Two Work-From-Home Danger Zones And How To Beat Them Back

    Two Work-From-Home Danger Zones And How To Beat Them Back

    True confessions. A few days a week, I go to work in my pajamas. Being a member of the estimated 30 million U.S. workers who ply their trade from home at least once a week, I’m just not required to don my business casual clothing on a daily basis.

    However, lately I’ve begun to consider that, despite the obvious comfort and convenience of flannel, my robe as business-wear might not be the best for my productivity.

    Pondering my pj situation got me wondering about what other non-productive work-from-home habits other small business owners might be struggling with.

    To find out, I queried and got responses from over 150 small business proprietors, including CPAs, consultants, Web workers, marketing experts, writers, artists and others. While there were dozens of issues brought up, there were a few that stood out. Here are the two most common work-from-home danger zones and some best practices for beating them back.

    #1 Danger Zone: Getting distracted by personal items during work time.
    Stopping cold in the middle of writing a critical client proposal to meet with the plumber; cleaning out the kitchen cabinets instead of making marketing calls; surfing the net for the newest smartphone apps rather than following up with potential clients. The natural distractions of personal items are all around us when we work at home. While it may not be possible to ignore every home issue that arises, setting clear boundaries around work time is essential to being productive.

    Best Practice: Time blocking. The night before, or first thing in the morning, sit down and do an estimated time plan for the day. The time plan should include times to work on key projects and deliverables as well as client work, marketing and social media. If there are personal errands or tasks that need to be done that day, don’t do them spontaneously. Instead, set aside a defined time window during the day to get them done. By creating a time plan, you’re more likely to follow it and avoid getting taken off course by an unexpected interruption.

    “I set some major time goals for how I want to divide up my workday,” says Shel Horowitz, author of Guerrilla Marketing Goes Green. Horowitz says he tries to spend set amounts of time each day on billable client hours, writing, email, social media, exercise and office and personal tasks. “Tracking my time has forced me to be much more conscious of what I do all day. I’ve had to look at the reality that email was swallowing three to four hours a day. Since, I’ve unsubscribed from about 60 newsletters.”

    #2 Danger Zone: Rolling out of bed and going straight into the office. I realized that I, like many of my self-employed brethren, had slipped into the bad habit of waking up and going straight onto email, then stopping at some point and eating breakfast, then maybe exercising — maybe not. Almost all the respondents pointed out that having an inconsistent morning routine and, yes, going to work in pj’s, was ultimately bad for their small business.

    Best Practice: Institute a morning routine that includes putting on pants or any piece of clothing you haven’t slept in.
    More than 90 percent of the small business owners I surveyed for this post mentioned that putting on real clothes was important to feeling their most productive when working from home.

    “The biggest problem with wearing pajamas while working from home is a psychological one,” says Andrew Schrage, editor at Money Crashers. “Most people associate pajamas with relaxing, watching TV, and sleep. Thus, pajamas can act as a never-ending temptation to stop working and just relax, which is one of the biggest challenges of working from home.”

    Schrage says that on the flip side, wearing real clothes puts you in more of an active, working mindset for getting things done.

    The other factor mentioned by almost every small business owner who responded was the importance of establishing a consistent morning routine.

    “The flexibility of working from home can sometimes alter your sense of urgency to get up and going by 9 a.m.,” says Jaclyn Mullen. “But the more organized and structured you start off, the more likely you are to complete your projects on time and without errors.”

    Try creating a regular routine that includes the time you will get up, the time you will be at your desk and what you plan to do in between (eat breakfast, exercise, shower) and follow it for a week. Make adjustments as needed, but commit yourself to a path of morning rituals that will set you up for the most productive day possible.

    What are your work-from-home danger zones? We would love to hear your comments.

    Build Brand Awareness With A Survey

    Build Brand Awareness With A Survey

    In today’s crowded media landscape, businesses are continually on the lookout for ways to stand apart from their competitors. Enter surveys, a cost-effective method to promote brand awareness. A survey worthy of media attention is more than just a few questions randomly asked. Instead, it’s a carefully crafted instrument that, when done right, can make the media sit up and take notice. Here are a few suggestions for making your survey something a busy editor will want to pick up publish.

