Jennifer and Sean discuss the importance of gaining brand clarity, knowing your audience, and aligning your business model and marketing efforts.
I first met Sean in my web design business training and mentorship program, Profitable Project Plan. He then signed up for Content Camp and Content Creators Club — and is the one responsible for the hashtag #AllThingsJen.
He is truly one of the nicest guys you’ll ever meet and he’s got a depth of knowledge in branding, marketing, and advertising that can only come from that all-in, hands-on agency experience. I love that he’s now putting his passion to use helping small businesses plan and launch businesses and brands that last.
Over the past year, Sean has narrowed his focus, dialed in his niche, and packaged up his expertise in an introductory self-study course for brand new business owners and a group coaching option for those who are bringing a new business to life and want an expert in their corner to field questions, provide mentorship, and keep them on the right track.
In this episode, Sean and I talk about why he left agency life, the “oh crap” realization he had when he started his own business, and the branding lessons he learned as that annoying guy doing brand surveys at the mall.
We also talk about:
- The frustration with wanting success for your clients more than they seem to want it for themselves — and how it almost drove him back to agency life.
- Why business owners and freelancers must be coachable and open to learning from others — and the impact being a part of a community of like-minded freelancers and agency owners has had on his business.
- Sean’s approach to helping business owners find brand clarity and how he packaged up his expertise for business owners who aren’t quite ready to hire him yet.
I can’t wait for you to listen!
Mentioned Sites, Resources, And Tools:
Get To Know Sean Atkinson
With 25+ years of corporate and agency experience in the marketing and advertising industries, Sean Atkinson works with SMBs to build and grow competitive, strategic brands.
Through his digital agency, Majority Media, Sean levels the playing field for SMBs by applying the best practices and trade knowledge that power big brands’ successes. His passion is seeing small businesses maintain a competitive edge in their market, grow their brands, and reach new audiences, and he helps make that happen with creative thinking, brand strategy, data-driven marketing, and digital commerce.
If you need greater brand clarity, check out Sean’s free self-study course that provides an introduction and overview of his 5,4,3 Method For Brand Clarity at Majority.academy. You can also connect with Sean on social media, including Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, and LinkedIn.
Bonus Training With Sean Atkinson
To hear more from Sean and learn about his signature system The 5,4,3 Method For Brand Clarity and what 5,4,3 stands for, check out the Seeking Satisfaction Extra Minutes Membership.
Members receive Extra Minutes bonus training from Jennifer and podcast guests like Sean that provide valuable insights and lessons to help you build a better business for only $15/month.
Sean’s Extra Minutes training continues the conversation from the podcast, digging into why brand clarity matters and how it can help you navigate the ins and outs of launching a new business or new product without relying on hope.
We also review Sean’s 5,4,3 Method For Brand Clarity:
- The five business basics every entrepreneur needs to nail down before investing in marketing or advertising to practically guarantee results.
- The four ways to differentiate yourself in a crowded market so you stand out and get noticed by the right people.
- The three stages of marketing every business must pay attention to so they can find the right strategy for the offer and the audience.
Think about it as a staircase. If you’re trying to run up a staircase and you’re skipping steps, chances are, you’re gonna trip on your way up. If you’re running down a flight of steps and you skip steps, chances are, you’re gonna fall on your face.
So it’s the same concept. If you don’t understand the buyer’s journey, then you don’t understand your audience — and it’s not just about you, it’s about your audience.
Welcome to Seeking Satisfaction, a podcast that encourages you to live inspired, embrace imperfection, and seek satisfaction. I am your host, Jennifer Bourn, freelance business mentor, course creator, and agency owner.
Today, I work with clients I love, do fulfilling work, and have the freedom to live the life of my choosing. But things weren’t always this rosy, which is why this show looks at the systems that power successful businesses and fulfilled lives, going behind the scenes with entrepreneurs, freelancers, and professionals, to discover how they juggle work and life, manage clients and kids, handle stress, and tackle unexpected challenges. If you’re seeking greater satisfaction in work and life, you’re in the right place.
Today, I’m here with Sean Atkinson, 25-plus-year marketing and advertising industry veteran and owner of Majority Media, a digital marketing agency. Sean, thanks so much for joining me.
