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A blog by the Staff and Users of GoodLittleBiz.com

Send us stories and reflections about your good little business; we’ll post them in guest blogs so that others can learn from your journey.

Little Guys Have the Advantage in a Recession

It doesn’t always feel that way – being the little guy often doesn’t feel like the power position. But take another look.

The current recession has buyers re-thinking how they use their resources. Those of us who want to remain high-value trading partners are called upon to respond – sensitively – to new sets of concerns. Our prospects and customers are operating in new worlds. They are re-interpreting what’s most important, where they will focus, what they need, and with whom they will place their trust.

It reminds me of the moment, many millions of years ago, when the cooling of the earth offered our warm-blooded small mammal forebears advantage over the dinosaurs.

Large businesses cannot move quickly. It’s very difficult for them to notice a new nuance in Customers’ thinking, listen in a way that people experience as being heard, and respond in a way that generates new value for both parties. This most basic human interaction is not scalable. The big guys don’t have a chance competing with us in personal customer connection.

Like the dinosaurs requiring a certain amount of heat – reptiles cannot regulate their body temperatures - our large competitors thrive on scalability. That puts them at a huge disadvantage in a changing environment. They’re desperately trying to figure out how to appear responsive. But web 2.0 makes the job harder and harder.* Of course customers can tell when no one’s really listening - the human brain is very hard to fool on that score.

Little guy/gals, on the other hand, thrive on being close to our Customers. We can know every one of them personally, we can respond to each one uniquely, and naturally they can feel it.

The way to leverage this advantage is to focus on a simple question that will juice your brain and stoke the fire in your belly:
Who do you want to serve, and what do you want to make happen for them?

Use the question to focus and refocus. If you’re feeling worried about the recession (which is likely to reduce your intelligence by interfering with Pre Frontal Cortex function), the question will spark your ingenuity.

Take it one step farther, as we do in Worksheet 1, “Who would you LOVE to be working with?” That question will enable you to work with recession, not against it, by taking the little guy’s advantage: getting closer to the people you care about when they need it most.

The only reason a business exists is to help certain someone solve a certain problem they can’t easily solve for themselves. That’s why people are willing to pay their time and money, because they get help.

- Worksheet 1,">Heart of Business

* Prahalad’s brilliant book shows large businesses how to operate from n=1, but the discipline to do so is very demanding, and predictably rare.

Business is a Social Activity - A Business Anthropologist's View

For many, the insight that business is social is something of a surprise. In much of Western tradition, work and play are viewed as a dichotomy: business falls in the former, and sociality in the latter. But that’s not how the brain is organized. New insights from Neuroscience clarify how the brain functions to keep us focused on others (with emotions – ever heard of them?) A recent article from Strategy and Business explores the implications for managers.

Through the lens of Business Anthropology, it’s apparent that trading is old as the first human communities. Commerce is in our biology. Though I’ve been writing about that for decades, it’s delightful to see what Social Cognitive NeuroScience labs are revealing with fMRI studies; businesses large and small can seize new opportunities.

Our brains naturally respond to change as though it’s dangerous, and shut down our ‘thinking centers’ rather than firing them up. But we can train our brains to be ingenious when exposed to risk. I’m with Jim Collins’ assessment that the ability to face uncertainly with curiosity is the most important skill of our times. Neuroscience illuminates the challenge as well as how to focus on the desired competences.

Unfortunately, our brains are not geared to be effective in the face of ongoing stress like a global recession. We don't tend to get smart. But we humans have a rare gift: we retain plasticity into adulthood. We can learn new moves. And the current business environment certainly demands that we do so.

Perhaps most important to my practice over 3 decades is understanding how we’re inclined to respond to vulnerability. On this subject, current Neuroscience research is stunning. Even when informed that a situation is simulated – even using cartoons and stick figures – smart people feel intense pain of rejection and strong pleasure of belonging and contributing.

The actions we take, the decisions we make, the possibilities we recognize are determined by this powerful programming. Focusing on the vulnerabilities of others inspires our best work. We become ingenious. We can spark our enterprises and fire customers’ curiosity and commitment.

Solopreneurs and small business have a huge advantage in using this force, because we can be so nimble. We can quickly respond to emerging vulnerability and invent new ways to add value. Our forebears have done so for 150,000 generations – that’s how we got here. Any business can be vulnerability-centric. It’s the most powerful force at hand.

