30:5 How to take a vacation even if you’re broke
How do you take a vacation as a business owner when there is so much pressure and perhaps you are even strapped for cash? Taking a vacation can seem like a pipe dream to the agency owner who feels they can never truly take a break.
Lee Matthew Jackson
In this week’s episode we share the core message from our premium group call from last week.
- Why you need a vacation
- Vacation ideas on a budget
- Getting cover and switching off
- Being intentional
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Lee Matthew Jackson: For this week’s episode, we’re going to take a look at how we can take a vacation. How can you get a holiday? How can you get time off when you are busy, when you are stressed, when finances are not looking great or maybe finances are great, but there are too many commitments going on around you. So this is very much a call where we’re going to unpack some of these key essentials to taking a vacation and being able to really switch off. Let’s take a look at the purpose of this session. Now it can often seem like a pipe dream to book a vacation because we feel like as agency owners that we cannot take a break. There are just too many demands on our time, so hopefully the outcome of this presentation is going to help you build a framework for taking that really essential time out of your business.
So here’s what we’re going to cover. We’re going to look at why you need a vacation. Then we’re going to talk about vacation ideas on a budget. We’re then going to look at getting cover and being able to really switch off from your business. You can go on vacation, but if you’re still doing emails and still sending texts and still taking phone calls, your kind of not turning off. So we’re going to go into that. And then finally we’re going to look at the commitment of being intentional about taking a vacation. Before we continue for those who are wondering what the word vacation means for you, UK guys, it means a holiday.
All right, let’s go into why do you need a vacation? So there are of course many benefits to taking some time off. As overwhelming as that idea may be, we run a business, we have many hats, we have many demands, and the idea of not doing our massive to do list can seem really overwhelming. The idea of taking a week off surely will mean that that to do list gets worse and worse and worse. So, so often we just don’t take that break. We don’t take the holiday. Now let’s look at some of the benefits that we might be able to get from having a break from our business and the first one is frankly your mental health. Now, if we think back to my old agency days, I was working 18 hour days. I was very often working weekends. This was a lot of stress, a lot of time on work, a lot of time on trying to work out what we were going to do for the future, a feeling of being trapped in the business because we weren’t sure if we were ever going to get out of this cycle of 18 hour days. There was so much pressure and that was really affecting me mentally. I was depressed, I suffered from anxiety, I was on different pills I was putting weight on than losing weight. It was just this horrible cycle and my mental health really, really suffered. When during that time we started to become intentional about taking holidays a lot of things changed. Having a allows you that time to rest, to recharge, to essentially switch your brain off from everything else that’s going on around you and just kind of live in a bubble for a week and enjoy time with everybody else and create those memories. So for your mental health, for you to constantly be under pressure, 18 hours a day, five, six or seven days a week for long, long, long periods of time is detrimental and you really do need to take that time out just to recharge and to give your own mental health and energy a break.
Now I am definitely not a psychologist or a mental expert in any stretch of the imagination, but even I know without any qualifications that taking a break is absolutely essential and please, if you’ve not watched the call where I talk about time management a few weeks ago, can I encourage you to go and check that one out as well? As not only is a vacation great for your mental health, but also so as good time management where you can make sure that perhaps you are working till five rather than till midnight and then you’ve got the rest of the evening off. So managing your time more effectively is also really positive for that mental health.
Now your physical health is also important here and I read somewhere a few years ago that I’m not sure how it correlates, but essentially taking vacations is good for your heart. Let’s flip this. If we think of working for one, two years nonstop, seven days a week off, six days a week, 18 hour days, that is not good for our mental health but it’s also not good for our physical health. The stress that we put under our bodies etc is also having a negative impact on our own physical health. That can put strain on the heart and and other areas of your physical health. Therefore, stopping and taking that break is essential both in time management, so again, watch that previous module but also in taking a week or taking a couple of weeks off where you can really switch off and recharge and scientists have said and correlated that a vacation is good for your heart. Don’t know how they did that. You need to go and ask the scientists and perhaps I’ll put a few links in after this call of some resources that people can go and check out as well on this, but you know these are two real key things for you as the agency owner. Your mental health and your physical health is at risk if you are not looking after yourself, both with your time management in the day to day, but also looking after yourself with regards to I few breaks in the year. Working for a whole year non-stop is not going to do you any favours.
