says:

          Excellent point, Matt. Cultural sensitivities is a big part of networking success. Thanks for reminding us.

        • Dan says:

          Also remember to present and receive business cards with BOTH HANDS! Especially if with foreign partners.

          • Deborah says:

            Can you elaborate on what you mean by “present and receive business cards with both hands?” I am new at this, and feel awkward handing out business cards.
            Thank you.

            • Barbara says:

              I haven’t been to the Far East but I believe that it is normal in places like Japan for a business card to be presented with both hands and a bow as if presenting a gift – which is why it would be considered rude to write on it. Such a lovely way to present a card rather then the way we just hand them round at network meetings but I don’t somehow think it will catch on in the West!

            • Dianne says:

              Deborah – it’s just like it sounds. have both your hands on your card when you extend it – like a gift; and receive the other person’s in the same way.

    • Eric Pomert says:

      I find it really enlivening to ask people about their kids or loved ones if they’re willing to go there. Once they open up that “field” of what they’re emotionally connected to, it’s easier to bond and naturally be of service to them.

    • Mike says:

      Keeping track of personal notes is key. Also tracking your networking progress can help you perform better, more consistently. Just made this excel tool to help people stay structured and motivated. Could be really useful to you! networktosuccess.com

  2. Agnes Lam says:

    Since I am new to the business/startup networking scene, I’ve been reading a lot to get myself ready for it. I have to say … this is so far the best advice list I’ve come across.
    I have to agree that following up with people you’ve connected is very very important in order to deepen the connection.

    Thanks so much for sharing these useful tips.

    • James Clear says:

      Thanks so much Agnes! I’m glad the tips are useful — just be sure to put them into action. Networking isn’t hard, it just requires a little bit of effort and friendliness.

  3. Park Smith Jr says:

    James: GOOD STUFF! It’s very helpful with what I will most likely be doing come June! I’ll be working for Young Life directing Development and Sustainability in NYC. It will involve networking and seeking to serve the community at all levels. Obviously it will require mutual support. It’s great to read this stuff and will be very helpful to be reminded of as I pursue this path. Thanks!

  4. Excellent tips. You got my attention when you said your goal is to help people. I believe that providing value to others and building relationships is the best part of networking.

  5. Mars Dorian says:

    A great collection James,
    Especially point 6 “Go beyond your industry.” Rings my jackpot. Too long have I spent my time in the same circles – people who were similiar to me, and who owned the same niches as well. It can be a comfort zone push to connect with people outside of your area, but if you want to grow both spiritual and business-wise, you got to step out of you territory and conquer new lands !

  6. Viorel Cosmin Miron says:

    James, simply beautiful job done here. Thank you for this small part you shared from your own experience, while practice teach us, to teach other. Nice lunch and learn session here. :) Thank you!

  7. Great post! I had just come from reading a different post that proclaimed networking is a waste of time. Great to read a post like yours from someone who “gets it”.

    • James Clear says:

      Well, I certainly don’t have all the answers … but I’m glad this post was the answer for you!
      :)

  8. James, all I wanted to say has pretty much been said.

    Thanks James.

  9. A great brief one on networking. Really not much to add, thank you.

  10. Julia says:

    Thanks for the tips James. Even though I’m an outgoing person non-professionally, I find networking for work terribly difficult. I just haven’t been able to figure out how to translate my “socialness” into easy professional networking. I’ll definitely be putting these tips to good use in the near future as I build my business. Thanks!

    • James Clear says:

      Glad it’s useful for you, Julia!

      If you’re struggling with a place to start, then just reach out and try to be friendly and helpful. It will all go from there.

      • Stina says:

        I think You are nailing it: “Try to be friendly and helpful”. That’s it, in any field of life. Sometimes it seems that folks are forgetting that very easy way of making the life easier.
        Thanks!

        • All great advice, but I find you won’t have to ‘try’ to be friendly and helpful when you are passionate about what you do. Thinking about new applications for your product or skill-set helps too.

  11. Kim Bova says:

    Great info! Thank you. You have made this process very clear.

