Warning! May Be Hazardous to Your Business: Heroes, Gurus and Other A-Listers

Warning! May Be Hazardous to Your Business: Heroes, Gurus and Other A-Listers

They inspire us, motivate us and yes — sometimes even sell us something.

They’re the “successful” biz folks we look up to, admire and want to emulate.

“Everybody” loves ’em. Just look at the social proof they proudly display (60,000 subscribers! 12,000 fans!).

But guess what?

They’re also human beings.

And just like you and me, they have problems, flaws and yes even days when things don’t go as well as they should.

When we forget that they also need to eat, sleep and go to the bathroom just like the rest of us, we’re dangerously close to giving away our power.

Believe me. I’ve been there, done that.

Nobody’s Cornered the Market on Perfect

Ever considered spending money on a A-lister’s class? You might want to think hard about your motives.

You’ve probably heard (or figured out) that if you become an A-Lister’s paying customer, you’ll be better positioned to develop a relationship with that person. You might even (gasp!) have fantasies of joining their inner circle.

And while this certainly MAY happen (nothing is impossible in my book), it’s never a good reason to plunk down your hard-earned money — especially if it’s more than you’ve got in your budget.

You can’t buy love. Not even from an A-lister!

Rule of Thumb: The content of the course you’re considering should be applicable to your existing goals. And — more importantly — you should be able to get a return on your investment at least equal to twice what you spend.

Shelling out hundreds (or thousands) of dollars to be mentored by a fancy-pants internet celebrity is not necessarily the best way to go. And most of all, it may not be all that you hope for.

I know because it happened to me.

This A-Lister (who shall remain nameless because I’ve worked things out with them and don’t feel the need to burn any bridges) didn’t live up to my expectations.

Granted, I tend to set pretty high expectations. Especially around things like communication and what’s acceptable and what’s just plain unprofessional.

Let’s just agree that I’d spent years building a pedestal for this one, shall we?

Let’s also agree that my motives for taking this class were a bit colored by some motives (and fantasies) I had about building a relationship with this person.

So when promises were made for one-on-one time and the opportunity to work directly with the instructor, I rationalized the hefty price tag.

I also assumed this person would have a well-oiled machine. That with all of the bucks they raked in, they’d have an assistant or two to help manage the communication. Or at least an automated system of some sort that could send me an email to let me know my inquiry was received and in some sort of cue.

Silly me.

When I sent an email and didn’t hear back after a week, I posted my question in the forum provided for our class. Still no reply.

So finally, I just emailed a request for a refund.

Lo and behold, that DID seem to get this person’s attention. And then — wonder of wonders — we began to converse about expectations and disappointment and responsibilities (including mine as the student).

I explained that I felt I deserved a certain level of service for my hard-earned money, and that I didn’t feel like just because someone is a big shot, they should be given a pass on not replying to emails promptly — especially from a customer.

A Painful, But Necessary Lesson

Thankfully, everything worked out to my satisfaction. And shortly thereafter, this person DID hire an assistant to help manage the flow of emails and other administrivia.

But the real gift came from the lesson I learned: My heroes ain’t perfect.

They stumble and fall just like the rest of us.

Does that mean we should cut them some slack?

That we should allow them to provide us with crappy service or products that aren’t quite what we were promised?

I don’t think so.

I mean, just because you’re famous (especially internet famous) doesn’t mean you get a hall pass.

If anything, you need to be super conscientious about your customers’ experiences and the quality of your products.

If you’ve got the power, resources and network, you need to live up to your own reputation.

That being said, I’ll never assume perfection from something (or someone) just because there’s a nice big price tag attached.

Sure — we’re all human. And I might give you the benefit of the doubt. Once.

But my high expectations aren’t going anywhere.

Especially when it comes to how I do business.

Modeling My Ideal A-Lister

As covered previously, we live in a real world, with real flaws.

And we also live in a world filled with beauty, love and amazing inspiration.

If you keep your eyes and ears open (and your feet on the ground), you’re bound to find some folks who are the real deal.

Just keep the BS meter firmly in the on position.

Find the bright spots and follow those.

Here’s who and what I hope to emulate in my own business:

The responsiveness of Danny Iny. Danny replies to his emails and he replies to them promptly. In fact, he’s so good at this, I think we ought to give him a new nickname (as in, “He’s the Mercury of Email” — swift and clear).