All right, next point. A vacation is good for the health of your partner and or your children. If not taking a break is bad for you. Then think of the impact on your family as well. We often think you know inwardly and we think, yeah, I can do this. I can work for a year. I’m going to work this year. I’m not going to take a break. I’m going to get all of this work done and that’s going to get us in a great financial position so that we can take lots of holidays in the future. Now that was my mindset and the problem with that meant that I was working potentially several years in a row without any holiday because I was never getting to that point of being able to have enough money to go and have a break etc.
Now my wife’s one of those people who needs something to look forward to and her mental health is effected quite severely if she’s got no holiday or no plans that she can build up towards and look forward to. So, you know, that was impacting on my wife, on her mental health. She wasn’t getting a break. She had her job, but also when the school wore off cause she worked at the school she was at home and kind of just hanging around and bored whilst I was doing all of these shifts, et cetera. So her own mental health has been affected the same for you know, my children not getting time off, not getting time away. That really does impact on them as well as me. So you know, I have a responsibility as a parent and as a husband to be thinking of the bigger picture. Sure. I might think I can take a year of solid work to get to the next level, but can my family and is that fair on my family? So there’s three already. Mental health, physical health, which affects you and then wrap that up in parcel and look at your whole family, your partner and or your children and what the impact of of that is on them.
Now there’s been studies with regards to good effective time management and taking a break which increases your productivity. So if you think again back to me being in an agency looking at 18 hour days, my productivity during those 18 hour days was actually very poor. When we decided that we were going to finish at five every single day, that gave me a mission. I realised I had to get my work done by five there was no working beyond five. I had to be home with the family and it was non negotiable and that actually helped me to improve my productivity. It helped me to improve how I work and it helped me to maintain my focus. I have found that, I don’t know how that works by the way. I’m just telling you what my experiences are. We’ve taken now four holidays a year every year for a long time and I can promise you I come back bouncing and full of energy and full of ideas. Equally because I’m building up to a holiday it’s forcing me to put plans in place that will allow me to take a break and switch off, but they also benefit my business.
Family time. Now this is totally obvious, but actually having time with your family and one of our favourite motto’s as a family is that together is our favourite place to be. Family time is important and creating memories is important. So we like to try and create memories every single week. But equally we have those memories from holidays. So very often we’ll have great conversations. You know, remembering times that I might have walked into the wrong loo or whatever’s happened on holiday all the time I fell over or having jokes at my expense. But just loving the idea of having all of these memories that we can share together and, or a smell some where might reminder us of fish and chips we had at the beach near the caravan or whatever. But just all of these wonderful memories that we’ve built up over time with Ella is just so special. Well, it’s stuff that we can talk about as a family, but it’s also stuff that bolsters me very often when I am working hard. These memories coming back to me, me of my why, why am I doing this? Why am I working hard? Why am I focused on finishing it for today? And all of these memories are great to keep me pumped and keep me going forward.
Another one would be inspirational. A vacation can be inspirational and it sounds a bit random, but when you put yourself in a different location outside of work, it completely changes your mindset and you’re actually looking around you and seeing things going on around you. I have come back with so many ideas. When we started forcing ourselves to go on holiday back in 2008. The financial crash had happened, we were struggling as a business. It was really difficult times. We couldn’t really afford to take a holiday, but we took a holiday anyway, and during that time I was able to take some time off, see what was going on around me, looking at other businesses as I went to restaurants and looked at their customer service, the on-boarding process of being put on a plane, what the problems were with that, and also what the good things were about that. When we went to Disney, we actually decided to go to, we can really couldn’t afford it. We put it on a credit card and we went to Disney and I was just blown away by the customer service and also the on-boarding from the minute you’re on Disney property and how they get you through into the car park and then onto the transportation and then into the park and then how they guide you through all these experiences etc was just absolutely mind blowing. It was inspirational and it made me realise that I wanted to change the business and I wanted to start to use principles from the Disney corporation inside of my business and that’s something that stayed with me ever since. So again, going away on a holiday can be highly inspirational because we’re putting ourselves in a different place and that’s helping us see what’s going on around us in that different place and also thinking about where we’ve come from and what we’re up to at that time. It really helps you to change those priorities.
