#68: Michele Wierzgac | Keynote speaker, leadership guru, and author of “The Talking Stick According To Michele: A Guide For Reflecting On Your Personal Brand” [Podcast] - Jenn T. Grace—Book Publisher, Speaker, and Author Skip to the content

#68: Michele Wierzgac | Keynote speaker, leadership guru, and author of “The Talking Stick According To Michele: A Guide For Reflecting On Your Personal Brand” [Podcast]

Links mentioned in today’s episode

www.micheleandco.com

 

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AUDIO TITLE:  Jenn T Grace – Ep 68

Jenn T. Grace:

Let’s dive right in and tell the audience a little bit about yourself, your story, and essentially what your path looked like that led you to the place that you are today.

Michele Wierzgac:

Well I was born in Chicago, one of six children. My mom had eight brothers and sisters, and my dad had eight brothers. Can you imagine just being the baby of eight older brothers?

Jenn T. Grace:

That is a lot. No thank you.

Michele Wierzgac:

So you can get a sense that I grew up on the south side of Chicago with a big family, Polish Catholic family, and tons of cousins, aunts and uncles. And as a young child I played volleyball, softball and ice hockey with my brothers and friends in the neighborhood. And during this entire time while I was playing sports, my dad always yelled at me, “A woman’s place is in the home to cook and clean and raise the kids. Stop playing sports!”

So my mother always said then, “Okay you can go out and play, only after you do the dishes.” So I had all these rules and regulations I had to live by these traditional ‘social values.’ And then my grammar school coach who was my friend’s mother discovered that I had a talent for volleyball, and she talked my mother into allowing me to go to practice after dinner. And that’s how everything started for me, and I had somebody believing in me- my mom and my volleyball coach.

So in high school I was involved in everything from journalism to band, I played the flute, the piano, I refereed for basketball and played for softball, teaching volleyball clinic. And again, my mom told me to focus, you can’t be good at everything, you need to focus on just a few things. So I dropped off journalism and band and everything, and I made room for volleyball and I discovered I had a natural talent again, for volleyball even at the high school level. We went to state, took second in state, I was the captain in All-State, All-American, and my high school coach called me as the season was over and said, “Michelle, you need to sit down, you need to take a look at this. There are eleven scholarship offers sitting her.” At that time they contacted the coaches. And I said, “Oh, college?” And she said, “Yeah, college.” And she said, “You really need to think about which college you’re going to,” and I said, “Oh no, my father would never allow me to go to college. There’s just no way.” She says, “Oh well I need to talk to your mother.” My mother and my high school coach conspired. My father said, “There’s no way. A woman’s place is cook and clean and stay at home and raising babies.” And mother said, “Like hell. She’s going off to college. I never had an opportunity like this, and she’s going.” And I think really focusing on one sport really helped me out, and her wisdom really helped me out. So anyway, I chose Illinois State University and my mom and dad asked the question, “Why did you pick that?” And I said, “It’s a great teaching school, look how they’re rated.” I did my homework, that’s another thing that I learned to do. I always- whenever I pitch an idea you have to have your research. And so my mom said okay, and I was the first and the only person in my immediate family to go to college and graduate. Then through a networking event, I was offered to return to Illinois State a year later to complete a Master’s Degree in Educational Administration and Leadership. Again, that was through networking. Somebody introduced me to somebody who cared, who saw talent in me. And then it was a great degree because it helped me develop my leadership skills, and I was the first person in now the extended family to get a Master’s Degree. Now that’s out of hundreds of cousins. And that is significant for when we talk later about how I got to where I got to be. And so anyway, I went off and there were no teaching jobs available, so I went in to college administration directory adult and continuing education programs, cultural events, conferences for different colleges in Illinois. Then I moved to New York, I lived out there for eight years, and then I lived in Vermont for a couple years and at age 35 I was burned out because I was not passionate about the work. I wanted to teach, I wanted to speak, I wanted to do something action that was active. So anyway, I stayed in Vermont for another two years and I wrote a business plan to start an event planning company, and I moved back to Chicago. Event planning because a friend of mine told me about her sister, and I fell in love with the idea. But when you really think about it, it had nothing to do with teaching or speaking. So Michele & Company I started, it was a great business, we were rolling for five years, six years, had excellent business, September 11th came and went and wiped my business out. And in 2002 my colleagues asked me, “What are you going to do?” And I said, “Well I can either declare bankruptcy,” because I didn’t save for a rainy day. I kept building the brand, starting in marketing, not saving for that rainy day. Or I could go back into college administration where I was miserable and pay off the debt. Or I can do something else, create a different business, and pay off the debt. And the third was really what I wanted to do and I finally said, “Well then start a speaking business. You’re a natural speaker, you should get paid for it.” And throughout all this I was like okay then what do I speak about? And my friends all said, “For branding. You’re always talking about how to market oneself, how to re-brand oneself, how to get supporters which I call brand champions to talk about you and refer business to you. That’s your topic.” So I wrote another business plan, I didn’t give up, and since 2002 I’ve been speaking. This is 2015, so that’s thirteen years I’ve been speaking to different groups, companies, training programs for hotels, and all kinds of companies, associations, speaking on personal branding. Then customers started asking me to speak on marketing. Then customers started to ask me to speak on leadership, and whatever other topic they wanted me to speak about. I had about sixty topics in my catalog.

Jenn T. Grace:

Wow.

Michele Wierzgac:

And all through these thirteen years I can hear my mom’s message, “Focus!”

Jenn T. Grace:

Seriously.

Michele Wierzgac:

So the reward of what I do, I go around speaking- I love what I do. I speak, and teach, and travel, I see all different parts of the world, and I’ve seen almost every state except Alaska. I meet all kinds of neat, neat people such as yourself, help organizations and people through the messages I deliver, and I think the best thing is, is that I’m the conduit for teaching and inspiring others into action, and I take that- my business of speaking very seriously. I’m all about the audience. Yeah I could make a bazillion dollars, but really I’m all about the audience and what is the objective of the meeting or the event, and me as the speaker delivering them that promise. So your question was how did I get to where I’m at? Let’s talk about the last three years. In 2013 I threw my hands up with regard to my personal life and relationships and said, “That’s it, I’m adopting the Queen of Sheba philosophy” which is simply love is for everybody, it’s not for me, I’m here to serve and help everybody else. Relationships aren’t for me. And the very next day after I had thrown my hands up I met my soulmate, and- which was great, that was in 2013. 2014 another cool event. I was asked to speak at the first ever- for me, a motorcycle event for women. So I set a goal to complete my first book for this event, so I wrote it in two months. I mean I had been writing notes, and writing chapters for years, never getting it done. But I had a goal to get it done for this event, and the book is called, ‘The Talking Stick: A Guide for Reflecting on Your Personal Brand,’ which is available on my website at www.MicheleAndCo.com. And the feeling of selling your very first book and autographing it was phenomenal, so that was the highlight in ’14. And in ’15 this year just a month ago I got married for the first time. So that sums up my career in three, four minutes, that’s it, that’s how I got to where I’m at.

