Writing Paid Guest Posts for Clients: My Nightmare - Make a Living Writing

Writing Paid Guest Posts for Clients: My Nightmare

Carol Tice | 56 Comments

Overworked freelance writer takes angry client phone callsWriting blog posts for pay has become the Internet’s easy break-in freelance writing gig. There are so many businesses that don’t have time to keep up their own blog!

As blogging has gotten more sophisticated and businesses have learned more about it, owners have discovered the world of guest posting.

They see that links left on guest posts on a bigger blog could really help their blog get more traffic.

Which is why I’m getting more and more emails like this one (a few details have been omitted to protect the guilty):

Dear Carol:

We are in search of writers who can pitch to and write for high quality blogs with a domain authority higher that 40 on [RANKING WEBSITE].

Writers can write on any topic that they and the blog owner agree on. The only thing we ask is that writers include 1-2 links back to medically-reviewed content on [OUR WEBSITE] (we will send links) within the body of the article.

If writers have any blog or product they would like to promote, we encourage this in the bio section of the post.

Some examples of past guest blogs include: [LINKS]

We can pay $70 for every published post, and we would need to pay you via Elance.

We will help you find sites to contact and write for, and it would also help if you are connected to other [OUR TOPIC] bloggers to work with them to get published.

Please let me know if you have any questions.

Utmost thanks for your help!

Alex

As it happens, I have done paid guest posts for clients in the past.

And I’ll never do it again.

These gigs are a big sticky, chocolate mess. They’re very hard to pull off. And more importantly, it’s very hard to earn a living wage at them.

Let me give you a look behind the curtain at what these gigs are like, and why you’d need to get paid way more than $70 a post if you want to write guest posts for clients.

My paid guest posting story

I had one small-business blogging client I was posting for weekly on their own company blog. They needed posts on a reasonably arcane business niche similar to insurance, which I happened to understand.

Life was good, I was cranking out $100 posts for them at a rate of four a month. Hourly rate on it was probably $50-$75 an hour.

Then they wanted to change my contract — instead of writing four times a month on their blog, I’d write fewer times for them, and get them a guest post or two a month. For the same rate.

They gave me an initial list of sites to target, perhaps 50 of them. And I began to email.

Our strategy was that I’d post on their site about a particular piece of industry news or hot topic. Then I’d reach out to the big target sites, show them a link to that post, and ask if their CEO could do a unique guest post on the same topic for their site. Said post to be ghostwritten by me, of course.

This seemed like a fairly legitimate reach-out to me: “Hey, we write interesting blog posts about X, here’s a sample. Would you like a guest post about this?”

But it turns out most sites are not interested in this sort of self-promotional CEO post.

It gets worse

After running through that first list of 50 and going back and forth with a few, I landed one guest post. Yow. That was a lot of unpaid marketing time for one $100 fee! My hourly rate was plummeting here.

Next, they wanted me to find the sites we’d reach out to. I went through Alexa and pulled a bunch of likely contenders and tried 20 or so with no success, which was frustrating and also took a chunk of time. My hourly rate was now falling through the floor.

In the next round, I insisted they provide the list of their targets. And I began charging an extra $100 for a marketing hour spent emailing to find that one ‘win.’ But it was so difficult to get any acceptances, my hourly rate was still abysmal.

After a couple months of this, I dropped the client.

It was way more marketing than writing, and I prefer to write. Also, I like projects where I can be successful, and it’s very hard to get these guest posts to happen. The frustration factor was too much for me.

The hourly rate was more like the minimum wage than a professional wage, with all the marketing time spent hunting up big blogs that would take our post.

I had taken a great-paying, steady blogging gig and turned it into a low-wage, time-sucking nightmare.

And here’s the really sleazy part

I don’t know if you read that email I posted above carefully, but there’s something a little ethically squishy going on here.

What the client really wants is for you to leverage your own relationships and reputation as a blogger to reach out to big sites. The sites are going to respond because of who you are.

They want you to post under your own byline…and slip a couple mentions of their product or service into your post on links.

What they don’t say is whether that’s supposed to be disclosed to the site you want to guest on or not. They may think it’s OK to keep your relationship a secret from the host site for your post…but it isn’t.