Have examples? Please share!

Where Innovation Can Take Us - The Power of Commerce - Guest Blog by Bob Eckert

We believe that the most powerful organized force for change (for good or bad) in the world that humans have built is the system of commerce through which we exchange value and find ways to feed our families. We intend to leverage that power to make the world a better place for all of us. We recognize that at times the most influential global powers have been religions and governments, but we think that time has passed in most of the world and is gradually passing in all of it. This change opens an incredible opportunity for humanity: commerce is a lever by which we can do some very positive things for the world.

In order to continue to survive in a competitive commercial environment, we must innovate.
In order to sustainably innovate, we must improve our maturity and wisdom as individuals
(see our last newsletter.)
As we do so, we become more able to tackle the larger problems that we face — even those outside of work.

We believe the desire/demand for innovation will help us learn how to be more productive with each other. This is what we need in order to create a better future for our children. Yes, it’s the competitive element that innovation has introduced to commerce that can take us to a better life, workplace, community and world. As evidence of this, we at New & Improved are as likely to get an e–mail from one of our program graduates that they have made / saved their company big bucks via what they’ve learned as we are to get an e–mail telling us how they finally had a productive conversation with their sullen teenager using the same methods.

Wouldn’t it be great if we were able to effectively pass something forward to the next generation other than our personal wealth or tax bill? Wouldn’t it be fantastic if we put front and center the idea that the most important inheritance we could leave would be generational increases in wisdom? Wouldn’t it be wonderful if, from a young age, most of society was engaged in a conversation designed to answer the question

“What might be all of the ways we could improve our maturity as a species?”

And that we could be having this conversation in the place where we spend the largest chunk of our day to day lives — at work. In that context, you could reframe the question as,

“What might be all the ways we could work together better?”

We believe that the evolutionary pressures that exist in commerce might be just the pressure to energize that conversation.

The real bottom line

As you work to turn your organization’s attention to improvement of its innovation culture, as you work to build the systems, organizational structures and training processes that improve your company’s innovation quotient, you are also improving the world’s ability to effectively tackle the big issues that we have been too immature, narrow–minded and short–sighted to solve so far. We believe this is an innovation mission that ANY organization should be proud to throw themselves behind, even as they are working to strengthen their position in the market — their bottom line — via innovation. It is a great service to us all that you grow through innovation, because you create a competitive pressure for others that can only be resolved by increasing their innovation abilities...and hence their ability to think and work productively with others.

So get with it. Out–innovate others. Raise the bar for us all, and serve us all in the process of doing so.

You can reach Bob at http://www.newandimproved.com

Brain, Body, & Business

Entering Q4 of a very challenging year, I’ve been asking myself, what would it take to be:

Fit to Thrive in Any Economy?

Is it possible?

In my Business Anthropologist hat, it’s clear that human beings have been finding ways to generate value for each other as the world shifts around us for, oh, at least 150,000 generations*...and probably we’ll find ways to do it too…

That begs the question, how do we go about being effective in the face of – often unwelcome – change? The imperative is urgent, though the combination of skills required are rare.

The lens of Business Anthropology that I find so handy illuminates how commerce and the human brain evolved together. It’s no accident that we sustain Neuroplasticity – so important to innovation - into adulthood. Below is a very rough view over 4 major Ice Ages and countless periods of warming/rising sea levels, no doubt accompanied by earthquakes, tidal waves, volcanic eruptions, not to mention predators, drought…honing groups’ ability to keep each other alive.

 

Brain  

Body

Business

3,200,000 years
160,000 gens

500 cc

Large male 5’
Large female 4’
Fully upright, arched foot
Sloped forehead

Cooperating for protection
Coordinating
Primitive tools
Language?
Africa

1,000,000 years
50,000 gens

1000 cc

Heavy brow ridges
Less sloping forehead

Good cutting edges
Spread throughout Asia, Africa, maybe Europe

25,000 years
1,250  gens

1500 cc
modern

Large male 6’
Large female 5’5”
Fully modern

Trading over thousands of miles
Art
Elegant tools
Herding
Asia, Africa, Australia, and maybe the Americas

Our ancestors’ stressors differed from ours in several important ways. Understanding how our brains tend respond to the challenges of modern commerce allows us to build new neural pathways: becoming more competent to navigate our changing world as individuals, and revealing how to keep our enterprises viable.

