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.

      The Challenge of Hiring Linksters

      The Challenge of Hiring Linksters

      Picture this: An 85-year-old company founder startled by the scantily clad intern sitting on his desk texting her mom or an angry parent calling to ask why her son’s schedule was changed, impacting the family’s summer vacation.

      Born after 1995 (age 17 and younger), Linksters, also known as “The Facebook Generation,” comprise 18 percent of the world’s population. Millions of Linksters and those on the cusp (ages 18-19) will be working in small businesses as office assistants, interns, busboys, lifeguards and camp counselors — and they are wildly different from the 20-something Generation Y employees who preceded them.

      “This group is characterized by the fact that they are still living at home, and, unlike previous generations, they are typically best friends with their parents,” say multigenerational workplace experts Larry and Meagan Johnson. “They live and breathe technology, are more tolerant of alternative lifestyles than their predecessors and are very much involved in green causes and social activism. Bottom line, though, is that they are still very young and inexperienced.”

      Larry and Meagan Johnson are a father-daughter team and authors of the new book “Generations, Inc.: From Boomers to Linksters — Managing the Friction Between Generations at Work” (AMACOM, 2010). They say smart small business owners need to learn about Linksters’ unique generational traits and how to keep these young employees engaged, happy and productive. Along these same lines, recent research from Robert Half International shows that nearly three-quarters (72 percent) of hiring managers polled said managing multigenerational work teams poses a challenge.

      Here are 10 ways to get the most out of your Linkster employees:

      1. Ride herd on them. They have short attention spans and lose interest if the work is boring. If there’s a way to incentivize task accomplishment, do it.

      2. Provide them with job descriptions. Linksters need clear direction about what you expect. This includes basics, such as when you expect them to arrive, number of hours they are to work and duties of the job. They are used to being told what to do, in detail and explicitly.

      3. Treat them like valued coworkers. Linksters are used to a steady diet of connection and communication from family and friends. If you have a company party, be sure to invite them. Same with meetings, where appropriate.

      4. Lead by example. Linksters are still trying to figure out how to act and behave. They will look to older co-workers and managers to shape their workplace identity and demeanor.

      5. Orient them to the obvious. Be specific about expectations that may seem apparent. For example, teenagers are used to having their parents cover for them. Make sure they know the consequences of showing up late, taking lunch breaks that are too long or texting on the job.

      6. Welcome them with open arms. Let your people know the Linksters are joining your team, and ask everyone to welcome them. Pair Linksters with buddies — good role models with good work ethics. Call Linksters the night before their first day. Remind them of dress code, arrival time, items to bring, traffic, snacks and water, where to park, whom to contact once they arrive and quitting time.

      7. Know what songs are on their iPods. Young people have a language that’s distinctly their own. Make an effort to get to know their culture.

      8. Create micro-career paths. If you have a young person manning the cash register, give her other tasks that help her understand different aspects of the business from time to time. This keeps her challenged, engaged and feeling valued — and sets her up for more responsibility.

      9. Re-examine your uniform policy. Part of being young is having a heightened interest in how you look. Are you asking your Linksters to wear embarrassing uniforms? Are they comfortable? Are they outdated? Try to remember what being a teen felt like.

      10. Thank their parents. Linksters are young and may still live at home with parents. Invite their parents for a visit, call, express appreciation for raising a great kid and thank them for helping to get your young employee to work on time, well rested and prepared.

      Have you hired any Linksters? How has that worked out? We would love to hear your comments.

      ‘Ruby Sparks’ Reminded Me That Persuasion Marketing Sucks

      ‘Ruby Sparks’ Reminded Me That Persuasion Marketing Sucks

      “Ruby Sparks” Reminded Me That Persuasion Marketing Sucks

      “Yup, instead of changing himself, he’s going to try and change her.” That’s what my friend Randy turned to me and said during a pivotal plot point in the new film “Ruby Sparks”.

      Now I don’t want to be a spoiler and give the big reveal away, so I’ll stay away from the details, but suffice it to say that the scene that followed was painfully hard to watch.

      Why? Because, as Randy so pithily put it, what we all do when faced with a person or circumstance we don’t like is try to change it or them.  As fruitless as this exercise often is, we are sometimes so fixed on our point of view, being right or getting what we want, that we continue to waste vast amounts of time, emotional energy and even psychic efforts trying to force the situation. 

      Although “Ruby Sparks” deals with this dynamic in a one-on-one romantic relationship, I see this played out daily in my work as a branding and marketing consultant and leadership coach.

      I observe high-powered entrepreneurs, C-suite executives and marketing managers attempting to get others to tow the line and do what they want them to do. I’d be less than honest not to suck it up and say I’m just as guilty of this fruitless exercise in trying to force the outcome I want from time to time as well. 

      But I’m not as bad as I used to be. Over the past year, I’ve actually made a conscious effort to learn to stop persuading and start inspiring, to stop trying to make things happen and leave more room for allowing, to say what I want and need authentically and vulnerably, but then let the chips fall where they may. I’m far from perfect at this, but I am evolving.

