Planning the launch of your own business is one of life’s most enjoyable experiences. From the day you first start thinking about your new company until you actually open for business you are living on Fantasy Island with Tattoo and Mr. Roarke. On the island you create an ideal vision of your fully formed business. You should dream big. Because ginormous dreams cost exactly the same as itsy bitsy teeny weeny yellow polka dot dreams. And that dream you create during the planning phase is the blueprint for the reality.
But the moment you open for realsies, your business will face an unavoidable limitation. And that limitation is You. When you are an entrepreneur your business is only as good as you are.
I have been thinking about that since 2016 when I first launched The Weaponry, my advertising and idea agency. Knowing that you are the great limiter is a scary motivator. It means your business will either be forever limited by who you were and what you knew when you first launched. Or it means you have to continuously push yourself to get better so that your business can too. I have chosen the second option.
Let It Grow. Let it Grow.
I have chosen to grow. As a result, I am on a high knowledge diet. I am constantly seeking books, magazines and blogs that grow my knowledge and perspective. I am listening to podcasts. I am meeting with other entrepreneurs, both informally and in formal meet ups (although never in formal wear).
I am learning. And getting better. Although I feel as if I have no choice. Because only the growing entrepreneur can grow a business. And as Andy Grove, the famed CEO of Intel once said, ‘Only the paranoid survive.’ (But remember, you need 2 noids to be considered paranoidal).
I am also learning from my mistakes. I am identifying flaws in my thinking, and gaps in my knowledge, and addressing them like Gettysburg. It forces me to be both honest and self aware (but not a werewolf #MichaelJFox). You have to know your strengths and use them. You have to know your weaknesses, and hire great people with strengths you don’t have.
You are your own greatest limitation. This is true for entrepreneurship, relationships and most other kinds of ships. But you have an endless opportunity for improvement. It simply takes a growth mindset. Read, ask questions, study and learn. End each day a little smarter than you started. Seek feedback. And use that to help create a better plan, a better business and a better you. Because once you leave the fantasy world your success depends on it.
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Time is the world’s most precious resource. That’s why great success requires great time management. In fact, knowing how to properly budget and invest your time is even more important to your ultimate success than budgeting and investing your money.
When I began planning to launch The Weaponry, my advertising and ideas agency, there was a tremendous amount of work to be done. I knew that how I spent my time during that first year would determine the fate of my startup. As I neared the end of each work week I noticed something interesting about my progress. I repeatedly saw how the activities on one particular day were making all the difference.
The Most Important Day
There are at least 7 different opinions on which day is the most important. Elton John thinks it is Saturday. Mick Jagger is a Tuesday guy. The Mamas and Papas all say Monday, repeatedly. However, 3 years into my entrepreneurial journey I know Paul McCartney was right. That’s why I can state wth great confidence that the most important day for achieving great things is yesterday.
All of your success comes from what you did yesterday. The relationships you developed yesterday strengthen your support system today. The progress you made yesterday becomes momentum today. The exercise you performed yesterday creates today’s strength, endurance and health. The time you invested yesterday becomes the time you saved today.
The reading you did yesterday creates the knowledge you have today. The travel you did yesterday becomes today’s memories and experience. Your preparation yesterday makes you ready today.
Yesterday At Work
As a business owner I know that today’s workload comes from yesterday’s business development efforts. As a professional ideator I know that my creativity springs from what I absorbed yesterday. As a capable human, I know that my confidence grows based on both the successes and failures I experienced yesterday. And the eviction notice I didn’t get comes from the rent I paid yesterday.
One of the things I am most grateful for are those activities I had the foresight and energy to do yesterday. The workout I completed. The process I created. The book I read. The research I performed. The relationship I fostered. In the moment procrastination often feels like the easier route. Which is why it is so valuable to view the moment as if it were yesterday.
There is a great Chinese proverb I think about often.
The best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago. The second best time is right now. -Chinese proverb
The truth is that in less than 24 hours today will be yesterday. And when the clock strikes midnight you will either be smarter, stronger and more prepared, or you will be in the exact same position you are in today.
Big success is a result of the accumulation of small actions. The To-Do list you complete today will become tomorrow’s momentum. That momentum will help you power past barriers that would have previously stopped you.
