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How to start an online business

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If you want to step out of the corporate office, stop commuting, work independently of location and become your own boss, you may want to start an online business. If you are ready to take the plunge, peep this post to learn how to start an online business.

Here’s what we’ll cover:

Ready to dig in? You can do this!

Research online business ideas

To make your online business succeed, you need to make money. So, the first step in starting your business is deciding how you will generate revenue. When it comes to online business ideas, you have a few options.

Sell products online

stack of pink shipping packagesOver the past few years, people have grown more comfortable shopping from their couches, which means there’s never been a better time to start an online store or add ecommerce functionality to your website. It’s never been easier for small businesses to get into the ecommerce game, either.

If you’re an ecommerce noob, however, you may need help selecting the right products and platforms to sell online, learning how to build and launch your ecommerce site, finding your target customers, and closing the deal. We’ve gathered all the information and tools you’ll need to easily launch your online store and list your products on all marketplaces, both quickly and effectively.

Try dropshipping

Many first-time ecommerce entrepreneurs start their careers with no physical inventory. Through a process called dropshipping, you can act as a wholesaler of products that you curate on your site, then purchase directly from the manufacturer to ship to your customers.

Sell courses

Online courses that you create yourself or sell on behalf of others. Like digital products, online courses can be set to automatically deliver to customers upon purchase.

Start a blog and become an affiliate

Affiliate products that you sell on behalf of another business. When selling affiliate products, you usually don’t have to store or ship products. The merchant deals with delivery, and you simply receive a commission for helping sell their product.

Create a SaaS product

Software as a service (SaaS) is an offering that falls somewhere between a product and a service. If you develop software — say, like a scheduling app for small business — you can have customers sign up and pay a recurring fee to use the tech you developed. For this type of product, a platform with membership functionality helps a lot.

Offer services

You can start an online business based on selling consulting and freelancing services that are completed online or over the phone. When you sell services online, you can find customers and make sales on your own. Or you can sign up for sites that manage the process and allow you to connect with clients through their platform.

Choose a niche that works

Dog Looking At Food In A Bowl

Dog Looking At Food In A BowlThe best product ideas are often born from hobbies and passions, where you discover an opportunity in a niche that no one is serving.

For example, pet products are always popular in the ecommerce sphere, but competition can be high. But if you choose a niche like organic pet products, there’s less sellers offering similar products and a greater opportunity to refine your catalog.

Search for keywords or phrases that your target market will likely use to find your niche product or service, and note if the market is saturated.

If that is the case, it could cost you extra money and time to stand out in an already crowded marketplace. Sometimes, it’s better to start small in an underserved market.

Check the online competition

Once you have positive product feedback, research your competition and gain market insight online.

Start by searching for and visiting popular product review sites, where you can find lists of top websites  for specific categories, compiled by experts. Read what the experts like and visit the websites to see how they’re doing it. Additionally, look at customer reviews to learn what people like and dislike about them.

Likewise, go on social media to see what people are saying. Do people complain about them, or do most of their customers sing their praises? This exercise will give you an idea of how much brand loyalty the competition has. Also, see if those brands respond to customer questions and complaints, and list what the common issues might be.

Subscribing to your competitors’ email lists is another effective way to analyze how they are talking to your target audience. Make note of their pricing and promotional strategies, which we’ll detail later in this post.

Research keywords and difficulty

Use a keyword planning tool such as Moz, Semrush or the Google keyword planner tool. These will show you search volumes for a particular keyword, as well as how much competition there is when it comes to ranking for it.

As you research keywords, it’s important to strike a balance between search volume and competition — there’s not much benefit targeting a keyword nobody searches, yet it’s best to avoid high-competition terms.

Check the SERPs

When you start getting your head around the keywords you want to target, plug some of them into a search engine and check the results. Note who’s at the top of the page — they must be doing something right, so pay a visit to their websites and ask yourself some of these questions:

  • How are they incorporating keywords into the website text?
  • How does the language they use establish their brand?
  • Are there any design elements that jump out?
  • What other things make this website special?

While you should never copy a competitor’s website, there’s nothing wrong with getting inspiration from it. Jot down notes that you can refer to as you continue to start an online business.