Jenn T. Grace:

Wow.

Michele Wierzgac:

And who knows what’s next.

Jenn T. Grace:

That is a good summation and a good wrap-up. And the one thing- well there’s multiple things I take away. But the biggest thing that I take away is the fact that every time you got to what some might call a dead end, or where you’re just feeling burnt out, you hunkered down and wrote a business plan for what you were going to do next. You didn’t just kind of willy nilly- especially with your lack of focus as your mom would probably say, just start going wherever the wind took you. But rather you really kind of prepared and thought through what that next step was actually going to look like.

Michele Wierzgac:

Right, and the other message, I keep coming back to teaching. When I was a kid, I knew I was a teacher. I knew at a young age I could teach, I could speak, I could teach anybody anything- just about anything, except for maybe algebra. But so every time- I think the event planning, when I look back now, it was painful when I lost the event planning company, when it failed. It didn’t fail but when it collapsed after September 11th like most businesses, it was a message. Go back to your roots, go back to your roots. And when you’re starting a business, if you watch Shark Tank or talk to people like you who work on marketing plans and things like that. What are you passionate about? Because passion sells. How can you sell something if you’re not passionate about it?

Jenn T. Grace:

Absolutely, and there are so many people doing that.

Michele Wierzgac:

I think that’s the other message about my story too.

Jenn T. Grace:

Yeah, I would totally agree. And just a side-note on a personal level, I love that you referred to adopting the Queen of Sheba philosophy, because I would not have phrased it as such, but I seriously did the same thing. It was January of 2009 where I came back from a vacation with friends and I’m like, “You know what? I think I am perfectly fine being alone for the rest of my life.” I was not just saying it on a surface level, but I truly 100% felt that I would be perfectly fine without having a relationship. And then my wife and I met in March. So it’s the same type of scenario.

Michele Wierzgac:

See? Well you just let the universe have it. You know and say, “Okay, I have to stop controlling all these things in my life.” Like I was devastated losing my business. Let it go, and then my friends, my colleagues who really cared about me, they’re like, “You’re a natural at speaking. Be a professional speaker.” Wrote a business plan. That’s what I know, discipline.

Jenn T. Grace:

Yes.

Michele Wierzgac:

You know? Bad at relationships, not paying attention, always focused on the career, and all my other friends, the heck with the relationships. And then finally, throw my hands up and say, “Okay relationships, I’m done.” The right person comes along, and I think when we let go of some of that control, we’re in a better place. The world has a way of putting us where we’re supposed to be with the right people.

Jenn T. Grace:

Absolutely, I totally agree. And I do-

Michele Wierzgac:

That’s cool.

Jenn T. Grace:

What?

Michele Wierzgac:

I just think it’s cool that you met your wife that way, too.

Jenn T. Grace:

Yeah, things have a way of working out the way they’re supposed to, and I think that if a relationship had come to me at any other time where I wasn’t really kind of secure in my own ability to just survive by myself, I feel like it may not have turned out the way it did. So I just- I feel very fortunate that the universe kind of presented her at the time that she was supposed to be there.

Michele Wierzgac:

That’s neat.

Jenn T. Grace:

So I definitely want to talk to you about your getting married this year, but we’re going to talk about that in a little bit because when you sent me your email about getting married, that’s when I promptly said, “We have to have you on the podcast.” So we will certainly get into that in a little bit. But I do want to ask you if you wouldn’t mind just sharing some kind of fun fact or just something that’s like a little bit random about yourself that few people would know or expect from you.

Michele Wierzgac:

Many people are in shock because as a speaker- as a professional speaker I’m on stage as an ad hoc professor at different colleges and universities. I’m always in a business suit, I’m always wearing a business suit, clean look, and offstage in my personal time I ride a Harley Davidson.

Jenn T. Grace:

Nice.

Michele Wierzgac:

And I learned to ride six years ago at the age of fifty. And something else people are shocked at, that in my spare time on weekends I teach others how to ride motorcycles. I’m a certified rider coach for Harley Davidson’s Riding Academy, and I learned to be an instructor nine months after I learned to ride.

Jenn T. Grace:

That’s awesome.

Michele Wierzgac:

So you could say that I’m a fast tracker at just about everything I do.

Jenn T. Grace:

I am definitely noticing. You have a good way of framing it though, so it looks like it’s intentional, and you just have a lot of determination, grit, all those types of things. I know that I definitely- I feel like we’re a lot alike in many, many ways in terms of like just focus for example. Like anything you touch, you can do well, but it’s a matter of figuring out what you want to do the best. So I can totally see how that fast tracker came about with riding.

Michele Wierzgac:

And again, it was through meeting people. It was a process of meeting people, and that would take another two hours to tell that story.

Jenn T. Grace:

Oh I can only imagine.

Michele Wierzgac:

That’s how I got involved in motorcycling.

Jenn T. Grace:

Oh my God- you and I, we should talk offline about motorcycles because I started- learned to ride when I was seven, and I am convinced that there’s just nothing more amazing than motorcycles. However my wife doesn’t necessarily share that opinion, so I do not currently have one.

Michele Wierzgac:

Well I’m fortunate because my wife has a motorcycle license and we’re looking for a motorcycle right now for her. And she rides on the back of mine all the time, which I don’t mind, and so motorcycling is part- things in my office, it’s things in our garage, I mean it’s part of who we are, so it’s part of our hobby. I put off riding until a month after my mother died, then I took lessons. Out of respect for my mother, she made me promise never to ride, and I never did so that’s why I never learned until I was fifty. She died three weeks before my fiftieth birthday.

Jenn T. Grace:

Wow.

Michele Wierzgac:

So yeah, so anyway and then her philosophy- my mother’s philosophy was do everything well, do it big, love life big, love big, and so that’s on my license plate, ‘Love Big,’ her philosophy.

