Pinterest Boards to Boost Your Brand

    Pinterest Boards to Boost Your Brand

    As a growing number of consumers jump on the Pinterest bandwagon, the opportunities to use the social-media site for business have grown exponentially.  What is Pinterest? The bulletin-board-style social image sharing website is a relatively new social-media phenomenon, created just two years ago and rapidly became one of the largest online social networks.

    This is a short excerpt from a blog post written for Entrepreneur.com. Read the rest of the article here.

    What I Learned From A Yam

    What I Learned From A Yam

    There are certain holiday foods that grab a hold of us (traditionally speaking) and won’t let go. They form a habit out of our favorite recipes and if they’re missing from the feast, well something just doesn’t feel right. It might be a particular cranberry sauce that graces your Christmas table or potato latkes for Chanukah, cooked just the way your grandmother used to make them.

    I’m like this about two foods at the Winter holidays — cranberry sauce and yams. I have made my yams the same way for 25 years. It’s an uneventful but satisfying concoction involving butter, brown sugar, bourbon and cream. It’s not that I don’t enjoy other cooks’ yam creations when I’m a guest in their homes for the holidays, but my yams — in my humble opinion — are still the best.

    And let’s face it, how much can you really do with a yam? Variations on a standard theme almost always turn out to be related. So at last weeks Christmas dinner, where I dined in someone else’s house, I took my customary scoop of the yam dish from the buffet table. I was pleased that they were part of the meal, but had no great expectations. After all these were not “my yams.”

    But at first bite — brown sugar smacking my lips, oranges doing a jig on my tongue and butter basting the back of my pallet — I was scandalized by the starchy tubular vegetable I had just eaten. These were in fact the best yams I’d ever tasted — damn it. That one instant had made mince-meat of my decades long yam dish history and a new tradition was born.

    I was liberal in my compliments on the cooking and the hostess — my stepmother Anne’s cousin Crissa, was generous with her recipe. I’m already planning on doing a test run of my new favorite yam dish for New Years dinner.

    Traditions, like everything else, can adapt and evolve with time, a good thing to remember as we head into a new year. Even the most ordinary of things can surprise us, delight us, and put us on a new path of discovery (culinary and otherwise). We only have to say “Please pass the yams.”

    How Vacations Help the Business Brain

    How Vacations Help the Business Brain

    The thought of this impending time off from the daily in and out of work exhilarates me — and worries me.

    On the pro side is the anticipation of rest, renewal and relaxation. Weighing in on the negatives are preparing to go in the first place and a heavier workload when I return.

    “We skip vacations because we worry that the person next to us will get ahead while we’re gone,” says Don Joseph Goewey, author of Mystic Cool: A proven approach to transcend stress, achieve optimal brain function, and maximize your creative intelligence. “Or we’re afraid that the work piling up on our desk will put us so far behind that we’ll never catch up.”

    As it turns out, however, not going on vacation might be bad for our brains.

    Research shows that constantly being under pressure floods our brain with stress hormones, which then erode the higher brain function we need to sustain peak performance,” says Goewey. “The opposite is also true. Activity in the hippocampus and neocortex centers of the brain (the place where everything we think of as intelligence is generated) increases during periods of wakeful rest, such as breaks during the day, time off during the week or a vacation during the year.”

    Goewey says that the reward for the time you invest in a vacation is a brain humming with the creative intelligence, common sense and physical energy that will sustain you at the top of your game.

    David Allen, best-selling author of Making It All Work: Winning at the Game of Work and the Business of Life, is a strong proponent of the power of taking vacations as well.

    “I think productivity is always enhanced when you have the chance to evaluate your life and work from multiple horizons,” says Allen. “Vacations help you from getting too far down in the weeds and provide an opportunity to refresh and restore.”

    But despite all expert advice and scientific evidence, a recent survey by the American Express OPEN Small Business Vacation Monitor showed that less than half (46 percent) of small business owners plan to take a vacation this summer — down from a high of 67 percent in 2006 — and 37 percent list a busy work schedule as the culprit. And even for those who do plan on diving in and taking a few days off, 68 percent say they will stay connected to work and check in while on vacation.

    So this summer, give your brain a break, go forth and vacate. Build up your brain’s higher function, get a perspective on your life, reinvent your career, play some golf, eat an ice cream cone and hike with the kids. It will be good for your well being and, ultimately, your wallet.

    Be sure to check back next week when I will be doing the second post in this series on taking a vacation with a focus on tips to prepare for, and return from, a vacation with ease.

    Do you plan on taking a vacation any time soon? I’d would love to hear your comments.

    This post was originally published at Karen Leland’s Featured Small Business column on The Huffington Post.

    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.

    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.

    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.

    Bust Your Bad Small Business Eating Habits

    Bust Your Bad Small Business Eating Habits

    Are you the type who walks by a Dunkin’ Donuts shop without so much as a sideways glance — but find yourself in the Monday morning meeting intensely reaching for a sugar-glazed cruller (pastry)?