Then finally it creates a better culture. When we decided that as a business, we were going to take those vacations and that was across all of us. That was all of us partners. We were going to start taking proper vacations. It created a much better culture for us and also for our team because our team saw that we were putting a priority on taking time off. We were putting a priority on being more productive so we could take that time off. We were putting a priority on our family time, etc. And that created a better, happier culture. If we are seen as the agency owners to be working 18 hour days and to be working weekends etc then that kind of, you know, as the leader, that’s what other people will then start to emulate. So if you can emulate somebody who wants to take time off, who wants to create time with their family, who has the priority of productivity, good vacation time etc then that is what your team are also going to model.
Okay. I feel like I went down a few rabbit holes there, but just in short, why do you need a vacation? For your mental and physical health and for the mental and physical health of your family. There are so many other benefits from taking a vacation, but those are the key ones at the top of that list. Mental and physical health for you and for your family and your loved ones.
All right, let’s jump into some vacation ideas on a budget. If I have convinced that it is really important for your mental and physical health for you and your family and also some of the other benefits which are an improvement to your business and to your business culture and to your productivity. Then here are some ideas for you where you can start to take a holiday right now even when your finances may not be in a great position.
So we’re going to look at ideas for holidays on a budget first and then we’re also going to talk about how we can switch off when we’re on that holiday. Like it says here, the biggest blocker to a vacation can be finances, so it’s being able to afford that holiday. So here are some very low cost ways of enjoying some time off in the first one will be something called a stay-cation. So this is where you stay home. That’s totally fine, but you can switch off all your emails, all your electronic devices, you can be un-contactable for that entire week and you can look around and create a whole load of activities that you can do locally. So for example, where we live, I know that just a short drive away may be 20 minutes away. There are different things to do, there’s a stately home that we could go to. There is a park that we could go to. There is a fair that we could go to.
There’s all these different things and we could quite easily create a stay-cation plan for a week where we do something together as a family on each day and have some plans on, are purposeful about having that stay-cation. So that’s one option. It’s very low cost. We’re not to travel anywhere, we’re not paying for anything externally other than just going to those locations locally. So we might be spending maybe 2030 pounds a day. We’ll often have taken packed lunches as well with us so that we’re keeping the cost low and having a packed lunch or a picnic, sorry with your family is really good fun. I’ve got many stories of things that I’ve done during picnics including having a bag of crisps in my hand and then someone asking me what the time was and I turned my risk to have a look at what the time was and low and behold the crisps went everywhere. So nice easy thing that you can do doesn’t involve any planning other than what are we going to do in the local area for the next week. Pack some picnics and just have some fun and make some memories.
Another one would be a house swap and this is something we would often do as children. I’ve come from a cash strapped back ground, so I know a lot of ways to do things on a budget. One of the things we would do, my dad was a pastor. I’m a PK, a pastor’s kid, so I meant we had hardly any money whatsoever and we would often do a house swap or we would go and stay in the house of a relative who was going away on holiday. So one of our relatives would regularly go away on a holiday. They lived in a place called Malcolm, which is on the coast and we would, whenever they go on holiday, we’d go and stay in their house. I’d stay at my cousin’s bedroom and have a look at all of his DVDs and stuff. We had no TV at home so i’d often watch his TV, but I just have so many amazing memories of staying at my auntie’s house as a holiday. It’s something that you could do. You could house swap with a friend or a relative who maybe lives further away and you can both have a holiday in each other’s home. Or if one of your relatives is away, why not? You could go stay at their home and go and enjoy that. So that’s, we would do.
Another way of getting a cheap deal if we’re looking at spending a big bit of cash here would be off-season deals and there is a website here in the UK called last minute.com where you can kind of grab some of those last minute deals. A lot of hotels, a lot of holiday places may have some excess deals that are, sorry, access rooms that they need to get rid of. If a hotel room is empty, it means it’s earning no money and that’s not great for the hotel. Whereas if they can do a last minute deal on any of those empty rooms and sell them for even just 50 quid, that means they’re going to generate some cash and they’re probably going to generate further cash from you anyway when you’re staying at their hotel. Because potentially you might be buying a meal on property or purchasing anything from their shops, et cetera. So it’s usually within the interest of hotels to offer special deals. Last minute if they still have spare rooms that they’ve not filled. So, and option, if you are not a risk averse would be to wait until the very last minute you’ve got your week set and then go and find one of those last minute deals that you guys can all go and either jump on a plane or drive in a car down somewhere and go and enjoy one of those last minute deals.
