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All posts by Mike Sperling

About Mike Sperling

Mike is the Founder and Director of Sperling Interactive. Mike’s keen eye for photography, extensive technology skills and innovative marketing ideas make Mike a leader in the website design and management field. He is proficient in html, css, php, javascript, MySQL and the Adobe Design Suite. Before founding Sperling Interactive, Mike worked his way up from staff photographer at the Eagle Tribune Publishing Company to the lead operator and manager of multiple websites for daily and weekly publications. Known as the “media guru”, Mike gathered years of experience before making the leap to start his own business. He graduated from Rochester Institute of Technology with a BFA in Photojournalism and a minor in Mass Communications. When Mike is not meeting with clients or designing new websites he enjoys spending time with his wife, Jodi, daughter Zoey, and son Camden. Mike enjoys hiking, geocaching, traveling, movies, the Baltimore Orioles & Ravens.

Common Sales Mistakes 

The American economy is strong and buyers have more options than ever before. These two factors mean that knowing how to successfully market your business is more important than ever. In order to successfully sell your band’s products or services, it is a good idea to know what works and what doesn’t. Today we are looking at the top sales mistakes that cause a buyer to run for the hills or, worse yet, seek out another place to do their business. 

There are virtually hundreds of ways that your sales team could kill a conversation that costs your business a sale. Try not to get overwhelmed by all the ways the sale could go south but rather help your team learn from each of those mistakes and vow to do better next time. 

Talking Too Much 

Chances are that your sales team is mostly an outgoing and gregarious group of professionals. This may mean that they enjoy talking to people. Unfortunately the top sales mistake according to Sales Hacker is talking too much during a sales call. Their research has shown that the talk-to-listen ratio should be 46-54. Sales professionals should talk at most for 46% of a sales call. That means they listen for at least 54% of it. They suggest spending less time on the “pitch” and spending more time listening to what your client really wants and needs from your business. You never know, it could help improve your overall business and help you close the sale. 

Making Assumptions 

Often sales representatives head into a client meeting having a pretty good idea what the clients business is all about and what they may or may not need from your marketing team. Never assume anything in the sales process. What your client may want could change or expand, making your sale larger and more expansive. Or it could be less, and then you have oversold your business. Try to go into each sales meeting with an open mind about what each client may need, want, or wish to spend. 

Lack of Follow Up 

Sales reps are busy people and sometimes even the most organized of them can forget to follow up on the details of the sales meeting. Sales experts suggest making plans on follow up before the meeting is over or the client walks out the door. Even if the follow up call is for six weeks or six months down the line, it should be scheduled so there isn’t this amorphous time floating around. 

Want to her more about sales successes and mistakes? Check out our Dec 12th workshop on “Secrets of Effortless Selling.” 

Finding a Work-Life Balance

It would be fantastic if there was some magic pill or even an app that could make life more balanced. For instance, it would be freeing not to feel a constant pull in two different directions; from home and at the office. Often people trying to gain some sense of balance feel like they are not doing either well. If this even remotely sounds familiar then you will want to continue reading about how you can start to find a work-life balance. 

It’s often hard to know where to start when you are overwhelmed with family life and work life, and many times those responsibilities tend to overlap. With more and more employees working remotely or bringing a laptop home to “catch up on work,” the line becomes blurry about where home ends and work begins, or vise versa. 

While everyone’s lives are different, there are some similarities that experts have found in people who are attempting to balance their lives between work and personal life. Here are a few….

Get Organized 

It’s really hard to have a work-life balance when your physical space is a mess. Get yourself organized by creating some order to both your home and office workspace. It may take some time to file away all the paperwork, create a calendar, and tidy up the physical space that you occupy. Remember this is a process not a race! You may need to carve out a little bit of time every week to maintain organization as this is something that does not come naturally to lots of people. 

Manage Your Time 

Like most professionals, you probably have a long list of things to do at work and home. In order to create some level of balance between the two, learn to prioritize this list. You may want to mark whether each item is urgent, important, or can be classified as “can wait.” Finding ways to manage your time may also include delegating actions to some of your employees at work, or to a family member at home. Remember, you can not be all things to everyone and keep your sanity. 

In terms of managing your time, there are special considerations for those who work out of the home. In order to separate your work and personal life, it may be best to have a dedicated area to do your work at home, as well as a set time that you will work. It’s hard to have a good work-life balance if the laptop is always calling to you. Do yourself a favor and set a time for work so you know when you can clock out for the day and put your focus on your family or yourself instead. 