Jenn T. Grace:

That’s awesome. Your mom seemed really awesome. She seemed like a good source of inspiration for you.

Michele Wierzgac:

Oh my mom? I learned everything from her. She was great, she was a great teacher. And she was a homemaker, that’s what she did. And there’s a great book by Barbara Corcoran, you know who’s on Shark Tank? ‘Use What You’ve Got, and Other Business Lessons I Learned from My Mom.’ It’s my most favorite book I have.

Jenn T. Grace:

Oh, I should definitely read it.

Michele Wierzgac:

And Barbara Corcoran talks about- writes about all the lessons she learned from her mother and how she applied it to business, and now she’s a big real estate tycoon in New York, and a billionaire, and on Shark Tank, and helping other business people out. So it’s really quite fascinating when I read that, it reminds me of my mom quite a bit.

Jenn T. Grace:

Yeah, that’s totally awesome. Especially from somebody who was a ‘homemaker,’ to have such valuable life lessons and business lessons.

Michele Wierzgac:

Yeah, absolutely.

Jenn T. Grace:

That is awesome. So let me ask you if at any point during your life you had what I refer to as an ‘ah-ha’ moment, where it just kind of grounded you that you knew what you were doing was what you were supposed to be doing?

Michele Wierzgac:

Yeah, and I know, I was around age eight, it was summertime. I was in my bedroom and I lined up my sister’s dolls and I asked my mom if I could take my grandmother’s typewriter that she had just brought home if anybody remembers what a typewriter looks like. Old fashion clickety-click typewriter. And I started putting paper in there, and I taught myself how to type. I started taking my brother’s books from their grades- high school, their social studies books, history books, and I started typing tests if you can believe this as an eight year old.

Jenn T. Grace:

This is crazy.

Michele Wierzgac:

Typing tests and lining them up, and giving them to the dolls and teaching lessons.

Jenn T. Grace:

Wow.

Michele Wierzgac:

And I knew from then on that’s what I wanted to do. Not typing tests and all that, I mean that’s part of teaching. But and then at family events too, even in grammar school, there would be prayers, somebody would have to do a speech, or this or that. “Oh ask Mimi,” that’s what they call me at home. “Ask Mimi to do it. Mimi will announce it, Mimi will speak, Mimi will say it.” And to this day, I’m still the MC of events or whatever needs to- give me a microphone and I don’t even need a script.

Jenn T. Grace:

That’s awesome.

Michele Wierzgac:

It’s a gift, and when you know your gift, you know it. So yeah, the ‘ah-ha’ moment was when I was real young at around- it was about when I was eight years old.

Jenn T. Grace:

Wow, that’s awesome. I talk to some people and they just say that they’ve never had an ‘ah-ha’ moment, and it’s kind of- or they have them daily, or it’s just kind of a constant evolution. But it’s really interesting to see that at such a young age that you knew that speaking and teaching was your calling, and how many different ways it’s kind of morphed over the course of your career.

Michele Wierzgac:

Right, and one of the things- and I hear people say that too, ‘I’ve never had that message.’ Sometimes in life in general, we are tested constantly every day, and you have to be aware of the signs and symbols along the way. Like when you’re riding a motorcycle or driving a car; there’s tons of signs and symbols. ‘Oh, better slow down, going into a school zone. Oh, got to speed up-‘ there’s signs all over the place. ‘Make a right to go here, go left here.’ And that’s how life is. And if we’re not in tune to signs and symbols along the way, like maybe I need to make an adjustment in my business plan or my marketing plan, or this or that. Whatever those signs and symbols are, you have to be open to it. And then here’s the most important thing, is you must set aside your ego, you must be willing to self-correct, meaning take advice from people you respect, and make those adjustments within you. And sometimes- a lot of times the ego gets in the way.

Jenn T. Grace:

Of course it does.

Michele Wierzgac:

And we have to chill out, we have to mellow out, and the life that happens we want to control everything, we’ve got our ego going, we want this, we want that, instead of what does life have to offer to us?

Jenn T. Grace:

So what would you say to somebody who might have- maybe they created their business plan, and they’re seeing that something is out of alignment in whatever their plan was, but their ego is getting in the way of actually doing something to correct it because it’s something ego-driven? What would you say to that person who’s kind of stuck in that rut? Because I do see that to be pretty common.

Michele Wierzgac:

Well they have to be told quite directly that their business is going to fail, and they’re not going to be successful and/or they’re going to be miserable. They have to be told directly. And if they go ahead, they may be successful for five, six, seven, maybe even ten years. After awhile it’s going to catch up with them. The passion has to be with the business, because what happens is the clients and potential customers if you will are going to know that your heart and soul is really not in it. ‘Oh, maybe I’d better go to somebody else.’ They’re going to start losing business. If you watch the show Shark Tank, those sharks, they can sniff you out if you’re not genuine and you genuinely don’t care about your business.

Jenn T. Grace:

Yes they can.

Michele Wierzgac:

And me as a business plan coach, that’s something else I do on the side is business plan and coaching people on their business plans. You can tell when their heart isn’t in it. And they do, they end up failing or they just put it away in their filing cabinet never to look at it again and say, ‘Oh see, woe is me. Pity party. I tried a business, it’s for those other people. It’s for the lucky.’ You create your own luck.

Jenn T. Grace:

Absolutely.

Michele Wierzgac:

You create your own breaks in life. You do, there’s no such thing as luck as far as I’m concerned.

Jenn T. Grace:

I would agree with you entirely.

Michele Wierzgac:

So yeah, that’s my opinion on people who can’t set aside their egos and look at ‘this is reality.’ So ego is a very, very deadly thing. Now you need some ego, and I call that confidence. You need a lot of confidence just to sometimes when you’re nervous about something or trying something new, you’ve got to kind of fake it ’til you make it kind of thing. But that’s short-lived, that’s just to get you over the hump. A speedbump if you will. But if you start getting cocky and out of control, nine times out of ten you’re going to fail.

Jenn T. Grace:

Yeah, and you see that over and over again. And then the times where- like I can think of the instance where I had to close a business, I had a business partner, and my ego- I know 100% for a fact was in my way. And finally I just had to suck it up and acknowledge that I knew it was me who was having this problem, and just say, ‘It doesn’t matter what other people think of me for closing this business.’ It’s not in my best interest, it wasn’t in his best interest to keep it open, and just suck it up and do what was best for us. And at the end of the day, no one- I can’t say no one noticed, but no one cared nearly as much as my ego did at first. And it’s like you just have to like get past it whether- and it doesn’t feel good always, but you just have to acknowledge it and then get past it.