    Use a combination of questions: “A common belief among people who use PR for coverage is that they have to ask quirky and zany questions,” says Nathan Richter, a senior PR pollster at Wakefield. While a few creative questions that grab an editor’s initial attention are fine, they need to be balanced with credible ones, which compel an editor to cover a story. For example: when online discount travel service Travelzoo.com sponsored a survey, they asked people more creative questions, such as, “Would you be willing to stand on a cross-country flight in order to save 50% off the cost of the airline ticket?” But they also asked more traditional market research questions, such as, “Do you expect to be traveling more or less than last year for the upcoming Fourth of July holiday?”

    Avoid obvious commercial messaging: Many PR executives and business owners assume that it’s OK to make their pitch a commercial message, so long as they put survey data behind it. “Not so,” says Richter. “If company X wants to be branded as the ‘hip’ company, they don’t write a press release with a headline that reads, ‘Survey shows company X is the hippest.’”

    Instead, make your release about the bigger picture of the survey and the story behind it. The idea is that by being the sponsor of a great story — not the star — you will achieve media coverage and visibility with your target market.

    Emphasize the scientific: As more businesspeople include surveys as part of their PR strategy, they are turning to do-it-yourself tools to accommodate their needs. But whether you conduct the survey yourself or hire a professional firm to conduct it on your behalf, to be credible, it needs to be conducted in a scientific manner. To emphasize to the media that the survey your company conducted is based in proper research protocols, Richter suggests it include:  

    • Name of the research vendor 
    • Margin of error
    • Dates the study was conducted
    • Sample size used
    • Methods used in conducting the survey

    Remember, the press and media are constantly on the lookout for relevant and timely surveys that they can “hook” a story around. Provide them with a well crafted, properly researched and interestingly reported study or survey and your company could find itself swimming in ink.

    Does Your Small Business Need a Virtual Assistant?

    Does Your Small Business Need a Virtual Assistant?

    Virtual Assistant. The mere utterance of these words can make a small business owner ecstatic or apoplectic — all depending on their experience with this increasingly popular administrative help.

    I won’t bore you with the details, but my first foray into the world of VAs was fraught with every mistake you can make and left me gun-shy about reaching out for such help ever again. Luckily, I was gently coaxed by some fellow entrepreneurs to try again.

    This time, I did my homework, stood my ground and made smarter choices, and I’ve happily been using VAs ever since. In fact, I’ve had such good results that I’m of the mindset that almost every small business could benefit from hiring one. Here are just a few signs that a VA might be a productivity enhancer for your small business.

    You’ve blown a business opportunity because you missed a deadline to follow up.

    You’re not on top of business development because you have no up-to-date client and prospect database.

    You have exciting work projects you would like to take on but always seem to be too tied up with the day-to-day running of your business to get to them.

    You work nights and weekends to keep up with routine administrative tasks.

    You have routine work items that you don’t like doing which take time away from other more creative and important tasks.

    If you’re shaking your head at this point and saying, “Huh, what is she talking about,” stop reading. If you’re nodding your head, read on to learn the best practices for bringing a VA on board to your small business.

    Kathy Goughenour a virtual assistant trainer, recommends these five steps to successfully outsourcing work to VAs.

    1. Discover the routine tasks you dislike doing. During the next week, keep a log of all your activities. At the end of the week, sit down and review the list and determine which activities you need to do yourself, and which you could delegate to a VA. For example: uploading a week’s worth of pre-written tweets, physically posting your weekly blog, following up on invoices, etc. Those are perfect projects to give to a VA.

    2. Find a list of potential VAs. As with all good resources, the best place to start is within your own network. Send out an email to a list of business associates, telling them a bit about what you want help with and asking if they have a VA they would recommend.

    Goughenour also suggests searching Google by entering “find a virtual assistant.” “There are many sites that specialize in training and/or placing Virtual Assistants,” says Goughenour. “They are like the VA version of a temp agency. You can also check VA associations, such as VAnetworking.com and ivaa.org.”