If you don’t disclose that you’re in the pay of the company you’re linking to — that’s unethical. You’re secretly shilling for a company and pretending you’re an impartial blogger who just happens to find this company’s thing interesting. That’s. Just. Wrong.

If you do disclose it, most sites are going to pass. They would have to state somewhere on the post that you’ve been paid to endorse this company, which is awkward.

Also, if someone’s getting paid to endorse something in a post, well, some sites do engage in that. In that scenario, if someone is getting paid for mentioning a company the site owner would like it to be them, not you.

To sum up: This sort of guest post is a dream many small business blog owners have, but one that is unlikely to come true.

Even if you wanted to do this, it’s increasingly hard to find any takers. And it’s even harder to make a decent wage at it.

When paid guest posts work

There is one scenario where guest posting for a client can make sense and pay well.

That’s where it’s all aboveboard, and you write on behalf of the company. And their brand has a good reputation and some visibility already, which makes sites more receptive to their posts.

Your tagline includes the company link, NOT a link to your site. Also, ideally the company does the marketing to find the opportunities, not you.

This gets rid of the ethical problems and make it a straightforward guest post with you authoring on behalf of your client.

It’ll still be hard to get this placed, but at least you won’t feel like you need to take a shower after you pitch it.

My advice: Keep your guest posting for promoting your own blog, especially if you’re building a reputation as a blogger. Don’t confuse readers about what or who you stand for.

An increasing number of small businesses are seeking these kinds of guest-posting deals. Make sure you know how to handle these clients so you don’t go down an ethical and low-wage rabbit hole trying to do them.

Ever been asked to guest post for a client? Leave a comment and let us know how you handled it.

56 comments on “Writing Paid Guest Posts for Clients: My Nightmare

  1. Christian Quinones on

    You are correct. Guest posting can be a nightmare especially if your articles are not accepted by a blog owner. However it can be an excellent way to boost your online reputation.

  2. Glenn M on

    I want to learn more about being or getting paid to write for company’s. Please if you can lead me in a direction to learn would be most appreciated. Thank you, Glenn

  3. Laura Spencer on

    Carol,

    Great post. I get “job offers” that look like the post in your example fairly often. I always turn them down.

    The very rare times that I’ve accepted a ghost blogging guest post gig for an existing client, the client did all the marketing and paid me regardless of whether the post got published or not. The guest post I wrote wasn’t about sneaking links into the copy either, but about building authority for the client.

    The truth is that many blog owners are now hesitant to accept guest posts because of the bad guest post practices of some marketers. So, a writer who accepts a gig like this should expect to spend most of their time marketing.

    Yuck factor aside, from what I’ve seen most of these offers don’t really pay enough to justify the additional marketing time.

    • Carol Tice on

      They just don’t! It’s a TON of extra work. You find yourself trolling sites with barely an audience, and you still can’t get a ‘yes.’ I am never doing that type of gig again.

  4. Meghan on

    I am a complete newb here, so please feel free to correct my way of thinking!!
    I thought that part of being a freelance writer was writing for people’s blogs. I do social media for a couple places, and enjoy writing articles on interesting topics for companies who would like to improve the content on their site.
    … Is this a bad idea?
    And if so, what the heck is everyone else doing for freelance writing? I figured writing content for companies was a big part of what we do. At least I’ve found it helpful. I mean I also like reviews and editing and that kind of thing. But most of all I just love writing, whatever material a client needs to have written about. Am I confused?

    • Carol Tice on

      Hi Meghan —

      Only a little.

      You are writing for business blogs. That’s not guest posting, really — you’re a paid writer on contract, writing on your client’s site. You’re like an employee, only not full-time.

      What I’m talking about in the post is when that client then wants you to guest post on their behalf on some OTHER site — usually one with a ton of traffic and a great reputation. They’d like you to pitch a bunch of sites like that to run guest posts about your client’s type of business, or to seed your post with links back to your client. Often, without disclosing that you are in the pay of that client.

      And that last one is unethical.

      For instance, because I’ve guested on Copyblogger a half-dozen times, companies would like me to pitch a guest post over there that would just slip in a few links to their company. And they’d pay me for that. Which is unethical, and would probably end my relationship with Copyblogger when they figured it out.

      And getting those guest posts is increasingly difficult, and doesn’t pay enough in most cases to make it worthwhile. Not to mention potentially compromising your own reputation as a blogger.