It’s a pleasure. You know, all things Jen. I’m so happy to support you in any way that I can and I’m happy to be here. So thank you so much.
Twenty-five years in marketing and advertising, now a digital agency owner. I want to hear about that journey. How did you make the switch from corporate to doing your own thing?
It was a journey where I hit a ceiling and I got to the point where I learned as much as I possibly could within the corporate environment.
I wanted to start my own business and my, journey was more about gathering as much information as I could so I was prepared and I had best practices. And I learned from so many different aspects of the business and the industry that it allowed me to be able to take the next step and do it confidently.
So much of what we struggle with is Imposter Syndrome and I wanted to be able to address that not just for myself, but for others as well.
That’s such an interesting point that you knew you wanted to start your own business so you basically went on an information-gathering journey. I wish I had that clarity at the beginning of my career. I did this similar thing — I wanted to just get all the experience I could. And I worked for an amazing woman who gave me the ability to do that. I graduated with six, five official and one non-official, internships under my belt, in addition to working through college.
I had worked at a newspaper, a publishing company, a marketing agency, a design firm — and I graduated and everybody was like, you’re so overqualified for entry-level, but you don’t have management experience. It was so frustrating. So, I love that you knew right away, someday I want to own my own business.
How do you feel like that journey has helped in starting your own business?
Marketing is something that, taught me how to be able to read the room. It taught me how to ask the right questions, to be able to identify your audience, and be able to ask questions. When I got started marketing, I was that annoying guy that was in the mall that would ask questions brands wanted to be able to find out, so that they knew what to advertise.
So, you learn the hard way very quickly. You learn how to ask questions in ways that pique their interest. And then you start to figure out, well, you gave me the questions in this order, but when I rearranged them, I’m able to get better results, more interviews, and follow-through.
And then I started to pick up on why these brands were asking different questions. When you can read the room and you can understand who you’re trying to reach and why, you sell the problem and not the product. That’s where they gather information to be able to pull that stuff together. And then it was just a natural transition over to advertising because then you’re in a position to have that conversation with the audience.
What a fantastic experience. You don’t really think about those people standing in the mall, asking the questions, gathering the information. You don’t think about that as the customer or the, person walking by as that’s a brand gathering information to make sure what they’re doing is purposeful and it’s strategic and it’s gonna be effective.
That’s a lesson that so many business owners can learn — the power of getting out there, and talking to people, and getting feedback, and getting the pulse on your market,
Absolutely. I’m a big fan of social listening. Do the work before you actually roll everything out. There’s the problem, the solution, and the results. If you’re listening for the problem and you’re gathering the information, you’re getting people to tell you all the information, all the things that you need to know that’s going to allow you to pick out the right solution — things that you can use as differentiators in your business. So, it’s a great way to be able to get started.
I want to know what that moment was when you had your regular job and you were like, I’m done. I’m ready to do my own thing. What did that moment look like for you?
I got to the point where I was able to go into different clients and basically just listen for what their problems were and then go back to the product team and say, “Okay, well, here’s what we need to create.”
And once I was able to do that, I realized I’ve gathered enough information to truly be able to do that on my own. And then I had the experience from working on the brand side, the agency side, the publishing side. So, that’s when I realized it’s time for me to make that change because I didn’t get to work with the clients that I wanted to be able to work with.
I know that you have a history of going all-in on your clients — on whatever that job at hand is, Somebody has a goal and you’re gonna go all in and help them get there. It’s one of the things that I think makes you such a great partner for your clients. You really get invested in their success and their vision — and helping them bring that to life.
But sometimes that can lead to some challenging moments — to some pretty intense burnout. And I know that’s something that you’ve experienced. Can you tell us a little bit about that?
Absolutely. It’s something when you get truly invested in your clients, you get to the point where you want it more than they do. And when you know the process and you know, the best practices and you know, how things play out, in some cases, it’s almost like seeing a car accident before it’s about to happen.
You’re trying to warn them. You’re trying to give them all the heads up that you can, but, at the end of the day, it’s still their decision. So, you get to a point where you wanna shake ’em a little bit and when you work with someone else, you’re not really in a position to be able to do much about it. So, I’ve learned it’s also important to be able to choose your clients because that’s where you can set the guidelines for. more of an honest conversation.