Change is a moment of opportunity for those who can keep their brains curious, bodies vital, and enterprises nimble. I’ve developed Fit to Thrive in Any Economy, a new synthesis of brain, body, & business, based on recent insights from Neuroscience, perspectives from Business Anthropology, and practices from the Martial Arts. What are you doing?  What are you seeing that’s working?

This moment in commerce is unprecedented. It’s a call for ingenuity and leadership. Let’s get the job done.

*The newly-published Ardi fossils appear to push that back to at least 210,000 generations.

How Can a Solopreneur Choose What to Learn Next? Guest blog by Molly Gordon

This is a question that begs for a question as an answer: What do you want?

Desire is an important compass, and I think we use it less than we should. When we listen wisely, desire will tell us where we need to focus our time, money, and energy to get the results we want.

The problem is that we rarely listen wisely. We tend to distrust desire, suspecting it of conspiring to rob us of sense and dignity. When we do listen to desire, we may sometimes do so uncritically, as kids in a candy store.

The key is to listen to the direction in which desire calls us, while letting go of the destination. Listening like that will show you exactly what to learn next.

Here's how to listen to desire.

Start in a quiet place. Quiet has nothing to do with the level of external noise, but everything to do with the level of noise between your ears. Bring your attention inward and settle into your body. Let your breathing deepen.

Begin to notice your body sensations. Observe and acknowledge them without trying to change anything. Take your time so that every part of your experience can be noted. This is about coming home to yourself. It's the equivalent of pausing on a journey and finding a still place from which to check your compass.

Now invite into your awareness the things you most want for the year ahead. (The time period is up to you. If you are planning a vacation or retreat, use the length of time you plan to be gone.) Let these desires come into your awareness and simply observe them. You might jot them down if there are very many.

Having named what you desire, notice which desire has the greatest charge or energy. Then ask yourself, “What will that give me?” Pause and listen as the answer comes to you. It may arrive as a thought, a sensation, a shift in emotion, or an image. Just be present to whatever comes.

Keep asking “What will that give me?” until you feel you have reached the core of this desire.

By listening to your desire in this way, you’ve used it as a sort of compass that points to something really important and valuable to you, something deeper than the desire itself. Now that you know what that something is, you can ask, “What can I learn to move in that direction?”

Leverage Your Energy to Build Your Business; Guest Blog by Molly Gordon

How do I find the balance point: working on my business vs delivering to customers?

The key to achieving a balance between working on one's business and delivering value to customers is Reduce, Reuse, Recycle. Incorporating these three principles into your business can result in a much healthier business eco-system, one that will generate a healthy living for you.

Reduce. The first principle in finding a balance point is to reduce unnecessary expenditures of time and money.
The best business people I know are experts at making do. This is not to be confused with cheaping out, for the very same people are willing to part with significant chunks of time and cash when they feel it is worthwhile. On the other hand, they don't spend a dime on promotion, packaging, or presentation without knowing that it will bring a return on investment.

There are countless businesses that make money by selling something to other businesses. Some of them use a technique I call “shaming up.” That is, they build a case that you deserve to fail if you aren’t willing to spend money on their product or service. If you walk away from their offer, you are branded a loser.

Frequently these companies talk about leverage and needing to spend money to make money. That’s nonsense. A lever only works when there is a fulcrum, a stable object across which the lever rests. Without a fulcrum (money in the bank, for example) the longest lever in the world is useless.

Reuse. The second principle in finding a balance point is to reuse work you have done before. In this way, your work products become assets.
Here's an example. Jim does fine finish carpentry. His current project is a remodel, and the existing trim uses an exotic wood that the client prefers not to use for environmental reasons. Jim works with the client to choose a new trim that coordinates with the existing trim but has a lower environmental impact.

Applying the principle of reuse, Jim writes a blog post on choosing environmentally friendly trim and illustrates it with a snapshot from the project. In this way, he uses work he does for a client to build credibility and visibility for his business.

Recycle. The third principles in finding a balance point is to recycle resources in one form into another form.
Let's look at Jim again. If he reuses the experiences and learning he gathers in his work as material for blog posts, in time he will end up with quite a body of information. Jim can recycle this information into e-courses, ebooks, and pamphlets.