  12. John Fleck says:

    Very good pointers. It’s a great mind and heartset to have that doesn’t look to say “What can I get out of this” so much as “How can I help someone else.” Really good insights.

    Thank You

  13. My advice is to join Rotary Club. Not only will you have an amazing volunteer experience and help other people both locally and abroad, but you will also make lifelong friends. That’s what I call networking at the highest and most rewarding level.

    • James Clear says:

      Rotary is a great choice. So are many other organizations.

      Either way, just get out there and lend a helping hand.

      • Janet Davis says:

        Chambers of Commcerce in communities are a great opportunity to help others and build productive business relationships.

  14. Nicholas says:

    I’ve never felt confident or comfortable about the idea of ‘networking’, as I’d always viewed it as superficial banter aimed at closing a deal and getting something from others.

    However, the idea of networking being primarily about adding value to others is a really helpful perspective to have.

    Thanks

  15. Ela Raveling says:

    Hi James, what a great article!

    Would it be ok if we put your post “24 networking tips that actually work” on our networking website?

    We operate the biggest wedding networking group in south Florida and we feel that your article would be very useful to our guests.

    We are a group of event and wedding professionals that meets every month for a chance to connect and keep up-to-date on the latest trends in the industry. Since our inception in August of 2008, we have consistently drawn 200-500 colleagues from each sector of the industry; bringing planners, vendors and venues face-to-face in a casual and friendly business environment.

    • James Clear says:

      Glad you enjoyed the article Ela!

      You’re welcome to share or link back to the article however you like. Just don’t copy and paste it to your site.

      Thanks for reading!

  16. Well done, Passive Panda! An additional pointer I coach clients on in my networking workshops is the critical skill of using people’s names when conversing with them. This requires attention and focus but works like a charm!

    • James Clear says:

      Very, very true. I know in my case that something that I should definitely spend more time focusing on.

  17. Awesome tips. I love the idea of connecting with someone at least once a day through networking. A great way to keep yourself focused on building relationships.

  18. James Clear says:

    You’re welcome! And thanks for stopping by Passive Panda!

  19. Wojtek says:

    Great tips, and something to work on. As a graphic designer with a full time job, I tended to focus on my work and neglect networking and social relations alltogether. Now as I have to find some clients for freelance work, I have to build it up from scratch.
    Another piece of advice from your site I found particularly useful was to offer clients solution for their problem rather than ask them for a job.

  20. Scott M says:

    I guess what bugs me is that there is already a name for ‘building relationships’. It’s called “making friends”.

    The problem is, that networking isn’t about making friends. It’s about building some sort of quasi-relationship where you aren’t really friends, and you arent in a business relationship (co-worker, client, etc), but you are connected enough to be able to stay in contact with some other person over a long period of time. This usually involves faking an interest in the the other person, because if you really WERE interested, then you’d be friends (see, there’s that whole ‘making friends’ thing again.)

    I just don’t see any way around this without there being some level on insincerity.

  21. Ken W says:

    Hey James,

    Great post. A lot of these things I do often but it’s good to read them over again.

    Your point on contacting one person every day is a great strategy. I’m 25 and run a marketing agency. Building my network is integral to my success. I have 100′s of friends from high school and college working across the country. Many could be great resources for me and I could be a great resource for them. Problem is, we haven’t talked in a while. Reaching out with a simple FB message is the perfect way to reel them back into your life. Say something like, “Hey, whats up? Been a long time and was thinking about you. Wanted to see what’s new and what you’re up to!”

    Thanks for the tips James. Keep ‘em coming!

  22. Anonymous says:

    A lesson for start ups. Building a good relationship builds confidence and the other person relies on your opinion. You can prove influential to someone’s life, which in turn is a great achievement.

  23. Arush Rehman says:

    James really enjoyed your article it has such deep insight into the subtle but often times misrepresented art of networking. Thank You.

  24. Jeff Goins says:

    I love #22. So right and so often overlooked. Maybe Dale Carnegie was on to something.

