Coaching

10 Online Business Apps I Can't Live Without

Since I run my business mainly online, I have a list of my go-to apps and tools that I use regularly to better organize and streamline my processes and systems.  I’ve been getting more and more questions about tools and apps preferences so I thought I would do a round-up of the online software I use as a coach and entrepreneur.  Although I do recommend doing your research to see what is the best fit for you, ultimately most apps are super similar so as long as you choose one to test it out and incorporate it, you can always switch or upgrade down the road because your needs will change.  

1. Trello | For Organization & Business Systems
Trello is like an online pin board that is visual and versatile.  Before using Trello, I would use a paper planner to write down a huge list of tasks and to-dos, and post-it notes to keep track of what I need to get done.  The problem was that I was wasting time writing and re-writing my projects and it didn’t capture everything that I needed to do.  

So, I began using Trello as a project management system, weekly/daily to-do lists, digital marketing content planner and calendar, and keep track of my business systems and CRM (yes, I even use it to keep track of my leads and who I need to follow up with).  Trello includes boards, lists, and cards that you can add due dates, delegate to team members, select files, and categorize.  I keep finding new ways to use it, and so far, am loving it! 

I'm even using it now with my VA, where we have a board to keep track of weekly and monthly to-dos, so we can keep track of what needs to get done.  It can also integrate with Slack for communication, although I haven't tested out this feature yet.  

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2. Dubsado |  Invoice, Contracts, & CRM
I recently started using Dubsado for my invoice, contracts, and CRM system but I'm liking it so far!  It's nice to have a "hub" to take care of all of my "front-end" lead to clients processes, making it all simple, and adjustable to my branding and preferences.  It does take a little bit of time to set up but their customer service is AMAZING, prompt, and helpful and offers help to get you all set up.  Before this, I was using different apps to invoice, send contracts, and follow up with emails, so I like having ONE hub for everything.  It also has a feature for workflows so you can keep track of the progress on all of your different projects AND they are consistently working to improve and add various features.  

If you'd like to receive 20% your first month or YEAR of Dubsado, then use the code "shichencoaching" as a special offer!  

3. Hootsuite & Later | Social Media Scheduling
Social media marketing is essential for an online business.  I typically like to create content in bulk and use an app like Hootsuite to schedule my posts.  The free version only allows for 3 platforms, so I use it for my LinkedIn page, Facebook business page, and Facebook group. I use Later for Instagram.  What I liked about Hootsuite was its ability to schedule among multiple platforms and track analytics.  I've even used Post Planner specifically for my Facebook group, Authentic Brand Leaders, although I prefer to post directly in the platform for engagement purposes.  

4. Google Drive | For organization
I seriously don't know what I would do without Google Drive.  Google has a suite of apps that’s similar to the Microsoft one.  What I like about it most is that it features ALL kinds of apps like Google Docs (like Word) and Google Sheets (like Excel) that is shared online and collaborative in nature.   This way, I can keep everything in ONE place and share it with my team and my clients.  I recently upgraded to use the Google Business Apps for $5/month for extra storage, and it also hosts my business email address as well.  

Here's what I mainly use Google Apps for: 
Google Docs:  I keep a folder for each coaching client, and take notes of each session to keep track of what we talked about and their progress;  I also use it to write each blog post, then I can copy and paste it when it’s time to post  

Google Sheets: I use this to keep a monthly business budget, and anything else that may need Excel like qualities

Google Surveys: I use this for feedback forms, and pre-session questionnaires for my coaching calls. 

5. Loom | Screencast Videos
This is a recent find that I LOVE!  You can add it directly to your browser so you can create screencast videos quickly and effectively.  You don't have to fuss with downloading it, or uploading to a different platform like YouTube.  Once you record it, Loom hosts it and gives you a link you can share with people!  I've used it to make videos for my Virtual Assistant.  I'll just record myself doing a task and narrating it as I go along, and then share the Loom link when I'm done!  This way, I can easily show her my business processes, she has a video she can always refer to, AND we don't have to set aside meeting time to go over these things.  I've also used it for my coaching clients if it's more effective to show them something rather than type it out.  For example, I'll record a Loom video if a client wants feedback on a web site or sales page and it's easy for them to receive my response!   