      Does that make sense?

      PS — writing online content is just one type of market for freelance writers. There are many others — writing for print consumer, custom, and trade publications, writing billboards, brochures. Lots still going on in the 3-D world.

      • Meghan on

        Ah yes – that makes much more sense! I was worried I’d been going about this all wrong for a minute there.

        Do you find you do more work for the other more ”3-D” oriented clients you mentioned than you do writing content for customers’ online sites?

        Thanks for your reply!

        • Carol Tice on

          Meghan, I’ve had a mix of client types over the years. Right now I’m mainly blogging for Forbes.

          I’ve written for Entrepreneur in print and online, done e-newsletters for Costco, and still write for Alaska and Horizon Airlines magazines, which are print. So depends on when you ask me. 😉 At one point it was pretty much all magazines, mostly regionals here in Seattle.

          There definitely is plenty of online writing opportunity. I did one package of online articles for a major corporation that were $2,000 apiece. Not all the pay is low.

          It depends on your own goals for your writing career and what kinds of writing you want to do, whether you’re doing more online or off. Many people are more focused on print because they feel the pay is better, but I think that’s changing fast as more revenue moves online.

          Inside my Freelance Writers Den community we have a bootcamp that’s How to Make Good Money Writing Online, that goes into a lot of depth on how to find better online clients and avoid scams. If you’re interested, get on the waiting list for the next time we open…I usually only tell that waitlist when there’s a chance to join.

  5. Sherri on

    The whole scenario sounds kind of gray-area smarmy doesn’t it? It’s like you would be an accomplice to sneaking in your client’s links onto another company’s website and pretending it’s all innocent. I’m thinking this could possibly hurt your reputation as a writer too. Hmmm…

    • Carol Tice on

      Exactly. You don’t want to ever pretend you’ve independently discovered a great product or service you’re linking to when in fact that company paid you to place the link.

  6. Dide Daniel on

    Thanks Carol for the heads-up.
    Though I’m not currently guest-blogging for clients, I’m definitely working on some for myself and my blog. And to hear it as it is from your personal perspective made the message resonate so well.
    When they get to market and pitch, and all I have to do is write these blog posts, then I’d definitely consider it. Gives me more time to actually write, not slaving away at a life I’ve always resented – the ‘mill’ sort of life.

    • Carol Tice on

      In a way, pitching guest posts for clients can be worse than mill work, because there’s no guarantee of pay unless you get a “yes” and successfully place a guest post for the client. That’s the big problem with it!

      If you’re going to do this PR-side work, you’ve got to get an hourly fee for it in addition to your post writing fee.

  7. Rob on

    Maybe it’s not quite the same thing, but I’ve been writing blogs for small businesses for a couple of years now. Some ask for just a couple per month, some once a week. The pay isn’t top dollar, but I make around $30-$40 an hour from the work and I don’t have to wait for payment like I do for articles. I write, invoice and get paid. They’re great little businesses and I’m happy to write for them. The work also helps keep me in touch with blogging/article marketing trends and I’m happy to say that the trend is towards informational/entertaining blogs and away from promotional blogging. It’s also led to other, better paying work like newsletters and articles.

    One off guest blogging doesn’t sound as attractive. Hit and miss and time consuming.

  8. Jessica on

    I’ve always steered away from guest posting jobs because they looked like a lot more work than they’re worth. Glad I’m not the only one who feels that way!

  9. Willi Morris on

    My one and only blogging client was me ghost blogging on their site weekly. They would give me a topic, keywords and some ideas with it. I was also posting links to the blogs on Facebook, finding one of their photos to use…$50 a pop. This was fine – 500 words and quick to write.

    Several months later they wanted me to start searching for magazines and websites in their niche to do ghostwriting on their behalf. So since I’m also an admin consultant, I put together a separate proposal for that. No go. Then a couple months later, I told them I was raising my blogging rate to $100 per post….they decided to drop me. They made it seem temporary but I doubt I’ll hear from them again. 🙁

    Sad, because this was a very successful company who could have afforded to pay me more.

    • Carol Tice on

      Well…it happens. We writers need to go where we’re appreciated.

      Sometimes it really hurts to find a client you love won’t pay appropriately. But we need to eat, sorry!

