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Dear Blogger: Do You Hate Your Customer?

Dearest Darlingest Blogger,

Who is your audience? Your ideal potential customer? Who do you need to work with?

And do you love her?

I’ve noticed a little virus going around the blog-o-sphere. I’m calling it contempt. Nobody wants contempt, and very few people will buy it.

Let’s use an example: Fitness Bloggers.

(I’ll say it now and I’ll say it later: even if you’re not a fitness blogger, you can apply these lessons to your blog and your marketing.)

Blogger Desperately Seeking A Nice Fitness Trainer, Online

I’m shopping for a trainer or a fitness/lifestyle coach and I can’t find one that I’d like to spend time with - never mind give my money to.

Here’s why: I’ve got high self esteem. I think I’m awesome even if my ass wiggles (in fact, I like the wiggle). Yet fitness coaches and people hawking health online (and everywhere) are invested in shaming me.

I’m not having it – and I’m certainly not paying for it.

Fat is not inherently shameful or shorthand for lazy/fat/stinky/unmotivated/unattractive, and if we had eradicated all other social prejudices and bases for discrimination (and we have not, dammit), then I would say that fat is one of the last “permissable” prejudices in our society. And that’s crap, frankly.

All that being said: I still want a trainer.

I’m a potential client. Someone needs to market to me because I’ve got a goal and I’m willing to spend money to achieve it.

Fitness Bloggers Desperately Seeking Clients, Online

Let’s talk about my profile as a client and how best to market to me.

Hint: shame is not hot or profitable.

I want to get stronger and more flexible, get rid of some bad habits, and ingrain a habit of eating foods that give me energy. If I drop some weight in the process – and I will, it is inevitable – then awesome, but I don’t think that will make me a better person. I think we can all agree that the quality of my character has nothing to do with the number on the scale or my jeans.

Here’s another little thing about me-as-future-fitness-client: I am acutely sensitive to the awful messages society sends women, and I see the link between those shaming messages and eating disorders and of course fat prejudice.

In short, I’m a middle-class thirty-seven year old North American woman who is not as healthy or as “hot” (sigh) as I’d like to be and I’m willing to throw my time, money and effort at the problem.

If you’re a trainer, or a fitness coach, I AM YOUR MARKET and positively ITCHING to give you my money.

How NOT to Market Online (Contempt is Probably Not Your Best Strategy)

And how do I find you? The internet. I google you and then I read your blog. So good on you for having a blog so I can find you and get to know you.

Too bad you didn’t take any time to get to know me, your target market.

Because if you did, and I’m the kind of person you’d want to train, then you’d know that I have a profound political and personal aversion to shame and so shaming me is not terribly inviting, effective or profitable.

But it is rampant. On a regular basis, fitness coaches and trainers – especially ones with women as their target market – blog things like this:

  • talking about how disgusting fat is
  • talking about going to a kids birthday party and counting every item of food the chubby kid ate
  • talking about obesity as a disease or an epidemic
  • talking about their fear of food
  • talking about kicking my ass
  • talking about other people – fat people – being lazy or unfit or lacking in character
  • talking about how they’re going to beat the weakness out of me or run me until I puke

These things do not me move. They especially do not move me to hand you my credit card.

Why not?

Because you don’t even like me and I only do business with people I like and who like me back.

And because I don’t sign up for shame and abuse. There is a very limited niche for that sort of thing and it involves dungeons and whips and no one calls it “fitness”.

How To Market Online: Love Your Customer, Baby

If I could find a fitness coach or a trainer who was about health rather than fat-shaming – and who explicitly made the connection that fat-shaming is political and impermissible – I would be in. All in. Money-and-testimonials-and-glowing-blog-shout-outs-and-downward-dogs in.

So dearest, online fitness bloggers, trainers, and coaches, here’s an exercise that may prove enlightening:

Question: Who needs a trainer and is willing to pay for one?

Answer: Someone who values herself enough to pay for coaching to accomplish health-related goals.

Will shame resonate with that person? Is shaming your client a good a strategy?

Customer Relations: The Takeaway, For ALL Bloggers

Even if you’re not a fitness blogger, you can apply this lesson to your blog and your marketing.

Do you rant about how misguided people are? About how people just don’t get it, or your product? About how your product or service is a ticket to heaven and the rest of us are damned?