Today will soon be gone. Tomorrow is a mystery. But yesterday is your library, your museum, your toolbox and your bonding agent. Yesterday is where the wind in your sails comes from. And the winds of yesterday determine both the direction and the speed at which you travel today.
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The greatest asset you can ever create is a strong personal network. That’s why I invest so much time and energy in developing and maintaining my personal relationships. As a result I have an tremendous network of friends around the world. But I am also the beneficiary of what Warren Buffet calls TheOvarian Lottery. Because on the day I was born I was instantly a member of a remarkable network. Despite the fact that I hadn’t done anything to deserve it.
My Grandmother, Judith (Benzel) Albrecht was born in 1919, in New Ulm, Minnesota. God blessed her with a sharp mind and unrelenting determination that would have gained her admission to an elite business school had she been born a century later. She spoke German as her first language.
Following high school graduation she was a valuable asset to a local startup, the phone company. Because she could speak both German and English fluently, she could serve as the middle-woman, literally connecting callers in the heavily German area of southern Minnesota.
In 1940, at 21 years old, she married my grandpa, Alton Albrecht. Together they thrived. They began farming. They began a family. And they began traveling together. It was an adventure that would last more than 66 years.
On April 15th, 2019, while I was on vacation in Texas, I got a text message from my father, Robert, that Grandma Albrecht had passed away. She was 99 years and 7 months old. A funny thing happened when I got the news. There was a moment of sadness. But that moment soon transitioned to awe at the closing of an amazing story of an amazing woman’s life.
In the wake of Grandma Albrecht’s passing, my family and I started calculating the inheritance that Grandma left for us. My Grandma and Grandpa Albrecht had been farmers in Minnesota. Early on they recognized the value of accumulating assets, and knew a good opportunity when they saw it. As a result, the 2 of them bought the Albrecht Family Farm from my great grandparents. Not long after, they found another good opportunity, and purchased another farm. And then another. And then another.
They amassed significant real estate holdings, which provided income for decades. As they eventually sold their farms and invested the proceeds they developed a significant nest egg. My Grandpa Alton died in 2006, having battled with Parkinson’s disease for 8 years. Grandma Judy kept marching, right to the doorstep of 100 years.
Over the past 2 weeks everyone in the Albrecht family has been buzzing about just how much Grandma Judy left us when she died. We have been scribbling figures on paper. We have been punching numbers into the calculators on our phones.
However, the numbers we have all been crunching are not measured in dollar and cents. Because the most valuable assets Grandma Judy left us are people. They are the members of our ever growing family she started back in 1940. As we tallied up the descendants of this grand matriarch this is what we found:
Grandma Judy Albrecht Statistics:
10 Children who grew to adulthood (7 boys and 3 girls)
38 Great Grandchildren
2 Great, Great Grandchildren
That is a total of 77 descendants, represented by 5 generations. When she passed away she had 7 children in their 70s. Those 77 relatives are in Minnesota, Wisconsin, Indiana, New Jersey, Florida, Texas, Arizona and Nevada.
We Are Family
Not only are we a large family, we are a close family. We enjoy being around each other. And we make an effort to spend time together. In fact, in June about 80 family members will gather in Estes Park, Colorado for a week long reunion, as we do every 5 years. We will all stay in one cabin and enjoy daily meals, activities and adventures, and nightly festivities together. Just like Grandma Albrecht taught us.
My large family is one of my most valuable assets. It is an ever-present support system, a cheering section, an army of role models, and constant source of humor. It provides each and every one of us with an unfair competitive advantage in life.
The Entrepreneurial Influence
My large family also played a major factor in my entrepreneurial journey. I saw the entrepreneurial spirit in my grandparents as they accumulated assets and ran their own farms. Five of my Albrecht Uncles were dairy farmers. And dairy farming is the epitome of entrepreneurship.
Several years ago my cousin Brooks Albrecht and I began talking about starting a business together. In 2015 the conditions were right, and Brooks and I started planning our own advertising agency. Despite the fact that I was in Atlanta and Brooks was in Seattle, we worked together perfectly. Like family. Like Grandma Judy taught us. By the spring of 2016 the Albrecht cousins launched The Weaponry like the Wright Brothers launched the first airplane: on a wing, a prayer, a great plan and a familial bond.