The humility of Erika Napoletano. Erika claims to be the “expert of nothing” and avoids that word like the trap that it is. In an age when everyone’s touting authority as the best way to market yourself, she’s proven that you can still build a tribe without setting yourself up as The One. And she always includes herself in every bitch slap.

The enthusiasm of Mike Michalowicz. Mike always brings an energy of joy and love to the business process. It’s infectious — in the best possible sense.

The economic vision of Tara Gentile. Tara’s views on how we earn our money and what kind of economy we can (and should) be building are based on sound ethics and a belief that our world can evolve.

The balls of Ash AmbirgeAsh is unafraid to draw a line in the sand and then step over it when necessary. She lives and works in a dimension of fearlessness and inspires the rest of us to follow her lead.

The mad writing skillz of Johnny B. Truant. Johnny definitely knows how to tell the most interesting and inspiring stories.

The generosity of Jennifer Louden. Jen’s heart is in what she does — teaching. And she gives all her love and attention to life, her students and those around her.

The groundedness of Pamela Slim. Pam doesn’t do flashy. And she doesn’t need to. She brings her most real self to everything she does and it shows.

[Note: The people on this list aren’t perfect. They have some fabulous qualities and talents, but they aren’t infallible. Also, this list is far from finished. In fact, I’m hoping you’ll help me expand it in a comment below.]

Be the Change…

I don’t know about you, but I’m not waiting to be an “A-lister” to become the best possible version of myself.

I’m not waiting until I can afford to hire a camera crew and a make-up artist and a personal chef. I’m not waiting until I earn 6-figures a respectable living to do things “right.”

In fact, I know that if I don’t get this stuff down now, it’s gonna be that much harder to bring my A-Game when (if) my audience grows much larger.

There’s something to be said for Slow Marketing, my friends.

When we focus only on the numbers (e.g. accumulating thousands of fans or followers, a huge email list and a 6-figure income), things can go sideways on us pretty fast.

We can fall into the trap of trying to buddy up with “Influencers” or even just drinking their kool-aid — without a second thought for what’s right for our business.

The real goal should be quality, not quantity. Quality products and services. Quality relationships. Quality of life. Online tactics (like social media, copy writing and SEO) should come AFTER we do the basics.

If you don’t figure out the little things now, a big fat audience isn’t going to make you rich. It’ll just make you a douche bag.


So who do YOU admire? And what would you say is their ONE best trait? Let’s have some fun with this and build this Ideal A-Lister together!

This post is part of the October 2012 Word Carnival — a monthly group blogging event specifically for small business owners. (It’s the most fun you’ll have all month!) Check out the rest of the fabulous carney work here.

  • http://twitter.com/PeterSterlacci Peter Sterlacci

    Yet another superb post that says it all! Kick ass.

    • http://www.thewordchef.com/ Tea Silvestre, aka Word Chef

      LOL, thanks Peter. Always happy to have your fired up voice over here.

  • http://twitter.com/MelanieKissell Melanie Kissell

    Naming names … Love it!

    I’m familiar with six of your personal selections. So allow me to say you have really good taste, Tea … and the highest of standards, I might add.

    Without hesitation, I’d like to give a shout out to Michelle Shaeffer as a mighty fine A-Lister. Michelle is a blogger extraordinaire who’s generosity and ingenuity is unsurpassed. She’s a true giver, a true professional, and a truly delightful human being. Michelle belongs on the “real deal” roster.

    This line jumped out at me:

    “We can fall into the trap of trying to buddy up with “Influencers” or
    even just drinking their kool-aid — without a second thought for what’s
    right for our business.” I’m sick to death of hearing, repeatedly, how VITAL it is to develop an allegiance with “Influencers”. What the heck makes them any different than anyone else? Their bank roll? Or is it their Rolls Royce?

    Dynamic post poised to incite change! :)

    • http://www.thewordchef.com/ Tea Silvestre, aka Word Chef

      I’ve got to agree with you where Michelle Shaeffer is concerned. I got introduced to her during a project we were both part of and she has always been nothing short of lovely.