Now for us, self catering is a very popular holiday. It’s very popular here in the UK. And that’s the idea. If you go somewhere that has a kitchen etc, you buy your own food and the local area, wherever you’re staying and then you, you fend for yourself. So you are renting the space and then you fend for yourself. I guess it’s very similar to renting a Villa in Florida, etc. It’s something that we do a lot of, um, where we’ll go and we’ll either rent a caravan, so that’s like a mobile home or a static RV. I don’t know what it’s called in the, in the US but a bit like an Ivy, but it doesn’t go anywhere. It just sits there. So we would either rent of caravan or we would rent a cottage at quite a low cost and we’ll take a whole week out wherever that is in the UK. We’ll buy our own food from the local Superstore and stock up. Then we would chill out in that location for the entire week, exploring the local area, going for walks, etc. That can be really low cost. I mean, a recent holiday we went on to a cottage, we rented a cottage, I think the cottage costs us 350 pounds for the entire week, top on top of that 80 quid food budget. That was our entire holiday spend for us to just spend a week away chilling out and it was only an hour away. You don’t have to go miles away. We were just an hour away and a little cottage off-season staying by a Brook in the middle of the countryside for just 400 quid, including our food. It was just ridiculously lovely and relaxing and didn’t need to break the bank. You don’t need to spend four grand on a holiday.
Another option would be Air BNB. I’m pretty sure you’ve all heard of that, but there are loads of great deals on Air BNB. If you wanted to say a long weekend somewhere in a city or wherever, Air BNB seems to be full of great deals. I don’t think I need to explain that one to you and I’ve also got ahead of myself here. Last minute deals and off-season deals can have two of the same thing. Off season deals would be you can stay for much cheaper out of season in a lot of places and then last minute deals are the risk averse ones where you’re saying, okay, I’m not risk averse. I’m happy to wait until last minute to book a room and get it for cheap. So sorry about that. I got those mixed up, but I think you get the idea off season deal, get it cheaper when all the kids are at school and then a last minute deal. Just wait till last minute and hope and pray that there is a great deal that you can grab.
Okay folks, so we are coming into land and let’s look at this. How can you get cover? How can you actually switch off? Because when the book stops with you, is it even possible as an agency owner for you to actually be able to fully disconnect and take a break? Now, back in 2008 when we were doing these enforced holidays, we also said that we would be non contactable. This had to be a break where we were completely disconnected from the business and that was something that was very scary, but it was something that we did. Now that’s okay for a business, I guess where there are a few of you, and we had that advantage. Now when I started Angled Crown, it was just me and Karthik. It was just the two of us and we had two very different skill-sets. So I couldn’t really leave everything with Karthik and put all of the pressure on him. So how was I going to take a break as practically a solo business owner where pretty much the buck stopped with me.
So let’s look into that. I know a lot of people who are part of ATB are on their own and it’s not really that easy for us to just take a break and completely disconnect. So the first thing that we did in 2008 and I’ve continued to do until this day, is to set client expectations. When you’ve got clients who are humans who recognise the importance of taking time off, then it’s completely reasonable to say to your client, okay, in several weeks time on the blah of blah to the blah of blah, I am not going to be available. So we need to make sure we get X, Y, and Z done. Because remember, I won’t be available for those two weeks for communication whilst I’m away this, this and this might happen or everything might not happen and we just all wait. As long as we’re setting our client expectations and having those conversations, you will find 99% of clients are absolutely fine with that because they take holidays too and they completely get it. So set our client expectations, give them ample warning, make sure that there is a plan and you can take that time off. They’re not expecting you to reply to emails, they’re not expecting to be able to call you. The expectation is that on the X of X for X days, you are not contactable. It’s your time to take a break and hopefully your good clients are going to respect that.