These materials can be given away or sold, depending on Jim's business strategy. For example, he might provide a free e-course on environmentally friendly construction to build a mailing list of people who might want to pay for a class on the same topic.

Finding the Right Focus for Sales; MollyGordon Guest Blog #1:

I'm delighted to welcome Molly. This is one of three blogs where she addresses key questions for MicroBusiness owners.

Marsha asks: What’s the key to finding the right focus for sales?


What I notice is that service providers seems to get lost around articulating their offers, including the results they want to be known for. E.g., you’re known for Authentic Promotion, and the Self Employment Telesummit is a great way for people to access that benefit. So you can focus your sales efforts on the Summit and on that promise.


How would you recommend that other Accidental Entrepreneurs – perhaps beginners – develop that kind of focus through which they can sell/showcase their services?

The biggest mistake I see people make with respect to sales, and one I continue to wrestle with myself, is trying to be all things to all people.

When I was first coaching, I went through a phase of trying to write a business plan. I got stuck at the very first part: what was I offering and to whom. I would write something that sounded good (based on what I was reading online at the time), but it didn’t feel real to me.

I noticed that the harder I worked on this plan, the worse I felt. I’d be depressed and distracted, sometimes I even felt physically ill. And one day it hit me that there was a connection between trying too hard to articulate an offer and feeling so crummy.

I still didn't know what would work, but I was crystal clear about what wasn’t working, so I stopped trying to sell myself. As soon as I did, I observed something stunning: I had one perfect client. (And I do mean perfect.)

This client was paying my full rate. She was clearly getting a lot from our work. She knew how to create value from coaching (very important!), and I found working with her to be stimulating on many levels. It occurred to me that she held the key to my marketing plan. Whatever caused her to hire me and to continue to value me was what I needed to be telling other people.

So I resolved to stop trying to sell (which wasn’t my favorite thing anyway) and to start really listening to what this women said about our work. I paid attention to what she said she got out of our work. I neither elaborated nor minimized it. And I started using the language she used in our sessions to talk about my work.

After that, when I was asked what I did, I might say, “My clients tell me I clarify things for them, that they see their choices more clearly and feel more confident in their decisions.”

My brand, Authentic Promotion, emerged in a similar manner. I wrote a grant and secured funding for a local workshop in business communications for artists and craftspeople. While authenticity has always been a core value for me, the real power of the term comes from the fact that dozens, if not hundreds, of people who have experienced my work describe it as authentic.

What I’d like readers to take away from these two stories is that the key to having a focus around which you can sell multiple products and services is that it be (1) something other people readily associate with you and (2) something you are comfortable standing for.

The mistake I was making in the beginning and that I see others make is to look for a broad focus. “Broad” and “focus” is a contradiction in terms. A helpful metaphor here is the hearth. The Latin root of “focus” meant domestic hearth, the focal point or gathering place for the home. Similarly, your sales focus should be like a warming fire, an attractive gathering place around which other products and services can be arranged.

How do you find your hearth? Notice what attracts other people to you over time. Listen carefully to the language others use to describe the value you bring. Then choose one way to express that value in a product or service. That is your flagship offer.

I chose Authentic Promotion because that was the focus of my work at the time. I felt comfortable bringing the value and perspective of authenticity to the challenge of marketing and promotion.

These days I offer a variety of other programs and products including The Goldilocks Strategy for Getting Clients that Fit Just Right and Authentic Wealth. The people who are attracted to Authentic Promotion tend to be attracted to my other programs. You could say they belong in the same gathering place. So Authentic Promotion does not need to include these other programs so much as those programs need to be congruent with Authentic Promotion.

In this way, a simple, even narrow, focus can anchor a broad array of offers.

Freelancers' #3 Most Costly Pitfall

The right deal can make or break a small business.

It looks different for a product-based business than for a service firm. A colleague chatting about “What You Get When You Buy Zappo’s” last week chortled,

Zappo’s is the greatest! You can order 14 pairs of shoes, get them the next day, and return 13 – or as many as you want. They really nailed it…And now their employees are worried that it’s not going to be as much fun to work for Amazon.

Zappo’s gets the power of the right deal.