Utilize Technology 

Technology is supposed to make our lives easier, so start using it to do just that. Tap into the hundreds of apps that can keep you organized, keep track of how long certain tasks take, or automize some of your work for yourself. Instead of driving to the office for a meeting use Google Hangout to get there remotely. Instead of keeping track of projects on your own, use an app that can keep each step of the project marked as completed or in progress. 

If you are looking for some ideas on how you can gain a work-life balance you may want to try our workshop on December 6th from 9am-3:30pm called Work-Life Balance

 

Creating Real Customer Loyalty

Did you know that repeat customers or clients spend up to 67% more than new customers? Did you also know that it is up to ten times more expensive to try to attract new customers than it is to keep the ones already doing business with you? Creating customer loyalty, therefore, should be a top priority for businesses both large and small. 

What’s a Loyal Customer? 

We hear a lot of talk about retaining loyal customers and clients. What exactly is a “loyal” customer? Generally, a loyal customer is one who buys your product or uses your services even when they are not on sale. They return time and time again usually because they have gotten to know your brand, your sales people, or have come to trust what you sell or serve. During sales slumps, these are the people who keep a business afloat. 

Retaining Loyalty

Once you have run the numbers and checked out your company’s database to identify your most loyal customers, it is time to do some work to retain those people. What you do really depends on the nature of your industry, but here are a few ideas to get you thinking. 

Reward Loyalty 

Customers tend to remain loyal to a certain brand or business if they feel valued. Show this audience their value by offering some sort of incentive for being loyal. For example, many businesses offer some sort of loyalty card that allows a consumer to earn a reward after spending a certain amount of money or shopping a certain amount of times. Think about it. Dunkin’ Donuts and Starbucks keep their customers loyal not just due to the addictive caffeine they sell but also by offering rewards cards that tally up to free coffee! Even if the reward is small, consumers will recognize that they are considered “regulars” and will continue the trend. 

Maintain Excellent Communication and Customer Service 

One of the reasons customers return to the store is usually the service they received the first time around. This connection between employees and the public is critical to maintaining a solid customer base. One of the top qualities that customers report valuing is the communication between the business and themselves. Be sure to be open and honest about your products/services. That communication will go a long way in helping you brand your name as an honest business person and get you some loyal customers as well. 

Create a Community 

It’s always a good idea to ask your clients or consumers to give you feedback as to how you are doing. It can create a sense of community and that “we are in this together” feeling. Ask your clients for feedback on social media, newsletters, or through surveys that can give your business a good sense of what is going well and what you need to improve upon. Many businesses find that a sense of community is found through volunteerism, social media connections, and community outreach. 

Are you looking to create loyal customers for your business? Of course you are! Check out our workshop on December 5th entitled, “How to Create Conversations that Will Gain and Retain Loyal Customers.”

Common Qualities of Entrepreneurs 

Ever wonder if you have what it takes to be your own boss and start your own business? If you have the entrepreneurial spirit and want to explore business ownership, here are some of the common qualities that most entrepreneurs exhibit. 

If you are looking to become the next Jeff Bezos, Mark Zuckerberg, or Bill Gates, then you probably have the internal drive and motivation to strive for your own piece of the American pie. Outside of motivation, what are the other qualities that you may need to lean on as you rise to excellence in your given field? 

Vision

Entrepreneurs tend to have their eye on the big picture of what is going on in their field of work. Having a finger on the pulse of your industry means you can keep up with the trends, upcoming issues, and plan for the “next big thing” before it hits the news. Having a sense of vision also means that you can maintain the day-to-day running of the business all while keeping up with future plans. 

Flexibility 

The ability to switch gears, change the plan, and juggle many things at once, is also a characteristic of successful entrepreneurs. Most entrepreneurs that have struggled through the first few years of a fledgling business will tell you that it is important to always be evaluating what is working and what is not. If it is not, then change courses to make an idea feasible. Being open-minded to feedback from others in your circle can help you make adjustments that will make your business work. 

Decisiveness

If making decisions is not your thing, then maybe being a successful entrepreneur should not be on your radar. You will need to make sound judgements with the knowledge that you have at the moment. Many of those decisions will be under time pressure so be prepared to make a choice, stand by it, and commit to it until it is no longer successful. 