Create a business plan

A business plan can be like a roadmap that guides your business from starting to succeeding. And if you’re planning to apply for a loan or attract investors, a solid business plan is evidence that you’re a safe bet. At a minimum, your business plan should include these sections:

  • Executive summary — Be brief in describing, from a high level, what your business will do or sell.
  • Organization and management — Introduce key members of your team, and how their skills and experience will help you succeed.
  • Service or product line — Describe your offering, how it works, and why there’s a demand out there for it.
  • Marketing and sales — Explain how you’ll get your product or service in front of the largest possible audience.
  • Funding request — If you’re seeking external funding, specify your needs and what the funding will support.
  • Financial projections — State how much revenue you expect to generate. This can strengthen your case for funding.
  • Appendix — If you have reference materials, technical specs or certifications, include them here.

Consider funding options

Unless you have that rich uncle everyone dreams about, you’ll need to secure funding before you successfully start an online business. There are a few routes you could take here:

  • Secure a loan — If your business idea is compelling and you have a rock-solid business plan, you might persuade a financial institution to front you the startup funds. Just be sure to understand any interest and potential penalties.
  • Attract investors — Investors also could show interest if you have a great idea and business plan to put in front of them. However, you might need to relinquish some control of your venture to accommodate them.
  • Bootstrap it — This would be the most direct route. If you have savings, investments or other assets, using them to bootstrap your idea gives you total control. But you need to consider the ramifications if your business idea falls through.

Choose a business structure

Separate yourself from the business by setting up a C-Corp or LLC status that limits your personal liability for the company. This protects you and makes you appear more professional to customers and clients. Here are three structures to consider:

  • Sole proprietorship — The business is nor incorporated, with a single person designated as the owner.
  • Partnership — Two or more people are designated owners, contributing toward expenses and sharing profits.
  • LLC — With a limited liability corporation, definitions can vary by region, but essentially the business exists without owners, offering legal and tax protection.

Separating your personal and professional finances will make it easier for you to file your taxes and keep an eye on your financial situation.

Once you establish your business as a separate entity, you can get a tax ID number for the business, allowing you to better manage your taxes and open a business bank account.

Check laws for online businesses

Law Firm Web Design Stock One

Law Firm Web Design Stock OneHere, you might need to source some professional advice or at least do some comprehensive research. Don’t start an online business only to discover there’s a law that creates a conflict leaving you dead in the water.

There’s likely a local government agency — such as a Department of Revenue — that could provide a checklist of applicable laws.

For example, in some regions there are very strict laws that apply to marketing to individuals online. And if you’re setting up an online store, it’s crucial to understand all the regulations that cover privacy and data protection.

Obtain permits and licenses

At the very least, you’ll likely need a license issued by your regional authority to start an online business. And if you specialize in a particular product or service, there might be additional permits or licenses you need to secure.

For example, a barber or stylist would need a license from their local cosmetological authority. And many home services require specific licenses or permits, for example, to excavate or operate heavy machinery.

Register a domain name

When choosing your ecommerce business name, consider something that is short, memorable, and marketable. A thorough search for a domain name can also help you find the right name for your ecommerce store.

The cost for a domain name can range anywhere from $2 to $20, but there can be hidden costs. Review this guide on how much a domain name cost for more details on what to include in your budget.

You might also consider using .shop or .store for general ecommerce, or get more specific with .jewelry, .clothing, .coffee and more.

Build your website or online store

Person working at computer while referencing a notepad

Person working at computer while referencing a notepadOnce you decide on a business model, you need to choose the best place to build your business online. How you make money online will dictate which platform you should build your business on. Choosing where to build an online business is just as important as learning how to start an online business.

Whether you plan to create a website or use an online store builder to get online, be sure to evaluate all your options, taking cost and complexity into consideration.

Target your main keywords

Do some research to discover what select words and phrases people use to search for your type of business. Sprinkle these keywords throughout the content on your website and create pages that focus on your target keyword. These might represent services — such as “lawn care” — or products if you’re operating an online store. Here it helps to check what the competition is doing to perform well in search results.

Create content that ranks and sells

Whether it’s a shareable infographic, entertaining how-to video, or blog post about why spending time in your online store is more fun than watching a favorite TV show, make content that people can’t find anywhere else.