Please stop that right now. Love your customers or stop selling to them.

And that is all.

Love (really and truly – if I didn’t care, I wouldn’t have said anything at all),

Kelly Diels

ps. Did I make you feel bad? Did it make you want to pay me?

pps. Since drafting this piece, I found two fitness coaches I like:

Adam Glass – of Walk The Road Less Traveled –  who’s all about machismo feats of strength, listening to and learning from your body, and being the expert in your own progress. Adam works his ass off but isn’t that worried about appearance or shame. He’s invested in accomplishment. LOVE HIM.

Marianne Elliott – of Zen and The Art of Peacekeeping – is a peaceful yogini extraordinaire who asked me what my body needed for my 30 days of Yoga. Among other things, I said “lots of smooching, but I don’t think that you can help with that.” She then designed a routine for specifically for me called the “yogic body smooch”. LOVE HER.

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Comments

  1. Brian Clark says:

    Kelly, one of the most successful and wealthy personal fitness “gurus” online is a guy named Matt Furey. He started doing everything you said not to do (and worse) about 10 years ago and it all worked like crazy.

    Why?

    Because he did it first. He stood out. He was unique.

    Just like Dooce or Naomi Dunford or Merlin Mann did.

    What happens next is you get the copycats who adopt the unique style of the originator en masse, and we get your standard mommy blogger, or foul-mouthed marketing wannabee, or unfunny productivity advisor, and now hard-ass insulting fitness gurus who are likely copying Furey’s style.

    The lesson is NOT to “not do this or that.”

    The lesson if to be unique. Be something no one else is.

    There are no rules about that, sorry.

    P.S. And there are plenty of loving, coddling, and unremarkable fitness trainers out there too. So your advice may be harmful in that sense. Just saying.

  2. David Doolin says:

    @nathan, @kelly, there is a critical distinction (in my mind, heh) between “being lovingly insulting” and “treating people with contempt.”

    First example that comes to mind is Gary Halbert, who regularly insulted his subscribers (who he called “buckwheat” and who paid bank for the privilege), but never, ever treated them with contempt.

    I’m sure there’s more, but you guys found a nice distinction I’ll be sure to thoroughly mine when needs must.

  3. I’m more with Nathan on this… There are some very stupid people in this world. Regardless if they want to give me money or not… they typically turn into more of a headache than they are worth so I don’t work with them.

    I would rather have a small targeted group of people who are on my same level than a large group of morons… In the long run it’s more profitable for everyone.

    In the gym scenario…

    Hot guy instructor insults ugly chick by berating her during a workout… One hot chick gets turned off and doesn’t become a customer because she didn’t like his attitude…

    The guy doesn’t care because at the same time another hot chick laughed at the insult and wanted to work with him because she knew he’d push her… He’d rather work with the hot chick who laughed than the one who didn’t.

    And the fat girl laughed and wanted to work with him too, because she said “She may be fat, but she’s not ugly so at least she could lose weight, and he’ll kick my ass into shape.”

    The point is, not everyone is going to be a fit to do business together… The worse thing any business owner can do is try to do business with everyone… The second worse thing is when they try to please everyone too…

    I think Ricky Nelson said it best, “You can’t please everyone, so you’ve got to please yourself.”

  4. First and foremost: Amen & So Mote It Be! The skinny, over tanned look is nasty.

    Secondly, that’s an extremely valid point. Both for blogging and life. Your customers/readers won’t stay long if you show them you hate them!

    Not to mention if you’re happier when you exercise, you won’t think of it as torture.

    Cheers.

  5. Michael says:

    I’m having a hard time seeing this post as something other than someone with a personal axe to grind.

    It probably stems from a problem I have with throwing around the word “hate.” It’s incendiary and polarizing and usually overkill – and in this case it’s certainly so.

    I also want to throw something out there: the feeling of being ashamed does not mean someone is shaming you. It sounds like you’re not at peace with yourself, and that’s where the problem starts.

    As a lifestyle-help blogger, I understand that different people have different levels of self-esteem, and try to be understanding of that. However, I also know there are a large number of people who need the wake-up call, because they just don’t respond to positive affirmations.