  25. Claire says:

    Found this website that also has some great networking tips… Just FYI…
    http://www.jhousemedia.com/blog-articles/128/Seven-Steps-To-Make-You-A-Networking-Pro.html

  26. Nelson Wang says:

    I think people often lose sight of point #1 – they tend to think “me, me, me!” first in networking when you should think how they can help others first!

    Great post!

    Cheers,
    Nelson
    http://www.nelsonsthoughts.com

  27. Tram Tran says:

    Great list, James. I’m using a few of them myself and the result has been very impressive. I like how you impress networking is all about those you connect with, not you. People love themselves first. If we can show them the benefits, they’ll be sure to connect.

    The compliment technique works too. In my quest to gain like for my FB page, i constantly talk to people and always offer a compliment before asking them a favour to like my page. I notice your FB page is really popular. Congrats, come say hi on mine sometime. ;)

    The disadvantage is you have to do your homework. But hey, if you are to have a great network, there must be “work “involved to build the “net”

  28. Denis Alexander says:

    Thank you James,

    I am very new to everything that is done on the Internet and Marketing. I thank the God’s above, I stumbled on to Passive Panda.

    I will sit back and read all your post possible. The information is ample, and interesting.

    When I finish my coding course, I plan to take some of the course’s from Passive Panda.

    Thank you.
    xconstruction worker

  29. Tasos Stavrinides says:

    Excellent article with clarity of thoughts in effective communication within your professional circle as well as thinking outside the box. The value of networking is not to help yourself but in helping others you may also improve your own shortcomings

  30. XuDing says:

    I like the idea of making 5 new contacts each day. But can you write a post on where to find 5 contact numbers each day?

  31. Sergio Felix says:

    Hey James,

    Wow, this is like networking etiquette from zero to HERO man!

    Amazing tips and I’m definitely going to put many of these to good use, thanks for writing this incredible article!

    The only think I may have a problem with, is with #12

    “…provide as much value as you possibly can”

    If I do that, then what am I going to sell?

    Or is it just a figure of speech to create the relationship first?

    Thanks in advance!

    Sergio

  32. Great article. The intention of helping others is, I think, the key to successful networking. I would also suggest joining an expert network like Gerson Lehman Group, Maven Research, or Cognolink. All three provide a platform for professional with expertise in their field to conduct micro-consultations with investors and others interested in you industry.

  33. About a few weeks ago I helped an acquaintence get a quick job (easy cash) by referring a potential client to her accidentally. The prospected needed help and I knew someone who could do that. Long story short: I ended up helping both of them out, which made them a great ROI because the prospect and the girl helped ME get clients later on.

    These tips do work. Especially when you dont expecting Anything from it. Great post!

  34. Maria says:

    Hi
    nice article, I’m new at networking and after reading your article it seems there are few things I’m not doing right. If I go to a networking event, I try to talk to as many people I can, exchange business cards and then follow up the following day with an email and primarily to offer my company’s professional services.

    I follow up with everyone who gave me a card, wether it is relevant to to my business or not. However, I feel all thinking about is how they can help me since I’m not sure I can be of help to them, or I’ll have the time to bond with everyone. I’m in a new business and I’m working hard at business development. Any specific advice about whether or not to f/u with email after the event and what to say? clearly my intention is to sell my business.

  35. Great article! We totally agree! Another helpful and important tool to have when networking is custom business cards. Without memorable business cards, you are easily forgotten amongst the many other people doing the same thing you do.

  36. Going beyond your industry is great advice. I picked up an assignment recently while sitting in the reception area of a law office.

    The office manager and another employee were complaining about the content of some brochures they had ordered.

    I eased my way into their conversation with some helpful advice and landed a new client.

  37. Carmen says:

    This advise is definitely the best advise I’ve heard on networking, which has always been a scary thing to me. As an introverted person, the idea of going to events and trying to make contact with people has often had me feeling paralyzed with fear, but thinking about it in terms of helping other people and just making friends, well, that sounds much more do-able. Thanks James, as always, for excellent articles and advise.

  38. Faith says:

    Thanks for the comprehensive list! I think these tips work well whether you’re trying to expand your network personally or professionally.