Michele Wierzgac:

Yeah, and the other thing tied to that is sometimes as we let our egos go out of control, we damage our reputation or personal brand, is what I write about in my book. And so your brand- the brands of others can damage your brand just knowing or having a business with a partner that is unreliable, or you’re working for a company that has a terrible reputation; it can damage your brand- your personal brand, your name.

Jenn T. Grace:

Absolutely.

Michele Wierzgac:

So you have to be careful of who you associate with as well.

Jenn T. Grace:

I agree on that almost probably in extreme where I know that this has sometimes made business coaches of mine in the past or even my wife in the past a little bit unsettled is when I turn down business because I don’t believe in the person, or I’m not willing to put my reputation or my name with that person. And sometimes it’s for large dollar amounts, and to me I would rather not have their money than be associating myself- and this is primarily around the LGBT piece, of I don’t want to associate myself with helping this company who may be inauthentic or disingenuine, reach the LGBT community because the last thing I want coming out of their mouth is, “Oh, Jenn Grace helped me do that.” Like no thank you, especially if they’re not doing it the right way.

Michele Wierzgac:

That’s right, because once people say that, hey this company is not authentic, not genuine, doesn’t have a genuine spirit and their consultant was who? Who? I mean that’s all you need to get swirling around through word of mouth in the marketplace, and you’ve got brand damage to clean up.

Jenn T. Grace:

Yeah, no thank you.

Michele Wierzgac:

So brand association is a critical piece to whatever you do, and egos are the core- are the root of most of that that’s going on, most of the problems that are going on with one’s brand, one’s reputation. It’s the ego.

Jenn T. Grace:

Yup. So in terms of- I guess what keeps you going every day? Because you clearly have a lot of different things that you’re working on, and you definitely have a thriving business. So what keeps you I guess motivated and then inspired to just kind of keep on moving when maybe the times are not as easy as you would like them to be?

Michele Wierzgac:

Life is so cool if you just let it be. And I enjoy my life, I enjoy my work. What ‘inspires me’ is first of all in doing what I love to do, which is to speak and teach and write. But mainly speaking and being the communicator. People who call me, write me, see me in person; when they let me know they said, “You know Michelle? You said something to me three years ago that inspired me to change what I was doing, or changed my life, or changed my career, or changed my business.” Man that keeps me going for another two, three years.

Jenn T. Grace:

Yup.

Michele Wierzgac:

One person. And it happens almost on a daily basis where I’m getting a thank you note, a call, somebody’s writing me an email, texting me out of the clear, blue sky. Every day there’s at least one message. So I’m really- I get so inspired by that. Riding the motorcycle inspires me, I do a lot of thinking on the bike. Anybody who has experienced riding a motorcycle will understand that. And then being in love. And I didn’t think- we’ll go back to relationships for a minute. I didn’t think how much- My life is so full right now that I didn’t think it could get any more fuller if there’s such a phrase. Grammatically I don’t think I said that correctly. But I’m so full. Love is the bow on the package, and when you find your soulmate, I don’t know it’s just amazing.

Jenn T. Grace:

Different.

Michele Wierzgac:

That’s all I can say. So I get my inspiration from people who hear me speak or teach, or read something I’ve written, riding and love. I would say those three in a row.

Jenn T. Grace:

That’s awesome.

Michele Wierzgac:

It’s not just one thing, it’s several. Again, you have to be open to all of that.

Jenn T. Grace:

Absolutely, and to what the universe is delivering.

Michele Wierzgac:

Correct. Correct, yeah. Life is good.

Jenn T. Grace:

I would agree, I am totally in the same phase of life is good right now. So you’ve given some snippets of advice that you’ve gotten from your- like even your grandmother’s typewriter was part of your ‘ah-ha’ moment, and your mom with some really awesome nuggets of wisdom. What would you say was the best piece of advice you’ve ever been given?

Michele Wierzgac:

My grandmother, again another woman, don’t ever be jealous of what others have. If you want it, set a goal, earn it, and get it. Amen.

Jenn T. Grace:

Heck yeah.

Michele Wierzgac:

That was it in a nutshell. And again, I was sitting at her kitchen table, peeling potatoes, doing something with my grandmother, and those were the days when people- when kids spoke to their elders. And I was a young kid, and we were talking about something family or something, and she said, “Always remember, don’t ever be jealous of anyone or what they have. If you want it, you earn it, you get it, and enjoy it.” And I’ve always followed that piece of advice.

Jenn T. Grace:

That’s smart, it’s really, really, really wise.

Michele Wierzgac:

Yeah so you know, people say, “Aren’t you jealous of so-and-so?” And I’m like, “No, not really.”

Jenn T. Grace:

And you never really know-

Michele Wierzgac:

Jealousy is not part of my vocabulary. Neither is boredom. People say, “I’m bored.” I’ve never used that phrase in my whole life.

Jenn T. Grace:

I don’t think I have either.

Michele Wierzgac:

Yeah, I wonder what it’s like to be bored. I don’t know. I really don’t know.

Jenn T. Grace:

I have that conversation with a friend of mine. I say to her often, I’m like, “I just wonder what it would be like if I could just relax on the couch and watch some kind of crappy reality TV, and not be thinking about the fifteen things I should be doing instead. Because I physically just cannot- like my idea of relaxing is reading a book. When I watch TV it’s things like Shark Tank. So I’m never just watching like trash TV and just relaxing. Like it’s just not in my nature. So there is no shortage of me being bored ever. But it is such a wonderful thought to ponder, isn’t it? Like what would that be like? I don’t know.

Michele Wierzgac:

I sometimes think what would it be like to win the lottery? Oh, go sell a business, and sell the house.

Jenn T. Grace:

I’d probably be working harder.

Michele Wierzgac:

And go live on a beach and be bored on a beach. I think that would last maybe two days.

Jenn T. Grace:

If that, yeah I would agree.

Michele Wierzgac:

It’s bad.