6.  Convertkit | For Email Marketing
Email marketing is another important part of staying connected to prospects, fans, and clients and to provide value and share my services.  When I started my business, I used the free version of Mailchimp which is an AWESOME app to get started, but as I grew my list and had multiple free resources to offer, I made the switch to Convertkit.  

The main difference is that Mailchimp is list-based while Convertkit is subscriber based, meaning that it counts each person as one person regardless if they’re on multiple lists.  Also, Convertkit has the ability to create follow-up email sequence and drip content for courses and nurture sequences.  They're recently added automated, which is more behavior based emails, which will be a powerful way to make sure your audience is receiving relevant information.  

7. Acuity Scheduling | For appointments
I researched and tried a few different calendar scheduling apps like Calendly and even Satori, but ended up sticking with Acuity because of its comprehensive features and affordable price.  I love it because it’s beautifully designed, easy to use, and gives me the available to set my coaching hours and my clients the flexibility to schedule their appointments by type.  It also automatically syncs with Google calendar, integrates with Zoom and Convertkit, and has the ability to take payments, create questionnaires, and small agreements as well.  Their customer service is really helpful and friendly as well!  The BEST part is, that it's FREE (the emerging entrepreneur plan) if you're a Squarespace user as long as you embed the scheduler onto your site, which is a pretty awesome feature!  

8. Zoom Conferencing | For client conference calls
When I first started, I used Skype to host my coaching calls.  However, I was experiencing a lot of connectivity issues so I switched over to Zoom conferencing.  I pay about $15/month (or less if you do an annual plan) for my group coaching calls  and have the ability to record my sessions so my clients can refer back to our conversation if needed.  I’ve also used it to record video interviews as a guest, as a webinar/live call platform, and for group coaching calls because it hosts multiple people in a more reliable platform than Skype and Google Hangout.  It does offer a free version as well, but only limits your calls to 40 minutes.  

9. Adobe Illustrator | For creating graphics
Confession: I use Adobe Illustrator to create my graphics.  It’s apart of the Adobe Creative Suite and it has a been steep learning curve to use.  So, I recommend using something free and simple like Canva to create graphics if you’re getting started.  But since I already knew how to use it, I prefer to use Illustrator because I keep templates for all of my blog post images and social media graphics.    

10. Squarespace | For web site
Every online business needs a comprehensive web site as a store front.  I used Wordpress for many years during my blogging days but it got to a point where every time I updated the theme, a plug-in, or my server Blue Host, it would slow down my site or something would stop working because with Wordpress, all the parts work separately.  

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So I switched over to Squarespace and love it!  I’m not super tech savvy (although I pretend I am) so Squarespace worked much better for my skill set and needs because it includes beautifully designed, easy-to-use templates so I can use focus on creating content.  My favorite thing about it is that it's comprehensive -- I don't have to worry about hosting, and it even has great offers to integrate with gmail, acuity, and social media as well!   

So, that’s my comprehensive list of must-use apps that I use for my coaching and my business. The moral of the story is: there are a ton of free and easy to use apps that were perfect for me when I got started in business.  But as I grew and my needs were more complex, I upgraded to software that has saved me time and sanity, and I hope that this list helps you do that too!  What tools and apps do you love to use?  Let me know if the comments below, or share it with a friend! 

With joy,

Time is Money. Let's Track It.

As an entrepreneur (and human being), your time is VALUABLE, and is the only resource that you can never get back!  One of the big obstacles and excuses that I hear from my clients and fellow female founders is "I don't have TIME!"  Well, my friend, if you have the dream, then I'm here to help you MAKE the time to follow through on those brilliant ideas I know you have.  

This week, we'll take an honest look at how you are ACTUALLY spending your time in regards to working ON and working IN the business can give us insight into how you can make changes to be more productive so you can do what’s most important to you.  This will also help lay the groundwork to give you data if you'd like to invest in online tools, or even hire team members.  

1. First, let's start with doing a time audit.  

You know how whenever you want to start keeping a budget, you first start with tracking your finances?  Or how my nutritionist wanted me to track everything I ate for a week to see just how much sugar I was consuming?  You can do the same thing with your time.  