  10. Supreet on

    Hi Carol,

    The timing of this post couldn’t be right! I just came across an opportunity for guest blogging & when I talked numbers, he took offense, as according to him, guest blogging means free writing!! I didn’t bother to revert back! 🙁

    • Carol Tice on

      Well…that’s another situation altogether. There are plenty of big blogs that want free contributions…and writers willing to give them. Sometimes if you have a blog on a related topic, it’s worth guesting free. I’m certainly not sorry I wrote for Copyblogger, for instance.

      But many blogs have little or no traffic and would still like the free content…in which case it’s time to say no.

  11. Philippa Willitts on

    I have done paid guest blog posts for clients, but only when they had already built the relationships with the blogs in question. In that case, it’s just like I’m writing another blog post for them – they just then sent it on to someone else!

    So, if I’m dealing with an agency who has the post slots already arranged, or with a business who has relationships they have already built, it’s fine. But I receive too many awful, spammy guest post requests on my own sites to ever feel good about sending anything resembling those out myself!

  12. Laura Roberts on

    Thanks for posting this, Carol. Although I haven’t been asked to do any of this type of guest posting, I’ve been on the receiving end of emails asking me to put up guest posts from random people who’ve found my local blog, which I have turned down. I don’t mind the idea of a guest post that fits with my blog’s niche, but so many of these were just completely off-topic and sleazy that I had to put up a guest post page saying I would absolutely NOT post anything to do with casinos, “work-from-home” scams and the like.

    I even got a couple of car companies that wanted to give me access to one of their vehicles for a week so that I could write up (unpaid) posts endorsing their product. Since I never write about automobiles, I found this very odd, but even more so, their suggestion that I would want to drive their car around for a week (would my insurance even cover such a thing? what if I got into an accident?) and then write about the experience (praising the company, of course) seemed very bizarre and shady to me. As you mention, not disclosing any relationship with a business, or complimentary products and services you’ve received, is unethical. So these sorts of arrangements are definitely going to be more detrimental to the blogger’s reputation than the company making the requests.

    I think a good rule of thumb is to never put your good reputation on the line for a business — no matter how much they want to pay you, and especially if they DON’T want to pay you!

    • Carol Tice on

      I know the car companies DO tap into the blogger community — Ford in particular is huge into that. But usually they have the sense to hit automotive bloggers with that offer!

  13. Kimberly Rotter on

    Great tips. I do write guest posts for a client, but I do not include any links whatsoever, and the client does the marketing and placement. They are genuine posts on a relevant topic. And as you mentioned, these are posted under my name, but as a representative of the client’s site and linking back to them, not me.

  14. Emily Hunter on

    You have no idea how timely this particular post is. I’ve been working on acquiring guest posts for my clients – and there’s a LOT of resistance by the ‘target sites’ to accept any guest posts from the company. My ratio of acceptance got down to around 10%, and the sites accepting were kind of mid-level sites.

    One of the reasons that it’s tweaky for me is that I’m working under a pseudonym. Essentially, I’m doing a lot of marketing time for someone who’s not me – what I’m doing is trying to develop their reputation and their G+ authorship. It’s still a ton of work for very little reward. Now, one of the things that I’ve been doing to turn that into an opportunity is to offer lists of places where others can try to pitch their guest posts. In other words, it was salvaged by giving them the shovel, rather than the dirt. 🙂

    • Carol Tice on

      I’m not sure I follow…do you write under a pseudonym normally, or just for this client? Are you trying to build a social rep for your psuedonym, or for the client? Little confused.

      • Emily Hunter on

        For this client, I am ghost writing. So, the reputation building that I am doing is for the client’s pseudonym – like their director of marketing or what have you.

        I’m going to take your advice, however – and put it in my bio that I’m a freelance blogger working for X company (whatever that company happens to be at the time) so that I can personally get the credit for whatever is written.

        • Carol Tice on

          If they’re willing to give you a credit and a link, definitely get one! But often they want the blog writing to build the reputation of their team. In which case they should be paying a lot, since you can’t take credit.

  15. Rebecca Klempner on

    I had a request like this just yesterday, and told them what I tell everyone:

    Sorry, but no.

    I’d like to think that people who read my blog and my other work do so at least in part because they know I’m a straight-shooter. And the people who employ me do so because they know I write honestly. Participating in the type of scheme you outline above would damage my credibility on both fronts.