For Freelancers and Micro Business, most of whom are delivering services, the challenge is a bit different. The pitfall I observe over and over again is overlooking this telling question:

Who will promise what in order to achieve the desired results?

In a service context, clients invariably have a role in reaching targeted outcomes. But it’s a rare Freelance contract that spells out those tasks: most focus on the Freelancer’s deliverables. Therein is the pitfall.

How often have you been surprised when a client doesn’t hold up their end of a project? They miss timing that puts the entire project behind, or they’re called to focus on something else – and your project suffers? Or, while it may seem blindingly obvious to you, even well-intended clients often simply do not know what’s required to hold up their end – especially for a new project.

Ever found yourself sending email after voicemail asking a client when you might expect to receive something that you absolutely need to do your job – and gotten no responses?

Once the project is underway, unless they’ve made specific promises, even the most well-meaning client is likely to assume that you’re handing the project.

As a veteran of the mess that follows, I’ve learned to articulate a client’s tasks, including by-when, in writing – along with my own. I include the actions and timelines the client must undertake in order to achieve optimal results, as well as a promise to turnaround my messages and requests within a specific timeframe, together with an estimate of how much total employee time is likely to be involved, as part of their investment in the project.

The clear, written deal that results sets us up: we know what to expect of each other, and we’re in shape to address how we’ll deal with unexpected twists and turns – which are almost guaranteed to occur in an environment changing as fast as the one we operate in every day.

Taking the time to write down and review mutual commitments with a client constitutes a Golden Pause. It brings a handsome ROI: tasks are more likely to be completed on time and to desired specifications; relationships are more robust; it’s easy for everyone to be accountable; there’s more trust. Everything flows better.

By contrast, when those elements are not clear, one or both of you is more likely to be disappointed.

Beginning Freelancers often fear that making the deal clear enough to include the client’s responsibilities make the sale less likely. I suggest that sales lost to a clear deal are sales that will hurt you more than help you – the kind that demand a lot of time and energy and still don’t get good results. An important pitfall to avoid.

MicroBusiness Can Use the Brain to Land Big Clients

Two articles caught my eye this morning, in the wake of an email yesterday challenging me to illuminate how Micro Businesses can position themselves for desirable projects with The Fortune 500-100-50.

From Strategy and Business, “Leading Out of the Downturn”, speaks about how the recession calls upon leaders to re-invent the future – essentially to shift the context in which people are operating, by articulating new ways that they can contribute and ‘win’, even in a down economy. Recent brain research shows how that kind of re-labeling reduces stress: by decreasing uncertainty, new labels allow people to focus on a new question that gets brain juices flowing.

I agree that’s a leader’s job – and not an easy one. But what does that have to do with MicroBiz opportunities? It’s not a quickie, but it is a goldmine, so take a slow breath and read on.

  • Organizations are essentially networks of commitments. Large organizations are composed of many commitments in a complex web, and that’s why they’re hard/slow to change (entropy.)
  • Micro Business has the huge advantage of nimbleness.” Because we have fewer commitments we can respond to changing conditions faster.


We are faster to conceive how corporations could be responding favorably in the recession than [smart, well-meaning] leaders inside the organizations. We have enormous value to add by increasing their resilience: with new moves that would make them more viable in new situations.


Small Business can serve Fortune 500-100-50 leaders with thought leadership – specialty by specialty. For example, AdvanceMarketWoRx,” a MicroBiz consulting in Healthcare and Consumer Marketing, after 6 months of blogging and other social media was asked for articles by leading publications in the Pharmaceutical Industry. Their blogs have addressed a number of issues which will define the future of drug companies, including Can Healthcare Games Change the Game of Healthcare?” and How to to be Patient-Centric.” Not surprisingly, the firm has several new projects with brands that want to be market leaders.


Today’s other post is from Mirren This Week, “Why Your Calls Don’t Get Returned – you think the call is about you”.” It makes the excellent point that if you don’t know enough about the prospect to offer a new insight that will specifically help their business, you’re not ready to pick up the phone. Micro Businesses are often experts in our fields. Those who do know enough about the prospect can begin to add value in the first phone call.