  • http://www.facebook.com/racheal.cook Racheal Baxter Cook

    Love this post Tea! This theme has produced so much thoughtful blogging recently and made me even more excited about what we’re up to with Slow Marketing! While the stories of “my business hit 6 figures in 6 months” is enticing when you’re stuck eating ramen noodles — it’s the mythical unicorn of business. Seriously — when you start digging you realize most of those peeps took YEARS to get their shit together even before starting a biz. I’m a much bigger fan of slow, sane & sustainable!

    • http://www.thewordchef.com/ Tea Silvestre, aka Word Chef

      Thanks for stopping by, Racheal! Yes — the mythical unicorn of business. I’m gonna borrow that phrase the next time I write about Slow Marketing. Can’t wait to see what we all cook up together for “The Movement.” :-)

  • http://simplystatedbusiness.com Cathy Miller

    Hi Tea: Thanks for sharing your list of those you hope to emulate. I “know” a few, but I always love discovering new talent. 😉

    Your experience with the unanswered email is my biggest complaint about any business that makes hte excuse of being too big. That phenomenon has passed from the large companies of the world to the overnight success stories. We have almost come to accept that you can forget good customer service for certain companies or A-listers. Almost. Think about it. Aren’t you surprised (pleasantly) when you receive good customer service?

    I share two stories about this. One was one of those A-listers who, similar to your situation, was not responding to my email. Oh, the A-lister had an automated response. It basically said I am way too big to handle all the gazillion emails I receive. Contact my support team by filling out the form at this link. Uh-no.

    For the 2nd story, I’ll name-drop, too. I commented on author, Barbara Delinsky’s site for breast cancer awareness. Barbara (with 19 NY Times best-sellers) is a breast cancer survivor. I shared in comments about my participation in the 3-Day Walk for the Cure. Shortly after that, I received a personal letter thanking me for supporting breast cancer research, signed by Barbara, and there was a water bottle with her cancer foundation logo enclosed in the package. Was it someone on her staff? Probably. But, it didn’t matter. It was special to me and has become my shining example of customer service – no matter how big you’ve gotten.

    • http://www.thewordchef.com/ Tea Silvestre, aka Word Chef

      What a fabulous story, Cathy! I’d agree — those are the things don’t happen enough. We’ve really got to pay attention to these kinds of interactions if we ever hope of making a real impact.

      Someday, you and I will have to compare notes on the 3-day walk. I did one of those too (in San Francisco) and it was a-maz-ing!

      • http://simplystatedbusiness.com Cathy Miller

        Wow-I didn’t know that, Tea. Small world. Most of my Fight Like A Girl teammates are from the SF Bay area. They’ve walked there a couple of times (in addition to San Diego) and I have flown in to cheer them on. I stick to just 1 walk :-) in my former home, San Diego.

  • http://www.FirepoleMarketing.com Danny Iny

    Tea, first of all, I am absolutely flattered to be included on your list – especially for something that’s really just basic courtesy. Thank you.

    Second, I think you should add Mary Jaksch from Write To Done and A-List Blogging to the list – Mary is great, friendly, and super-helpful. :)

    Thanks again for putting this list together – there are some bright spots that I’ll have to be checking out!

    • http://www.thewordchef.com/ Tea Silvestre, aka Word Chef

      Danny, I know we’ve had the convo before, but in this day and age, responding is SO important. (Plus, I think you should transition away from the Freddy Krueger thing — yes, you’re a fabulous blogger, but your emails! Seriously good stuff.)

      I know of Mary and will definitely make an effort to get to know her better on your recommendation. Thanks for stopping by!

      • http://www.contentstrategyhub.com Eugene Farber

        I happen to like the Freddy Krueger thing :)

        • http://www.thewordchef.com/ Tea Silvestre, aka Word Chef

          Hee, hee. Yes, of course you do, Eugene. Totally NOT objective about that one, eh? I just think Danny is SO much nicer than Freddy. :-)

  • clarestweets

    Thanks for sharing your story and for calling out those who “do it right.” Do us all a favor and add YOURSELF to that list. You are an A-Lister to me and I’m guess the rest of the Carnie tribe!

    • http://www.thewordchef.com/ Tea Silvestre, aka Word Chef

      *Blush* why thank you, Ms. Clare.

    • http://pajamaproductivity.com Annie Sisk

      Exactly what Clare said, Tea. You go in because you’re flat-out the most “real” (meaning: authentic) person I know in this web bubble. People respond to that – exhibit A: the comments here.