Collaboration 

Being an effective team leader means that you can also “play well with others.” It’s not enough to be a prodigy in your field. You need to be able to work with others who can help support your business and use skills that possibly you do not possess. We are not all good at everything. Recognizing that, and be able to work with others who hold an entirely different skill set than you, is a hallmark of a brilliant entrepreneur. 

Are you looking into becoming your own boss and need help with your business plan? Check out the workshops we offer here at the Enterprise Center. Future entrepreneurs may be interested in the “Do You Have What it Takes to be an Entrepreneur?” workshop on December 3. 

 

Building a Dream Team of Employees 

Look around your office. You probably have some well chosen employees. Some have personalities that work well with clients, others may have the expertise that helps your company innovate and move forward. Have you nurtured this group into being your dream team? 

Molding your group of employees into a dream team is not only a smart idea to grow your business but it can make working at your company a happy place. Let’s take a look at some things you can do as a business leader to help shape and build your dream team. 

Identify Each Person’s Strength 

Working together means that you probably have a good sense of what each person in your office can and can not do well. Some people are more technical, while others are better on the organization front. And still others are best at working with clients or writing that proposal in a hurry. 

Take some time to get to know each of your team members’ strengths and weaknesses. In fact, you may want to hire a specialist to come in to work with your staff to help them identify what they do well with and where they struggle. Not only is this a good way to pinpoint everyone’s strengths but it lets your team know that you are invested in their careers as well. 

Set Goals 

Once you have identified each employee’s specialty areas, help them set goals for themselves both short-term and long-term. These goals can be in relation to clients, sales, recruitment, networking, or any area that you decide upon. The goals should be given to both individuals and the group as a whole. 

Give them the Tools They Need 

If you read that and said, “Whoa, what about the budget,” then keep reading. Within the limits of your budget, we suggest that you provide as many ways as possible to give your team what they need to do their jobs well. If they need better communication between remote workers, clients, vendors and others, then provide an app like Slack that can help keep all parties along the chain connected and communicating. If they need time to collaborate as a group then carve time out of every day or week to allow for group collaboration meetings. In short, listen to what their needs are and try your best to provide them. 

A dream team doesn’t just happen, they are made by the leaders and people within a business. Check out our listing of workshops that can help you nurture the team you dream of. 

 

Networking For Your Small Business 

Being a small business owner can mean long hours and taking on many different roles, especially when starting out. For many small business leaders juggling it all, the thought of networking on top of all the others things to do is too much. Networking is, however, a great way to generate leads, stay up-to-date on trends in the industry, and gain helpful hints or creative ideas. 

According to a survey sponsored by American Express, 9 out of 10 Americans agreed that it was important to support the small businesses in their community, and 73% consciously tried to do just that. The people around you want you to succeed – they want to book your services. But they can’t do that if they don’t know about you! And that’s where it helps to network in your own community.

Here are several ideas of how to make networking seem like less of a chore and to get the word out about your business. 

Commit to Local Networking Groups

Whether it is a monthly breakfast meeting or a bi-monthly coffee-house get together, commit to attending these networking gatherings on a regular basis. It is a great way to start to meet other small business owners in your area as well as people within your industry. If your time is extremely limited, be sure to research which local organizations you want to take part in. Even just participating in an industry-specific organization, small business associations, or your local chamber of commerce can be beneficial for your business.

Attend Conferences 

In addition to meeting other professionals in your area and industry, you may also want to expand your networking by attending conferences that are industry specific. Conferences are a great time to catch up with people in your field who are influencers or innovators as well as solidify friendships with local or regional professionals in your field. 

Exhibit at a Trade Show 

Once you get more experience networking with local businesses and industry specific businesses, you may want to exhibit your services or products at a trade show. Don’t forget to bring your business cards and a partner to talk up your business with attendees. 

Volunteer in Your Community 

One of the best ways to make genuine connections with other small businesses and potentially clients in your area is to take part in some form of community outreach. The level at which you decide to volunteer depends on your schedule, but check out local charities or nonprofits that could use your expertise and provide some pro-bono work to not only feel good but to make connections that are meaningful. 

If you need further ideas on networking and connecting with your local community, check out the small business association for more helpful hints. Also check out our calendar of events for great workshops and networking opportunities. 