      I think this evolution is also at play in the larger world of branding and marketing.  Old-school marketing was about persuading clients, pushing them as to why they should hire you or buy your product. New-style marketing is about inspiring potential customers to come out and play, pulling them toward you — of their own free will.

      As luck would have it, besides seeing the movie, I happen to be reading a fantastic book called “Igniting Inspiration: A Persuasion Manual for Visionaries” by John Marshall Roberts.

      “I view persuasion as a fading 20th Century art for those who don’t yet know how to grasp and apply the basic laws of human inspiration,” says Roberts.  “Does this mean persuasion is somehow ‘bad’?  No, but it’s just not as much fun as inspiring, and not nearly as effective.  In the end it all boils down to this: persuaded people do things because they are seeking some extrinsic reward. Inspired folks do those same exact things because they intrinsically want to.”

      Marshall’s book clearly delineates a three-dimensional view of human nature:

      The material dimension of human beings. This includes the body and all material things in the universe. These things are brought to the mind via the five senses.

      The mental dimension of human beings. This consists of thoughts, feelings and ideas.  These thoughts — especially the re-occurring ones — tend to occur within a specific context (usually not conscious), based on certain hidden assumptions.

      The spiritual dimension of human beings. This is the pure potential we all have. It’s the source of intelligence and life energy and underlies the material and mental realms.

      Roberts’ very on-point point is that if we view our customers, clients, co-workers and others from the material plane, we see them as objects to manipulate and will engage in actions to pursue or, even worse, force the outcome we desire.

      However, if we think about these same people from a spiritual dimension, we realize that speaking to bigger truths, larger purposes and deeper insights results in inspiration.

      Just think of the last time you were forced to do something.

      How about persuaded?

      Now how about inspired to take an action?  

      I’ll bet the price of a movie ticket that the qualitative difference between how you felt about doing whatever it was you did changed substantially based on which of the three areas your answer falls into.

      So how do we inspire? Pretty much in the same way that “Ruby Sparks” protagonist and novelist Calvin Weir-Fields (played by actor Paul Dano) discovers in the film. We allow other people to be who they are, and address our actions to that higher part of them.  That’s easier than it sounds, especially when we live in a business world chock-full of the persuasion-as-power model.

      One side note: Calvin’s brother (played by the always-captivating — and sexy — Chris Messina) has a scene where he encourages Calvin to turn toward the dark side and try and make Calvin’s love interest, Ruby, do what he wants. The point being that it’s important to surround ourselves with people who recognize the value of building our branding and marketing on inspiration, rather than persuasion, if we are to have any hope of succeeding. 

      Wondering if your brand needs an inspirational brush-up? I’m holding a contest for a free 30 minute Lightning Strike Strategy Session to the five people who email me with a compelling case for why they need to crank up the inspirational language and message of their brand. To apply, fill out the contact form on my site and let me know your business, your brand, what your inspiration goal is and why you think your brand needs some inspirational polish.

      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. Apply to win a free 30 minute Lightning Strike Strategy Session by filling out the contact form here and letting Karen know why you think your brand needs some inspirational polish. 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.

      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?
      When ‘Decision Fatigue’ Frazzles Your Small Business Brain

      When ‘Decision Fatigue’ Frazzles Your Small Business Brain

      Last week I read an article in The New York Times Magazine titled: “Do You Suffer From Decision Fatigue?” My immediate reaction was, “Doesn’t everyone?” In my world, the line forms to the left on that one. I don’t know of one small business owner who is not burdened with a multitude of choices — hourly.

      In some ways, I think small business owners suffer the brunt of this situation to an even greater degree than their corporate compatriots, since the majority of company choices fall to the business owner as chief cook and bottle washer.

      Based in part on the work of Roy Baumeister and EJ Masicampo, decision fatigue is a depletion of the brain’s mental stamina as a result of making too many decisions. When this happens, we end up making poor choices or rash decisions, or we forgo deciding at all.

      “Every decision we make implies a possible loss, and we are essentially loss-averse animals,” says Margaret J. King, Ph.D., Director of The Center for Cultural Studies & Analysis “‘Decide’ means ‘to cut,’ and we focus on what we are losing, not gaining. This is the brain issue behind most decisions,” she says.

      But faced with the daily task of deciding everything from what social media buttons should be above the fold on our home web page to who we should invite to the Friday meeting, there are some ways we can maximize our power to choose while protecting our brain’s much-needed mojo.

      Layne Kertamus, president of NegotiGator.com, says that top performers understand the nature of decision-making and respect it, including:

      • Not making decisions that are beyond your competence.

      • Recognizing that a decision to punt is in fact a decision and may have costs.

      • Understanding that most decisions are neither good nor bad but carry with them tradeoffs.

      Nihar Chhaya, founder of MBA Balance, goes one step further and says that small business owners need to learn to delegate decisions to prevent brain burnout.

      “Small business owners must layout all the decisions they need to make on a consistent basis in the marketing, finance, operations and personnel areas and be honest with themselves about where their expertise lies,” says Chhaya. “Then they need to delegate those decisions to people that have both the skill and the motivation to make the best choices in those areas.”