Next thing you could do is buddy up for support. So this is something that I did very early on when it was just me and Karthik. I knew I needed somebody else to be able to jump on a phone with a client if there was a problem and then communicate stuff to Karthik. So I needed somebody just to give me a little bit of cover. So I had a friend in the industry and what would happen is when he went on holiday, the phones would go to me, his phones would go to me, I would take the calls and he gave me an access spreadsheet to be able to access certain things that I might need to, to for support. Then likewise, you know, he did the same for me. So obviously it needs to be somebody that you trust, but if you’ve got a good trust relationship with somebody, then buddying up and covering each other so that you know you can switch off is a really, really effective way. Your value exchanges that you covering each other’s arse whilst the other person is away. So no money needs to change hands is a freeway essentially of getting some cover so that you can take a break.
One of the things that’s essential for switching off as well as taking that break is making sure that you have all your essential processes documented. So regardless of if you buddy up with someone for support or if you have a team of people that are going to be covering you because you have employees, make sure all your essential processes, especially the things that you have to do are fully documented. So very often, you know, I’ll tend to be the person who sets up a lot of the development installs. I’ll actually do a lot of the site, go live, Sal do site transfers and all sorts of stuff simply because I’ve done so many, I know the process like the back of my hand and then the other guys will support me. But I’ve also made sure that this is fully documented. So if this needs to happen whilst I’m away, I’m not stressing out thinking, Oh, I wonder how everything’s going. I wonder if they need my help because it’s documented and I know that they can just crack on with it and do a go live whilst I’m not around. So essential processes, things that you’re doing that you think need to be documented and that people might need to be following whilst you’re away. Another thing in Event Engine for example is there’s a few processes for adding sites on certain servers that we have and how to add the domain and how to map relevant elements. So again, I made sure that was all fully documented so that if that ever had to happen while it still was away, cause it tended to be me doing it in most cases I’ve got a document which essentially says, Hey, this is exactly how you do it. So all of those essentials covered.
If you’ve got a bit of cash on hand. It might be good to get a trusted contractor. So if you don’t have someone you can put you up for, or you would rather have a contractor who is on a contract with you. So as a freelancer or contractor who can do the cover, then you can always arrange for that. So maybe get somebody to check the support desk two or three times a day or however you’ve got your communications set up. So you just know at least somebody’s going to be checking in on emails or setting client expectations, fixing a bug if there’s a bug and or saying, let’s book your meeting for when Lee is back next week. So having some sort of contract to cover can help. That could even be a family member as well. I suppose if you’ve got any trusted family members that might be able to just jump in there and just, it’s just having that communication.
Then finally creating a handover document. This hand over document for me is gold because not only have I set client expectations, I know I’ve got somebody who’s going to be supporting me. I know I’ve documented all my essential processes, et cetera. But having that handover document saying, all right, this is everything that has gone on to this point over the last few weeks and this is what needs to happen whilst I’m a white, if the client asks for any of these elements. So I will then list out all the clients and I’ll say, all right, for this client, we’ve got this far with their project. They’re not expecting anything until I’m back. However, if the following questions are asked, then this content is there or that content is there or this process is there. So this just gives me the ability to say everything that’s going on, what the expectations would be, what we should say if a client asks a certain question whilst I’m away, etc. That handover document just gives me peace of mind that I’ve covered everything I can possibly think of and this allows me then to go completely dark. That means for an entire week, if I do these things that are on the screen right now, I can go dark and nobody needs to contact me. I know that the world will not end that even if a website goes down, I know my staff have everything they need to keep that going. Or if I had the buddy up for support that buddy up would have everything they needed to keep a client live or to move a client to a different server if the worst was to happen.
Now then if this is not feasible for you, if you do have that buddy up but you just depending on how you’re wired, and for me this, I struggled with this a little while. I did have one back channel to give myself a little bit of extra peace of mind that if my team were really, really struggling, they knew they could contact me on a number on WhatsApp and they could send me a message and ask a question and I could give them a little bit of help or jump on a call. We did that early on in angle crown because obviously there was not very many of us and for me, although as much as I wanted to switch off, I still felt stressed by the idea of leaving everybody on their own. After a few times of taking a break and I built up the trust, I recognise that they’d be absolutely fine. They didn’t need me and I could fully switch off. But in the early days, if you’d just need some sort of very secret back channel, maybe you can set up a temporary Skype that would come to you if they send you a Skype message or something along those lines with some very strict rules as to what constitutes and emergency etc and that that back channel is not abused by your team or by whoever’s covering for you, then feel free to set something like that up. I wouldn’t recommend it necessarily, but you know, it’s there as an option.