Jenn T. Grace:

I would end up buying the beach. Like my idea of retiring- my wife and I joke about this, is that we go camping every year and I shouldn’t even say ‘camping.’ It’s more of like glamping, we’re not really- we don’t sleeping on the ground or anything like that. So we’re in like a nice cabin. But we always say that our idea of retiring would be to like own a bunch of campgrounds, so that’s not even really retiring by owning a bunch of campgrounds. But to us, that seems reasonable, and seems like totally relaxing even though we’d be owning multiple businesses. But yeah, so the same thing.

Michele Wierzgac:

And my idea of retiring is being on the Harley, riding a Harley all over the world, staying in six star hotels. That’s my idea.

Jenn T. Grace:

That could be fun, that would be very fun.

Michele Wierzgac:

There you go. Anyway.

Jenn T. Grace:

I know, we digress. I love it.

Michele Wierzgac:

I know, I know.

Jenn T. Grace:

So I do want to switch gears a little bit, because I’m sure you’re going to have some good information to share around LGBT marketing, communications, et cetera. Because many of the listeners- so of course the show being the Gay Business and Marketing Made Easy Podcast, really it’s all about LGBT business, LGBT marketing, and I would love to know from your perspective what a piece of advice might be to someone listening to this who wants to market to the community, but maybe they don’t know how, maybe they’re an ally, don’t really know how, maybe they’re LGBT and still don’t know how. What would you say that one piece of advice- at least to start us off, because I know we have a lot of things to cover here. What would that be that you think might help them be a little more successful?

Michele Wierzgac:

Well you have to be true to yourself, that would be the foundation of the question to answer. The framework for the answer to the question. And you have to be- in other words be authentic. Your body language, your verbal language, your marketing materials, marketing language is critical to marketing to the LGBT community. And we need 20,000 more Jenn T. Grace’s in the marketing world, in the business world, to train everybody out there on body language, or written language, marketing language, it’s just amazing to me. We had just spoke about this a few minutes ago, if you’re just going after the money because Jenn says, and all the economists out there say that the LGBT community is contributing $780 billion to the gross national product last year, so we’re going to go after it and slap a gay-friendly label on every marketing piece, but we’re not going to have any pictures of gay couples, two men, two women, two trans, two bi’s, two this- and we’re not going to do any of that and change any of our marketing materials, we’re just going to slap this label or stamp of approval, you’re going to have a rude awakening because it’s not going to work. People need to see that you are authentically serving, producing products and services for the LGBT community, or one of those market segments. You know the lesbians, the gays, bi-sexuals, the trans; you don’t have to go after the entire market segment, you can go after certain target markets.

Jenn T. Grace:

That makes sense for your business and what you’re selling.

Michele Wierzgac:

Correct.

Jenn T. Grace:

Yes.

Michele Wierzgac:

And personally, because we often think of personal life and business life as two separate entities. Are you kidding me? They’re so interrelated so you have to make sure- now are these things you can learn? Okay maybe my language is not up to- Maybe my marketing materials, I need to contract Jenn to come in and take a look at our marketing materials, and just hit us between the eyeballs with what we really need to do. Again setting aside that ego and getting professional advice from someone like you is really critical. But again, it goes back to authenticity. Is the company really ready to serve the LGBT market? Or have you been serving it and you just haven’t updated your marketing materials? That could be an issue too. So again, I think that they should be contacting you for expertise. So you have to make sure your marketing materials really address the LGBT market. Recently as I said, I just got married a month ago. And we were specifically looking for LGBT-friendly for lack of a better phrase, I don’t know what the current phrase is and you can correct me on it.

Jenn T. Grace:

Maybe inclusive.

Michele Wierzgac:

But we were looking for vendors and supplier and products and services that addressed- that were friendly to our market, right? So trying to find clothes for the wedding was like pure hell. I don’t know how else to say it. You walk into a bridal, so Sue and I would walk into a bridal shop and they’d say, “May we help you?” “We-” so if they listened they would have heard. “We are looking for two- we are looking for wedding gowns.” “Oh, who’s the bride?”

Jenn T. Grace:

Yup.

Michele Wierzgac:

Okay so and you give tons of examples in your books and in your podcast about that. Again, turned off, ready to walk out, not authentic. “Oh you two are the brides, oh I get it.” Walking into a nail salon, “Oh this is our bridal party,” “Oh who’s the bride?” “Oh there’s two brides.” “Oh they’re having two separate weddings?”

Jenn T. Grace:

Yeah.

Michele Wierzgac:

I could tell all kinds of stories. Gifts, decor ideas, there’s a huge market for a store just for decorations for an LGBT wedding if you will. A lesbian wedding. We both wanted to wear dresses. “Oh,” one gal said, “you’re not wearing a tuxedo?” Because I’m the tallest one. Sue’s 5’2″ I’m 5’11”. So they automatically assume I’m going to wear the tuxedo and she’s going to wear the dress. I wanted to wear the dress, I get dressed up. Are you kidding? So a lot of assumptions and stereotypes. And then the best part is with every vendor and supplier out there, we found one vendor, our photographer, she was phenomenal. Her forms, her checklists on telling us what to do in what order, were designed for bride and bride.

Jenn T. Grace:

Love it.

Michele Wierzgac:

And the videographers, all the other vendors that we needed for the wedding it said, ‘Bride and Groom,’ ‘Bride and Groom,’ ‘Groom and Bride,’ ‘Groom and Bride.’ Even the marriage license application, ‘Groom and Bride.’ I had to cross it out and change to ‘Bride and Bride.’ A marriage license- the application.

Jenn T. Grace:

Wow.

Michele Wierzgac:

So those are simple things that can easily be fixed. A friend of mine sent me a budget, the groom’s budget and bride’s budget. And I said, “Where’s the lesbian list?” He says, “Oh there hasn’t been one created.” I said, “You’re the expert, why didn’t you create it?” “Oh that takes time.” So now I’ve created it, so if any of your listeners want the lesbian checklist for a lesbians only wedding, I have it and I’ll sell it to you. I won’t sell it to you, but anyway. Maybe I should, maybe I should sell it.

Jenn T. Grace:

There’s probably a market for it.

Michele Wierzgac:

So anyway for the listeners, you want to market yourself to the LGBT community, speak the language, look the language, act out the part, be authentic, and if you want to know how- if you need to be trained on what a gay-friendly business looks like, walk into Amarante’s Sea Cliff in East Haven, Connecticut or visit market Petonito’s Pastry Shop in East Haven, Connecticut. And I know you’re from Connecticut, I’m from Chicago. Those two businesses have got it down to a science. You walk in, you’re a regular everyday person when you come to their business. They don’t care who you- they’re just like, “Oh bride and bride? Oh okay great, great. Oh when’s the wedding?” They get all excited. “Oh you want statues on your cake or not?” “No we want-” “Okay, no problem.”