 

LinkedIn to Grow Your Business

Running your own business can be challenging. There are so many components to consider from staffing, to marketing, and all the minutiae in between. It can get overwhelming. That’s why we love LinkedIn for small business owners. Not only is it a great place to network with other like-minded professionals but it is a forum that can help your business grow. Read on to find out more about how LinkedIn can help your business.

There are two major ways that business leaders can use LinkedIn to help grow their business. One method is the passive method of joining LinkedIn to read what others are posting, hunt for products, services, or employees for your company, and even keep the business page up-to-date. The other is a more active approach where a business owner or leader joins groups, participates in discussions, and posts articles that encourage interaction. Which method you choose is up to you and your business’s needs.

Either way, your business can benefit from your participation on LinkedIn. Here are three ways that LinkedIn can help promote your brand and your status as a businessperson.

Solidify Your Professional Status

Since LinkedIn is a social media platform, it is important that those who hope to make their mark in their chosen industry contribute engaging and interactive content. In this way, professionals can “show what they know.” For example, if your field of expertise is in marketing, your business profile and content on LinkedIn can showcase your successes through posts, blogs, and sharing articles. LinkedIn is a great place to illustrate to others in your field that you are an innovator or, at the very least, a business leader who is on-the-rise.

Connecting With Other Professionals

LinkedIn is the perfect social media platform to expand your business circle. LinkedIn hosts thousands of online groups, enabling professionals to network within their respective niches. Participate, add content, exchange information, and engage with others who are in your field or who are vendors that help support your type of business.

Give and Get Endorsements and Testimonials

LinkedIn enables your peers to endorse your skills and write up recommendations, and you can do the same for them. People who are searching for networking connections or job candidates will take these recommendations into consideration.

If trying these methods is not your thing, you may still want to consider trying LinkedIn advertising. Paid advertising on LinkedIn is still a relative bargain and can get your business in front of your market quickly.

If you are interested in joining LinkedIn or expanding your reach, get started on LinkedIn by finding out how LinkedIn works, creating a LinkedIn login, and if you’re not already a member create a great LinkedIn profile that focuses on growing business. Contact the Enterprise Center page for help getting started.

Top Issues Faced By Human Resources 

How does your company handle human resource issues? Do you have a dedicated department or does your company rely on an HR consultant? Either way, there are probably some common issues that every office deals with at some point. Let’s take a look at some of the top legal issues that HR professionals deal with, especially with small or medium-size businesses. 

What is a Human Resource Department? 

Whether you have a dedicated HR staff or a consultant who handles your HR issues, you should know the basics of what they do. Most human resources specialists focus on a number of major areas including: recruiting and staffing, compensation and benefits, training and learning, labor and employee relations, and organization development. Human resources staff is also responsible for advising senior staff about the impact on people (the human resources) of their financial, planning, and performance decisions.

What are the Top HR Issues? 

Confidentiality: 

If you manage a small office you know that word spreads fast whether it is good news or bad. It’s very difficult to keep a secret in a small work environment. Therefore it is one of the top issues that a human resource specialist deals with. It’s critical to the day-to-day functioning of the workplace that complaints, problems, or personal issues remain confidential. It is not only an ethical responsibility, but a legal one as well. 

Labor Rights and Compliance: 

It is the job of a human resources department to stay on top of developing laws that pertain to the rights and protections for employees. This could include a safe work environment for the accessibility for employees with special needs. There are regulations on everything from hiring practices, to wage payment, to workplace safety. Take a few minutes to read through the U.S. Department of Labor’s Employment Law Guide. If business leadership chooses to ignore the laws or believes that they do not apply to their specific workplace, then there could be audits, lawsuits, and possibly even the demise of your company.

Compensation: 

This is always a touchy subject when it comes time for annual reviews that result in raises, bonuses or, alternatively, a decline in pay or hours. Human resources should always be involved if there is a review that is not stellar. The neutral party can help relay some of the findings and pave the way for improvement in work habits. 

Do you have questions about human resources, especially the legal questions that inevitably crop up? Check out our workshop “Understanding Legal Issues in Human Resources” led by Maureen Pomeroy on November 13 at the Enterprise Center. 

 

Cultivating Creativity in the Workplace 

Is creativity important in your field? Chances are the answer is yes. In a recent poll, almost sixty percent of CEOs called creativity the most important quality for leadership. If creativity is paramount to what you do, then here are a few ways to help cultivate creativity in your workplace. 

