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All posts by Mike Sperling

About Mike Sperling

Mike Sperling Bio 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.

Managing Conflicts at Work

No matter what size your business is there are bound to be conflict between employees. Everyone comes to the table with different experiences, beliefs and expectations. Your job as a business leader is to find a way to cultivate and enjoy those differences without having to manage conflicts constantly between team members. It is pretty much inevitable that conflict will arise in times of stress or change. How you deal with it will determine the extent and impact on your company. Here are a few tips from experts at Forbes, Time, and U.S. News on what to do (and what not to do) in times of conflict.

  • Be Prepared – Honestly, you know it is practically inevitable – so plan ahead. Talk to your Human Resources personnel, who are experts on dealing with many personalities and are usually good under pressure. They may have courses or suggestions for how to handle day-to-day conflicts or larger disagreements. They can also be excellent mediators in the  event of a larger conflict.
  • Stay Calm – Conflict can quickly escalate if all parties are not dealt with in a calm manner. Your leadership skills of listening, problem solving and finding a common ground will be tested. Most of all keep your cool and check yourself before dealing with any crisis, big or small.
  • Document – One of the hallmarks of a great Human Resources department is documenting any conflicts so that they can be handled correctly. Be sure your HR department or specialist keeps a written log of what the conflict was and how it was handled. You may need this documentation later if the conflict comes up again or if a legal situation arises.
  • Do Not Avoid – Some business leaders make the all-too-common-mistake of trying to avoid the conflict and let it solve itself. Experts warn against this because what may seem like it is settled may rear it’s head later and cause even more problems later.
  • Follow Up – Many conflicts can be solved quickly and rather quietly. However, as a business leader, you should make it a priority to check in with concerned parties to make sure all is well or at least getting better. HR should also follow up and conclude documentation on the conflict.

Employee Documentation

As business leaders or human resource managers, documenting employee performance is critical for the health and development of successful companies. Why is it so important to document, document, document?  And how should this be done?  Read on to find out the reasons why businesses should follow good documentation strategies as well as what some of those best practices look like.

It is important to document employee issues for several reasons including: protecting the company, maintaining records for the future managers and for the protection of the employee. Documenting employee issues will protect the company in the future should the employee file a lawsuit claiming discrimination or other legal matter. Documentation will also prevent any new managers from having to start from scratch. Documentation can give insight into issues and conflicts as well as how those issues were resolved. All that documentation also protects and helps the employee as well. In all fairness employees need to be informed when there is an issue so they can make corrective action or add their input about the situation. 

Proper documentation should include the following items:

  • a description of the events or situation
  • a definition of the policy that was violated
  • a review of any previous issues with the employee and how that was resolved
  • designate a mediator or neutral person to discuss the issue with
  • indicate what changes need to be made and a timeline
  • signatures of all people involved
  • comments or input from all parties

The documentation should be a thorough as possible and include differing points of view as well as the final resolution.

Time Management Best Practices

Most of us feel like we could benefit from a few extra hours in every day. There just doesn’t seem like there is enough time to get it all done. This is especially true for business leaders who try to juggle it all. There are, however, solutions to using time more efficiently that will make getting it all done possible. Managing time well is a hallmark of most exceptional professionals. Here are a few tips for making the most of your time.

  • Take Stock – One of the first steps to managing your time wisely is to know how you actually spend you time. Start your quest for better time management by taking stock of your time right now. Keep a log of your day for several days in a row.  This will give you a good idea of what times you are most productive and when you are least productive. This log will give you a good insight as to how long it takes for certain tasks to be done and give you a chance to evaluate whether it can be done more efficiently.
  • Evaluate – Either as a team or with your business leaders evaluate your findings. Are there certain tasks that can be handed off? Do certain tasks need to be reprioritized? How are you going to keep your employees involved in time management and prioritizing tasks? A group discussion will help create a “To-Do” list of sorts that can get everyone on the same page in regard to whet should be done and when.
  • Use A Planning Tool – Many companies use certain apps or software to keep all employees up-to-date on the completion of projects. Online tools can help keep everyone informed about the progress of a project or whether certain jobs have been completed.
  • Get Organized – Now that you have had a chance to look at the inner workings of your business, certain jobs may make more sense to be done by some employees. Reorganized projects by skill and ability rather than by availability. Getting organized may also mean assigning time consuming jobs to outside groups. For example, if your office requires cleaning weekly or constant upkeep of machinery, you may want to consider contracting out for tasks that take you away from your ultimate business goals.
  • Delegate – It is easy to get tied down to doing certain tasks that have become known as your “thing” but you may want to start delegating tasks that others could easily handle.
  • Learn to Say No – As business leaders, we are pulled in so many different directions. It is really okay to say no to engagements and tasks that take you away from your business. Or better yet, assign the event to someone younger in the company who would love to gain experience!
  • Be Healthy – In other words get enough sleep, eat healthy and take care of yourself. The worst thing that can happen to over-taxed workers and leaders is that they get sick and fall into  the trap of “trying to catch up.”