  6. Kelly Diels says:

    @Michael, maybe look beyond the personal example – which is fundamentally about illustrating the point rather than axe-grinding – to the message. The message is: find what resonates with the people whom you want to buy your products. If you’ve done that, then you don’t need my advice because your business will rock out.

    ps at no point did I ever say I was ashamed of myself. I am most definitely not – which is why I balk when people try to tell me I should be. It simply doesn’t fit.

    pps you made a seriously good point about using the word hate, and about polarizing and incendiary debate. Even though I think there can sometimes be value and truth in polarization – it allows people to reject both positions and find the middle, common ground – that point really landed.

  7. If I was a fitness guru, offering services and writing a blog (as opposed to being a couch potato, writing a blog), I would love to see the Google Analytics results. I mean, it would be quite amusing to see the exact things people typed, telling too.

    Interesting to read the discussions above, I didn’t feel you have an axe to grind, felt the post was spot on. If you’re selling something you have to inspire, which yes can be provocative, but it has to be something which is graceful.

  8. rososusilo says:

    my parents was a merchant. He always advised me to always serve customers well. customers is important in business.

  9. This is a funny post since I’m in the fitness niche. But I don’t do online personal training :)

  10. But surely they don’t really hate their customers? They just think that’s what some people want. And to be fair some people probably do want it. Personally I’d go for the carrot any day but some people like a bit of stick. Whoops, can’t believe I wrote that it ended up sounding a bit dodgy…

    I do write on my self improvement blog about “kicking people up the arse in the nicest possible way”. I don’t think people need to be told they are overweight if they’re at your fitness blog. They already know that or they wouldn’t be there. They need to be encouraged and supported but when it comes down to it they also need to know that there’s only one person who can help and that’s them.

    Have fun getting fit and fabulouser:)

  11. Kelvin Lee says:

    I think that we just have to put ourselves in the shoe of our customer and then ask ourselves what will make us take out of credit card to make the payment and that will be what will make our customer do the same.

  12. Kelly Diels says:

    @Brian Clark – “be unique” IS great advice. I think that a lot, but of course there’s no formula for it. And of course that’s why the people who are wildly themselves are so magnetic and compelling.

  13. Parth says:

    Kelly, you’re right. Everyone has their own way.

  14. Eric C says:

    this made no sense to me, especially since you didn’t provide any examples. In the future, if you’re going to criticize someone, something, or an entire movement Try providing an example.

  15. Kelly Diels says:

    @Chris Martial Development – you wrote:

    “Now WRT blogging, “why someone ought to serve my indignant needs” isn’t a very compelling message. I am the Problogger customer today; are you holding me in contempt?”

    *EXACTLY*

    I ended the piece with this:

    ps Did I make you feel bad? Did it make you want to pay me?

    (In sales letters, the ‘ps’ is often the most important line of copy.)

    I was trying to demonstrate how contemptuous marketing IS wildly un-compelling. Form echoes function.

  16. Wow this was a great post. So many of us have issues with the customer and customer service is never easy. Even dealing with the customer… it was great reading yoiur take on this!

  17. Leon Noone says:

    G’day Kelly,
    A most timely post. I’m a relative newbie to web marketing. But I did run a reasonably successful business by direct mail and telemarketing for 15 years. I feel as if I’m being treated like a moron by so many so called internet marketers
    .
    It’s very common. They go on endlessly about their cars, houses, vacations and gorgeous families and how their brilliant use of the web saved them from penury and enabled them to become multi-millionaires.
    They assume that the rest of us are “impecunious losers.”
    It’s really boring, egocentric and quite contemptuous.

    I’ve always tried to keep in mind something that David Ogilvy once said;”The consumer is not a moron. She is your wife.”

    Leon Noone

  18. I agree with this partially. I know that shaming people, especially where their body image is concerned, will never work unless they’re extremely neurotic. But as a PR consultant I find many small business owners don’t trust themselves as much as they should. I’m pretty honest…if I think their website does a decent job I’ll tell them that and suggest a few things perhaps. But time and time again the next guy (or gal) comes in and tells them they’re doing everything wrong and if they’d change a whole bunch of stuff they’d make more money, get more customers, etc. I often lose business to those naysayers. Of course I often get them back later.

    Oddly enough as a waitress years ago we found the meaner we were to our customers the better our tips were. When we copped a sassy attitude we made tons more money.