Look at the Environment

Take a moment to look around your workplace. Is there adequate lighting? Are there multiple styles of workspaces such as smaller individual work areas and then areas where groups can brainstorm together? Is the area clean and uncluttered? Studies have shown that conditions such as dim lighting, reduced clutter, taking a walk, and even rooms with high ceilings can enhance creativity. Talk to your team members about the work environment and ways that you could make adaptations to encourage productivity. 

Allow for Brainstorming 

We all remember the rules of brainstorming from our school days that said that no idea was stupid. Let’s go back to that. Encourage brainstorming when a new project has been assigned and allow for time to mull through each idea. The process may seem chaotic at times but fostering the concept of brainstorming can help employees and leaders feel supported in their quest to innovate. 

Identify Creativity and Reward It 

If you really want to foster creativity in your workplace, you need to seek it out and, when you find it, reward those who are being creative. A simple compliment would go over well, but some sort of incentive such as an all paid luncheon for employees when creativity is blooming would also be welcome. Use your budget and business know-how to guide you in identifying creativity and encouraging it to occur again. 

Be Flexible 

As business leaders, it is often too easy to be rigid about the hours of operation, getting projects completed, and working outside the box. Sometimes being a little flexible can help your staff be flexible too. You may want to experiment with flexible hours that accommodate family activities or school hours. Some employees find they accomplish more when they are allowed to work from home for a day or two a week. While still others find that meeting in a coffee shop for a brainstorming session works best for them. Think about being flexible in ways that work for your business. 

Need more ideas on cultivating creativity? Check out our workshop on Creativity and Innovation

 

Writing for Business 

During your college years, you were expecting to write papers, draft letters, and take part in all sorts of writing, right? Who knew that would be such an integral skill once you got to your “real” job later in life. Writing for business is a given nowadays with emails, reports, and presentations given on a daily basis no matter what field you are in. 

Don’t think you write often enough to worry about your writing skills? Think again. According to a study conducted by Carleton University, professionals spend one-third of their time at work reading and answering emails. You might spend more than this, or less, but chances are that a significant portion of your day is spent writing something.

Why Writing is Critical to Your Business 

Solid writing skills can mean the difference between being taken seriously in your position or being seen as less professional. Poor writing skills can lead to miscommunication, lost opportunities, and even a loss of business. Think of the number of times you have read an email or report that did not communicate the central message well. It is frustrating to decipher what the message really says. 

Let’s take a look at a few aspects of your writing that can help improve your reports, emails, or marketing materials. No matter what you are writing, it is a good idea to brush up on these areas as you progress in your career. 

Know Your Audience

As with anything in life, it is good to know who you are dealing with when you present, send an email, or write a report. Knowing who you are talking to can give your writing a sense of purpose and direction. For example, an in-office email could be short and informal, but a customer email or a PowerPoint presentation should follow the guidelines of courtesy, clarity, and conciseness. Your audience should be your compass; keeping in mind what the recipient seeks to learn narrows down the possible directions your writing should take (SkillsYouNeed 2019). Think about what they know already, especially as you determine the terminology to use. If you’re writing to a specific person or group of people, look for ways to personalize the document by considering their interests.

Think First 

Take a few minutes to mentally define the goals of the written piece. Do you know the main content: the who, what, when, where, and why of your writing? Think through it first before you even reach for the pen or keyboard. Thinking in broad terms first will help you to focus your message and make sure that you highlight all the important points you want to make. 

Be Brief 

Workplaces are busy places. Take the fluff out of your writing and get to the point. Be direct and short in your writing, unless the type of writing dictates added details and expansion on the topic. Readers will appreciate not having to sift through extraneous information to find the real message. 

Be Careful with Word Choice 

As just stated, it is important to be clear, concise, and direct in your business writings. It is also important not to use too many buzzwords or jargon that could turn off your reader. Jargon often makes you sound pretentious, and it can further alienate your reader. Instead, write the way you talk. Keep it natural and direct.

Edit, Edit, Edit 

It is always a good idea to have someone else read through your work whenever possible. Small mistakes can be easily missed by the original author. If you have no one to proofread for you, copy and paste your writing into Google Translate and have it read the document back to you. Usually, mistakes are obvious when you hear them aloud. Also, Google can usually catch flagrant typos or spelling errors. 

Need some help with your business writing? Join us at our workshop entitled Writing for Business and Grammar Skills on October 23, 2019.