This is the kind of stuff people will want to link to from their own websites and social profiles (remember backlinks?). Make sure they find that amazing content by optimizing it for search engines.

When it comes to content that ranks and sells, there are a couple main elements to consider: SEO and compelling product listings.

Search engine optimization (SEO): the process of refining a website to get higher search engine rankings and organic visitors to your site, without paying for search engine placement.

Unlike paid listings — advertisements that display in sponsored areas — organic search results are “free” and based on, among other things, the site’s content and how closely it matches the keywords being searched.

After you (or your website guru) does the website backend stuff needed to attract the attention of the search engine bots (like connecting the site to Google Search Console), search engines know that your site exists. They scan it, index the information, and analyze the website’s content to determine how and where your website’s content should display on search engine results pages (SERPs).

Compelling product descriptions that sell

Details can make or break a sales transaction. Since you don’t have a sales clerk to answer your customer questions on a website, start by thinking of all the questions they might ask that person in-store.

For example, what fabrics is a sweater made of? Is it organic and earth-friendly? Was it made locally? What other items might pair well with it?

Your descriptions should be as detailed as possible. However, being honest and upfront about it helps to build trust with customers.

Set up payment providers for ecommerce

The key to closing an online sale is to provide an intuitive and seamless checkout and payment experience.

Some platforms offer built-in checkout and payment processing tools. For example, GoDaddy’s Online Store enables you to securely accept all major credit cards, PayPal and Apple Pay — but not all service providers do. If you’d prefer to sell both online and in person, a solution like GoDaddy Payments is easy to set up and provides a high level of security for your transactions.

When evaluating options, you’ll need to consider:

  • Does the platform’s merchant account accept all currencies and offer SSL certificates?
  • What forms of payment can you accept through your account? Credit cards, personal checks, wire transfers, or money orders?
  • How about PayPal or Stripe?
  • Does your platform offer a payment gateway to verify, approve, and process charges in real-time?
  • Does it integrate with your website’s existing platform?
  • Do other merchants like or complain about the platform’s checkout and payment experience?

Review all your options and ask the platform provider about the associated transaction rates and processing fees. For example, GoDaddy Payments offers the lowest transaction fees compared to other leading providers.

Source products

If you’re planning to start an online business to sell products, having a reliable source will be essential. There are a few ways to consider locking this down:

  • Find a supplier — A reliable manufacturer or wholesaler can keep you supplied, but inventory control (too much vs. not enough) can present a serious challenge, as can storage and transportation.
  • Set up dropshipping — As mentioned earlier, dropshipping lets you sell while your supplier fulfills the orders. This might require specific technology to manage the supply chain once you get things moving.
  • Supply it yourself — This option gives you the most control, but you need to think about your workforce. Doing everything yourself could be rewarding, until you find yourself scrambling to keep up with demand.

Build a brand

Even if you hire a pro to build your site for you, you’ll need to make (or at least approve) decisions about the look of the site — its design. Here are a few design fundamentals you’ll want to consider:

Logo. If you don’t have a logo or would like a new one, try our logo maker, where you can make a new logo in a matter of minutes. Once you have it, think about how you want to incorporate your company logo into your website’s design.

Colors. For brand harmony, it’s important to choose the right color palette for your website. Do you own a creative company? Perhaps vibrant colors like hot pink and tangerine speak to your brand. If you’re in the professional services industry, more subtle hues such as charcoal and blue might be more appropriate.

Think about the feelings colors evoke for you and match them with how you want your customers to feel when they visit your website.

Fonts. Think about the fonts that might best represent your particular business — from bold, linear styles to more delicate, feminine fonts.

Layouts and more. Consider the amount of “whitespace” (space between elements) in your design. A lot of whitespace can denote clarity or simplicity, while having very little of it can make your site look active or intense. Other elements, like background colors, gradients, and the “texture” of your overall design, can contribute to your online impression.

By putting a little thought into these basic design elements, you’ll make big strides in telling your story, building your brand, and framing your products and services in the best possible light on the web.