As the Albrecht Family gathered yesterday to celebrate the remarkable life of my Grandma Judy, I marveled at all she created. Being an Albrecht has always been a source of great pride for me. This large family has given me love, support and encouragement. It has offered me a sense of belonging to something significant. It has been critical to my entrepreneurial success. And it has provided a lifetime of laughs. Thanks you, Grandma.
The greatest asset you will ever inherit from your family is love, support and a sense of belonging. It is also the greatest asset you can hand down. Invest in your family. And you are certain to enjoy a remarkable return, year after year, and generation after generation.
*To read about my Grammy Sprau, who lived to be 100, and had 9 kids, click here.
When I set out to launch my own business I had no idea what I was doing. So I talked to a lot of successful entrepreneurs. I wanted to learn as much as I could about how to launch and run a company. I was looking for the standard tips and tricks. What I quickly discovered was that there are no standard anythings. Everyone I talked to had their own recipe for success. Or what I call a successipe. Which is a mashup of success and recipe. Admittedly, successipe works better as a spoken word than as a written word. But I have no editor deleting this. So it stays.
Don’t Reinvent The Wheel
When you are learning a new skill or craft, is is a great idea to talk to people who have already done what you are attempting to do. Ask questions. Listen. Observe. Borrow or steal proven plays from someone else’s playbook. It’s how we capitalize on other people’s experiences and mistakes. Which allows you to grow faster than bumbling and fumbling alone. #peeweeherman
A Memorable Encounter
As I prepared to launch my own advertising agency I met with a very successful entrepreneur. I was extremely excited to learn from him, because I greatly admired him as both a friend and a businessman. Over the course of our conversation I remember 3 pieces of good advice he gave me:
Do NOT name your company The Weaponry.
Perfect your elevator pitch.
Focus on your Pro Forma.
This was a trifecta of good advice. All 3 points were grounded in decades of experience. But none of this advice fit with my world view. Or my approach to business. Or my appetite for risk. So I didn’t take any of it.
I love the name The Weaponry. I love that it sounds strong and provocative. I love that it elicits questions. If you want a great conversation starter tell people you work at The Weaponry. When people ask about our name, and people always ask, I have a great answer that always wins people over. I’ve written about our name in the post: What In The World Does The Weaponry Do?.
I am not trying to play it safe, or avoid a raised eyebrow. In fact, I like a good raised eyebrow. I’ve been getting them my whole life. Today, 3 years into my entrepreneurial journey, I can tell you that The Weaponry’s name has been a powerful weapon for our business.
The Elevator Pitch
I hate the term elevator pitch. I have never once found myself on an elevator with a couple of floors to pitch for my one and only chance to woo a client. It’s a bullshit term that assumes we have one specific offering for our customers. That is not how The Weaponry rolls. And I knew that from the very start.
My sales pitch is not a sales pitch. It is a conversation. It focuses on unmet needs. If you don’t have any unmet needs my elevator pitch is not going to work anyway. And if a potential client ever tells me I have :30 seconds to sell myself or she will bang a gong (#PowerStation), I know we are probably not right for each other. I have written about my disdain for such nonsense in This is where I encourage you to pitch your elevator pitch.
The Pro Forma
Pro forma refers to a method of calculating projected financial results using certain presumptions and projections. It’s a very finance-centric approach that simply isn’t how I process the world. In fact, in these early years of rapid growth creating a pro forma feels like fiction writing.
In our first year, The Weaponry started with no clients. So our projections would have been $0 in revenue. Then, we started acquiring clients, but we had no retainers or contracts guaranteeing how much the clients would ultimately spend. So what could I project? Totally made up numbers? In years 2 and 3 The Weaponry doubled in business. I could neither predict nor plan on that type of growth either. What to do?
The Kite Flying Method
What I use instead of a pro forma is what I call the Kite Flying Method. When you fly a kite, your goal is to get the kite as high in the sky as possible. This is a matter of wind and string. To fly the kite higher and higher you let out string, little by little, based on what your wind will keep aloft. You can’t plan your kite height ahead of time. You have to react to the conditions, in the moment, based on the wind you have to work with.