In the corporate world, I wasn’t necessarily able to do that. They would pick them for me. But it’s not the same as when you actually have your own business, because then you can lay things out, “This is how I work and if this works for you, then great. If it doesn’t, then we may not be the best fit.”
We don’t always start with that kind of clarity though. I know I didn’t start with that kind of clarity in my business. And when you’re working with clients that aren’t necessarily appreciating the work that you’re doing, you can’t make them care about their own goal and you can’t care about it more than they do. That leads to so much frustration.
I know you have been there, And now you’ve got a lot more clarity to look for some of those red flags How did you learn what to look for? What you liked, what you didn’t like, what worked for you? What didn’t work for you?
Full disclosure: I think one of the best lessons that I got was from you and taking Profitable Project Plan.
I can remember having a client and trying to help him with his web design and building out his business. And I was giving him everything that he needs and he responded that he doesn’t like to read. And the feedback you gave me was, “That doesn’t sound like an ideal client and this seems like something that you want to write down as a red flag.” One of the biggest takeaways that I got from you was to be able to ask those questions because different people learn different ways.
How do you feel that you learn? And that’s where you can start to identify those red flags.
It’s easier to group people based on the questions that people ask. It allows you to set some swim lanes and from there you’re looking at the buyer’s journey, as well as the seller’s journey
I love that you said “paying attention to the questions they’re asking,” because that’s going to show you what they care about — what’s a priority, what those drivers are for them.
Now, at one point, there was a moment where you thought, “Maybe I’ll go back to corporate,” where you were wondering, “Do I keep going?” What was going through your head at that point?
I would say I was making really good money and I left that behind because I wanted to work with smaller businesses. Over the years, in advertising, they would say “Well, they don’t have the budget,” or “You have to worry about their commitment.”
As much as I argued, it wasn’t until I went out on my own that I realized: You’re absolutely right. And it was so debilitating. So, I’ve just learned that I need to be a little more cautious about who I work with because there are people that will break you down to a point where you, just kind of lose yourself.
So like, there are people that say, “I want to write a book.” And then you realize, you just want the ability to say that you’re working on a book, It’s the same thing with people that wanna start a business. A lot of them just want to be able to say that they’re an entrepreneur but they don’t want to necessarily put in the work to be successful.
And when you realize that part. That’s where, yeah, I hit a wall. And I felt like, you know what, it’s still early enough where I can go back into corporate. I can make my money and just shut up and do the work.
There’s such a pull there, especially when you’re in those first few bumpy years. But you took action. You decided you really were in on your agency, and that passion for helping small businesses was something you didn’t wanna give up on. And so you made some big changes in your business — How is your business different today?
When you have a process and you have a system, it changes everything because then you actually have time to look at the bigger picture.
When you’re overwhelmed with the work, and you’re so consumed with trying to get the tasks done, and you’re working for this client, you don’t really set the time aside to work on things for yourself. But when you have a system in place, it allows you to automate processes. You can work with the clients, it’s more seamless, but it also gives you time to think.
That’s the biggest difference in where I was, versus where I am now.
Profitable Project Plan gave me an opportunity to take a step back and breathe, and then look at the complete process and where I can make the biggest difference — and it’s night and day. I love what I do.
That is so fantastic. And I like that you pointed out the difference between working in your business and being stuck in like the daily muck and doing of client project, after client project, after client project, versus working on your business — carving out that time, even if it’s just a little bit, even if it’s just baby steps. A lot of baby steps, add up to big progress.
Now, you believe that you have to invest in your dreams and surround yourself with the right people. You need support. You need help. How have you done that in your business?
It’s important to realize that you’re not a self-made man.
Um, when you surround yourself with people that are honest and, care about you enough to give you honest responses… I’ve had the pleasure of having people say, “Yeah, I think you’re going down the wrong path. I don’t think that’s going to get you where you wanna go.” And, to be humble enough to be able to actually listen.
That’s such a good point — that idea of being coachable. Being open to feedback, having a small community of people that have your back that you can bounce ideas off. Self-made doesn’t mean on your own. It doesn’t mean you have to do everything yourself. Right? It doesn’t mean you don’t go and get help.
This investment back into your own business — creating systems, joining communities to get support — has been pretty transformational and that’s led to a lot of clarity.