  19. Paul Kaiser says:

    Fantastic post! It’s about health, not weight. More generally, it is about focusing on the positive results you hope to get from spending your money.
    Best thing for me in this post:
    Pointing out that a woman who will actually give you money for fitness training is one with enough self-awareness to value her health and therefore part with money to improve it. People who are motivated by shame are rarely self-aware (or they would never believe the shame.)
    Anyway, thanks…!!!

  20. Ashwin says:

    Thanks for sharing this. It is great.

    I think a lot of what you write, or what you do in life has to do with your self-esteem. Not many people seem to understand that there are sublte reflections of thier own state of mind in every act they do.

    Finding keywords that sell & making people feel more miserable about themselves may work, but it isn’t exactly the best way to do business.

    If you love your work,love yourself, your language will reflect it. And people will find you sooner or later.

  21. Madeleine says:

    Kelly, Your post raises important points, as do many of the comments. As one who blogs about aging, I am very aware that marketing aimed at women often relies on self-hate or, as Elena called it, “self-loathing.” The pitch is, essentially, “You’re not good enough the way you are, but this product can make you better.”

    This pitch is used to sell both “anti-aging” products, such as certain skin creams, and expensive and risky procedures which no one needs, such as elective cosmetic surgery. Much of the market is women over the age of 40 or 45. It’s sad and depressing to me how well this pitch seems to work.

    I fight back through my blog and through the way I live my life. For example, I’ve stopped coloring my hair which is now white. Contrary to much thought on the subject, I don’t see this as Letting Myself Go (how I hate that expression); I see it as accepting myself as I am.

  22. red rope says:

    Fascinating post, as usual I find the comments most revealing.

    I am not in the Fitness Industry I am a Software Developer I would estimate that at least 20% of my “customers” are simply more trouble than they are worth and I have nothing but contempt for those 20% ( and love for the remaining 80% )

    We sell low cost software but provide a free 30 day trial of all our products and yet we still get a surprisingly large % of requests for refunds for things like ” I doesn’t run on my Mac I want a refund”

    Oh really ? If you could be bothered to read it says that it is for Windows only on every single page of our site and the free trial is your chance to download and test the software to see if you like it before you buy anything.

    If you don’t like the software don’t buy it !

    How could any company be fairer than that !

    It is the ultimate let the market determine my value proposition. Issuing a refund cost me time and money !

    No company could be fairer that to offer a 30 day free trial, if you buy it after that it is inconceivable to me why we would even consider a refund.

    Don’t even get me started on people that call up looking for support that haven’t even opened the help manual.

    Not all “customers” are worthy of respect regardless of if they are willing to spend money and anyone that has ever worked an IT help desk knows the customer is not always right : )

  23. Excellent article, excellent! Not only for fitness topic but other topics as well. It’s like the market now is to put down in order to boost the person up …. not really good marketing strategy … I don’t know, maybe it is … they are making money.

    Love this post, so true and so real!

  24. I don’t know ….

    With innumerable benefits to be had from being “in shape”, from genuine measurable health benefits to the superficial “looking hot” to improved mental performance and the amazing amount of well researched and readily available information available about regular exercise and a well balanced and nutritious diet available today balanced against the mind numbingly stupid millions upon millions of followers that still are looking for the last fad diet to hit the magazine stands or interest in the latest “wonder pill” I tend to think that fat is lazy, dumb and stupid.

    The worlds biggest loser showed the world that most obese people with regular exercise and good diet can achieve amazing things in an incredibly short period of time.

    I still meet girls daily literally obsessed with body image that don’t understand even the basics of nutrition or exercise, thats like someone that wants to be sucessful online like Darren without understanding even the very basics just looking for the get rich quick scheme

    Wow thats interesting there are LOT of those peolpe out there – I doubt anyone here would have any problem calling them stupid !

    I am sorry but if your fat and you don’t want to be and you dont understand the basics like good nutrition and exercise by 2010 you are asking to be treated with contempt.

  25. Gin says:

    I must say that anybody that practices giving negative feedback or advice is asking for trouble and not just the immediate moment. I would prefer to give advice that will make one truly think in more than one perspective or higher level rather than leave them angry. Great points made!

  26. Kelly Diels says:

    @Eric C – I specifically didn’t provide examples because I didn’t want to bash anyone, publicly. I’m conscious of the fact that Darren’s platform is wide-reaching and influential and don’t want to abuse it.