    3. Screen the candidates for compatibility and professionalism. Now that you have come up with some candidates the next step is to do some research, first by reviewing their websites and secondly by conducting a phone interview. Goughenour suggests covering the following questions in the interview.

    • Do you have experience in handling (insert task you want done)?
    • What are your hours (times, days) of operation?
    • What are your fees? Do you bill hourly, by project or on retainer?
    • Do you have the time availability in your schedule to take on my project?
    • How quickly will you get back to me when I email or call you?
    • Do you have a team to support you? If yes, will I be working directly with you, or will I occasionally work with other members of your team?
    • What services do you provide (and what services don’t you provide)?
    • Can you give me an overview of how you work with clients?
    • How long have you been in business?
    • Are you in full-time or part-time practice?

    If they pass muster on the interview, ask for and contact at least two references.

    4. Start small. Once you have done your due diligence and found the VA you think might be the delegation partner of your dreams, start with a small project as a way to test your theory. Let the VA know up front that you’re beginning with a trial project to see how things go.

    5. Hire slowly, fire quickly. Doing your research up front helps minimize problems down the line. However, on occasion, once you begin working with a VA, you may find that despite a brilliant start, things turn sour. If your VA misses several deadlines, makes the same type of mistake again and again, or is difficult to deal with, you may decide to call it quits. “It’s best to put the request to terminate the services in writing,” says Goughenour. “Be sure to include the date on which the services will cease and any work already paid for that you expect the VA to complete prior to that date.”

    Do you have any tips about how to hire or work with a VA? We would love to hear your comments.

    eBooks: The New Darlings of Small-Business Branding

    eBooks: The New Darlings of Small-Business Branding

    In the world of small business marketing, it sometimes seems like there is a never-ending tension between the “what’s hot now” social media to do and the actual way to execute for maximum business benefit. Consider for example all the small businesses that have a Twitter account because they know they “should” but are really not using it effectively. The current darlings of small business branding — eBooks — are no exception.

    Despite their meteoric rise in popularity — American publishers reported that in February of 2011, eBooks ranked as the #1 format among all categories of trade publishing — I still find that many small business owners are confused about the part eBooks play in their overall marketing plan. Here are the four most common questions I get asked about using eBooks to build a small business’s brand.

    1. What exactly is an eBook?

    In short, an eBook (electronic book) is an electronic document that can contain text, images, audio and video. They can be viewed on a personal computer, smartphone and eBook reader, such as a Kindle, and are sold through Amazon, Barnes & Noble and dozens of other outlets.

    One important distinction to note, however, is that only eBooks that are created as PDF documents and downloaded as such retain their formatting and graphics. eBooks that are not downloaded as PDFs fall into the category of e-publishing, and when viewed on a Kindle, iPad or other device, they are simply a straight translation of the text only. Currently the Kindle and other such devices can only support the text from these documents, not graphics.

    Most of my small business clients find that because they are creating eBooks primarily for branding and marketing purposes, they use the PDF format — being able to include graphics, format, audio, video, etc is a distinct advantage.

    2. How could an eBook help my small business become better known?

    eBooks can be the perfect calling card for potential customers. Offering an eBook free on your website in exchange for a prospect’s email, providing a link to a free downloadable eBook via your newsletter, or even having a link to your eBook in your email signature line provides a much greater opportunity to show your client your knowledge, expertise and point of view.

    3. What’s the basic process for writing a small business eBook?

    Step #1 Choose a topic: Brainstorm ideas that that use your expertise, knowledge base or specific information and/or research. Consider smaller slices of bigger topics for eBooks. Books that can fit into the “how to” topic area are some of the most popular.

    Step #2 Create Your eBook Outline: Decide what five to ten basic topics you are going to address in your eBook, and then outline the three main points you are going to make under each of those topics.

    Step #3 Begin Writing Your eBook: Oddly enough, the easiest part of eBook publishing is getting the finished product up and running for distribution. Many can be uploaded with just a click of a few buttons. But where most entrepreneurs face a challenge is in finding the time, or having the writing chops, to craft the eBook in the first place. I get weekly calls from small business owners asking me to ghostwrite their eBooks because, although they have great content and ideas, they don’t have the writing skills.