You’ve condensed your focus quite a bit. Tell me a little bit about your signature system And how that has shifted the services that you offer.
What I have is the 5,4,3 Method to Brand Clarity. I’ve taken the experience of working with different industries and different markets and looked for the overlap — where there’s that commonality.
One of the things that used to always bother me is when I’ll have a conversation with someone and they’re like, “Oh yeah, well, I was listening to something on Instagram…” they gave you that information, but they gave you step 1, 2, 3.
They didn’t tell you about 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, and 10. So the 5,4,3 Method is a way to build that foundation and give you an opportunity to look and see: Does your business have legs? Does your business idea have a shelf life?
It’s important to feel confident about what you’re doing. And that’s where the 5,4,3 Method comes in.
I want the self-study program to allow people to be able to work at their own pace so that they can still get to those goals and accomplish them. The group coaching is where people learn in groups because they may not know the question to ask, but they know it when they hear it.
I think, if I’m being honest, that’s one of the best ways that I’ve learned — being in a room with people. When you hear the right question, you hit that aha moment, and I’m here for the aha moments.
And then there’s the people that just say, “You know what? I’ve got the money but I don’t have the time.” And that’s where the one on one service comes in, because I can take the work off their plate and make sure that they get everything that they need to move forward with their business idea, and what they’re trying to accomplish
I love the difference you pointed out:
Self-study = I have got the time and I wanna learn, but maybe I don’t have the money to hire you.
For the people that are like, I’ve got the money, I don’t have the time. Can you do it for me? There’s that one-on-one.
And for those in the middle, I want to learn but I want to be able to ask questions and to hear what other people say and how they thought about it.
Those three things together I think, illustrate a really important concept of meeting your customers and clients where they’re at, They’re ready to buy when they’re ready to buy. And you need to meet them with an offer that meets their comfort level in purchasing.
Again, people learn at their own pace and people are trying to find ways that are gonna get them to the solution in the way that best fits them. The 5,4,3 Method to Brand Clarity fits their needs and where they are in their journey. And by doing it that way you increase the chances of people having a successful experience.
Definitely. So why is brand clarity so critical? why should somebody start there?
It’s really something where if you don’t lay that foundation properly, you get further into your business and then start to find out all the things that you didn’t know that you didn’t know. It’s the biggest struggle that I think most businesses have in those first three to five years.
Going back to my business, I’m no smarter than anyone else I had to learn. How to be able to put systems and things in place to have that foundation and to learn all the things that I was missing out on by not knowing it.
I think it’s really important, not just for new businesses but existing businesses to be able to reevaluate, where they are now, because your goals may not be the same two years, three years, four years later.
Your goal, when you first start out may just be, to survive. Like I just need to figure out how to be able to get by. Some people do it as a side hustle and then their next assessment is, how do I do this full time?
Now, a lot of people think, “I’m starting a business. I need a brand. Somebody design me a logo!” and we know. A brand is so much more than that, The logo is just a mark. it is something that people can remember you by. What is a brand?
A brand is your business and your business is your brand. It’s the simplest way to break it down. Your brand is gonna be your name, it’s your reputation, it’s everything that’s built around what it is you’re trying to bring to market.
People may recognize that logo but they’re going to remember your messaging more — and people buy from people that they know and trust. And if they don’t have that foundation that logo’s not gonna matter at all.
There are some people that have awful logos, but they do really, really well because their, their messaging and their brand clarity is so on point.
I like that you pointed out that your brand is your reputation. It is how people think about you. It is how they perceive you. It is what they say about you. It is their experience interacting with every part of your business and it encompasses all of those things — your URL, your logo, your website, your swag. Everything that you put out there influences how people think about you. It influences their perception of your business. So if you get those things wrong, you’re not doing yourself any favors.
That’s why you see so many brand refreshes — people that change their name and then they change their logo. And then they hope that people forget the bad experience that they had.
I still have conversations with clients about reputation management they put it lower on their list of priorities, and my thing is no, that should be one of your first priorities because perception is everything. So, you wanna be able to manage that experience. There are so many different things that go into getting your message out there and making sure that you’re consistent because you can say what you want it to be, but if you’re not consistent with it, people are like, well, I mean, I heard what you said, but I see what you do — and those are two different things.
I heard what you said, but I see what you do.