    Most of the small business owners I know are so busy running the shop, selling the goods and servicing the customers, that when it comes to eating on the job, their intestinal fortitude flies out the window. With the number of business functions certain to increase over the coming months, here’s a few tips on how to bust bad eating habits typical of small business owners.

    #1: Morning meeting carbo load – Despite your best intentions, you give in and indulge when it comes to eating something doughy and sweet at the morning meeting.

    Habit buster: Dr. Audrey Cross from the Mailman School of Public Health at Columbia University, advises that one way to ward off this temptation is to eat a balanced breakfast.

    “A large percentage of Americans skip breakfast and instead have a cup of coffee with some milk and sugar,” says Dr. Cross. “This is not enough calories to maintain mental function in the morning.” She cites a number of studies that indicate that people who eat breakfast perform better in tasks that relate to mathematical computations, memory and logic. “A good breakfast consists of protein and a little bit of fat,” says Dr. Cross, “for example, egg whites with breakfast meat or low-fat cereal with skim milk and fruit.” She explains that the combination of protein and fat leads to longer levels of sustained energy, which helps fight the urge to grab a high-sugar item.

    #2: Mid-afternoon munching mania – It’s 2:00 p.m. and you have been too busy to stop for lunch. Now you are so hungry you can’t focus. Your solution is to grab the first thing you can find – a candy bar from the vending machine or a leftover piece of birthday cake in the lunch room.

    Habit buster: Tom Weede, author of The Entrepreneur Diet (Entrepreneur Press), explains that when workers put off lunch (or skip it altogether) their blood sugar levels become unstabilized, affecting their energy and ability to focus.

    “Turning to candy and other simple sugar solutions for a quick fix sets you up for an unproductive cycle of rising and falling blood sugar levels,” says Weede. Instead, he suggests not relying on what’s available at work but rather keeping a supply of your own snacks. Some of his top recommendations include apples and almonds, string cheese and fruit and peanut butter with crackers.

    #3: Late-night dining indulgences – It’s 8:30 p.m. and you’re meeting a client for dinner. You know that eating a heavy meal with a few glasses of wine this late at night is not the best thing. But it’s been a long day and you deserve a nice dinner on the company dollar.

    Habit buster: Dr. Cross suggests that selecting lighter foods such as fish or chicken without a heavy sauce is the best option.

    “Many business people think that if they eat a heavy meal (pot roast with mashed potatoes and gravy, for example) this will help them to fall asleep,” says Dr. Cross. “This is true, but they are also more likely to wake up at night with indigestion and then have trouble getting back to sleep – which effects their performance at work the next day.”

    Weede points out that it’s not just the content of these late-night dinners that presents a problem, but the size as well. “Restaurant plates today are 1.5 times the size they used to be,” says Weede. To avoid overeating he suggests splitting a meal with an associate, asking the kitchen to cut the meal in half, ordering the lunch portion or just choosing a few appetizers instead of a main course.

    As for alcohol, both Dr. Cross and Weede agree that the best bet is not to drink any alcohol within two to three hours of going to sleep.

    If you have any tips on how to eat healthily when running a small business, we’d love to hear them.

    This post was originally published at Karen Leland’s Featured Small Business column on The Huffington Post.

    5 Ways To Really, Truly Go On Vacation

    5 Ways To Really, Truly Go On Vacation

    Hopefully after reading last week’s post on why taking a vacation is good for both your soul and brain synapses, you will have gathered your family together, picked a date, agreed on a location and made plans to take some time off. In order to make your vacation as productive as possible, here are just a few expert ideas for how to prepare to go on, and come back from, your vacation — stress free.

    I spoke with David Allen, author of Making It All Work: Winning at the Game of Work and Business of Life, for his best advice on the business of taking a holiday.

    1. Clear The Deck: “The best way to unhook from the office so you can really get away is to clear the deck,” says Allen. As Allen points out, people know this intuitively, but before they close up their cubicles and cut town, they need to have actively captured, clarified, organized and renegotiated their agreements so they can go hit golf balls carefree.

    2. Start Your Research Sooner, Rather Than Later: “Start surfing the Web weeks before you think you should for places to eat, things to do and even what technology set-up you will need while away,” says Allen.

    Leaving the details of your holiday until the last minute can interfere with your ability to relax and enjoy your time off.

    “You don’t want to get to the museum you’ve been wanting to visit for a year and find out that there’s a three-hour wait to get in that could have been avoided had you bought tickets online a few weeks ago,” says Allen.

    As soon as the holiday trip is on your radar, make it a project, create a mind map and create a file folder where you can place ideas and information.

    3. Create A Vacation Action List: Before you go on a trip, create a temporary action list of things that must get done before you leave. Then, for each item on your plate, ask, “Can this wait until I get back?” If the answer is yes, schedule it as a to-do for after your return. If it needs to be done prior to your holiday, add it to the before-I-leave list. Only work on the before-I-leave list in the days or weeks leading up to your vacation.