To do this right I always play it conservatively. I let out less string than the wind would support. This keeps tension on the string and keeps the kite in the air. You also have to know the difference between sustained wind and a short term gust.
All of this is to say that we invest only what our revenue allows. When revenue increases, we can spend more. We have a wish list of positions we would like to hire and resources we would like to have. But we only hire or buy what we can clearly cover today. I have also written about this in a post called If you want to be an entrepreneur start by flying a kite.
There are a broad range of ways to be successful. Don’t let anyone make you think there is only one approach. You have to find what works for you, and your unique set of beliefs. It is great to have a Mastermind Group to turn to. It is wonderful to study others who have done or are doing what you aspire to do. But you don’t have to emulate them. In fact, you can do just the opposite if it feels right to you. Study, learn and listen. Incorporate the things you like. Or invent your own approach. There is no right way. Be your own boss. Be true to yourself. And do it your way.
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I always wanted to start my own advertising agency. So on April 12th, 2016 I went online and officially registered The Weaponry LLC. I then marched over to another website where I got a federal tax ID number. I surfed over to a Capital One’s website, where I applied for a Visa Spark Card, because my friend Dan Richards recommended that credit card for business. Finally, I headed to the bank to set up a business checking and savings account for The Weaponry. And just like that, I had birthed a business.
The Hard Part
Setting up a business is easy. Any teenager can do it. The hard part is building a machine that will feed, clothe and shelter you and your family. It’s even harder to feed, clothe and shelter additional employees and their dependents. That’s why I am so proud The Weaponry is celebrating its 3rd birthday! We have doubled our business in the past year. And thankfully, I am not naked, starving or homeless.
The 3rd birthday is a fun milestone to reach. Just as each wedding anniversary is represented by a different gift (Honey I got you a new sponge!), each business birthday represents something unique. The first birthday is the ‘We’re really doing this!’ birthday. The second is the ‘We’re still alive!’ birthday. And the third is the ‘Now we’re rolling!’ birthday.
Indeed, The Weaponry is rolling. This past year has been exciting for our team.
A Few Highlights:
We hired more full-time and part-time staff.
We renewed our lease on our first office in Milwaukee.
We opened a new office in Columbus, Ohio.
We worked with President Jimmy Carter.
We worked with Olympic Gold Medalists Jennie Finch and Blake Pieroni.
Members of our team experienced work traveled to Maine, Massachusetts, Ohio, Washington DC, Georgia, Florida, Louisiana, Arkansas, Texas, California, Wisconsin, Illinois and Indiana.
We had our first International shoot, on the other side of the world, in India.
A fun experience was had by all.
In the last 12 months we have worked with 23 Clients! Who works with 23 clients? I guess The Weaponry does.
Our broad and diverse client roster reminds me of one of my favorite things about being a business owner: I get to say yes to anything I am interested in doing. As result we have a fun mix of large, medium and small clients. Just as crop rotation keeps farm fields producing at their best, the variety of industries we play in keeps our team fresh and stimulated with a constant stream of new and varied challenges.
10 Lessons From My 3rd Year of entrepreneurship.
As I reflect on this past year I have gathered a few key lessons I’ve learned. Here they are in a particular order.
People make all the difference. A business is nothing but a collection of people running plays together. So find great people to run great plays and you are likely to experience great success.
Slow and steady wins the race. At The Weaponry we are trying to build a business that lasts forever. You make different decisions when your goal is to survive eternally instead of generating hockey stick growth or making a quick sale.
Do the important but not urgent work. Maintain your human relationships and invest time and energy in them. This will pay you back in a wide variety of rewarding ways.
Diversify your clients. With so many different clients we are well-balanced financially. All of our clients are important to us. None of them are critical to our survival.
Nothing is sure. We signed a large monthly retainer with a new client last summer, only to deal with a major reorganization within their business that changed everything one month later. I received a ‘This is your official notice that we are activating our right to cancel this agreement!’ from someone I didn’t know. Those things can happen at anytime.
You never know when you are going to get the next opportunity of a lifetime. I got a random but welcomed call one day from my good friend Dennis Giglio at Fifth Third Bank, telling me that he had a project he wanted us to work on, and that there was a good chance we would have to go to India to shoot part of it. He was right. And it was amazing. Thank you Fifth Third and SLK Global friends for the opportunity!
