Study Shows We Are Overworked and Overwhelmed

    Study Shows We Are Overworked and Overwhelmed

    Any small businessperson who currently swims in the swirling mass of a high-pressure workplace doesn’t need another study to tell him or her that they have reached their limit. However, just in case your overflowing email inbox and chaotic to-do list weren’t proof enough, according to a national study released earlier this month by the nonprofit Families and Work Institute, one in three American employees are chronically overworked.

    “Ironically, the very same skills that are essential to survival and success in this fast-paced global economy, such as multitasking, have also become the triggers for feeling overworked,” reports Ellen Galinsky, president of Families and Work Institute and a lead author of the study. “Being interrupted frequently during work time and working during non-work times, such as while on vacation, are also contributing factors for feeling overworked.” Key findings of the study included:

    Fifty-four percent of American employees have felt overwhelmed at some time in the past month by how much work they had to complete.

    Twenty-nine percent of employees spend a lot of time doing work that they consider a waste of time. These employees are more likely to be overworked.

    Only 8 percent of employees who are not overworked experience symptoms of clinical depression compared with 21 percent of those who are highly overworked.

    In addition, as we round the corner into summer, the study also found that 36 percent of employees had not taken and were not planning to take their full vacation days. Ironically, however, of the employees who did take one to three days off, 68 percent returned to work feeling relaxed, and 85 percent who took seven or more days away report that they returned more refreshed.

    As for the source of these warrior work habits, the study highlighted several key factors including:

    Lack of Focus. Fifty-six percent of employees say they often or very often experience having to work on too many tasks at one time and/or experience interruption during the workday, making it difficult to get their work done. Sixty percent of employees who very often have to work on too many tasks at the same time feel highly overworked, compared with only 22 percent who sometimes experience excessive multitasking.

    Job Pressure. Eighty-nine percent of employees agree somewhat or strongly that they never seem to have enough time to get everything done on the job, and those who experience greater pressure feel much more overworked. Fifty-four percent of employees who feel highly pressured on the job are highly overworked versus only 4 percent of those who experience low levels of job pressure and 18 percent who experience mid levels of pressure.

    Low-Value Work. Twenty-nine percent of employees strongly or somewhat agree that they spend a lot of time doing things that are a waste of time. More importantly, 51 percent who feel they have to do a lot of low-value work are highly overworked versus 25 percent who don’t feel this way.

    Accessibility 24/7. The electronic leash of cell phones, computers, texting and email has blurred the lines between when we work and when we don’t. The study showed that the respondents who were in contact with work once a week or more outside of normal working hours more often reported being highly overworked (44 percent) than those who had little or no such contact (26 percent).

    Wait a minute; wasn’t technology supposed to be the panacea that would automate our most mundane tasks and bring us the leisure time needed to improve the quality of our relationships with friends and family? Apparently not.

    While there are no simple solutions to how a small business owner can keep his or her staff and self on the sane side of productivity, there are some standard practices to consider implementing, including:

    • Offer more flexible work hours so staff can customize their schedules to meet their personal needs to a greater degree.

    • Experiment with telecommuting to allow more work to be conducted from home, lessening travel time.

    • Do a quality workflow audit of your business to determine where wasted efforts and rework exist.

    • Create a no-cell phone/text/email policy in meetings. The meetings will go faster and be more productive.

    • Train all staff in the skills of time literacy, including how to manage interruptions, overcome procrastination and use focused time planning to get maximum work done, in minimal time.

    Oh, and for heaven’s sake, please take a vacation this summer — your small business will thank you.

    What are your biggest overwhelm and overwork challenges? We would love to hear your comments.

    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.

    Mobile Devices Are Creating Meeting Madness

    Mobile Devices Are Creating Meeting Madness

    A few weeks ago, I was off site at a client’s office facilitating a strategy session. At the start, everyone in the room was constantly checking their cell phones for email messages, texting and attempting to be both in the meeting and working — at the same time.

    When I suggested we would get further in a shorter amount of time by focusing on the agenda in front of us and putting away the electronics for a few hours, I received looks that screamed everything from, “Surely you must be joking,” to, “Heretic!”

    “I need to check my email,” stammered one participant.

    “I’m on deadline for a project,” said another, barely looking up from his keyboard to make the point.

    “But we always answer our phones, even in meetings,” said another.

    I’ll spare you the ugly details, but what ensued was a discussion about how the constant use of technology impacts our focus (hence productivity) and even our sanity.

    Things have gotten so out of hand, in fact, that a June 2011 survey by Qumu conducted by Harris Interactive revealed that the majority of those surveyed (62 percent) believe that during work meetings, their co-workers are sneaking a peek at their mobile devices. The most common ways people believe others are stealing a glance at their handhelds include:
    47% – Hiding their mobile device under the table
    42% – Excusing themselves to go to the restroom
    35% – Hiding their mobile device in their folders/notebooks/papers
    9% – Pretending to tie their shoes
    8% – Creating a distraction

    Interestingly, 37 percent of the respondents didn’t think “sneaking a peek” was necessary — they thought people would just look at their mobile devices in plain view. It’s a slippery slope, and it seems the embarrassment of not paying full attention in a meeting has been trumped by the self-justified importance of being wired in.