Increasing Sales for Small/Medium Businesses

Small and medium sized businesses that are just starting out or even those who are several years into development usually start looking for was to increase sales and grow the market they currently have. Increasing sales can mean many things such as: increasing foot traffic to an actual brick and mortar shop, increasing online sales for ecommerce businesses , optimize conversions or sell more to existing customers. Here are some tips from the U.S. Small Business Association and other experts in marketing and sales.

  • Nurture Loyal Customers– While finding new customers is always a good idea, listening to the needs of loyal customers and satisfying their requests means not only do they stay happy customers, but they are more likely to spread the word and talk you up to friends, relatives and co-workers. Creating long-lasting relationships with your current customers will pay off in the long run.
  • Revisit your Web Strategy – Businesses have the potential to reach thousands, if not millions, of customers on the web. Think of the number of people who are married to their phone. The numbers are increasing practically daily of the consumers who purchase not only on the web but via mobile devices. Make sure your web strategy has taken the mobile industry into account.
  • Pay Attention to Metrics – You really can’t improve what you haven’t measured. Keep collecting data on sales that come in via the website. For example, what brings visitors to your website? It might be your blog articles, pay-per-click advertisements, or referral program. You could be great at building brand awareness, but you don’t know until you measure your efforts.
  • Step Up your Marketing – Evaluate your current marketing strategy to see if it needs some tweaking. Have you taken advantage of Google ad Words, Facebook Ads, email campaigns, traditional mailers, local search listings, and/or loyalty marketing? Take time as a team to examine what methods are working and what has not been  tried yet. Don’t be afraid to try something new for a few months.

Best Practices LinkedIn

Being a presence on social media is pretty much a given for businesses in todays fast-paced digital economy. But what social media platforms and how do you make the most of the social media that you do use?  Well, if you are a professional who wants to connect with other professionals, you will want to get your company, brand and personal page up and running on LinkedIn as soon as possible.

According to Moz Online,  LinkedIn is the world’s largest professional social network. It connects colleagues with each other and businesses with current and potential employees, all while enabling community development and content sharing. LinkedIn’s potential lies in its power to build authority, establish thought leadership, and cultivate a robust network. Join us for a peek behind the curtain to see if LinkedIn is a match for your business. Here are a few suggestions of how to optimize your business on LinkedIn. 

  • Complete your profile, both personal and professional, as fully as you can. Use

    keyword-rich descriptions that are easily searchable.

  • Constantly build your LinkedIn network. The more people you are connected to in LinkedIn, the more likely you’ll be able to find someone you know who is connected to someone with whom you’d like to be introduced.

  • Build your company page. Along with those key words use images that show off your company and the services or products you offer. 

  • Participate in Industry Groups. Find some active, quality groups within your industry and start participating by joining conversations, answering questions, being helpful, sharing interesting third-party articles.

  • Solicit recommendations for your products that can read like testimonials and give your company a positive image.

  • Establish yourself as a leader by publishing articles and content that is seen as useful and interesting for other people in your industry.

  • Make sure to respond to your posts, reviews, and questions. If a user leaves a product review, thank them. If they have a complaint, address it. Answer questions and offer advice and assistance.

  • Engage your employees. Your employees are your best brand ambassadors, so encourage them to add your company to their LinkedIn profiles.