Fresh language and new questions are powerful ways to decrease the fear of uncertainty and fire prospects’ curiosity about new opportunities. The whole world was galvanized in January this year when a plane landed in the Hudson River in 18 degree air temperature, and people nearby quickly powered pleasure craft as well as commercial boats to get the passengers out of the freezing water. Lives don’t have to be at stake to spark the brain; new questions are compelling, especially when they’re focused on others' concerns. Leading your prospect with an inventive question about how his/her customers might thrive will do the job just as well.


Innovative terms and questions reduce uncertainty, thereby reducing stress in the brain, and people feel better immediately. Less stressed, a prospect can process a new possibility. And feel good about you.


Focus on a better future for your prospect and their customers, lead with fresh language and interesting questions. Write, speak, and call.

Have examples of landing big clients by reducing uncertainty? Please share them.

The #2 Threat to Self-employed and Small Businesses

Having written about the single most costly pitfall several weeks ago, today I got - yet another - good look at #2 : believing that any customer is a good customer.

On the contrary, knowing your best customers is a goldmine for a small business. Best customers are your most profitable: they cost least to acquire and to satisfy, and they connect you with more best customers. Targeting them, mapping the segment, and discovering how to communicate with them, is a direct route to a thriving enterprise.

When the chemistry is right between provider and customer, everything is easier: they're most likely to get what they want, enjoy their experience, return for more, and spread the word to others.

When the chemistry is not right – when business and customer don't enjoy a good fit – you're likely to wear yourself out efforting to please people who are not going to be happy with you.

Certainly best Customers will benefit from one or more results that you’re good at delivering, and that you enjoy providing. Sometimes customers know what they want before they meet you, sometimes not. (No one was looking for an iPhone.) Sometimes discovering what will serve them best is part of the benefit you provide.

Mood is an increasingly important part of the match between a business and its best customers. Mood is a natural differentiator and a key part of customer experience. (Consider your favorite places to do business. What is the mood of those places?)

There are many ways prospects can pursue a desired result, including, of course, via your competitors. Any customer will find it natural to operate in a certain way: a set of behaviors, moods, and mindsets feel natural to them, as they do to you. If their prevalent mood and mindset matches yours – and fits the promise and the experience you intend for customers - you have the best chance of a good relationship.

And the sooner you find out whether you’ve got a good match, the better for both of you.

For example, the people who groom my standard poodle call their business, Hair of the Dog. As soon as I heard that name, I knew they were the right ones for me (as opposed to Pets Galore, North West Pets, Joe's Pet Service…). Sure enough, I like their mood, the pace at which they move, the way they track customer preferences, and the way they handle animals. They are inconveniently located for me, but I never question making the trip (driving across town twice in one day, says this woman who hates driving…) There are several groomers within walking distance of my house; I’ve never tried them. Nor do know how much any of them charge. What I know is that my elderly dog is relaxed when I pick her up, and happy to say a leisurely goodbye to the groomer rather than trying to hide behind my legs or bolt out the door.

And every time someone says, “What a beautiful dog”, I gladly take the opportunity to support their business.

To begin employing the power of mood with your best customers, dive in here:
• What mood feels most natural to you?
• What traits attract you to people?
• What is the prevalent mood of your favorite people?
• What is the mood you like to work in?

Take the liberty to identify who you really enjoy doing business with. Chances are, it’s mutual. Note who drags you down, and stop working with them, rather than struggling to please them. One of my clients finally terminated a difficult client last year - giving up a $3 million account - and her business has since taken off. She’s got vibrant new projects, and her margins are among the best in the industry.

Rather than disciplining yourself to serve everyone, focus on serving those who will enjoy it most. Benefit and pleasure have a way of going together.

Once having identified your best customers, explore how you can do even more for them. Pay attention to how they speak, and learn to speak their language. And ask yourself: is there more than one segment in the group?

The clients and colleagues I fit best with operate in a mood of learning. They're curious and thoughtful. Though action-oriented, they value reflection. They appreciate powerful questions that spark fresh thinking about business environments, what they offer and how they deliver, mistakes they may have made…They want to see where they're blind. They have a lot in common. However, clients and colleagues are 2 different segments – and I serve them in different ways.

They’re all best customers, and by understanding each segment, I can deepen my value to both.

Who are your best customers? What more would you like to do for them? Focus on that, and avoid the costly, common mistake of believing that any customer is a good customer.

Have best customer examples you'd like to share?

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