Jenn T. Grace:

And I would tell you that those businesses have a very, very strong reputation within the state of Connecticut as being the destinations for LGBT weddings. Like they are very well known for it, because they don’t just- like they advertise in every possible LGBT-related publication or magazine, or whatever it happens to be. But they don’t just advertise and then treat you differently when you walk in. But they actually walk the walk, and talk the talk, and you obviously experienced that. And that’s really the true mark of knowing if the business is going to be what you need it to be for your big day.

Michele Wierzgac:

Yeah, and then the other thing is- now let’s switch to business. A week before my wedding I was in New Orleans, and a week after I was in Pittsburgh speaking. And during these two events I know people all over the place through my business networks, and again my brand champions, my supporters are the ones who get me the business, it’s word of mouth marketing that really works for me. And they were continually approaching me and congratulating me on my upcoming marriage. “Oh you just got married? Congratulations!” There was a new person- most of the time there are new people in the group who have never met me. “Oh we’d like you to meet Michele. Word is that she just got married or she’s getting married.” And they go, “Oh congratulations!” Followed immediately by, “What does your husband do for a living?” Talk about- okay so if you want to know what’s being authentic, but paying attention to your language and your stereotyping. And again, I would be kind and I would say, “My wife is an executive with-” and I would say what it was and then they go, “Oh, oh, oh, okay.” And why are they asking me- why aren’t they asking me what I do for a living? Why are they discriminating against my career as a woman? That’s how I look at it. And anyways, there is just so much business out there for you Jenn, you’re going to be working until you’re 150 years old.

Jenn T. Grace:

There is no doubt. I actually had somebody say, “Oh with the same-sex marriage being passed do you think you’re going to go out of business?” And I’m like, if I can- like I have two children, I would love nothing more than to be able to pass my business down because I’ve grown it in a way that I’m able to do that. And then have it go down to my grandchildren. Because there seriously is no shortage of people- I don’t know how to phrase it nicely. People being stupid and saying inappropriate things, and sticking their foot in their mouth. That’s always going to be the case. So I really feel like I could probably be in business until I’ve been dead for 500 years at this point.

Michele Wierzgac:

I think so. Yeah, you’ll be in business forever. Because there’s so much stereotyping, judging that’s going on, that continues to go on forever. And I think that’s a part of human behavior, it’s just rather than being negative about it- because I always like to look at the bright side of things. And that is here is a perfect opportunity to change somebody. So I’m hoping that with my comment being kind and saying, “My wife is,” and just say it that way rather than being nasty about it, will go much, much longer because they will have learned a lesson. And that’s my take on it. So again if you’re marketing to the LGBT community, be authentic, you really want to serve that particular market segment in your marketing plan, and your business plan. And then know your language, have products and services that address the market. It’s just like any other market; if you’re going after men, if you’re going after women, you’re going after women who ride motorcycles, whatever that target market is. LGBT, I don’t care, know the language, walk the talk like you said. Walk the walk, talk the talk and you’ll be fine. And be careful of networking, just people remember you. Especially first impressions are 75%- people remember 75% of first impressions.

Jenn T. Grace:

Yeah and you can’t undo that. So yeah, you have to be very mindful of it. And at the same time, I feel like- I spoke at a conference in Miami in March, and one of the people after my presentation- it was really kind of like the presentation version of my second book about the seven mistakes, and I call them ‘The Seven Deadly Sins’ in my presentations. Just the seven common phrases I hear that really will just shoot yourself in the foot if you are not watching what you’re doing. And somebody came to me after the presentation and said, “You know, you’ve actually scared me to the point where I don’t know what to do.” So I want to reinforce what you and I have been talking about in answering this question, and say we’re not saying this from a place of trying to scare you to the point where you’re going to be frozen from doing something. But rather as you start your LGBT initiatives, just be mindful of how your physical language, your verbal language, body language may all be appearing in terms of your marketing approaches. It’s not just what’s on paper, but it really comes down to the person who’s executing the strategy. So don’t be too afraid to actually do anything at all. Just try to maybe double check yourself every now and then to make sure you’re doing it in a proper way.

Michele Wierzgac:

That’s so true. Interesting too, train your staff, and hire people that are representing you, your brand, your company’s brand. And if somebody is anti-male, female, women riders, women speakers, anti-LGBT whatever, don’t hire them. They don’t fit the brand. Their brand does not support your brand, it’s that simple. It really is simple. So you need to really hire people and surround yourself with people that are supportive of your business plan and who you’re marketing to.

Jenn T. Grace:

You clearly are- as an out LGBT person, you obviously have a lot of perspectives and some valuable information in terms of giving the listeners a look at marketing. But how have you personally been able to- what I always say leverage your status as someone who’s LGBT within your business or career?

Michele Wierzgac:

Well I spend a lot of time leveraging my brand champions, and I write about this again in my book. It’s the people that spread the word around about what I’m passionate about. Speaking, and igniting other people into action. So maybe you need to light a fire under me, and ignite me into action Jenn.

Jenn T. Grace:

I’m all over it.

Michele Wierzgac:

So I saw who my brand champions are, and obviously they know I have a wife, that I’m a lesbian. That’s my brand champions. And those who do not support me, obviously they’re not my brand champions. So I thought about my champions, how important it is to send out regular alerts or updates to them on what you are doing so that they can go out and tell the rest of the world what you’re up to, and spread the word what you’re looking for. So when I started the speaking business, I called everybody in my database, and there were thousands of people. One at a time, one at a time, I took one call at a time, and if I didn’t get them I left a message. And I didn’t do an email blast, I did a personal call and said, “I’m no longer in the event planning business, I’m now speaking in the areas of personal branding and leadership.” And I made that call and so many people that I saw then in person at a convention or whatever, they said, “That call really helped me because now I can spread the word about what you’re doing.” And I continue to do that, updating my brand champions. Now that’s what I do. So I want my brand champions to repeat to others, “Michele, she speaks on leadership.” And then they might add something personal like, “She’s excellent. She’ll ignite your people into action. She’s an author. She rides a Harley too and teaches others how to ride.” It’s really kind of cool, because I’ll ask my brand champions, “What do you say about me?” And I’ll examine them. And in a polite way I’ll say, “You know, I haven’t done the event planning business in thirteen years.” “Oh, oh, oh.” That could be like a cousin I haven’t seen in a few years. They’re still out blabbing that I’m an event planner and I need to correct them in a gentle way. So that’s how I- so I leverage my brand champions. Any suggestions?