People are watching. They may not be commenting, they might not be engaging, they might not be showing up, but they’re there and they’re watching. And if, what you claim about your business, doesn’t align with the action that you’re taking — if there is a misalignment trust isn’t gonna be there. And people aren’t gonna you with their investment, with their business, with their dreams, with their goals, because they’re not sure.
So, you work with people to clarify their brand details and help them get really clear on how they are going to show up. But you also do business assessments.
One of the biggest things that come with assessments is getting them to realize that yes, you have a great idea. Yes, you’re proud of what it is that you’re doing. But so much of it isn’t about you. It’s about your customer, and it’s about your audience, and it’s about your clients — and if you’re building your website based on what you want, and it’s not something that meets audience expectations, then you’re not gonna get the same level of sales.
So, one of the things that I like to look at with the assessment is, your why. Let’s find ways to make it more authentic so people know who you are and you have that credibility because again, people are always looking.
I have a joke where I tell people I’m an acquired taste, I’m not a required taste. Like, I’m not for everyone. I know that. And I explain that going into things my process might not be the best process for you.
So for me, I want people to be able to make educated choices. So, my assessments are educating them so when they have to make a choice, they know what the options are and can make a choice that best fits them.
I really like the focus on education — really looking at whether or not you are the right fit.
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had conversations with people where I’m saying, “I could take your money but I really don’t think this is the best next step for you. This is what I would do instead.” Some of those clients have gone away and taken my advice and done those things, and then come back and hire me years later.
What I think sticks out the most is not the commitment to making the sale, but the commitment to doing what’s best for your potential client, even if that means maybe turning away that sale.
Absolutely. I have that conversation all the time. I’ve had people call me up and they say, “Well, my budget is $10,000 and I want to be able to do paid advertising,” but they don’t have a website yet. I could take your money and I could totally do what you’re asking me to do. But I would be remiss if I didn’t point out the steps that you’re skipping, because that’s not going to get you the success that you’re looking for.
If you skip steps and you just jump to what you think is gonna be the most fun part, you’re going to end up putting yourself in a position where you could fall flat when people pull at that thread and that’s where you want to have those honest conversations.
With the business assessment, we work in phases and figure out a way to find you wins that you can do with your budget.
So, I may not be the best person for you right now. But by me giving them those initial steps and them working on it on their own, like, that’s when they come back and they have more information and they feel better about what it is that they’re doing. Because so much of it is about confidence. If you don’t have confidence in what you’re doing and what you’re selling, then you’re asking the audience to believe in something that you don’t believe in.
There’s a certain kind of magic that happens when you are somebody who walks your talk — who wholeheartedly shows up confident that what you’re selling is going to make a difference.
But I want to back up because you also said something that is really important: you can’t skip the fundamental unsexy work. Right?
When you skip the underlying foundational work, you have that initial success and then it tapers off and you kind of hit this plateau. And then you wonder, “How come this feels so much harder? How come they’re having success and I’m not? How come nobody’s coming to my website?”
I think that’s one of the reasons why I’m so passionate about Content Camp: Brand Messaging and spending three whole days focused on that core understanding of who you’re selling to what you’re selling to them and how those things align.
If somebody had a new idea… if somebody’s getting ready to launch something new, what are the first steps that you think that they should take?
Take a look at how it’s being prioritized by that target audience. Is it something where it’s a must-have? Is this a nice to have? Because those are two different things. If it’s not something they listed as a priority, then that completely changes the buyer’s journey.
Think about it as a staircase. If you’re trying to run up a staircase and you’re skipping steps, chances are, you’re gonna trip on your way up. If you’re running down a flight of steps and you skip steps, chances are, you’re gonna fall on your face.
So it’s the same concept. if you don’t understand the buyer’s journey, then you don’t understand your audience — and It’s not just about you, it’s about your audience.
That is a fantastic place to move into our last couple questions.
What tool have you discovered that has made a huge difference in your business? Something you wish you had discovered far earlier?
This is going to be so cheesy, but all things Jen. Profitable Project Plan, Content Camp, um, I stand by it. It’s not just what I’m getting with the course, it’s the questions people are asking during the course or the program. It’s what people are asking during Content Camp. It’s realizing that it’s not a competition amongst your peers — that audience and that environment is nurturing and you’re learning things.