Related content: How to Make a Logo

Market and grow

Once you have a product or service to sell, a place to sell it and the peace of mind that you are operating legally and strategically, it’s time to get some customers and get to work. Tell family and friends, market yourself and seek out potential clients and customers.

Here are a the main ways to market your online business:

  • Organic search — Learn the basics of SEO and get your content to rank higher.
  • Paid search — Discover and bid on keywords to display your ads in related searches.
  • Social media — Build a following and promote your online business on social media.
  • Email marketing — Curate subscriber lists and develop email marketing campaigns.
  • Online reviews — Monitor review sites and work to ensure you hold a high rating.
  • Word of mouth — Network in person to build awareness of your online business.

The perk of having an online business is that you can take your work with you just about anywhere. But one of the best perks is that your online business is accessible to a massive audience of potential customers.

So, set up shop and get to work on building, marketing and growing your online business.

FAQ

What kind of business can I start online?

While the limit is your imagination, in this post we’ve covered some of the more popular types of business to start online:

  • Ecommerce store — Set up an online store and process sales through your website.
  • Dropshipping — Have a third-party supplier fulfill the orders you generate online.
  • Online courses — Charge people to access learning material you post online.
  • Affiliate marketer — Build a following and sell another business’ products to visitors.
  • Create a SaaS product — Develop software and charge a fee for access to it.
  • Offer services — Services such as counseling or teaching can be delivered online.

How do I start an online business with no money?

Starting an online business with no money can be a challenging task, but it is possible with the right approach and mindset. Here are some steps you can take to get started:

  • Build a website — Use a free website builder to create a professional-looking website for your business.
  • Use social media — Take advantage of social media to promote your business and reach potential customers.
  • Network — Connect with other entrepreneurs and professionals in your industry through online forums, groups, and events.

Starting an online business takes time, effort, and persistence. Stay committed to your goals and remain flexible in your approach as you adapt to new challenges and opportunities.

What kind of online business is most profitable?

The most profitable one depends on various factors such as the target audience, the niche, and the business model. Here are some examples of profitable online businesses:

  • Ecommerce — You can create your own online store or sell your products on marketplaces like Amazon, Etsy, and eBay.
  • Online education — Platforms like Udemy, Skillshare, and Coursera allow instructors to create and sell courses.
  • Affiliate marketing — Many bloggers and content creators use affiliate marketing as their primary source of income.
  • Digital marketing — Provide digital marketing services like search engine optimization (SEO), social media marketing, and email marketing.
  • Software as a service (SaaS) — Examples of successful SaaS companies include Dropbox, Slack, and Zoom.

It’s important to note that the profitability of an online business depends on various factors such as the quality of the product or service, the target audience, and the marketing strategy.

Which online business is best for beginners?

There are many online businesses that are suitable for beginners, depending on their interests, skills, and resources. Here are some ideas:

  • Dropshipping — Set up an online store and sell products without holding inventory. A third-party supplier ships the products directly to your customers.
  • Affiliate marketing — Promote products or services on your website or social media platform and earn a commission on each sale made through your referral link.
  • Blogging — Start a blog and create content around it. Once you have built up an audience, you can monetize your blog through ads, sponsorships, or affiliate marketing.
  • Online courses — Create an online course and sell it to people who want to learn the same skill. You can use platforms like Udemy or Teachable to host your courses.
  • Social media management — Offer your services to small businesses or individuals who need help with their social media presence.

Ultimately, the best online business for beginners is one that aligns with their skills, interests, and goals. It’s important to do your research, understand the market, and be willing to put in the time and effort required to succeed.



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GenAI Can Help Small Companies Level the Playing Field

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Generative AI has the potential to close content, insight, and technology gaps that large corporations typically have over their smaller counterparts. This shift presents a unique opportunity for SMEs, whose inherent agility gives them an edge in adopting and innovating with AI. This article shares some early examples of how new approaches to text and image generation, AI-generated video, customer insights, and more can help boost the competitiveness of SMEs willing to invest in generative AI tools. It’s not far-fetched to foresee a future marketplace where the depth of corporate resources is not the unequivocal determinant of success.

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Growing a Business

Nine Reasons Why Turning Down a Client Is the Best Option for Your Business

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While your business may not be right for every client, every client may not be right for your business. To that end, what’s one sign you should turn down a client, and why?