By tracking how you spend your time, you’ll get a baseline look on your habits and workflow, so you can honestly evaluate what’s working and not working.  No judgment here, just simple reporting!  You can do it in a paper planner, in an excel spreadsheet, or an online tool like Toggl.  

** Your action step is to jot down the time blocks on everything you do for a whole week, INCLUDING your life activities (because it’s hard to separate).  ** 

2. Categorize them into types of activities:

Did you know that there are different types of activities?  Meaning, there are some tasks that only you can do as a CEO/service provider that are worth more than other tasks that you could outsource or even delete.  

Here's where you can start to categorize your tasks according to how much this activity is worth your time.  For example, "CEO time" spent creating your unique brand position will ultimately help you bring in more money than changing the font on your web site.  

So, here's a general category list that I like to use to break down the type of tasks I do.  Since I'm nerdy, I like to color code them as well.  
Money-Making (green), Customer Service/Client Calls (blue), Planning & Strategy (purple), Admin (red), Personal (pink).  

Then, assign each category a $$ amount, generally in terms of what you get paid v. what you can pay someone to do. 

For example, Money Making ($1000), Planning & Strategy ($500), Customer Service ($100), and Admin ($15)
 

3. After a week of time tracking, reflect on how you're spending your time. 

There are a few things to notice here:  

What are my priorities, and are they scheduled FIRST into my calendar?  Your values are important to taking the TIME to express them will make a difference in your fulfillment.  

What are activities that you don't enjoy and you're not good at?  If it's business related and NOT necessary, then say good-bye!  If it's business related and necessary, then this could be a task you automate with a tool, or a team member you hire.  For example, let's say you don't enjoy scheduling your social media, but using a tool like Hootsuite will save you time, or hiring a social media manager who helps you to create, post, and engage may be an option for you.  

What activities can I batch together?  
Sometimes a great time saver is to do "like" activities all together so you don't have to interrupt your brain flow (which can really hurt your productivity and efficiency!)   Even things like meal plan and prep for the week or batching your content for the month can all be done in one sitting.  

4. If you have team members or support people, delegate those lower-income tasks, or streamline your process to make it a simple process.  

After tracking and reflection, you can then begin to implement small changes to your schedule to see it's a more effective use of your time.  Of course, don't forget to block off PERSONAL TIME and make it a non-negotiable so you have work/life balance and boundaries in place as well. 

Your Action Step:

Track how you currently spend your time by creating a "time audit."  What are some insights you have from this?  What would you like to change?  Join the Authentic Brand Leaders Facebook group, and let us know all about it! 

If you found this letter helpful, then please share it with your friends!  Or, you can subscribe to the "Letters For Leaders" emails for more tips, strategies, and coaching exercises delivered right to your inbox.  Sign up below! 

With joy,

What You Need to Know About Creating Compelling Content

You posted about your new coaching or creative business on Facebook to friend and family, letting them know about your new endeavor and that you're taking on new clients.  You share about your passion on Instagram and get a few likes, but nothing more.  You send out an email to some former colleagues asking if they can be your beta client or be a model to start your photography portfolio. 

Those are all great ways to get started on your entrepreneurial journey, but creating compelling content is key to consistently attracting the right clients what will want to work with you.  The truth is: if you're a service provider -- the clearest and most compelling marketer wins the client.  Your strategic marketing is what will empower you to do the work you are created to do. 

So, today, I wanted to get you the low-down on "what you need to know about creating compelling content."  Because if you're getting starting or committed to getting established, a creative and strategic marketing plan is what will help you "put yourself out there" and get noticed by the people who matter. 

But first things first: content is the value you provide to potential clients up front so they can get to know, trust, and like you.  When we're talking about an online business, this could be anything from your Instagram photos and captions, Facebook posts, email newsletter, blog posts, and webinars and live calls.  If you're a coach, I like to think of it more like a curriculum of topics and tips you can use to teach and educate your prospects, peers, and clients about who you are and what you do.  If you're a creative, I like to think of it as the written, illustrated, visual expression of your craft to appeal to your potential buyers. 

Okay, so now that we're clear, let's chat about the challenges.  If you have a ton of brilliant ideas and not sure how to implement, then creating content could feel overwhelm.  Where do I post?  What do I say?  Will people even pay attention?  How do I grow my audience?  How LONG is this going to take? 