Jenn T. Grace:

Maybe it’s a matter of making sure- well you know what? Maybe I’m going to pull back exactly what I was just about to say. In your instance, you appear to be completely transparent with those who are your brand champions. So I would say if you were telling me right now that your brand champions didn’t really know anything personal about you, they didn’t know you had a wife, they certainly didn’t know you were LGBT or you were out, then I would say that there’s probably- you’re leaving something on the table for them to know more about you personally. But since your brand champions are already kind of informed on who you are as a whole person, not just wearing your professional hat, or wearing your personal hat, they have a good sense of you as who you are. I think you already are leveraging your status as an LGBT person because you are taking those instances where- I’ve had this happen to me more times than I can count, where someone is making the- they’re inferring that you have a husband, or they just flat out say, “What does your husband do for a living?” And you didn’t just sit on that, let it go by, ignore them, think they’re just someone else discriminating, and kind of let it go. But instead you politely corrected them and said your wife, which is how I do it too because I find that it’s not intrusive, it gets the point across, it doesn’t make them feel too terrible, and then you’ve educated them in the process. So I feel like just by the fact that you’re doing that at conferences, and it’s not an LGBT-specific conference, that you are in essence already leveraging who you are.

Michele Wierzgac:

Okay, so then here’s my question for you, and I think the listeners will want to know this answer as well. Is then is there an LGBT stamp or a brand that we should be putting on our websites and our marketing materials that say? Because I don’t. I don’t have any lesbian or LGBT marketing related workshops; not like you do. Because my marketing is more- I’m more into market trends as a whole rather than- and coaching people on their marketing plans. I don’t specifically speak about a particular market segment. I speak about a lot of different things as it relates to trends in the marketplace. So we come at marketing from a different angle. Am I supposed to have a specific brand or a label on my website that says I’m LGBT-friendly and I’m part of the ‘community’?

Jenn T. Grace:

You know, I would say the best thing for you to do is- and this is for anybody listening, is to join the local LGBT chamber of commerce that happens to be in your area, and I know for a fact that since you’re in Chicago I know that there’s one there.

Michele Wierzgac:

Yeah, it’s pretty big too.

Jenn T. Grace:

Yeah and they’ve won a couple of awards, the national conference was in Chicago a couple of years ago which was amazing, and that’s really where that stamp of approval comes from. It’s a matter of going out there and saying, “I belong to the local LGBT chamber of commerce.” Because it’s a matter of- you’re taking one step further. You could easily advertise in some Pride Guide, you could advertise some black tie gala, whatever it happens to be. You can attend an event here or there. But it’s more putting your money where your mouth is in terms of outwardly saying that you are a member of the local chamber of commerce because the LGBT chamber really is there to drive economic value to LGBT-owned businesses, to allies to the community, so that way everybody is kind of winning, and there’s a lot of room. And then the additional thing that you would do from there is by joining that local LGBT chamber of commerce, you now can get certified as an LGBT-owned business through the national chamber for free. And that is the true 100% like housekeeping seal of approval if you will, is to be able to say that you are a certified LGBT-owned business. And for me, like if you go to my website in the footer of my website I have the NGLCC- so it’s the National Gay and Lesbian Chamber of Commerce. I have their logo very firmly planted at the bottom of my site that says, ‘Certified LGBT Business.’ And then in my email signature it says, ‘Certified by the NGLCC.’ So that’s really I think the seal of approval, and it goes a couple steps further. So if you’re an ally, unfortunately allies can’t be certified, but allies can absolutely and already are joining these local organizations and they’re getting a bunch of benefit and value because now they’re networking with LGBT business owners or other allies who are likeminded in the sense that they understand that there’s a need in the marketplace for business who know how to properly speak to the LGBT community. So I know here in Connecticut I used to run the LGBT chamber which is why I know an inordinate amount of information about them, but I know that chamber members are so often my perfect customer, because they’re already taking that step forward to say, “I’m going to get involved locally.” But then just because they’re saying it and they’re taking that step doesn’t necessarily mean they’re equipped with the right communications tactics. So then it’s a matter of knowing that they’re really open to hearing more about how to properly go about marketing to the LGBT community, and communicating, getting business, et cetera, et cetera. So that to me is really where the good housekeeping seals of approval kind of come in. I have toyed with the idea of creating my own because there’s nothing for allies, and I feel like allies really kind of don’t have that one thing to say, and a lot of times they’ll just use a rainbow flag that says LGBT friendly, and I kind of go back and forth on my opinions about the flag. I’m not a fan of using the rainbow flag, but I totally understand why people do it because a lot of times it is effective in getting the point across. So yeah, that’s-

Michele Wierzgac:

Another project to put on your list, Jenn.

Jenn T. Grace:

I know, because I don’t have enough.

Michele Wierzgac:

And when you’re referring to allies, basically my language is brand champions or supporters. Is that what you mean?

Jenn T. Grace:

Just anyone who is a supporter of the LGBT community, or a supporter of you as an LGBT person. So like that’s really where my- I have two focuses in my business; supporting LGBT business owners like yourself, and then educating those who are not part of the community, but want to show their support, but don’t know how to go about it the right way. So that’s really what an ally is, is somebody that’s willing to change their Facebook profile picture to the rainbow when marriage equality passed in June. Allies are people who would be willing to do that.

Michele Wierzgac:

Okay.

Jenn T. Grace:

Yeah. So I have- there’s just a couple more questions, and I know we’re getting close to an hour here, so I want to be mindful of the time. But can you just tell me I guess maybe one thing- I usually ask about like is there some kind of book or tool or something that’s kind of helped you in your business. But for you I’m wondering what’s helped you in your career as like a collective? Because I know that you’ve really kind of dove deep into what your career has entailed. So what’s helped you kind of along the way?