    The real problem with all this mobile madness is that it can take a heavy toll on our relationships with others at work and has been proven to dramatically reduce our productivity.

    In one study, the Institute of Psychiatry at the University of London found that when workers are constantly juggling emails, phone calls and text messages, their IQs fall 10 points.

    Another study by Rubinstein, Meyer and Evans found that when people switched back and forth between tasks, there was a substantial loss of efficiency and accuracy, in some cases up to as much as 50 percent.

    In my experience, small businesses suffer just as much as major corporations from their constant checking of cell phones in important meetings and even one-on-one conversations.

    And while big businesses have a much larger group of staff to cushion the impact, small businesses are by nature tight on people resources and need to get the most productivity out of those they do have.

    But most of us don’t need a study to tell us what we see in front of our eyes daily –that distraction is bad for business. So if you’re ready to take the leap and let go of your mobile device in meetings, here are some ways you can step away from the cell phone and come face-to-face with your focus.

    • Make it company policy to not use cell phones during business lunches, one-on-one meetings with staff and customers or in-group meetings.

    • Don’t bring your computer into meetings for note taking. Instead, use a recording device or take notes the old fashioned way — on paper with a pen. If you do need to use your computer to take notes, use a software program to lock yourself out of your email for the duration of the meeting.

    • Create a cell phone collection box and gather up all cell phones at the beginning of meetings and give them back at the end.

    If all of this isn’t enough to make you want to throw your cell phone out the window during your next meeting, consider this report just in from TeleNav.
    One third of us would rather give up sex than part — even briefly — with our phones.

    How has the use of cell phones during meetings impacted your productivity? We would love to hear your comments.

    How Small Businesses Land Superstar Clients

    How Small Businesses Land Superstar Clients

    I did a post for this column on identifying bad clients and knowing when to fire them. In the emails and comments that followed, many of you mentioned the flip side of the coin — building a business based on ideal clients.

    These are the clients we created our companies to serve. The ones who make it all worthwhile. They are the customers who, when they ring us up or ping us with an email, brighten our day. Interestingly enough, they are often also the best paying, most profitable and least pain in the (fill in the blank) clients we have.

    But how exactly does a small business secure this magical stable of superstar clients? It starts by defining what makes up your unique ideal client profile.

    “The ideal client profile is a clear description of the type of client you would love to have more of. It may be an exact replica of a client you’re working with today. Or it could be a combination of qualities you’ve seen in past and current clients,” says small business coach Maria Marsala.

    I asked a roundup of small business owners, experts and authors to give me their tips, take and wisdom on the ins and outs of small businesses and ideal clients. Here’s what they had to say.

    The concept of an ideal client profile can be revolutionary for small business owners who have assumed that all business is good business. If a business depends on referrals, finding the ideal customer profile will have a long-term impact. These customers spread the word, attracting more customers like them. Taking on customers that don’t fit the profile also generates referrals — but for less-desirable business. Time spent with customers outside the target profile takes business owners further from their goals, making success more elusive.
    –Joellyn Sargent, BrandSprout Marketing.

    Ideal clients must appreciate the value you bring to the table and have realistic expectations. They also need to be willing to do their part in whatever process or journey you go on together. When clients meet these criteria, you can do your best work, instead of spending time bickering or playing games.
    –Patti DeNucci, Author of The Intentional Networker

    The first challenge is to get your ideal clients to step out of the crowd so you can begin that conversation. This becomes easy only after you understand that it’s not about getting someone’s attention, it’s about getting his or her interest. Two things get our interest: When someone talks about a problem we have and don’t want and/or a result we want and don’t have. The best way to get more of your ideal clients to seek you out is to ask and answer these questions.

    • What problems can I solve through my products and services?
    • What changes, or results, can I help create?
    • Who has these problems?
    • Who wants these results?

    When you have these answers clear, they form the foundation for all your marketing.
    –Dov Gordon, The Alchemist Entrepreneur.

    The most important attribute to look for is trust. If a potential client or existing client trusts you completely, then you can be most effective in your role. Trust means fewer questions and disappointments. Clients who will never trust you take too much time challenging every recommendation you make, reducing efficiency and frustrating both parties.
    Dylan Valade, Web Designer.

    Whether you determine your ideal client profile by asking and answering a series of questions or graphing the greatest attributes of your best customers, taking the time to articulate who your A-list clients are is smart small business all around.

    What makes up your ideal client profile? We would love to hear your comments.

    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.

    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.

    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.

    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.