Put yourself in a situation where you’re able to be in that kind of environment and you’ll thrive.
If you end up in a situation where everybody looks at you like competition, then they’re going to hold back. They’re going to hold on to things. And that was pretty much the, uh, corporate world. There are people that don’t want you to know certain things because they’re scared. If you know it, then you’re going to be able to take their job.
It’s different as a business owner. As a business owner, you realize there’s enough to go around for everybody.
I’m not necessarily teaching something that someone else doesn’t know. I’m just teaching it in a way that they may prefer over the way that somebody else may phrase it. So, once you can take that out, it’s a different situation.
I love that reminder. There is enough business for everyone and your ideal clients aren’t my ideal clients. Different people are going to resonate with different messages and different styles, right?
The people that are going to say, “Sean, is it. Like, I love Sean. I can’t wait to work with Sean,” are probably not the people that are like, "I love Jane." Because you’re totally different in the way you talk about things, the way you approach things. You bring so much to the table as the business owner that makes how you do what you do and how you approach it so unique.
So I love that. And I also love that you also said me.
We’ve talked about it several times, especially with Profitable Project Plan, because there’s lifetime access, or Content Creators Club, because we meet multiple times every month. But you can come back to the same content and get something totally different out of it because you’ve since elevated and are different stage in your business. So, different things resonate with you at different times.
There’s a lot to be said for going back to content and training and things that you already have done after you’ve up-leveled because it just hits different.
Absolutely. There’s a saying where “three people can read a sentence and get something different from it.” You could be all three of those people because you’re at different stages of your business, and what you understood that first time through is not gonna be the same because your experiences changes. I’m a big fan of Content Camp, of Content Creators Club, because each time I pass through, I’m getting something different.
Perspective is everything. And when you can change that perspective, you’re going to get different things. You’re going to be able to benefit, and you’re going to learn, and you’re going to be able to apply it in different ways. So, every single time we have conversations about things. Every time we go through the, uh, program, I learn something new because I’m just not at the same point that I was.
It’s such a great reminder.
Now, not every day goes according to plan, Sometimes the poo hits the fan. What do you do to keep yourself focused and on track to stay in a good head space?
Plan for it as best you can. I believe in being as agile as possible because I expect things to go wrong. Ego is the thing that tells you that, you know what, I’ve got this. And I’ve been in the business long enough to be able to know, you don’t always have it because you’re not the only factor that you need to consider.
You don’t know who’s gonna have a bad day. And it could be that you did everything the way that you were supposed to be able to do it, but that person had a bad day and you need to be able to learn how to be able to manage not just your day, but other people’s days and where they may have issues and things like that.
When it comes up, be honest. Um, not just with them, but with yourself. It’s okay to make mistakes. It’s okay to have issues and errors. That’s why they make make-goods. That’s where you can follow back up with a person. It’s just reputation management — how well you manage when things don’t go well. Because everybody can do well when everything’s going right. It’s more a testament to your character: how do you deal with things when they go wrong?
That’s such a great reminder. Now we have talked about your 5,4,3 Method. We’ve talked about your self-study, your group coaching, your one-on-one services — how you help clients get brand clarity and the business model evaluations that you do to help people make sure their idea has got legs.
Where can people go to learn more about your course, your services, and you?
The website is Majority.media. and the course would be at Majority.academy. And just to make sure that people have a good feel for it and that you don’t feel like you’re just getting caught up into it, there’s an introduction that walks you through what the 5,4,3 Method is so that you have a better understanding of it.
And then you can decide and make an educated choice of which one would be best for you. Is it the self-study? Is it the group coaching? Or is it the one-on-one? And then from there we can make sure that you get the success that you want.
Well, Sean, thank you so much for joining me and sharing your journey of seeking satisfaction
Thank you so much. It’s a pleasure as always.
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To hear more from Sean and learn about his signature system, the 5,4,3 Method For Brand Clarity and what 5,4,3 stands for, check out the Seeking Satisfaction Extra Minutes Membership. Members receive extra minutes from podcast guests like Sean that provide valuable training to help you do business better. You can find details about the Extra Minutes Membership and Sean’s bonus training in the show notes.
Until next time, may you live inspired, embrace imperfection, seek satisfaction, and have a fabulous day.