Michele Wierzgac:

Well first of all my college degrees, both my Bachelor’s and my Masters are invaluable and it taught me discipline, and the discipline to study, to set goals, to focus- that word again, focus. And sports helped me with my career too, is volleyball- and I did that anyway. Confidence, there are a lot of books about women and confidence, women lacking confidence, women leaders and where do they get their confidence? And confidence is an inner fire within your belly. Like what inspires you to drive yourself to achieve a goal? That’s all confidence is. And when I’m teaching motorcycle classes and women go, “Oh I’m so glad there’s a woman instructor and not guy instructors.” There’s this thing, they want a woman instructor teaching them motorcycle class. I am tougher on the students than the men are, and because I’m so goal-oriented in what I teach; this is the goal and this is where we’re going, this is how you do it, and let me show you, we’re going to demo. And again, it’s all about discipline, it’s all about confidence and believing in others like other’s believed in me. My mom, my grandmother, my coaches, even business people such as yourself, they have the confidence in me and they just keeping pushing you and say, “You can do it, get out there, go do it.” And “Oh you should be a speaker, go do it.” So confidence and discipline was instilled in me at a young age through sports. And then again I talked about being surrounded by people that believed in me, I avoid negative people, toxic people at all costs. I avoid anyone that is a naysayer, that says it can’t be done. It shouldn’t be done. A woman’s place is to cook and clean, raise kids. My father’s philosophy, you can’t blame him, that’s how he grew up. I just avoid it, I don’t take that in at all. What else has helped me? I realize I have a lot of business books on my shelf, talked about Barbara Corcoran’s book about, ‘Use What You’ve Got and Other Business Lessons I Learned from My Mom.’ But I love the book, ‘Women Don’t Ask’ by Martha Barletta, where she talks about how women leave money on the table. There really isn’t a glass ceiling, women have created the earning gap because we don’t ask the same way men do. Men ask for the business, for the sales, for the job, and they say, “I need the extra money because I’m raising a family.” Women say, “Oh, okay the job pays $80,000? Okay I’ll take it.” And not say, “This job is worth this other job that’s $200,000. I’d like $200,000 please, I’m raising a family.” And there are more and more women raising families. There are no men in the household, the women are raising families. So as we know through the lesbian market, we know that for a fact, more and more couples have children. So women don’t ask, she goes through the research by how much money women are leaving on the table and not asking. And then also what helps me are good movies, and my old favorite movie is with Rosalind Russell, ‘Auntie Mame’ in 1959, everybody thought she was a nut, everybody thought I was a nut when I learned to ride a Harley, and they thought I fell and hit my head. And she’s got that wonderful- “Live! Live! Live! Life is a banquet and most poor suckers starve to death.” It’s my favorite line, “Life is a banquet.” There is so much out there that you can contribute to the world, there’s so much you could do, be involved in. Don’t starve. That’s my motto.

Jenn T. Grace:

I like it.

Michele Wierzgac:

So that’s what helped me.

Jenn T. Grace:

Those are all beautiful things and yes, don’t starve. Life is abundant. There is more opportunities than I think any one person can actually take advantage of. So there’s no- I feel like there’s no such thing as no opportunity. So the people who are all ho-hum about that, they are not looking, they don’t have the right mindset.

Michele Wierzgac:

Right, correct. Again, ego. Egos in the way.

Jenn T. Grace:

Yup. Alright, this has been such a great, great wealth of information. I’m so happy that you’ve been on today. I do want to ask you one more question and then let you just kind of give yourself a plug and let people know how they can find you. But my last question is what’s one thing that you’re working on right now that just is super exciting for you?

Michele Wierzgac:

I am so excited, I just got involved with a gal friend of mine that I’ve known for about fifteen years. Remember my mom always reminded me to focus? You’ve got to focus on one or two things and be very good at it. You’re all over the place. Well I feel like I’m all over the place because people are asking me to speak on leadership, and marketing, and this and that, and personal branding. So a friend of mine, colleague of mine whose speaking business asked, “Michele, the other day, would you be willing to contract or hire a coach to help you focus? And focus on the direction of your speaking business?” And I thought that took- because she was very courageous to ask me that, and it was very courageous to take it in and set aside my ego. And I thought about it, and then I said, “I need to talk to the other half of this relationship, I am married now and I can’t make a spur of the moment decision like I used to when I was single for 56 years. And I think it’s a wonderful idea.” She goes, “Really?” She goes, “I wasn’t sure how you were going to respond.” I said, “I do need coaching. I need to focus. It’s been a while. My mom’s been gone for six years, I haven’t focused in six years.” And so we agreed that I’m going to have a speaking coach to help me focus on my direction for my keynote, I want to get on many more stages and do more platform, big group speaking. The companies have so much going on, I’m creating confusion in the marketplace about what I do, and my brand champions need some training too, and updating. So for the next six months that’s what I’m working on, so excited about it.

Jenn T. Grace:

Nice.

Michele Wierzgac:

But to focus for me is going to require discipline. And your last question, where can you find me? At my website, www.MicheleAndCo.com. And Jenn, I can’t thank you enough for having me.

Jenn T. Grace:

I have been thrilled to have you on here, I think this has been fantastic. And I do want to actually ask you can you tell people where they can get your book? I’m guessing it’s on the website too, but is it available anywhere else?

Michele Wierzgac:

It’s on the website www.MicheleAndCo.com.

Jenn T. Grace:

Perfect.

Michele Wierzgac:

That’s where you can buy it, or they can call me if they want.

Jenn T. Grace:

Why don’t you give your phone number?

Michele Wierzgac:

(708) 710-7055. Would love to hear from you, and what you thought about this podcast too.

Jenn T. Grace:

Yeah.

Michele Wierzgac:

It would be great feedback.

Jenn T. Grace:

What about an email address to make it easier too?

Michele Wierzgac:

Yeah, it’s Michele@micheleandco.com.

Jenn T. Grace:

Beautiful. Thank you so much, I know that you’re busy so I appreciate you taking the time to talk with the listeners today.

Michele Wierzgac:

Great, thanks Jenn, make it a great day.

Jenn T. Grace:

You too, thank you.

Michele Wierzgac:

Okay, bye bye.

About Jenn T. Grace

Jenn T. Grace (she/her/hers) is an award-winning author and founder and CEO of Publish Your Purpose (PYP), the acclaimed hybrid publisher of non-fiction books. Jenn has published 100+ books written by thought leaders, visionaries, and entrepreneurs who are striving to make a difference. Jenn T. Grace’s work elevates and amplifies the voices of others—especially marginalized groups who are regularly excluded from traditional publishing.

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