Whoa, slow down.  I got you.  Here is a simple step-by-step framework into honing your message into a marketing plan of action. 

1. Start with "why".  The first step is ALWAYS getting clear on your "what" and your "why."  What's the purpose of your online presence?  To get clients?  To build a relationships with potential vendors?  To share your story and message to the world?  Your purpose is what will guide your plan, so take a few moments to get clear on your "why" and the goals you have for putting in this work. 

2. Get clear on your expertise.  As a starting point, it's important to identify your main message, your audience (their desires, needs, and challenges), and what you want to be known for.  Pick a few specific topics that you take a stand for. 

For example, if you make one-of-a-kind custom jewelry made entirely of recycled materials, some topics could include: your inspiration design process, your mission to save the earth and environment, and tips on how to wear the jewelry.  Or, if you're a health coach who helps busy moms with nutrition for their families, it could be: quick and simple meal planning and recipes, exercise for the whole family, or holistic health care with body, mind, and soul. 

If you're getting started and not quite sure yet....that's okay!  Brainstorm a few ideas, and then COMMIT to trying out your message for 90 days.  That will give you plenty of feedback to test to see if it's working for you. 

3. Pick Your Social Media Platforms.  Get strategically in front of your audience by choosing the right platforms.  You can even start with 1-2 platforms, get really confident for it to work for you, and add on from there.  Here's a quick start guide for you from Typenine Creatives:

 

4. Create Your Content Headlines.  Now that you know your top 3 topics, and the platform you're focusing on, you can start to flesh out your content.  For platforms like your blog and newsletter, you can think of 12-13 "headline" or topics that could fall under your top 3 topics so you plan out your content out in advance. Keep in mind that these headlines should focused on how your expertise meets your audience's needs and desires. 

For example, the health coach's headlines could be:

- A week's worth of nutritious recipes for the family in 30 min.
- How to Choose the Seasonal Vegetables
- A Gluten-Free Guide to Eating Out at Restaurants
- Free, Fun, Active Family Activities to Do in the Fall
- 5 Meal-Planning Tips from a Health & Wellness Pro

Get the point?  Having your top 3 "Buckets" of themes to write about can be helpful to give structure to brainstorming ideas for blogs & newsletters you could write about. 

The social media twist: You can apply the same principle to your social media platforms by brainstorming images and captions of specific topics that you could post about.  Or, you can repurpose your blog content into social media sized chunks and post it on there. 

5. Get Organized.  Schedule it!  Now that you have your headlines and topics to write about, you can create a content calendar by using a tool like Trello, Google Docs/Calendar, or a Wordpress plugin to schedule when you'd like to post these blog posts.  Then, you can set aside time in your schedule to create and write out the content of those posts.  For me, I like to spend Fridays creating content.  So I'll write the next week's Facebook posts and blog content & newsletter that will be schedule to publish the following week.  My typically repurpose my content in a different way for each platform, but have a theme for the week focuses what I'll be writing about. 

For social media, scheduling tools like Hootsuite, CoSchedule, Later (for Instagram), or PostPlanner (for Facebook) are great ways to schedule your posts all at time so you don't have to spend time posting them manually. 

The key is here: to plan ahead and give yourself some time to actually write out the content to post so you don't feel like you're scrambling to do it last minute. 

6. Commit, Track, and Evaluate.  Growing an online presence takes time and consistency.  So choose a level of commitment that you can stick to.  For example, a blog post once a week and posting on Facebook 2x/week may be a good starting point.  Whatever you choose, stick with it, track your results in terms of engagement and ultimately # of inquiries to evaluate to see how effective your content strategy plan is. 

Once you put into practice this structure, you'll begin to streamline a process that works well for you.  Create compelling content is what will help you get visible and build a strong foundation for your online presence.  If you'd like some 1-on-1 support in this arena, then check out the 90 min. "Income + Influence" Intensive, where we will focus on YOUR strengths, YOUR message, and YOUR audience so we can create a personalized content marketing plan to grow your online presence.  Check out these details here: http://www.shichencoaching.com/intensive.  Snag your spot today! 

With joy,

 

 

 

4 Steps For Simple Content Creation

Content marketing is a powerful way to spread the word about your business and connect with your growing audience.  From social media, blogging, email newsletters, videos, and podcasts, there’s never been a more accessible way to share value with your potential clients.  

