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.

    7 Tips For Hassle-Free Summer Travel

    7 Tips For Hassle-Free Summer Travel

    If you feel like you’re still recovering from last year’s summer travel season – made memorable by incredibly long lines at the airport, long delays when traveling to visit relatives and poor service at restaurants – you’re not alone. The summer travel season can be one of the most stressful times of the year. To cool down the heat of summer travel try these savvy traveler’s smart strategies:

    1. Make restaurant reservations three weeks in advance of any summer holidays.
    Don’t leave booking that special restaurant till the last minute. Be sure to avoid problems by confirming all restaurant reservations at least one day before. If you have special food requirements let the restaurant know this when you call to make the reservation. Lastly, plan on arriving early for your reservation, this will allow for delays caused by holiday traffic.

    2. If your flight is significantly delayed or canceled, don’t stand in line. Instead, use your cellular phone to call the airline directly. They’ll make travel arrangements for you by phone much faster than a harried gate agent with 200 other people in line with the same problem to solve.

    3. Get the service provider on your side. Make direct eye contact with the person helping you as soon as possible, greet them with a pleasant “good morning” or and use the word “please” within the first 30 seconds. Use “I” Statements and avoid “you” statements so the service provider doesn’t get put on the defensive. For instance, “I’m frustrated that I can’t get help” works better than ” You are not being helpful.” If you need help in solving a problem ask the service person “What would you recommend I do?” and then stay silent. By giving them a minute to think about it, they will often come up with a workable solution.

    4. Ship gifts ahead of time. If you’re visiting family this summer, why stress out yourself and anger other passengers by trying to stuff your gifts in an overhead compartment on a busy full flight? Instead save yourself the trouble by mailing all packages to your final destination at least one week prior to arrival. If you have to take last minute gifts with you, wrap them carefully and check them at curbside.

    5. Choose a smaller airport: If you happen to be luck enough to live in a city with more than one airport – choose the secondary airport to fly in and out of. Smaller airports are often easier to negotiate due to fewer flights.

    6. Sign up for Skype:
    Now available on the iPhone, as well as your desktop computer, you can pre-order Skype minutes (even for overseas calls) at a fraction of the amount it would cost to call long distance.

    7. Always write down the name of whomever helps you . This way, if there’s a problem later on, you’ll be able to resolve it quicker when you can give the name of the specific person who provided you with the information or a promise.

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

    Could Your Small Business Benefit From a Strategic Off-Site This Summer?

    Could Your Small Business Benefit From a Strategic Off-Site This Summer?

    It’s summer! Flowers are in bloom, cropped pants are being taken off their dusty shelves and small business owners, grumpy from the cold winter months, are looking forward to the future.

    What better time to take your staff away for a day or two of deep discussion, meaningful deliberation and donuts? While strategic off-sites and planning sessions are often considered the purview of Fortune 500 companies, small businesses can benefit tremendously from a focused foray out of the office.

    If you and your team could use some concentrated time to sort out a strategy, solve a big problem or step back and innovate, a summertime off-site may be just what the doctor ordered. Getting away from the office, and the usual interruptions, can revive your enthusiasm for a business or project and rev up your focus. The trick is to make the most of your time away.

    Spend at least one day away: If possible, make it two. Even though you save money by eliminating overnight accommodations with just a day’s outing, you miss out on the opportunity to socialize and informally discuss work-related issues in the evening. Greater group bonding also seems to occur over a two-day period.

    Go easy on the PowerPoint: While certain data is no doubt important to communicate, back-to-back PowerPoint presentations and endless ramblings in a half-lighted room invite drowsiness. Instead create an agenda that incorporates group exercises, discussion, role-play, hands-on working sessions, demonstrations and interesting outside speakers. Whenever I conduct strategic off-sites with a client, I use the “once an hour” rule. Once an hour, I make sure and include an activity that requires participation by every person at the off-site. This might mean paired or group sharing, role-play or another interactive exercise. It keeps everyone involved and prevents a few stronger players from dominating the entire day.