  16. Efoghor Joseph Ezie on

    The quest to make money could make a lot of bloggers to compromise or even care less about their reputation. When one tries unsuccessfully for a long time to make reasonable income online, he begins to accept whatever comes his way no matter how paltry and degrading.

    A guy approached me sometime ago and was asking if I wrote guest posts for people. I initially thought he was interested to have me write guest posts on his site. We discussed the possibility of writing for several of his sites and eventually agreed to take about $15 to $20 per post because he said he needed them in packs of 10 posts. Since he was requesting and the post involved were much, I agreed to take some moneys for the write ups.

    However, after agreeing on price, he started saying I was to write and post to blogs on his behalf. I just couldn’t see myself writing that kind of post – writing the post, searching for the blogs, making the pitch, etc and still collect that paltry $20 per post, no matter how many the posts were going to be. There and then, I declined the offer and asked him to look for another writer.

    It’s really tempting for writers especially while trying to build a name online. But if you have a big dream, you must never allow those kinds of peanut contracts to drag you back from getting to your target. I would rather wait for advertisers to offer sponsored post on my personal blog and make money from it than trade my reputation for $20.

    • Carol Tice on

      I couldn’t say it better myself, Joseph. So glad you turned that down, especially at those rates. Would be ridiculously low pay with all the pitch time included!

  17. Francesca Nicasio on

    I can definitely relate.

    I’ve received similar requests in the past. At first I was eager to take on the gig because I’ve had a lot of fun and success when it comes to guest posting for *my* websites/projects. I soon learned though that doing it for other companies… not so much.

    My rate started to drop, and like you I ended up letting go of the client.

    I still ghostwrite guest blogs for companies, but this time, my clients are the ones in charge of establishing relationships with blogs and placing the posts.

    • Carol Tice on

      I hear ya, Francesca. It’s an increasingly tough sell pitching a guest post for a client and I don’t enjoy that task, so I’m not taking those gigs. Anyone who does should charge through the nose, as it is time-consuming and NO fun.

  18. Penny Taylor on

    You are so right. I’ve been approached and turned them down flat. When I read their letter saying what they wanted I envisioned a bunch of flies caught in that old sticky, smelly fly paper that hangs from the ceiling in a curly roll. Don’t want to go there.

    • Carol Tice on

      Glad to alert folks…it’s a real ethical minefield. Some of these gigs can be great, but we all have to understand what we’re doing, including the site where the guest post will appear. Or something’s happening that could damage your rep.

  19. Emily McIntyre on

    Thank you for this! I’m not in a similar situation but one of my employers has recently been edging in what seem like this kind of direction. I’ve been unable to put my finger on what bugs me about it, but you nailed it: I don’t endorse products, and I don’t use my reputation to leverage for companies.

    Thank you. I think I’ve got a complicated email to write!

    • Carol Tice on

      Well, one solution to that is ghosting, where it’s their CEO writing officially and their byline. But often that’s not what the client wants — they want to leverage YOUR name and audience, and then oh, you could just slip in these two links to our products, yes? And not mention we paid you for that, hm? No, I couldn’t.

  20. Casey on

    Thanks for spelling this all out. I’m finding that almost all potential clients expect freelancers to handle social media marketing as part of the post. I’m going to use the marketing-fee idea going forward, because it’s so time-consuming.

    • Carol Tice on

      Handling social media marketing for your posts can be a lucrative add-on to blogging services…but yeah, it does take time. If folks want anything beyond me retweeting it once when it comes out — which I’m happy to do for anybody — then I want an hourly rate contract.

      And it would have to be something relevant to at least a decent portion of my audience. At this point my social media audience is about half freelance writers and half entrepreneurs and startup owners and franchisees of other types, so I do share a mix of straight-business and freelance writing links and tips. But it so wouldn’t be worth pissing off my audience. It’s taken me years to slowly acquire the 8000+ Twitter followers I’ve got, and I am definitely not doing anything to endanger those connections.