      Also: “just because you’re … internet famous… doesn’t mean you get a hall pass.” WORD. So much word.

      I love this post so much.

      • http://www.thewordchef.com/ Tea Silvestre, aka Word Chef

        Thanks, Annie! Right back at you. So glad we all found each other.

  • http://getpaidtowriteonline.com/ Sharon Hurley Hall

    Right on, Tea! I especially like: “I’m not waiting to be an “A-lister” to become the best possible version of myself.” Doing things right, no matter what the size of my business or my personal popularity, is definitely the way I want to go.

    • http://www.thewordchef.com/ Tea Silvestre, aka Word Chef

      Eggs-actly! And if you can’t get it right when you’re small, then really — there’s no hope for when you’re “big.”

  • http://www.devacoaching.com/ Sandi Amorim

    Reading this post I realized why I had such a challenging time writing about this topic. As I read the line, “My heroes ain’t perfect.” I felt such a sadness over a couple of experiences I’ve had. This was quickly followed by the reminder that I was the one who put them on the pedestal – as we do with the A-Listers – forgetting their humanity.

    It just makes me that much more determined to do things in a way that aligns with my values!

    • http://www.thewordchef.com/ Tea Silvestre, aka Word Chef

      The sadness, yes. And don’t forget the disappointment. It’s almost like when you figured out your mom and dad were human, too.

  • http://twitter.com/JanetBrent Janet Brent

    Really interesting topic! And great lesson(s). It’s possible to do things so ‘fast’ and become such an ‘overnight success’ that your business suffers in efficiency and quality in the growth process. I’m happy with my turtle pace :)

    • http://www.thewordchef.com/ Tea Silvestre, aka Word Chef

      Turtles rock, Janet. If you haven’t already done so, I invite you to join us over at SlowMarketing.org (where the turtle reigns supreme). Thanks for stopping by today!

  • Beverly

    Great post! I’d add Courtney Carver from Be More with Less to the list. Her outstanding quality is integrity. Everything she puts her name to is thoughtful and aligned with her values.

    • http://www.thewordchef.com/ Tea Silvestre, aka Word Chef

      Ooh! Somebody new to meet. Thanks Beverly. I’ll go find Courtney now and check her out. Thanks for stopping by.

  • Erin Howard

    Tea – I think yours is a familiar story to anyone who has started a new business and likes online learning. It’s so tempting to think that those a little farther along the path have ALL the answers, especially if you’re making the transition from a traditional job where you’re used to having a manager who can make the final call on tough decisions. Our time and money are precious and we really have to carefully consider where how we allocate them. One tip is to set an education budget for the year and stick to it. If you have a limit set, you’ll think more carefully about how you spend that money!

    • http://www.thewordchef.com/ Tea Silvestre, aka Word Chef

      Sound advice, Erin! I’m a fan of budgeting — especially where business is concerned. In fact, planning ahead DOES seem to keep most of us out of trouble, LOL. Thanks for chiming in.

  • Michelle Nickolaisen

    AWESOME post, Tea! I’m honestly not familiar with all your favorite A-listers (though, Ash is one of my favorites too – she’s super sweet, her paid content is AMAZING – truly worth 3 or 4 times the cost of admission, just all-around awesome) but I’m going to go check them out after this. The two people that I think of when I think of “doing it right” are Chris Guillebeau and Danielle LaPorte; I’ve met both of them in person and been impressed by how authentic, kind, and down-to-earth they were, and I hope that when (not if! 😉 ) my business is as successful as their’s, I can emulate their example.

    • http://www.thewordchef.com/ Tea Silvestre, aka Word Chef

      Danielle LaPorte DOES do things really well. Thanks for reminding me. And Chris G., too. He was one of the first guys I found online back in the day who grabbed my attention. Great additions, Michelle!

  • petercrowell

    I like your post, and I appreciate your supportive comment on my blog. I think you’re leaning strongly in the right direction with your emphasis on being true to yourself, on being your best self right now, in the process of growing your life.

    As far as I can tell, this is is the key to prosperous outward expression of self, which any livelihood can be, and which seems uniquely, or at least especially possible online.

    I look forward to reading more as you develop your thinking along these lines. Clarity on this topic is needed. The area between inner development and exterior expression is a curious, uncharted place, and the internet has provided us with tools for the journey that I think we’re still struggling to understand.