Set Your Sights High. The Weaponry has Big, Hairy, Audacious Goals, and they force us to grow. I share our goals with our team in every agency-wide meeting. And despite the largeness of the goals, or perhaps because of them, I can always see the team focus, and lean in when we restate them. Everyone knows what we are after. We all know that we have a lot of work to do to close the gap between where we are today and our idealized, fully formed version of ourselves. And we are willing to do the work to get there.
Use A System For Growth. We use the EOS System from the book Traction by Gino Wickman. It makes a huge difference. If you are struggling to make satisfying progress with either a startup or a fully formed business, pick up this book and start the EOS Process. Setting quarterly rocks helps a business focus on continually moving the business forward. (This has been an unpaid endorsement of the book Traction. You can find it by clicking here.)
Make Cash Flow plans This past year The Weaponry was owed a lot of money. For several months we carried an accounts receivable balance of over $700,000. Which meant that we had performed that much work, had paid what it cost us to create the work, but were not yet paid by our clients. You have to have a plan for such times. Because a business that runs out of cash is like a car that runs out of gas, or a human that runs out of blood.
Develop Great Partners Over the past year other businesses that we partner with on projects have brought great new clients to us. This is a total game changer. Because it is like having an additional business development team, or multiple business development teams bringing you opportunities. Sometimes it comes in the form of a collaboration. But other times the work comes simply as a trusted referral. And it works like compounded interest. Which is why you should compound your interest in great partners.
The Weaponry continues to grow. I am learning and growing just as much as the business. I have not done any of this alone. My fellow Weapons have been key to our success. As has the growing list of great clients we are lucky to work with. Thank you for following the story or being part of the story as it unfolds. It’s been an exciting adventure. I look forward to what the next year brings!
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500 years ago there was a rebellious Polish astronomer named Nicolaus Copernicus. He was born with a name worthy of a faculty position at Hogwarts. More importantly, we was blessed with a contrarian world view. Copernicus developed a crazy heliocentric model of the cosmos. In this model, he declared the sun was the center of the universe, and the Earth and the other planets actually revolved around it. #ohnohedidnt
The Universal Truth
At the time heliocentricity was considered a radical idea. But as every graduating preschooler now knows, Ni-Co was right. His revolutionary solar-centered model of the universe soon changed how we viewed and understood the world. It applied rules and order that helped the world make sense. It also gave employees at the local Sunglass Hut a false sense of superiority.
Copernicus-Style Thinking At Work
The same thinking that makes sense of the cosmos can also be applied to business. You must never lose sight of who is at the center of the business universe: the customer. In your arena the customer might be called the client, member, student, attendee or John (#nojudgement). Regardless, the person paying for goods or services is the central figure around whom everything else in business revolves.
Your actions and decisions should always be driven by your customer’s wants and needs. Your products and services only exist to serve your customers. It is the customer that provides the forces that propel all business activity. Because without customers businesses drift into oblivion. (#Blockbuster #Sears #AllianceofAmericanFootball)
Your Customer’s Customers.
At my advertising and idea agency, The Weaponry, everything we do is driven by 2 forces: our customers, and our customer’s customers. Without those forces money does not move and business does not exist. Sales, marketing, engineering, research and development, customer service and accounting are all driven by the gravitational pull of the customers. Remember, you can dance with yourself, but you can’t do business alone.
If your business is not customer-centric, it is time to re-center. Ask yourself ‘What Does The Customer Want?’ before every business decision. Even better, ask them what they want, and what they want to avoid. It will help you maintain proper focus on the star of your show. And prevent you from thinking the world revolves around you.
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I don’t believe in a work-life balance. It implies that our work and our lives are two separate entities. Which they are not. Those hours you spend at work each day comprise a gigantic chunk of your life. If you are not happy at work, you are not only wasting your career, you are wasting your life. Those are just the facts.
The notion of a work-life balance implies a teeter-totter or seesaw life construct. It requires our work to sit on one side of our personal fulcrum, and our lives to sit on the other. The two sides are separate, but equal, and balanced. Other than in fairy tales, outer space, and 1960’s TV programs, you are never going to find the two of equal weight. Which is why I am a registered Work-Life Balance Atheist. (Although I still believe in God, Jesus, and Sampson.)