  21. Charity Kountz on

    I have run across this several times myself and I can tell you I felt like I needed a sonic shower afterward! Elance seems to be the biggest site for this and it is in direct violation of the terms of service. I’m working on breaking away from Elance (for too many reasons to list here) but I can tell you I was reporting at least 1 – 2 of these a day before I finally gave up. Most of them are scams, those that aren’t are a nightmare just like you described. Fortunately, I didn’t have to learn this the hard way – my BS radar started going off when it started talking about me including specific links. Impartiality goes out the window when you’re forced to use someone else’s material. Because I guarantee all my work to be unique and 100% original, that automatically goes against that creed.Thanks for sharing!

    • Carol Tice on

      Interesting, since my emailer indicated he only functioned on Elance. Maybe that’s because it’s set up so that you can refuse to release funds to the writer if you “don’t like” the work…and it all turns out to be a scam.

      I do think there’s been a big uptick in these kind of gigs…and it’s definitely a writer beware scenario.

  22. Bethanny Parker on

    There’s something else that’s fishy about that e-mail: They only pay via Elance. Why don’t they have Paypal? Or a checking account?

    I agree that doing guest posts for other sites is a pain in the you-know-what. After the last batch, I raised my rates for these assignments to $85-$170 per post for writing plus $85/hour for the marketing time. So far, no takers. That’s fine with me.

  23. Daley James Francis on

    Great post, Carol!

    I was doing exactly what you were talking about for my writing clients until recently, when I decided I wouldn’t do it anymore. I felt awful doing it, and I was wasting so much time waiting for acceptance and replies that it really ate in to my writing time. I also started to worry that if any of these sites found out what I was doing, my reputation (and career) would be ruined.

    That might sound a little paranoid, but I definitely won’t be doing it anymore as a result. I’m glad you’ve written this article as it is so important that writers know what they are getting into. Forget the $$$ signs and be legitimate, it’s far less stressful and potentially harmful to your writing career!

    Thanks,
    Daley

    • Carol Tice on

      Hey Daley — thanks for sharing your experience with this. I think a lot of businesses have realized guest posting is where the mega-traffic is, and now they all want to get some guest posts…by piggybacking on your relationships.

      Everyone should tread carefully with these offers and make sure things are very well-defined…and that you get paid for your time.

  24. Sophie Lizard on

    I get a ton of those emails! Guest blogging services are definitely in demand.

    But I only guest post for clients if they’re happy for my bio to say “blogger for [Client Brand Name]” and for all the marketing work to be billed at an hourly rate. Otherwise, it’s not worth the hassle and it certainly isn’t worth bending my ethics for!

    Thanks, Carol, for pointing out the issues many freelance bloggers (and their potential clients) don’t realise exist in this type of project. 🙂

  25. Daryl on

    I’ve come across similar situations – and always given them a pass.

    As you pointed out, the whole “find places for us to guest post” is simply too time consuming, especially if you haven’t had the chance to strike up a relationship with the editor/owner of the site that you’re pitching to.

    The idea of sending out 50 requests with only one yes would also be mega frustrating for me, and it probably would have been even worse if you weren’t an established writer!

    • Carol Tice on

      Yeah, I’m with you. It’s a lot of banging your head against a brick wall. I think it’s really a PR person’s job, and they should hire a PR person to do that end of it.

      That would also help make it more ethically clear for the writer. They’d tell you they got a guest post approved at X blog, could you write it? You’d write it, they’d promote it socially…that to me would be fine. The roles aren’t muddy there.

  26. Kevin Carlton on

    Things could’ve even been worse, Carol.

    This client may have wanted you to promote these guest posts to your own social network. Not only yet another suck on your time, but the perfect way to destroy your reputation good and proper.

    And just one other thing, a former long-term client of mine came up with a similarly convoluted scheme to promote his clients – basically where I’d do a whole lot of marketing work for peanuts.

    I wasn’t having any of it and parted company with this client shortly afterwards.

    • Carol Tice on

      Kevin, that’s exactly what a lot of these clients want — I think they’re trolling online for people with big social media followings, and then they want you to use that to promote their product.

      It’s definitely something I advise steering clear of, or you’re probably going to get yourself a boatload of unfollows pretty quick.

      • Kevin Carlton on

        As it happens, Carol, in my case it’s not my social media following these people are after – because I don’t actually have a large following.

        But like you, Sophie and some of the other commenters here, I do get my share of such email pitches and proposals.

        I suspect it’s because my site is pretty well optimised and ranks really well for certain searches. That means my website is really easy for them to find. And, I guess, they think they’re gonna get good SEO out of it.

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