    • http://www.thewordchef.com/ Tea Silvestre, aka Word Chef

      Very true, Peter. Thanks for stopping by. I’ll be sure to keep in touch.

  • http://www.MikeMichalowicz.com/ Mike Michalowicz

    Thanks for including me Tea! You ROCK! The picture though is ugly as sin. It is a total mess… kinda like my office.

    • http://www.thewordchef.com/ Tea Silvestre, aka Word Chef

      LOL. That’s what happens when you try to make Franken-A-lister. Thanks for stopping by, Mike! (and demonstrating that unbridled enthusiasm again).

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  • http://virtuallydistinguished.com Michelle Church

    Great list Tea and some of my favs as well. I especially love Be the Change – we all have to be responsible for what we bring and be what we expect from others. As you know I have just stopped reading many of them, probably due to my sensitivity of loss and their overselling lack of authenticity (at least in my opinion) and I became so disillusioned that I had to question my own judgement. But in my catching up and lifting my head out of the sand, I am inspired as always by you and the rest of the carnies. Thanks for always being the true, authentic you. You are the absolute smartest and brilliant shining lights on the internet!

    • http://www.thewordchef.com/ Tea Silvestre, aka Word Chef

      Not sure about THAT, Michelle; but you honor me. Many thanks for reading and sharing your voice!

      • http://virtuallydistinguished.com Michelle Church

        Interesting…I just believe if I can’t be honest how I show up, I can’t expect you to be and if I want to “be” the change..meaning setting expectations as well.and be the change I want to see..why would I expect more from others than I do myself..

  • Nicole Fende

    I cracked up when I first saw the interesting face mosaic you created to start the post. Can you imagine actually talking with that person?

    Be the change you want to see in the world. I LOVE that quote by Ghandi. While I’m far from perfect, I do try to live that motto. Thanks for sharing the positive side of A-Listers and those who give us examples of doing it right.

    Personally you and the rest of the carnies are MY A-Listers.

    • http://www.thewordchef.com/ Tea Silvestre, aka Word Chef

      Thanks Nicole – and I agree: we can be our own a-listers (and we are!).

  • http://www.contentstrategyhub.com Eugene Farber

    Amazing what can be accomplished when you just ask for your money back, isn’t it?

    Unfortunately I don’t think many customers that spend A LOT of money on these courses really take the steps to protect themselves and get their money back.

    The funny thing is just a simple, quick response leaves people much happier. Which means they view their money as well-spent. Which means lower refund rates.

    • http://www.thewordchef.com/ Tea Silvestre, aka Word Chef

      Very true, Eugene. All of it. Thanks for chiming in! I love to see you over here.

      • http://www.IAmNickArmstrong.com/ Nick Armstrong

        You know what, though? When my courses go live, I’m going to offer a 100% money-back guarantee on every single one.

        I did with Psychotic Resumes, too – I can’t with the book, because I sell it through 3rd parties, too, but with the elearning – it was 100% moneyback guaranteed.

        I never had anyone take me up on it.

        • http://www.contentstrategyhub.com Eugene Farber

          I offer a 100% money back guarantee on my “Strategic Content Launch Pad” eBook. I’ve only had one person ask for a refund (not a bad refund rate :)).

          At this point I think it’s pretty standard practice to offer a guarantee like that. It makes people feel at ease. And if your product is a good one, you shouldn’t have much to worry about.

          It honestly sets off an instant alarm in my head when I land on a sales page that doesn’t offer a guarantee.

          Although there’s plenty of shady marketing characters that try to avoid giving the refund even when it’s asked for :).

  • http://www.facebook.com/chariotsarah Sarah O’Leary

    Love the thoughtful article Tea! I have to second the recommendation for Mary Jacksch. She provides awesome content and is super responsive. Definitely an inspiring mover and shaker in the blogosphere. For the most part though my inclination is to work with the not-quite-A-Listers but just as good! These are the folks who I want to support!

    • http://www.thewordchef.com/ Tea Silvestre, aka Word Chef

      I’m with you, Sarah. I think we need to work with more B-listers instead. They may not be as polished, but that’s part of the charm. Thanks for chiming in!