    Even if that’s the case, it’s no excuse, since there are scads of eBook-savvy small businesses whose sole purpose is to ghostwrite, edit, design and publish your eBook.

    Step #4 Edit and design your eBook: A few things to keep in mind:

    Unless you were an English major, hire a proofreader to go through your manuscript to check spelling, grammar and punctuation.

    Unless you were a graphic design major, hire a designer to create the layout, cover and formatting of your book.

    Unless you are an illustrator, hire a graphic artist to add pictures or drawings to your eBook.

    Consider embedding video in the eBook.

    4. How do I get word out to my customers about my eBook?

    Like any other marketing effort, creating something stellar is just the first step. Once your eBook is ready, your next job is to tell everyone. Some of the best practices include: writing about your new small business eBook on your blog, providing excerpts of your eBook to other blogs with a link back to the full eBook download, issuing press releases about your eBook, promoting your eBook in your newsletter, and offering your eBook as a follow-up to any webinars or live presentations.

    If after reading this you are feeling like writing an eBook sounds like a whole lot of work, you’re right. A professional, well-written, content-rich eBook requires a fair amount of effort and energy. But think of it like this: As soon as that eBook baby is born, it’s done and out in the world, helping to build your small business brand.

    Have you used an eBook to build your business brand? What results did it produce? We would love to hear about your experience.

    Inspiration Breathes Life Into Branding

    Inspiration Breathes Life Into Branding

    One of the first things I do when I start working with new clients on their personal or business brand is to ask them to consider what mood or energy they consciously strive to bring to anything they do.  In other words:

    What is it that you can be counted on for in terms of your presence? Not what do you do (the description) or even the how (the mechanics) of what you do, but the way you do it.

    You can think of this as the style, the energy, the mood you bring to any situation you are a part of.  Clearly identifying and consciously practicing the inspirational aspect of your brand is key.

    For example, one of my highest goals is to always bring creative inspiration to my clients. No matter what I’m doing — be it a speech, a writing assignment, a consulting session or a strategic off-site — I aim to leave my clients with creative inspiration about who they are and what they do. 

    A good deal of the marketing and branding I see out there today is sorely lacking in inspiration. The marketing spin may be an accurate description of the service or product being offered, but it misses the boat in terms of the essence of the brand. 

    So how do you breathe inspiration into your personal or business brand and marketing? To begin, let’s look at a few meanings of the word and how your business might bring this into the way you express your brand in the world.

    To affect, guide or arouse by divine influence. When you think back on what your past and current clients say about you, what is their experience of how you have guided, influenced or affected them? What words and phrases have they used?  Consider integrating these into your marketing message.

    To fill with enlivening or exalting emotion. While this may seem like a high bar to reach, in what ways are you going beyond simply providing a service or product to enliven your clients? Learn how to talk about this when you present what you do.  Speaking to the higher ideals of your client (keep in mind Maslow’s hierarchy of needs) helps to connect them to the bigger purpose of why they do what they do.

    To stimulate to action; motivate. In what ways does your business get others into action? A big part of my brand is that I help entrepreneurs and executives overcome inertia and make their personal brand, goals and objectives manifest in the world.  How do you inspire others to go from talking, thinking and hoping to making something happen?

    To affect or touch.  Are your clients and customers ever deeply touched by what you do? If so, how? What is the difference that you make personally in the lives of your clients? Think about what you generate emotionally with your products or services. Is it peace of mind, confidence, certainty, love, creativity?  

    To stimulate energies or ideals. How do your clients or customers expand their thinking by working with you? The more you can articulate the specific ways in which you enhance and expand your customers’ world by what you do, the bigger an impact your brand has. 

    Remember, in the end, people do business with people they like and trust. By breathing inspiration into what you bring to your clients, you elevate your brand from business as usual to a higher plane of purpose — and that’s a marketing message you can take to the bank.