  39. Great article. Wondering your thoughts on networking as it pertains to the internet We are now in a world where so much information about us is out there (e.g., Facebook, LinkedIn, Instagram, Twitter, Pinterest, etc.) and we all tend to have so many more connections.

    • James Clear says:

      My basic approach: use the social networks to meet awesome people in person. You can now find people based on interest, which is a huge win compared to pre-internet days where you only could find people based on who was close to you geographically. Use that power to connect with amazing people everywhere and then find a way to meet them in person.

  40. Yoav Burger says:

    Great post, James. I agree that networking and building relationships is not about self promoting but rather trying to help others make connections – there is a good feeling by being able to help others – and many times they reciprocate. I found your advice so valuable that I have included your post in ‘Best of the Web’ http://j3webmarketing.com/best-web where others can also enjoy your great post. Thank you.

  41. PF says:

    These are some good tips. I think the most important part about networking is establishing the relationship first. You don’t want to just go out and ask someone to get you a job. Instead, build mutual trust and then it will be more like a small favor that you may be able to someday reciprocate.

  42. Kathleen says:

    I would like permission to share your networking tips in some training materials I’m developing for a mentoring program. VR – Kathy Peterson

  43. Can I translate it to Spanish language? Just to share your expertise with other people who are not acquainted with the English language?

    Thanks for the post, very helpful tips :)

  44. Eric says:

    I think you got it exactly right by stating “The goal of networking should be to help other people” as your number 1. If people kept this in mind as their rule of thumb it would help A LOT. Thanks for this.

  45. Chad says:

    As many have already mentioned – this is a great post with tons of useful information. I’ve been one to shy away from networking because, as you mentioned it felt self serving and salesy.

    These tips were outstanding and I can’t wait to implement them!

  46. Great article, Thank you for sharing.

  47. Jose Ramallo says:

    Networking is, without a doubt, the pillar of any business. I myself enjoy chating with anyone that I have a change with. I do it personally and online, too. Relationships are essential to life itself. Thank you very much for taking the time to send me information. I know it has a commercial side involved, but I also know that you do as you preach.

  48. Great tips as usual James! Following up is one the most important key to build the relations. No matter if you are a job aspirant or a new entrepreneur, following up is really needed.

    Thanks

  49. Jae says:

    These are some great tips. Networking is a long-term strategy to creating growth both personally and for business. It’s not about selling to the room. That is a mistake that I see so many make and, indeed, that I used to make when I first started networking.

    I would also say that to follow up, then speaking to people, either on the phone, Skype or one-to-one is more effective than emailing them.

    But the point is to make that follow-up. “The fortune is in the follow-up!”

  50. ashwin says:

    Thanks, Great Tips !!!!!! Will try n follow them… Thanks Again !!!!!

  51. Liz says:

    Loved this article! I originally read it to gather some tips for the Young Professionals group I oversee, but just 5 minutes after I read it, I had a “connecting” opportunity come to mind.

    Thanks for the inspiration!

  52. James,
    Thank you so much for yet another great article… it confirms and reassures my resolve to abstain from persons who are reaching out for the sole purpose of exploiting my resources.
    Case in point, I extended myself on LinkedIn to someone whom I’ve met in the past by asking her to join my network. She did not accept, instead tried to negotiate “what I have to offer to her… she wants to be a partner in my business, etc.) needless to say, I erased her email and bid her adieu. I cannot understand that mindset.
    My primary objective is to assist others and in the process good “may” befall upon me. I will use this article as a bible- both as to my method of approaching others and as a tool to wean out those who are less than honest about their interactions with me.
    Again, I always treasure your articles/lessons in the shadows… but I had to add a comment in this instance.

  53. Peter Harrison says:

    This is great info. I am trying to crank up our current networking group to a much higher level. Not a bad start!

  54. Mike says:

    As I go through the article and comments, I see a lot of amazing tips and advice. Some times though it’s hard to actually know HOW to do it, even though we know WHAT to do. Not trying to be salesy here – just recently created an excel tool to help organize, structure and motivate networking so it’s not so hard. Check it out and let me know if it helps you! networktosuccess.com.

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