    Maybe not pointing to specific sites was a mistake. Maybe you’re right and being able to read the things I was referring to, directly, would have illustrated my point.

    I can say this: the “usual suspects” – Gym Jones and Matt Furey – are NOT who I’m talking about.

    Instead, what I’ve noticed is that there are some women trainers – specifically targeting women as their market – who are blatantly (but perhaps not consciously) hawking “unhealthy” approaches to health and fitness. They’re marketing the end result (a certain look) and a by-all-means necessary methodology. The health of that kind of approach is pretty thin. Pun intended.

    Which is why I like Adam T Jones – who is a straight-talker and pull-no-punches, *not* PC guy – and Josh Hanagarne so much. They just want to be strong. They want to understand their bodies, extend their capabilities and accomplish personal goals, every day.

    That appeals to me. LOTS.

    The ‘fearing food’ approach? Not so much.

    But back to your original point: I’m cautious about calling out specific people, online. Criticism, especially personal attack – eg YOU ARE EVERYTHING WRONG WITH THIS INDUSTRY – can sting. We’re not just businesses and brands. We’re people, too, and treating each other with basic civility and kindness is important.

    I’m not here to bash individuals. I’m just suggesting that when we’re marketing – and constructing our brand (see Brian Clark’s comment) – we should figure out who our market is and make sure we’re resonating with them.

  27. You know why most of these fitness trainers talk like that? Because the likelihood is, they’ve never experience life as a fat person.

    This is exactly why I am dedicating my life to speaking positively about weight-loss. I’ve been there. I KNOW it doesn’t help to call your potential customers “fatties,” and to go on about how much your life must suck because of your weight. I have been overweight (and sometimes obese) my entire life, and though I was depressed for many years, I’ve had many happy experiences as a fat person.

    Losing weight is not just about the body. You’ve got to melt the “fat” from your mind as well ~ the layers, upon layers of negative self-talk and put-downs and feelings of unworthiness & shame.

    I’ve lost 100 pounds. Still losing. I want to be a fitness trainer/healthy living guide/life coach one day. When I reach my fitness goals, AND while I’m on my way there, I will only strive to help others and to uplift them. Not to bring them down.

    Thanks for confirming for me that that’s the best way to go =)

    ~Allyssa

  28. Denise says:

    Oh my, you hit a nerve with this one. I am a nutritionist, I LOVE my clients, and am always concerned that I sound preachy or condescending. It is interesting, though, that you post this today since I had two clients yesterday who really wanted me to give them a plan to “punish” them for past “out of control” eating. They were so used to beating themselves up that they came to me, and paid me well, to do the same.
    I refused, since that approach never works, and I doubt I will ever see either of them again. I guess the take away is that people who hate themselves will love a blogger who hates them back. Which leaves one big love-fest for the rest of us.

  29. Angelica Ars says:

    Hello Kelly,

    Funny piece. I like my but too.
    It is a little fat, but that was all muscle, and my belly, and everything.

    You can wiggle it, I can wiggle it, also as a sign of contempt.

    Ofcourse not when you are trying to sell.

    Selling online is hard though anyway; I have affiliate programs on my site, on some people click but do not buy, others they do not click, and other they buy, but I didn’t get the money yet.

    Greetings,
    Angelica Ars

  30. I gotta say…that post was definitely hard to follow, but it did have some valid points…especially pointing out that if you make the reader feel bad about themselves by always pointing out the negative aspect of who they are and why they are worthless you won’t get very many conversions. But, focusing on how they become better and why they deserve being better will.

  31. LFC says:

    If you are in the fitness business and you “shame” customers you probably are not smart enough to stay in business. On the other hand, some measures of tough love are needed to get the results everyone expects.

    I got into Life Coaching as well as fitness training because so many people look to their trainers for advice and direction — whether that’s rational or not. I use these dynamics on my blog, making it stand out a bit.

  32. drt says:

    This post hits me between the eyes. From now on I will pay attention to what I say to my potential customers so they can hand me their credit cards instead of run away from me.

  33. Paula says:

    Excellent piece Kelly …. Advertising has been using fear and self loathing to sell for quite some time … guess it spilled over into blogging. So true how important it is to be mindful of how we speak to our audience. We’re intelligent , their intelligent … let’s have intelligent conversations with each other. Excellent, excellent reminder. Oh by the way … loved the yoga blog … thanks for the connection … I think I’m going to do the challenge.