  • http://www.IAmNickArmstrong.com/ Nick Armstrong

    I love your list of folks who are on-the-level. I’ve found exactly the same – plus one more: Naomi Dunford of IttyBiz.

    When I was at my lowest, Naomi helped me get my stuff together and on the right path. I don’t think I’ve ever told her directly, but she’s a big reason why WTF Marketing is a success – and it wasn’t thanks to any of her programs, just the attention she gave me up front.

    Heroes come along right when you need ’em, it seems like – but that same emotional attachment can turn right around once you get a peek behind the curtain. It can be really damaging to that idea of the person you had built up in your head… and ultimately leads to disappointment or a better understanding of that person as a human (rather than a “hero”).

    Great post!

    • http://www.thewordchef.com/ Tea Silvestre, aka Word Chef

      Thanks, Nick. Naomi was one of MY earliest inspirations, too. (Again with the parallel paths!) Someday, you’ll have to tell me all about it. But you should definitely send her a note. I know she’d appreciate it!

  • SandyMc

    Hi Tea, great post. All I could think of was how can I orchestrate a parallel life so I can follow all these people? I love the fact very much that this conversation will change soon from worrying about what the A-listers are doing or not doing, to a discussion about the new way we do business online.

    BTW, think we should attribute a different name to good people online other than A-listers.

    Just occurred to me reading your anecdote, that the reason most of these internet famous folk can’t really respond as they should is because they’re touting that following their system will allow you too to loll on a tropical island doing nothing while the money rolls in. So if they actually ‘work’ by really working with you, then that sort of calls them out doesn’t it!

    • http://www.thewordchef.com/ Tea Silvestre, aka Word Chef

      You’re right Sandy, we DO need new words. And a new name for people who are worth following online — will put my thinking cap on for that one and get back to you. :-) Thanks for being part of whatever that new name is!

  • http://twitter.com/CarolLynnRivera Carol Lynn Rivera

    Oh Tea, I love that last line. What a perfect way to sum it all up :) This was beautifully articulated and a really nice non-bashing way of saying that A-Listers ain’t always all that. (fun to bash… too fun… not always in our best interests though!)

    This is an awesome reality check for all the hero-worship around the big bloggers. They are people, too! Some good, some bad. And how true that we need to be our great bad ass selves regardless of where we fall on the “importance” scale.

    • http://www.thewordchef.com/ Tea Silvestre, aka Word Chef

      Thanks, Carol Lynn. I wish there was a way I could share this post (or even a link to this month’s carnival page) in the comments of every one of those “How to Cozy Up to an Influencer” posts (without looking like a schmuck in the process). There should be anti-kool-aid signage posted visibly everywhere.

  • jenlouden

    i love love love this and so agree agree agree and I am so so so flattered to be included. thanks for making my week!

    • jenlouden

      but wait — I’m not perfect??? please don’t tell Bob. :)

      • http://www.thewordchef.com/ Tea Silvestre, aka Word Chef

        I won’t, don’t worry. 😉 (Plus, I have no idea how to contact him, so you’re safe.)

    • http://www.thewordchef.com/ Tea Silvestre, aka Word Chef

      Yay for making people’s weeks. Thanks for stopping by, Jen. And for being YOU!

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  • http://www.thatsupergirl.com/ Nikole Gipps

    Oh Tea, I have totally been there too, wanting to plunk down big bucks just to be a part of something. And I have bought a program with a money-back guarantee, asked for a refund … and no response! Sooooo been there. But I will second how awesome Pam is. I had jumped into one of her higher programs this year, and then I just couldn’t do it … my kid was having trouble in school and I just couldn’t focus on diving deep into my business right then. And you know? She was totally cool with it, she understood where I was coming from. And it is that kind of integrity that tells me it was the right program – just not the right timing for me. And because her responsiveness and communication with me, I am totally willing to jump back into a program with her later, when the timing is right – and to refer other people to her!

    • http://www.thewordchef.com/ Tea Silvestre, aka Word Chef

      Pam Slim ROCKS. And yes, it’s really sad that so many of us have had the other type of experiences. Hopefully, if enough of us talk about this sort of crap, we can change the tide on that and keep folks from getting burned in the future.

      • http://www.thatsupergirl.com/ Nikole Gipps

        I think this discussion has prompted me to unsub from a few lists lately … :-)

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