    4. Leave Space For Re-Entry: A few years ago, I interviewed Allen for an article I was writing for Woman’s Day magazine on a similar topic. He gave me then a piece of advice I have used ever since — with magical results.

    According to Allen, for every day you are away from the office, it takes one hour of time to process the incoming work that piled up while you were gone.

    That means that if you are gone for eight days, it will take you eight hours just to catch up on what came in while you were gone, not including anything else you may have waiting for you from before you left.

    Allen’s suggestion is to protect a window of time needed to catch up. For example, give your estimated arrival date back in the office as a day or two later than you plan, so you can work in peace and get caught up. At the very least, realize that the day or two you get back must be dedicated to getting caught up — not taking meetings or starting something new. Your sanity depends on it.

    5. Keep Organized On The Trip: While on your trip, create a portable system (file folder, manila envelope, etc.) where you can keep the billion or so scraps of paper you will collect while traveling. Place all receipts, business cards, brochures and any other paper items in one place so they can be easily processed when you return home. An even better idea: Get a head start and begin going through them on the plane ride home.

    How do you get ready to go on vacation? We would love to hear your comments.

    This post was originally published at Karen Leland’s Featured Small Business column on The Huffington Post.

    Take Note Of The New Note Taking Technology

    Take Note Of The New Note Taking Technology

    I am, by all accounts, a rabid note taker.

    I scribble barely legible scrawls on scraps of paper at Starbucks while meeting with potential clients over a decaf latte. I pound away on my iPad during conferences to capture the words of wisdom being spouted from the front of the room, and I keep extensive handwritten and online lists on everything from business development to-do’s to actions I need my assistant to execute.

    However, all this list making and note taking can take its toll. At one point, I had so many notes in so many different places that finding what I needed was like locating a needle in a haystack. I knew I needed help; I just wasn’t sure where to get it.

    A recent report by Forrester Research on the note-taking habits of American information workers (employed adults who use a computer for work) concluded that while 87 percent of workers make use of handwritten notes, 75 percent see value in the ability to computerize, index and search handwritten notes and associated audio.

    The survey also found that 38 percent of workers use handwritten notes to organize their priorities through to-do lists and 67 percent of workers felt that better note taking would improve both their personal job performance and decision making within their organizations.

    My thoughts exactly.

    So it was with traditional pen in hand and hope in my heart that I set out to find a few tools I could easily (and quickly) integrate into my data-filled day to transform my note taking from chaotic to composed. Here’s what I found:

    Evernote: This is the cloud software solution that has as its tagline “Remember Everything,” and using Evernote, I do. The system, which functions as a digital file cabinet, allows you to capture in one easy-to-search digital storage location all the notes you create for any topic, client, project, idea, etc.

    It also enables you to add snapshots of Web pages, link a URL to a particular note and attach audio files and photos. It’s set up to constantly synchronize across all platforms, so it’s accessible wherever you go. If all the above is not enough to make you click on the live link, consider this — it’s free.

    The Livescribe Pen:
    I had just finished giving my speech on social media marketing to a group of 100 authors at the American Society of Journalists and Authors (http://www.asja.org/) Conference in New York when I spotted a colleague at the back of the room.

    I made a beeline to talk to her and, while we were chatting, noticed she was holding an intriguing pen-like object in her hand. When I inquired about this high-tech device, she told me it was an Echo Smartpen by Livescribe.

    The pen, which has a built-in microphone, can capture meetings and lectures and then, via a USB connector, transfer both the audio and corresponding written notes (penned on special paper provided by the company) to your computer.

    On the spot, I sent myself an email to look into buying one. As serendipity would have it, I was invited to attend a press conference two weeks later revealing the results of Forrester’s note-taking survey hosted by the study’s sponsor, none other than Livescribe. I asked for and received a pen to take home and test and was hooked from the first demo.

    Today I never go to a meeting, interview, conference or seminar without it, and my ability to focus on what is being said, rather than worry about getting every detail nailed down, has been vastly enhanced. Cost: $99.95

    Zenbe Lists: Billing itself as “simple, shared task lists,” this app was built so that you could easily share your grocery list with your spouse or collaborate with a co-worker on a project. But what I like best about Zenbe Lists is its simplicity.

    I’ve used other similar to-do programs in the past and always found them too cumbersome or complicated. When it comes to list management, I am a firm believer in the K.I.S.S. method. This app automatically synchs across all platforms and has the basic key features I need such as due dates, priority and custom sorting. Cost: $5.00

    Today, with these three technology solutions, instead of emailing myself a to-do or scribbling my brainstorm on a Starbucks napkin, I can note what I want to note in simple 2.0 style.

    Take our quick poll: What is your biggest social media pain?

    What’s your biggest note-taking challenge? I’d would love to hear your comments.

    This post was originally published at Karen Leland’s Featured Small Business column on The Huffington Post.