    Using QR Codes For Small Business Marketing

    Using QR Codes For Small Business Marketing

    While on vacation seven years ago, entrepreneur Rico Elmore couldn’t find a pair of sunglasses that would fit on his not-so-small noggin. Elmore’s hefty-head experience spawned an ah-ha moment, and today he is the proud proprietor of Fatheadz Eyewear, a company that makes oversized sunglasses and extra wide eyewear for folks with large heads.

    Always looking for ways to innovate, Elmore has recently been using mobile marketing, and QR codes in particular, as part of his plan to engage customers.

    QR codes (Quick Response Codes) are commonly aimed at mobile phone users. If you have a camera-equipped smartphone with a QR code reader, your phone can scan the image of a QR code to display text, contact information, connect to a wireless network or open a web page in your phone’s browser.

    “In early 2011, I was flipping through an outdoor retailer trade publication when I saw a QR code in the magazine,” says Elmore. “I thought it was very cool and decided to look into how we might start using them in our marketing.”

    Within 60 days, Fatheadz had integrated the use of QR codes into their campaign involving the ongoing sponsorship of race car drivers.

    “For all of our sponsored drivers, we give them a ‘Hero’ card they can autograph and give out to their fans,” says Elmore. “We put a QR code on the back, and when the fan scans it on their mobile device, up pops our web page.”

    Once on the website, fans can see information about their favorite race car driver, including which sunglasses they wear — and buy them. Elmore says the QR code campaign has increased web traffic by a whopping 10 percent.

    What’s next? Elmore says he plans on expanding the use of QR codes to prospective retailers by printing them on business cards and other marketing collateral and then linking them to product videos on his site.

    Dan Hollings, an expert on mobile marketing, says that video is one of the most effective uses of QR codes.

    “The key is to create a short video (under three minutes) about your product or service or some useful information relating to your product or service,” says Hollings. “Then post the video on your website, YouTube and Facebook and link a QR code to it that brings the visitor to the video. It’s as simple as that.”

    Even though QR codes are relatively simple to set up and use, many small businesses don’t know where to begin. To start, check out Qr.net and createandtrack.com, just two of the hundreds of sites that offer QR code creation.

    Once you’ve created a code, Hollings says you can then easily link it to a video, your website or a podcast. Once you know where you want to send your potential clients, the next step is to promote it. Publish your QR code on your business cards, flyers, DVDs, brochures, mailers, signage or any other material you give to potential clients. Hollings says he’s even seen them placed on complementary coffee mugs at conferences.

    Still feeling a bit shy about bringing QR codes into your marketing mix? Get your feet wet by using one yourself. Now that you know what to look for, you’ll see them everywhere. So download a QR reader on your smartphone and scan away. Who knows, you might just end up with a pair of your favorite racecar driver’s sunglasses.

    Has your small business been doing anything with QR Codes or other forms of mobile marketing? We would love to hear your comments.

    Ten Tips To A Terrific Staycation

    Ten Tips To A Terrific Staycation

    This week the weather turned a corner and the looming summer season hit me straight in the face – and left me wishing for a summer vacation spent lazily lying on sandy beaches sipping drinks with orchids floating in them. But like many Americans, frugality prevails this year, so visits to friends and family and long, leisurely weekends at home (drinking white wine spritzers – sans the corsage) are the order of the day. Not a bad thing, just different.

    So if the stiff price of gas has got you down, and the desire to simplify has you got you fired up – be it ever so humble there’s no place like home. Enter the staycation – a vacation you take in your own home town. This ongoing trend has would be world travelers seeking relaxation and adventure from the comfort of their own couches. For a successful stay at home family vacation try these ten top tips:

    Create a budget: Although you won’t have the expenses of leaving home, you will want to consider how much your staycation activities will cost. If you plan on eating out more, spending one or two nights at a local hotel or starting a project that requires investment – plan a budget.

    Avoid errand creep: Don’t end up doing so many things around the house – replacing the light bulbs, cleaning out the garage, fixing the front door etc. – that you miss taking the time you need to just chill. If you have a few closets you really want to clean out, schedule a specific day and time to do them.