These answers are provided by Young Entrepreneur Council (YEC), an invite-only organization comprised of the world’s most successful young entrepreneurs. YEC members represent nearly every industry, generate billions of dollars in revenue each year, and have created tens of thousands of jobs. Learn more at yec.co.

1. The Client Has Unrealistic Expectations

Sometimes you’ll meet clients with unrealistic expectations — even when those expectations are incompatible with your products and services. They might demand services that you may not be able to deliver. Trying to keep such clients can often damage your relationship with them, encourage them to spread bad word-of-mouth, and hamper your reputation. Identifying such clients in time can prevent that.

Andrew Munro, AffiliateWP

s2. They’re Unresponsive

The number one way to tell if a client isn’t right for your business is if they are unresponsive. For client-business relationships to work, mutual understanding, communication, and respect are essential. If a client keeps pushing you aside when you need to clarify something for a project you’re working on for them, it may be time to move on at the end of the assignment.

Daman Jeet Singh, FunnelKit

3. They Complain During Every Step

An obvious sign that a client isn’t a good fit for your business is when they complain about your work every step of the way. I’ve encountered clients who complain because they think they will get a better price or free work. If they are truly unhappy, try to correct the mistake once or twice, and if that doesn’t work, give them a refund. Catering to toxic clients will not help you grow or succeed.

Chris Christoff, MonsterInsights

Meeting with a client

4. You’re Unable to Meet Their Needs

One should turn down a client whose expectations are hard to meet. They may not be in the wrong in the situation, and they have the right to expect certain things since they will be paying for the solutions offered. However, you should assess whether it will be possible for you to keep up with those expectations considering your current scale of operations or resources available.

Stephanie Wells, Formidable Forms

5. They Exhibit a ‘Blame-Oriented’ Mindset

Watch for a “blame-oriented mindset” in your prospecting and sales conversations. Ask a question like, “What solutions or service providers have you tried before to solve this problem, and why didn’t they work?” Observe if the prospect takes any ownership for past failures or solely blames previous providers. Such an attitude is a clear sign of a lack of accountability and collaboration. Turn down such prospects!

Devesh Dwivedi, Higher Valuation

6. They Constantly Dismiss Your Advice

Picture this: a client who insists on guiding you through uncharted territory while you hold the compass of expertise. When faced with a client who consistently dismisses your professional advice and insists on going against best practices, it’s time to question the compatibility of your collaboration. Remember: You’re the expert for a reason, and your recommendations should be valued.

Abhijeet Kaldate, Astra WordPress Theme

Talking with a big client
photo credit: Karolina Grabowska / Pexels

7. They Aren’t Engaging in the Project

When a client consistently fails to provide the necessary resources, feedback or engagement required for a successful partnership, it’s time to hit pause. A one-sided relationship will leave you feeling like a solo artist in a duet. Seek clients who actively participate, collaborate and invest in the success of the projects you undertake together.

Adam Preiser, WPCrafter

8. There Is Value or Goal Misalignment

Turn down clients if their values or goals are not aligned with your business. This can lead to conflicts and dissatisfaction and even damage your reputation. Focus on clients who share similar values and goals to maintain your brand’s integrity and benefit from the work you do for them.

Nic DeAngelo, Saint Investment – Real Estate Funds

9. They’re Always Adding ‘One More Thing’

You can tell a client is not right for your business, especially if you’re a freelancer, if they keep adding “one more thing” to the project. For instance, if you’re a writer and a client asks you to edit some of their other work “as a friend,” it may be time to end the partnership. This situation will lead to you doing tons of work and extra assignments for free, which was not the arrangement. 

John Turner, SeedProd LLC

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Running a Business in the Metaverse: Virtual Services, For the Win

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The metaverse is a network of the 3D world that can be accessed using a virtual reality headset. It is a virtual universe that offers unlimited possibilities. It is estimated that the metaverse would be an $800 million market by 2024. It is no wonder that top corporations are investing in it.