The purpose behind content marketing is to create ways to educate, entertain, and bond with your audience, so they can get to know you, like what you’re all about, and trust you enough to hire you.  

Now, creating the content itself can be a challenge — especially if you’re committed to being consistent with you it.  Writer’s block, visibility, organization, and repurposing can keep you stuck from producing content that converts.  So this week, we’ll talk about how to create content in a way that’s simple and strategic so it engages your audience and leads to more sales.  

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1. Make sure your mindset supports you to CREATE!  

When it comes to creating content, there can be major mindset hurdles to overcome.  For me personally, one block I had was feeling like I have nothing original to say.  This thought kept me staring at a blinking cursor on a blank page for wayyyy too long!  

The truth is, I DON’T have anything original to say…because it’s all been said before.  BUT — I DO have original experiences, perspectives, and stories that I can use to teach MY audience and relate to them in MY way.  

One of my mentors would say, “You are SOMEONE’S messenger” which gave me the permission to take my knowledge and use my words to teach the content, because it may be the way someone needs to hear it.  

Letting go of the pressure to be perfect, original, smart, or whatever may be a great first step in allowing yourself to show up to be YOU and cultivating more inspiration for your words.  

2. Know What You’re Selling So Your Content is Strategic

In order for us to create content FOR our business, we need to know what specific product or service we’d like to sell.  This helps us be intentional that our content is leading our audiences to a way to work with us.  

This is also a great opportunity for us to educate our audiences on topics that may what to learn about, address concerns they may have, and ultimately attract the RIGHT people and repel the wrong ones.  

For example, if I’m intentionally filling my 1:1 business coaching practice, I’ll specifically create content around CEO/leadership mindset, sales strategy, and client experience tips so that I’m giving value around the work that I do.  

Another example could be an Essential Oils educator who would like to sell out a workshop.  She could share about the different products, before/after results, and answer FAQs.  

When you know what you’re selling and create content around that, it gives you a framework or filter to write about which can actually lead to even more inspiration.  

3. Get specific with your expertise.  

What do you want to be known for?  

Your content is the cornerstone for sharing your expertise.  So instead of overwhelming yourself and your audience by writing about EVERYTHING you know (because I know you know a LOT), let’s narrow it down to 3-5 content categories so you can write a weekly theme for each.

Let’s use business coaching again as an example with CEO mindset, sales, and client experience as my content categories.  Under CEO mindset, I can go even further and write about clarifying your mission and message one week, hiring your dream team the following week, and identifying your income producing activities the week after that.  

It helps my audience as well because they can go deeper into learning about a topic.        

4. Share it across all platforms

Once I write the content for each theme, I want to share it everywhere and repurpose it so it reaches the right people.  

Each weekly theme allows me to write social media posts.  This can be turned into a longer blog post that is published on my web site and sent out to my Letters For Leaders e-newsletter community.  

This way, I can engage with my audience and do my best to make sure my content is making a difference in people’s lives.  One of my favorite things is to answer comments and emails from people to hear more about their challenges and how I can serve them.  This type of engagement inspires me with more ideas for content so I can continue to create things that resonate with people.  

Content marketing doesn’t have to be intimidating once you find a rhythm that works for you.  When you get specific on what’s holding you back, what you’re selling, what you want to be known for, and what your favorite platforms/type of content are, YOU have the power to connect with your audience in a way that works for you.  

Let me know in the comments what was your biggest takeaway from this week’s blog post!  

With joy, 

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One Sales Strategy You Can't Afford To Skip

Ever had a BIG business idea that you want to bring to life?  Or want to launch something you *know* you’re called to, and *know* that it can help a lot of people?  But you have questions, wondering, “Do people really need/want this?  Will they buy it?  How can I clearly communicate the VALUE of it?”  

You’re searching for clarity on whether or not creating this service will be worth your time, energy, and expertise.  The best way to find out the answers to your questions is to ASK!  In order words, when you ask your audience about their needs, challenges, and feedback on your proposed solution, you get more data, feedback, and confirmation on whether or not your idea will serve them (and therefore lead to more clients and more money in the bank).  