    Become a tourist in your own town: You know that old joke about how most New Yorker’s have never been to the Statue of Liberty? Buy a guidebook on the area you live in and read through it for things you might like to do. Take a guided tour, helicopter ride, boat trip, see the zoo etc.

    Keep friends at bay: Unless you want a major part of your staycation to be visiting with friends, don’t over schedule the lunches, dinners and get togethers. You want the space (and freedom) to be spontaneous.

    Visit a day spa: Just because you’re not staying at a five star resort with a world-class spa, does not mean you can’t get scrubbed, rubbed and pampered! Check out a day spa in your area and set up a treatment or two. If you really want to splurge go for broke and do a full-day package.

    Set goals: Think about what you want to accomplish on your staycation. Is there a book you have been dying to read? A whole slew of movies you want to catch up on? Romantic time you want to spend with your spouse? Take the kids to the new exhibit at the zoo? Time to think through your long-term goals? Naps? Whatever objectives you set, let them dictate the organization of your time off.

    Block out check in times: Just as you would with a regular get away vacation, set up specific times when you are going to check in with the office and stick to them. Don’t let the proximity of work, lure you away from your stay-at-home holiday.

    Stay overnight: If your staycation is a week or longer consider spending one or two nights at a local hotel. Just getting away for a night, can feel exotic and fun. Not to mention romantic if you go with your significant other.

    Do something different: One of the advantages of a traditional vacation is that it puts you in a different environment, where the opportunity to try something new is greater than usual. There is no reason you can’t apply this same idea to your staycation. Check out your local scene for activities that you might not normally do but sound fun.

    Do nothing:
    Never underestimate the value of waking up when you want to and doing whatever you want, whenever you want, all day long. Don’t feel like your staycation has to produce any tangible results – it doesn’t. Just getting renewed and refreshed is reward enough.

    Email Headlines With Emotional Value

    Email Headlines With Emotional Value

    Anyone who has ever sweated over the phrasing of an email subject line has probably longed for a magical marketing solution that would tell them which combination of words would shoot their open rate through the roof.  Well the wait is over.

    The Advanced Marketing Institute offers a no-cost Headline Analyzer that calculates the Emotional Marketing Value (EMV) of a headline. The program uses special algorithms to quickly compare the words of an email headline with the words from the EMV Impact list. According to the company, the list measures words in three specific categories:

    Intellectual Words effective at offering products and services that require reasoning or careful evaluation,

    Empathetic Words, which bring out strong positive emotional reactions in people,

    Spiritual Words, which have the strongest potential to influence people at a deep emotional level.  

    “As you know, reaching your customers in a deep and emotional way is a key to successful copywriting, and your headline is unquestionably the most important piece of copy you use to reach prospects,” say the fine folks at AMI.  

    Using the Headline Analyzer is straightforward and simple. Just enter up to a 20-word headline onto the form on their site; select a category from the dropdown menu, such as Arts & Entertainment, Business & Professional Services, Food & Dining and more; and then click “submit” for analysis.  

    Zip, bang, boom — you are instantly rewarded with a score from 0-100 that tells you how emotionally impactful your headline is. According to the company, professional headlines contain 30 and 40 percent EMV Words, and the best of class headlines have 50 to 75 percent EMV words.  One hint: If you can keep your headline to five words or fewer, your chance of scoring higher is increased.
     
    If you come out below the magical number, you can then try again with other words until you get the score you’re looking for. For specifics on how to improve your EMV rating, the company offers a sign-up for a newsletter with tips and techniques.  

    No plug-and-play analyzer is foolproof, nor is it the be-all, end-all of the topic, but the EMV tool is a good place to start, and worth the few moments it takes to see if your headline has at least a touch of the marketing magic you’re looking for.

    Want more information like the one in this post? Sign up for my free monthly newsletter and get a copy of my new e-Book: 4 Principles and 21 Practices Of The New Marketing Mindset To Grow Your Brand And Business

    Karen Leland is a best-selling author, marketing and branding consultant and president of Sterling Marketing Group where she helps businesses implement modern marketing, hone their business and personal brands, and create winning content. For questions or comments, please contact her at karen@sterlingmarketinggroup.com.