I believe in work-life integration. We need to construct our lives as a system in which all the parts work together to provide a natural flow. When our personal lives need to step forward and take the lead, they naturally do, even during the work day. And when work needs to be addressed while we are at home or on vacation, we can naturally allow for that to happen.
My perspective could be skewed because I am a business owner, and my life and my work are inextricably linked. But you are no different. And the sooner you and your employer (or employees) accept that, the sooner you can create a happier, more satisfied coexistence of the two.
Work-Life Integration At A Macro Level
This work-life integration is the reason that my family relocated our home base from Atlanta to Milwaukee 2-years ago. For Non-Americans, this is a move of 800 miles, mostly north. And there is a story.
In the summer of 2015 I began serious plans to start my own advertising agency. It was an exciting time in my career, as visions and logistics danced through my head. But at the same time a major storm was brewing in my personal life.
On an ordinary August evening in Wausau, Wisconsin, my Mother-In-Law, Cynthia Zabel, coughed up blood. Fortunately she has more sense than Jim Henson, so she called her doctor and saw him the next day. He ordered an MRI, which revealed a small spot on her lung. He decided to do a biopsy to investigate. The biopsy revealed a benign tumor, that the doctors decided to remove.
My wife, Dawn, decided to fly home to Wausau, from Atlanta, to be with her Mom during her surgery. Everything was calm and routine. Until the doctor emerged from the operating room to talk to Dawn following the operation. He said,
‘Well, that didn’t go as planned. We didn’t see the tumor we were expecting to see. Instead, one of your mother’s lungs was completely encased in a tumor. I only had two options. I could leave everything exactly as it was and we would take our chances. Or I could remove the entire lung. And that is what I did.’
So Dawn’s mom, now 78-years old, had only one lung, and, as the new biopsy would reveal, two forms of non-smoking related lung cancer. She would soon be preparing for aggressive chemotherapy and radiation in order to give her every chance of survival.
Our Tribe quickly rallied around us. Including our close friend and Atlanta neighbor, Dr. Crain Garrot, who is an Oncologist. He became our cancer translator and counselor throughout the process. My uncle, Allan Sprau used his connections to get us an immediate appointment with a specialist at the Mayo Clinic.
However, Cynthia felt she was in good hands with her local doctors. And with good reason. She had battled cancer with the same team before, and won. In fact, in 2015 she was a 14-year breast cancer survivor. And she trusted her doctors to help her navigate through the new and more daunting challenge.
Life Impacting Work
Cynthia’s cancer diagnoses had a major impact on our family’s life plans. Since Dawn and I were going to start our own business, we believed the business could be located anywhere. With the cancer battle ramping up, and my parents reaching retirement age, it was time to make proximity to our parents a priority.
We considered relocating to 4 great cities. Chicago, Milwaukee, Madison and Minneapolis. After visiting each of the cities, and a thorough evaluation (worthy of a separate post), we decided on Milwaukee. This great city on a great lake, put us right between Cynthia in Wausau, Wisconsin, and my parents in Lafayette, Indiana.
One year after Cynthia first coughed up blood, we moved to Milwaukee’s northern suburb of Mequon for the excellent schools and quality of life for our family of 5. We found a nice home on a 1-acre lot, on a pond. The Weaponry, the advertising and idea agency I initially founded in Atlanta, moved headquarters to Milwaukee without missing a beat. And just like that, Atlanta had paid back Milwaukee for taking the Braves in 1966.
Yesterday, April 6, 2019 was a great day. In fact, two great things happened. My mother in-law turned 82 years old and is doing great. But even better, we live close enough that we were able to drive to surprise her at a restaurant in Stevens Point, Wisconsin, enjoy several hours together on her birthday, and then drive home again. It was exactly what we envisioned when we decided to integrate our work and personal needs, and be closer to our parents during this chapter of our lives.
Integrate your career and life plans into one beautiful, fully functioning design. Don’t force the two to fight against each other. And don’t settle for less. We didn’t. As a result, Dawn and I have been able to spend quality time with both of our parents in the last few weeks alone, here in Wisconsin. Which makes me feel like I am winning at life.
If you are having health problems see a doctor right away. Take it from Cynthia Zabel, it could save your life.
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