The pre-validation process is probably one of the most POWERFUL yet under talked about tools for your sales process.  So it’s time to let the “secret” out so you can get more clarity on your business ideas.  

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This week, I’ll share with you my process of pre-validating my ideas and my favorite go-to questions to ask so you you’re equipped with creating a method that works for you.  

The reason why most people skip right over this step is because they get an inspired idea and want to implement it, like yesterday.  Or, they have a vague idea of what they’d like to create and it feels scary to ask people for feedback before it's fully formalized.  

Remember: the purpose of pre-validation is not to sell (yet), but it’s to get super curious about your prospect’s world and to confirm whether or not creating this service is worth pursuing.  

A “real world” example of pre-validation would be figuring out what to give my husband for Christmas.  When I assume I know what he wants or have an idea of what I think he needs, my gifts tend to flop (despite the amount of time, money, and energy I spent creating it).  But when I take the time to find out what he wants, what would be helpful, and even asking for a wish list, my gifts truly meets his needs and ultimately serves him (which makes me a happy wife).  

So where do you even start?  

A simple and effective way is to create a survey through Google Forms or Typeform, or to conduct market research calls.   For my 1:1 services, I prefer to conduct market research calls so I can ask people follow-up questions on the spot.

Keep in mind: DO NOT ASK friends and family.  You may be tempted because it feels like scary, but unless they are your target demographic, they will either tell you it’s a good idea because they want to be nice (when they don’t fully understand what you’re doing), or tell you why it’ll flop (when they don’t fully understand what you’re doing).  Neither is helpful at this point.  

Instead, you could review questionnaires from your past clients, or you could post it in Facebook groups of people with your ideal clients, ask friend/family for referrals, or attend meet ups to build relationships with people who you could talk to.  Starting with people you know and building out from there would be a great place to start.  

1. Ask to Understand Your Client’s Needs and Challenges

To kick off, it’s important to understand what your prospect’s biggest needs and challenges are when it comes to your area of expertise.  Sometimes we’re too close to what we do, or get stuck speaking industry language.  These questions allow you to truly empathize with where they are by understanding what they’re dealing with.  

Here are some of my favorites questions:
What is your biggest challenge when it comes to [your area of expertise here]?
What do you *wish* you knew about [your area of expertise here]?
What is your biggest [your area of expertise] goal?  Why is that important to you?  

I like to keep it conversational and my questions open-ended to let my prospects share what’s on their minds.  

2. Asking to Understand Past Experiences

Sometimes it’s hard for people to clearly articulate what they want (…too many choices!), but it’s easy for people to talk about their past experiences and what they liked and didn’t like.  

So these types of questions help uncover their thoughts on services and products they’ve used in the past.  This information is valuable because they can key in on what’s important to them, and perhaps if there’s a gap or differentiator that you could potentially create.  

Here’s some of my favorite questions to ask:

What have you tried in the past to help solve your [area of expertise] challenge?
What did you like about it?  
If you were to do it again, what would you like to do differently?  

I just like to get super curious (and non-judgmental) so I can understand where they are coming from.  

3. Asking to Validate YOUR proposed solution

Sometimes ideas sound good in our heads, but when we ask people want their specific feedback is on it, their outside perspective is super valuable.  

Here are some of my go-to questions around validating my idea:

After hearing what I’d like to create, what are you thoughts around [this feature]?  
What are questions/concerns/feedback you have about [this solution]?
Would you buy this?  How much would you pay for something like this?  

Being straightforward that I value their opinion and want to create something that *truly* meets their needs, I open up the conversation to allow them to share their thoughts.  

After going through the pre-validation process, you’re better equipped to make more informed decision on how to proceed with your business idea.  I love to stay in touch with the people I talk to (and even offer them bonus incentives like a free coaching session, or discounts on the service I end up creating), because I couldn’t do it without their input.  At the end of the day, my business exists to serve them so I want to make sure that my services and products are things that will ultimately help them build a business and life they desire.  

If you would like a more deep dive resource for the pre-validation process, I recommend the resource, “Ask” by Ryan Levesque.  He has a thorough and step-by-step process of helping you ask the right questions and what to do with it.  

As always, feel free to reach out to let me know what your biggest takeaway is!  

With joy,

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