     

Multigenerational Workplace Issues

Baby Boomers and Gen Xers and Millennials. . . OH MY!  Companies today often have teams with a wide range of ages. Age ranges can be wonderful. When every person entering an office comes in with different life experiences, perspectives and views it can add value to a company.  But let’s face it, there are stark differences in the values, communication styles and work habits of each generation as well. Workplaces can, in theory, have employees ranging from 18-80. That is a huge range. Businesses in all fields are quickly becoming aware of issues that have become pronounced due to these age ranges. Let’s take a look at the potential issues and some solutions for bridging this multigenerational workforce gap. 

  • Get to know each person and generation and what their concerns may be. For example, the millennial generation of workers would choose workplace flexibility, work/life balance and the opportunity for overseas assignments over financial rewards, according to a NexGen survey by PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC). Baby Boomers prefer more traditional classroom or paper-based training. They also have retirement and stability on their mind. Generation Xers prefer to learn on the internet and work well independently. They may be concerned with working their way up the corporate ladder.
  • Negative stereotypes for each generation exist, so try to dispel these and show each what they have in common. For example, Forbes Magazine points out that, “Ultimately all employees want the same thing — to be engaged at work and to have a good manager who acts as a coach and helps them achieve their specific career goals.”
  • Embrace different communication styles. According to Business New Daily, “Preferred communication styles have almost become a cliché: Generation Y sends text messages, tweets and instant messages to communicate, while Baby Boomers and older Gen Xers tend to prefer phone calls and emails. Throw in that younger workers tend to use abbreviations, informal language and colloquialisms, and you’ve got a recipe for serious communication breakdowns. Business leaders should set the example of the company line on communication and create an environment where face-to-face communication is valued and embraced. But don’t ever be afraid to embrace the differing communication methods.

Patents Basics

Inspiration is a wonderful thing. It has led to inventions and progress in so many fields. Do you have an idea for your business and want to get the idea or innovation patented? The process for filing for a patent can get a bit tedious so, do your homework and understand what issues may lie ahead of you. We also suggest discussing your case with a patent attorney.

According to Entreprenuership.org a patent grants inventors the right to exclude others from making, using, selling (or offering to sell) or importing their inventions throughout the United States for a limited period of time. To obtain a patent, the inventor submits his or her application to the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (known as the “USPTO”).

There are three main types of patents:

  1. Utility Patents –  Almost any product, process, or ornamental design that is new, useful, and non-obvious is patentable. What we normally think of as a patent is known as a “utility” patent, because it covers the usefulness of a product—the way it operates, what it produces, what it does, etc.

  2. Design Patents- Design patents protect the ornamental design or appearance of an article (i.e., they do not protect aspects of a product that are functional). A few examples of designs that may be protected by design patents include the ornamental aspects of furniture, packaging, shoes, game boards, and fonts.

  3. Plant Patents (used less frequently) are for certain new varieties of plants that have been asexually reproduced, for a term of 17 years.

As a business owner, you will most likely be filing for a utility or design patent. The registration process includes: a clear and concise description of the company’s declaration that it is the original and sole inventor, written drawings (where necessary) of the invention, filing fees; and, one or more of the company’s “claims” of exclusivity. Be sure to be very specific in your documentation as you must prove that you are the first to do something or make something like this. The United States Patent Office has a complete list of patent laws and resources. Please,  follow the link above. 

Tweeting Rules for Business

SinceJack Dorsey founded Twitter in 2006, there have been some pretty basic rules for use. For example, 140 characters was the limit of each tweet until late last year when images no longer counted towards that number. Twitter also introduced the rules of using the @ sign and hashtag symbol(#). But with the creation of Twitter also came some unwritten rules of etiquette. These rules become more important when you are a business leader and are trying to put forth a positive image for your company or brand. Here are a few that you should consider every time you tweet.

  • Behave as you would offline. How you conduct yourself in public before social media has a direct impact on how potential and current customers view your business. Be sure everything you tweet is in alignment with your business beliefs and company policy. 

  • Use your business logo. Your profile image should be your logo if you are specifically tweeting about company news. Branding your logo on social media becomes important when you want viewers to recognize your colors and images.