      Chhaya says that, rather than using all their brainpower on making the decisions themselves, small business owners should instead spend time coaching trusted team members (virtual or onsite) and outside contractors in taking a chance on choices and monitoring their progress.

      By employing the above strategies, the small business owner’s brain will be a little less weary and more able to focus on building the business.

      Sidebar: Thoughts to Think About

      “We have access to more information than ever before, but the irony is that we feel less informed and more overwhelmed,” says Paul Magnone, co-author of Drinking from the Fire Hose: Making Smarter Decisions Without Drowning in Information. “It’s no wonder we have decision fatigue. It’s impossible to effectively deal with everything that comes our way — especially for small business owners dealing with limited resources, funds and staff.”

      To ease the burden, Magnone suggests considering the following when making decisions:

      • What is the essential business question? Determine how this decision will impact the overall strategy.

      • Where is your customer’s North Star? Keep in mind that above all else, the customer (and their wants, needs, etc.) comes first.

      • Should you believe the Squiggly Line? Ensure you’re not acting too quickly or making any harsh decisions based on short-term data.

      • What surprised you? Make sure you don’t ignore certain aspects of the situation or data in front of you that might be out of the ordinary.

      • What does the Lighthouse reveal? Consider the consequences of your decision and any danger that might lie ahead.

      • Who are your Swing Voters? Be mindful of your “swing voters” throughout the process — the group that’s neutral about your product, but can be swayed.

      • What? So What? Now What? Put everything into context.

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

      3 Bad Small Business Clients And When To Fire Them

      3 Bad Small Business Clients And When To Fire Them

      “What are you, stupid? I just explained that to you.” No, not a line from a novel about a bad boyfriend, but a real live comment a client (or former client, I should tell you from the onset) said to me when I respectfully questioned his reasoning on a marketing message he was using in his small business branding.

      Admittedly, this is an extreme example of bad behavior, but every entrepreneur has faced a problem client at one time or another. These challenging customers can drain your energy, suck up your time and even sap your enthusiasm for running your small business.

      It really comes down to the classic 80/20 rule: 20 percent of your clients will cause you 80 percent of the grief in your business. Smart small business owners know how to identify trouble clients right away, head off problems early on and, when necessary, cut their losses.

      Here are just three types of bad clients a small business may want to send packing:

      The Constant Complainer: These are the clients for whom you move heaven and earth, and they still aren’t happy. You deliver on budget, on time and on what you promised, but they always seem to find something wrong. Worse yet, they never acknowledge you for what you have produced or the professional way with which you provide it. If this sounds familiar, there may be a gap between what you can deliver and their expectations.

      Begin by sitting down and speaking with them about their exact expectations and where they don’t feel you are living up to them. If, in the course of the conversation, you discover that their expectations are unrealistic, or something you can’t deliver on, be straight. Once you know the criteria they are measuring you against, perform to it.

      If you do meet their expectations, and they are still unsatisfied — cut your losses and let them go. Try saying: “We’ve worked together for a while now and you still seem to be dissatisfied with the job I’m doing for you. I’ve tried my best to meet your expectations, but at this point, I think maybe we’re not a good match and you might be happier working with someone else.”

      The Nickel and Dimer: Have you noticed that, while some clients settle on a fair rate with you and then move on to the business of working together, others constantly bring up your pricing and question each charge, no matter how small?

      It’s one thing to negotiate a discounted rate for a client who brings in big business, but it’s another to be nickeled and dimed to death.

      In my experience consulting with small businesses, it’s often the case that the clients who pay the lowest rate are the ones who are the biggest pain and the least loyal. If you’re in a constant battle over cash, don’t over-explain or argue your position, just simply and politely tell the person, “I’m sorry, but I just can’t do what you want for that price.”

      A variation on this type is The Late Payer. All clients may from time to time be slow in paying, but customers who repeatedly pay late, promise to send you a check by a certain time and don’t or outright stiff you — are not worth keeping. Professionals get paid for the work they do, period.

      The My Way Or The Highway: Nothing is more frustrating than being hired to help your client achieve their objectives and having your well-meaning and professional advice ignored time and time again. Clients who insist on doing things their way, don’t take your suggestions to heart, argue with you at every turn and then complain when they don’t get the results they want are bad clients. Try saying: “I’m feeling frustrated that you don’t seem to take to heart the professional advice you are paying me to give you, and I think it might be better for you to hire someone whose opinion and expertise you feel more comfortable with.”

      No small business will be without challenging clients, but it’s important to separate the occasional misunderstandings and missteps with essentially good clients from the bad ones. While it’s never fun to fire a client, holding on to bad ones can carry a huge opportunity cost. The emotional, physical, mental and even spiritual drain of a bad client can keep you from having the small business you want.

      The next time you see a client’s name pop up on your PDA or e-mail inbox and find yourself thinking, “Uh oh, what’s wrong now?” it might be time to tell the truth and take the risk to get rid of them. Who knows, you might just take back enough of your time and energy to create some great new professional relationships.

      Have you fired a bad client recently? How did it go?

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

      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.