    Leave some breathing room: A tightly packed schedule with no downtime leads to information overload and off-site burnout. Don’t jam each day so chock full of activities that attendees never get a chance to catch their breath and reflect on what’s being discussed. Keep in mind that much of the value of the retreat will happen in side discussions outside the room. By allowing for these conversational spaces, your off-site will be even richer in results.

    Build in flexibility: Don’t be so tied to an agenda or timeline that a hot, heavy and important discussion gets shelved so that you can stay on schedule. The point of the retreat is to draw people in and get them to think, act and participate in new ways.

    Play: While you want your off-site to be productive, you don’t want it to be a grind. Setting up activities for play is an important part of the package. Ideas include: a golf outing, dinner at a popular restaurant, a visit to a museum, theater tickets and the spa.

    Sidebar: Off-Site Checklist

    Here are a few things to consider to make your off-site a success before you even arrive:

    • What is the purpose/theme of the off-site?
    • Given the purpose, who should be invited?
    • Who will select the site, make the arrangements and coordinate with the site management?
    • What kind of “welcome” packet do you want the attendees to receive on arrival?
    • Do you need audiovisual equipment? If so, who will be responsible for this?
    • Who is your contact person at the site? Is this the person that any deliveries should be addressed to?
    • Will you have any presentations during lunch or dinner? If so, is the catering department aware of your plans?
    • Do you want organized entertainment in the evenings? What will it be, and who will organize it?
    • What time is staff expected to arrive? Do they need driving directions? Is a meal being served upon arrival? Are you offering vegetarian food to those who need it?
    • Once at the site, who will be responsible for overseeing arrivals, room allocation and registration?
    • How do you want to begin and end the off-site?
    Enthusiasm and Entrepreneurship in Vietnam

    Enthusiasm and Entrepreneurship in Vietnam

    I’m sitting in the great hall of the Reunification Palace, the landmark building in former Saigon where the war officially ended when the North Vietnamese crashed through its gates declaring victory.

    Our tour guide — a short, slight-of-build, 20-something Vietnamese man — is explaining with great passion the history of Ho Chi Minh and the socialist party’s rise to power in modern-day Vietnam.   

    I listen to the guide’s well-rehearsed rhetoric as the bust of Ho Chi Minh looms large behind him and the blood-red, five-pointed star — the pentagram, symbol of communism — frames the bust’s background. I notice he’s been glancing down at something sporadically, which I assume to be his notes.

    Suddenly he stops midpoint in his discourse on America’s role in the war and holds up an iPad showing the famous and moving photo of Buddhist monk Thich Quang Duc, who immolated himself. Ahh, his message may be of the socialist persuasion, but his note-taking technology is decidedly capitalist in nature.

    Without skipping a beat, my fellow American on the right says matter-of-factly, “Steve Job’s-style socialism,” while the gentlemen on my left weighs in with “It’s a different world.”

    They are both right. For the past several decades, Vietnam has been engaged in what they call Doi Moi, the name given to economic reforms, the goal of which is to create an economic system of capitalism, guided by the hand of socialism.

    As a result of Doi Moi, privately owned enterprises have been encouraged, and the Vietnamese’s enthusiastic embrace of entrepreneurship has played a significant role in the country’s 7.1 percent growth rate, in line just behind China and India.

    Enthusiasm. I’ve seen it in abundance over the past few days. Enthusiasm for service in the hotels and for the shoes and purses made by the family of the vendor — the relentless eagerness to make a better life for one’s self and one’s family. All this enthusiasm has led me to consider the state of small business marketing at home.

    As small business owners, we have become so overburdened and overwhelmed by the constant bombardment of our marketing to-do list and social media strategies, I think we sometimes forget that what should ultimately drive our small businesses is enthusiasm.

    • A passion to find a gap and fill it.  
    • A desire to make an opportunity where one did not exist previously.
    • The commitment to make manifest our good ideas.  

    I’m yanked back from my reflection on these things when the tour guide’s phone rings and he unceremoniously answers it and walks off to the side to have a discussion with whoever has called. When he’s done, he steps back to the front of the room and picks up just as passionately where he left off. A different world indeed.

    What role does enthusiasm play in your small business day-to-day? I would love to hear your comments.

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