All right. We are definitely coming into land now and this is being intentional. I talked about 2008 where we said we are going to be intentional about this. Taking a break is essential for your mental health, for your productivity and for your family’s wellbeing. So it shouldn’t be optional and this is something that we came to the decision to as a business back in 2008 we recognised these were important. We recognised that our company was struggling, but so where are we mentally and physically and so where our families and we needed to change that. The impact on our business was a positive impact as backwards as it seems when everything’s going on wrong around you or when everything is stressful and busy around you. The idea of taking a week off seems counter productive and yet we were able to recognise the importance of taking that break again for that mental health, for the productivity gains and for our family’s wellbeing.
So the first thing about being intentional is recognising the importance of taking a break. It needs to be on your priority list for all of those reasons that I think I’ve stated now multiple times. So to be intentional, your next step will be to set the time in your calendar, actually place some slots throughout the year in your calendar to say, I am aiming to be off for this week, for this two week break and for this other week break or however many weeks you want to give yourself off. Get them in the calendar so that your team know, you know and you’re building up to them. Start to model this to your family and if you have a team, to your team as well. So that’s forward planning of holidays, taking regular breaks. I feel quite happy that I have modelled to my team that we do put holidays at a high importance that we do have time off, we make time to go and have holidays even if it’s a holiday on a budget, but we go and have that vacation and we’re modelling it to our team and our team are slowly but surely modelling that as well for themselves. For example, Karthik in India, they don’t really have a culture of taking lots of holidays and you know, he would very often in the olden days work for weeks and weeks and weeks on end without ever taking a break. Whereas now, you know, we’ve slowly managed to model to him, cause I’ve actually worked with Karthik in previous business as well for many years. So we’ve known each other for maybe 10 years now and slowly but surely I’ve seen him transform from someone who just constantly works to somebody who actually creates time for vacations and they go and travel within India to different places and take pictures and create wonderful memories. So from what we’ve modelled as a business has then started to affect our team as well, which has been phenomenal.
Then the last step here is that you want to plan. So we’ve set the time in your calendar, but when we’re being intentional, we want to plan for those upcoming weeks. We want to plan to get the most out of those breaks, be that a stay-cation and we’re going to fill it with fun and memories or be that way going somewhere. We want to plan to get the most out of it. So we’re going to do our planning, how we’re going to get there, how can we make it as stress free as possible? Let’s get the most out of this. Let’s all look forward to this. It’s on the calendar. Get a countdown. You and the whole family are all looking forward to this vacation that’s coming up. Plan as well to make those great memories. What can you do whilst you’re there? Create traditions, create memories, plan to make time for those on your holiday as well. Again, plan to be able to fully disconnect. If you can avoid a back channel to you all, the more better you are having a week off where it’s just you, yourself and you and your family and you can just have a great time together.
So can I encourage you as we finally come into land, go and book a vacation. So before we finish, I’m really conscious that I’ll often tell lots of stories to illustrate stuff and I think the recap is really important. So let’s just do that real quick recap. We’ve said, why do you need a vacation? We need a vacation for our mental and physical health, both personally and for our family. There are many other benefits which include your productivity, the inspiration for your business and creating a better culture. So we’ve established that it is important that we do value vacation time. Then we’ve looked at the ideas that we can glean for creating a vacation that does not cost the earth if we are in a financial position that won’t really allow us to have those big dream holidays that we plan for in the future. That can include things like a house swap, stay-cation doing off season or last minute deals, etc. Then what we did was talked about the importance of really being able to switch off even when everything stops with you, you are responsible for everything maybe as a solo entrepreneur or just as a really busy agency owner. We’ve said, look, here are all few ways that you can really and truly switch off from your business and be able to turn that phone off for an entire week and not look at your email or your phone or anything and just have some real valuable time. We said, you know, set client expectations, but yet with someone for support, maybe get a freelancer involved and always make sure that you’ve got some good documentation. Then finally we said, be intentional. So we’re saying we’ve got to recognise the importance to our own physical health as well as the health of the business to take time off and we need to be intentional by putting that time in the calendar, modelling vacation time to our family and to our team that we value it, that it’s important to us, and that from our holidays, we want a plan to get the most out of them, to create great memories and to really be able to disconnect. So folks, can, I encourage you, start to plan a great vacation and that my friends is a wrap.