  • Use signs and symbols properly such as the @ and # characters. Using excessive hashtags will only annoy your followers and muddy your message. Use them as you would a search term.
  • Use authentic and useful content. Mix links to your company website or blog posts with other compelling content — such as photos, your spin on industry news, or inspirational fodder — that puts a human touch on your brand.
  • If you retweet, give credit for that tweet. Do not claim you came up with something clever when you really didn’t. This could backfire on your brand.
  • Follow people who follow you. Building followers of your brand is the ultimate goal, so join in the follow parade!
  • Promote your brand and business but do it in a way that gives the viewers something such as a link to an article, blog, photos or something more than just the hard sell.

With over 307 million monthly active users, Twitter is one of the most influential social platforms that every organization and individual wants to use to their advantage. When used correctly, Twitter can, perhaps, prove to be the best tool for reaching out to your target audience.

Facebook Advertising

More than one billion people are active on Facebook. Let that number sink in a bit. One billion people! When it comes to marketing and advertising, therefore, Facebook is too big to ignore. Managing and leveraging your social media account with Facebook advertising becomes essential. In addition, Facebook Ads can transform your business’s social reach without hurting your budget. Let’s take a closer look at some of the basics of advertising with Facebook and some tips from Facebook experts. 

  • Use Facebook’s tools to find the right audience easily. You can choose your audience based on demographics, behaviors or contact information. That means, you can really pinpoint the group you really want to see your Ad.
  • Pay attention to the analytics on Facebook. The Ad Reporting Tools show you how your ads impacted your business in visual, easy-to-read reports.
  • Follow guidelines set out by Facebook that help you choose the right format for your images and guide you through content formation.
  • Include a Call-To-Action. Adding a Call-to-Action to your Facebook Ads might not increase your click-through rate or make your ad more engaging, but it’s likely to improve your overall conversion rate and decrease your cost per conversion.
  • Use social proof such as testimonials to give your brand and company credibility.
  • Test multiple designs. No matter what your level of expertise is, or how long you’ve been advertising on Facebook, always test both your ad’s design and its targeting. Ad Espresso online suggests, “Coming up with at least 4 different Facebook Ad Designs and then test each one. For example, you might test two different images with two different copy texts (2 images x 2 texts = 4 variations).”
  • Ad Espresso also suggests, “Put the right ad in the right place.” Correct placement of your Facebook Ads is critical and, ideally, you want to optimize your design for each placement. For example, you can choose from Desktop Newsfeed, Desktop Right Column, or Mobile Newsfeed.

Managing your Reputation Online

What is your company’s online reputation?  If you Google yourself or your brand name what is it that you find? Do you see positive comments on social sites or negative comments on review sites like: RipOffOnline, Yelp or the Better Business Bureau? Worse yet, is your knowledge limited of what customers, clients, vendors and employees are saying about you? Here is a quick guide to help you and your brand manage your online reputation.

In the past few years having an online presence has changed drastically. What used to be static sites and little user interaction has blossomed into daily interactions and comments on social sites and review sites. These types of sites are easily accessible to the public and can show up on a general search for your company, name or brand. No matter the size of your business, people are talking about you. If it is positive, then great. But if it is negative, you better have a way to take control of your reputation. Using Online Reputation Management Tools is probably the best way to go for busy business owners.

According to research and tutorials from Neil Patel at QuickSprout online, there are several steps to taking control of your online reputation. Most of them are fairly simple and will save you money in the long run.

Google Yourself

The first step is to Google yourself. Literally type in your name, brand or email address and see what comes up. There should be social media profiles, your web page and all the good stuff that you want potential customers to see about your and your brand. This is the information you can control.

Manage your Reviews – 

One great tool that’s free is called “Me on the Web” by Google. What you want to do is log into your Google account and your Google dashboard and then click on “Me on the Web.” The main features of this tool allows you to search for yourself and most importantly get alerts when your name is mentioned on the web. This includes your name, email, business name or brand. 

One of the most important things you want to be alerted to is if there are any negative mentions or reviews of you or your brand so you can respond quickly and professionally. There are so many review sites out there like Yelp, RipOffOnline, BBB and a host of others. You can choose to go to each, individually, to view what is being said about you, or you can get help with an online tool such as  Go Fish Digital or Mention.net. Sites such as these can search all the complaint sites at once or alert you by email if it has found your name mentioned. Being proactive can save you time and money. Companies who have not reacted quickly have seen consumers react in powerful ways such as taking their business elsewhere or even escalating negative reviews.