    Why Your Personal Brand Wants You to Take Time Off

    Why Your Personal Brand Wants You to Take Time Off

    I recently returned from a conference that was wall to wall with smart, successful, type A movers and shakers from the worlds of government, academia, business, entertainment, the arts, sciences, publishing and social profit.

    Being around all those high-powered brains made me mindful about how our personal brands — be we small business owners or award-winning academics — can benefit from vacations and time away to rest and renew, regroup and redefine who we are today.

    These folks — as busy and in demand as they are — were for the most part not checking their iPhones under the table every 10 seconds during a speaker’s talk, and many were essentially off the technology grid for a few days. In short, they gave themselves the luxury to step back and think about the way they and others walk through the world, personal brand and all. In contrast, consider two studies out this June. The first from Career Builder.com determined that:

    • Three in ten workers contact work during their vacations.
    • Twenty-three percent of workers reported at least once having to skip the family vacation to work, while their family went without them.
    • Thirty-seven percent of employers say they expect their employees to check with work while on vacation.

    And even for those who manage to wrangle some time away, how they spend it can have an impact on the degree to which they refresh.

    Another survey by Cambria Suites reported that of all the respondents who have ever taken a family summer vacation, 65 percent of Americans say there is “nothing better.” However, 24 percent say they usually need a vacation upon returning from the group getaway.

    This may be in part because that same research showed that kids ask their parents “Are we there yet?” an average of nine to 13 times during a seven-day trip, depending on the ages of the kids involved. As enriching as these family trips are, they can sometimes occupy our brains in ways that may not fully allow us to contemplate the bigger pictures of our lives.

    Here are a few good reasons why taking the right type of time away might just be the best thing that ever happened to your personal brand.

    Keep your personal brand fresh. Exposure to ideas, activities and other people outside your usual circle can stimulate your brain, give you perspective and provide you with an opportunity to learn and grow. Even activities that may seem irrelevant to your personal brand have the potential to grow it by broadening your horizons. In addition to being content worthy of tweets, blogs and other social media, those stretches make great small-talk starters, jumping-off points for deeper conversations, and fodder for presenting new ideas. Some ways to start the conversation include:

    • I learned something interesting about myself this past week.
    • I want to tell you about a new experience I recently had.
    • I met a really fascinating person recently, and they taught me…
    • I had an idea while away that I wanted to share with you.

    For example: Last December, my husband and I tried out snuba diving on the island of Lanai in Hawaii. I’ve never been able to scuba dive since my claustrophobia has always gotten the better of me. But snuba diving involves shallower dives using all the usual equipment required for breathing under water, but places the air tank, connected via a long tube, on a float on the water above. The whole experience left me exhilarated, empowered and with a great metaphor to use with my marketing and branding clients about the power of finding options that utilize the best of both worlds.

    Play with your personal brand. Time away, whether it’s for a conference or a cruise, invariably brings us face-to-face with new people who will predictably ask us, “What do you do?” Since we presumably never have to see these people again, it’s the perfect opportunity to try out a new way of talking about or expressing our personal brand. The ability to experiment with new ways of being — with very little at stake — can get us out of the rut of who we think we are and allow us the freedom to explore another side to our personal brands.

    Learn from how others present their personal brand. In the same way that relative strangers can provide you with a place to try out your personal brand, being around others lets you learn from how they present themselves. Imitation is the highest form of flattery, so listen for how others share their ideas, present their accomplishments, or describe their passions. If you see something that inspires you and feels authentic, incorporate it at will.

    One of my recent lessons in this area came from listening to the humble way a much-lauded and awarded particle physics scientist spoke about the power of teams — not individuals — to create breakthrough results.

    So the next time you sit down to plan a weekend away or a summer vacation, remember: it’s not just your body and brain you’re rejuvenating but also your personal brand — it deserves a holiday too.

    Karen Leland is a best-selling author, marketing and branding consultant and president of Sterling Marketing Group where she helps businesses implement modern marketing, hone their business and personal brands, and create winning content. For questions or comments, please contact her at karen@sterlingmarketinggroup.com.