  34. Mike J says:

    Excellent post, this is very often forgotten by a lot of business now days. It’s all about the customer; when you keep this as a core business value success follows. One of the other key points of this when you treat the customer with respect they become a repeat customer. I am not sure on he numbers but I would bet that an Apple customer holds much more value than the average PC company customer does.

  35. Darya says:

    Wow, this post is profound. I am a fitness blogger (I guess) and have definitely noticed the negative in that crowd so have gravitated toward the food bloggers instead. Food bloggers are happy people. We love food. We love life. Some of us also love health, and that is what I write about.

    I do offer services though I haven’t announced them publicly yet. Feel free to drop by if you’re interested. In any case I’ll share this with my readers to see how they feel about our blog relationship :)

  36. Kat Eden says:

    I like the comment made by Parth early on – quality of info is what counts. I think it’s too general to say that shame as a motivation technique should not be used, although I do agree with the examples you gave as being fairly extreme. But surely some consideration has to be given for –

    a) the intent of the blogger. perhaps they are a fitness blogger who actually is not writing to get clients but simply to write either for themselves, or in order to attract readers who like hearing the truth however harsh it may be. I fit into this category. Being PC is of no interest to me, and I don’t need new clients so that’s not a goal, although I don’t think I bash my readers. And maybe I’m wrong; obviously I don’t know how everyone perceives me although I do get lots of thank-you emails. The funny thing is that out of the 200 odd posts I’ve written, the one that has generated the most response has been one that does come pretty close to being an attack, although it’s an attack at misconceptions taught by the industry, not on people.

    b) the fact that being nice doesn’t always work. Sometimes you need to be straight up, and I can say that when I have written a ‘telling it like it is post’ I usually get loads of people saying ‘thanks so much, I needed to hear this’ So maybe what it comes down to is that sometimes a post hits a sore spot and while some people react to that with determination to change, others get offended and focus on what the blogger ‘should’ have said or not said. But surely a blog is about free speech? In which case ‘should’ doesn’t really play a part.

    I think the key, however, is not to go on the attack about something you can’t personally relate to. This is just my opinion, but I try to write about things that I struggle with myself or have done so in the past. So if I’m calling people on something I’m calling myself on it, or my past behaviours, at the same time.

  37. Debra Howard says:

    Oh this really strikes a chord with me. I agree that we must not release contempt for our readers. I definitely feel that we should be offering love for our readers. I want the truth but I want truth in love so that is what I try to write. The blogging industry is positioned in an important place right now (I believe). I believe that blogging will become the magazines of the future. I believe that we can influence and impact the world in powerful ways and I hope that the majority will choose a higher standard of love and honor for their readers.

  38. hokya says:

    like kat eden said:
    i wrote posts for myself so i won’t hate my guest even they said bad words

  39. Kelly,

    Thanks for the post because it made me think about my own business and fitness philosophy. I hope I’m not shaming any of my clients. I’m striving to be part of the solution to help people reach their fitness goals. I like to work with people to guide them from point A to point B whether they want to lose weight or run a marathon. You have to find the right training that works for that individuals lifestyle and beliefs.

    I think a lot of trainers tend to do some bashing and think that they are really motivating people to action. Some people respond to this kind of talk and others do not. Sometimes this bashing happens because we hear from people that want to get in shape but then make every excuse as to why they can’t. Get’s frustrating.

    Thanks again,

    Dillon

  40. Issa says:

    Gee, nice analogy you’ve got there. Still, I love my customers.. not just because of the pay, but for this opportunity to do what I am passionate about.

  41. Adam says:

    I love the analogy you give. I will always love my customers because of giving me the chance to enlighten them, not just for buying a product.

  42. David says:

    One of the nicest, most heartwarming, and most endearing posts I have read in a while.

    You can take the lesson in this and apply it to a whole society and the way it runs.

  43. Kip Geuder says:

    Each post I have read is well written and to the point. I would also like to say, not only are the articles well written, but the lay-out of your site is excellent. It was easy to navigate from article to article and find what I was looking for with ease. Keep up the excellent work you are doing, and I will be back many times in the near future.