A question arises on how you can run a business in the metaverse. Virtual workplaces are already a reality, thanks to remote work. Virtual services such as virtual reception – including phone answering – like those provided by www.virtualreception.com.au can be offered as a precursor to running a business in the Metaverse.

photo credit: Tima Miroshnichenko / Pexels

Remote Work and Virtual Services

Remote work is a powerful concept that allows people to work from anywhere. They no longer need to be physically present at an office to work. They can work from home or anywhere else. A question that arises is – what about a virtual office?

At present, virtual workers work from some corner of the home. This may even change from time to time. The metaverse now makes it possible to have an infinite office that has 3 types of virtual workspaces.

1. Private virtual office

With virtual reality headsets on, you can enter your private virtual office where you do your work. You can define your virtual surrounding while being able to see the physical world around you. Productivity tools can be used directly from the virtual office.

Let’s assume you need to attend a virtual meeting. With a tap of the screen, you can open the virtual meeting app and continue the meeting from your virtual office. This is the reality that seeks to transform the way we work.

2. Shared workspace

Some people find it difficult to remote work because they prefer working in a shared space with others. A close and collaborative shared workspace allows for greater productivity. Now, this can be done virtually using a shared virtual place. You can enter the shared space as a virtual avatar.

Sit in your own private office and be part of the shared workspace with others. Interact with them through your VR headset and watch the interaction in the virtual world. This is a great way to simulate an office space and ensure the best collaborative efforts.

3. The infinite office

The infinite office is a virtual office concept that goes to the next level. It takes your office just about anywhere, be it your home or even in a park. Just imagine, you are sitting on a park bench soaking in the warm sun and enjoying the pleasant weather. If you have a meeting scheduled in 5 minutes, you can continue it from the park.

All you need to do is use the VR headset to activate your virtual workspace right in front of you. You don’t even need a keyboard or a screen. You can activate work apps using a gesture. The infinite office is at a conceptual stage. But it won’t be long before it becomes a reality. When it does happen, it will truly take the world of work by storm. Working in the metaverse will become a reality.

Working in The Virtual World

The virtual world allows you to create a virtual avatar of yourself. Your virtual avatar will work in the shared space with others. An entire office can be created in the virtual world. This will allow you to get the best benefits of a virtual workplace with a real workplace. In fact, this has already become a reality.

A Korean company Zigbang has created a VR office spanning 30 floors and the avatars of employees can move around the office. As they encounter other avatars, their mike would be activated. They can then have a real conversation through the virtual world. This can make communication more effective. This was a drawback in remote working and with virtual communication enabled, the virtual workplace would be more effective.

Young people in workplaces would enjoy creating virtual avatars of themselves. They can allow their creativity to run amuck as they create an avatar of themselves. They can make the avatar look how they want it to be.

How Would The Metaverse be?

The metaverse is different from VR (Virtual Reality) and AR (Augmented Reality). There would be many changes that are significant. Devices like the mouse and keyboard would no longer be needed. Voice would be the main way in which communication happens. Voice instructions would help operate the metaverse.

The main feature of the metaverse is the use of virtual assistants. Virtual assistants would play an important role in the metaverse. Their primary interface would be a voice and not commands typed on the keyboard. People are ready to use voice today, thanks to Siri and Alexa. Voice commands are used on mobile phones and computers.

Voice search has become popular on Google with many people preferring speaking to Google rather than typing. Smart speakers have today become the norm. It is estimated that the smart speaker market would be worth more than $61 billion by 2024. The integration of smart speakers with Artificial Intelligence is making virtual assistants more useful.

Work in the metaverse
photo credit: Kampus Production / Pexels

Takeaway

In the virtual world of business, people would talk to virtual assistants using voice. Virtual assistants would have a major role to play in all types of businesses going forward.

It would be important to understand who or what a virtual assistant would be in the metaverse. A virtual assistant can be a software program or can even be a person who helps and guides users in the metaverse. The program can be AI-powered. When real people function as virtual assistants, they would be those who are skilled or specialized in the area of work.

The virtual assistant can make your life easy in the metaverse. They can help you keep track of your work and remind you of the things to do. They can even help you in your personal life with cooking, fitness tips, and even dating advice. Virtual personal trainers and virtual child care providers would be available to help you in the metaverse. These virtual assistants will be able to do more in the virtual world than in the real world.

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