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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.

A Quick Guide to Presenting

Whether you are a first-time speaker or someone who does this regularly, presenting can be nerve-wracking and stress inducing. The old advice of “picture them in their underwear” does little to allay fears and nothing to improve your speaking skills. Instead, we offer a quick review of things to do before and during your next big presentation. Don’t worry, you’ve got this!

Be Prepared

No matter what the topic of your presentation is, be prepared. Have your presentation deck organized, technology all set, and handouts ready to go. Know your content inside and out to the point that you don’t even need to look at your slides. Go deep into your research so if questions are asked you will have the answers.

That takes us to the next way that you should be prepared – know your audience. Take a serious look at who your audience is and why they are coming to your presentation. What are their needs and what do they hope to get out of it? Obviously, a presentation to a group of CEOs will be dramatically different than one to first-time clients.

 

Start Strong

There is nothing worse for an audience member than hearing a speaker drone on from the start to the end of a presentation without showing passion or a love for what they are discussing. For this reason, start your presentation off strong. We live in a world of immediate gratification and constant entertainment. Start your presentation off with a bang and get their attention from the very start. Start by connecting with the audience through a story, an engaging slide, or information that they may not have heard before.

Keep It Simple and Straightforward

Most people in the business world have limited time as it is, so stick to a core message. It may help to tell the audience what the three main things are that you want them to take away from your presentation. Tell them upfront what you plan on talking about and then get to it. Try not to take a detour and chat about irrelevant information.

Be Personable

Smile, make eye contact, and speak naturally. These are three things you can do to relate to the audience and be personable. This can build rapport and actually make you less nervous.

A Word About Slides

Many great orators use slides, while others just talk. If you are going to use slides to complement your presentation, Guy Kawasaki of Apple suggests that slideshows should:

  • Contain no more than 10 slides;
  • Last no more than 20 minutes; and
  • Use a font size of no smaller than 30-point.

Giving a presentation doesn’t need to be unnerving. Following these simple steps can get you on the path to giving professional presentations. Need more information on being confident when presenting? Check out our seminar on “Presenting with Confidence” with Jim Ognibene on May 28 from 6-9pm.

 

Bookkeeping for Small Businesses

Who keeps the books for your business? You know the dreaded invoicing, receiving, payables, reconciling, filing, general ledgers, liabilities, budgets, and reports. Many small businesses do not have a dedicated accountant or financial manager to take care of these tasks, which means that, often times, the job falls to a business leader or owner.

Chances are, if you are an entrepreneur, you have some grasp of handling the books and have been doing some aspect of it while your business has been growing. As your business evolves, however, the job of balancing the books and taking care of the bills or payroll gets more complicated.

That’s why Enterprise Center is offering Business Owners and Startups a seminar entitled “Bookkeeping Fundamentals for Small Business.” Every Tuesday and Thursday from 6-9pm, from May 21 to June 6, you can learn the basic steps of setting up and keeping track of your money in a simple, accurate manner that works for you.  

Bookkeeping doesn’t need to be the dreaded chore that keeps your sheltered in your office well into the evening. There are some fantastic apps that can help keep you organized and are fairly intuitive to use. Our advice is to do a bit of research before you download any software, as each app offers something a little different. Your business’s unique needs can be met with one of them.

QuickBooks

QuickBooks is a name that you probably recognize as it is one of the most popular small business accounting software programs out there. People love it because it has multiple tailored versions and top-of-the-line features. QuickBooks is meant for people who are not accounting experts. They put all the information in one, easy-to-use location.

Xero

Xero is great for businesses that are on-the-go and need something a little more mobile. Xero is a mobile app for accounting specifically geared for business leaders who need to do their bookkeeping remotely or while on the road. This is also great in case a client needs a quick update and you want to bring up the numbers on your phone. Xero has served over 1.2 million subscribers around the world.

FreshBooks

FreshBooks is yet another top accounting software that specializes in small business accounting. That means that it is geared for your company in mind, not the larger corporations. Each of the three versions of FreshBooks: Lite, Plus, and Premium, is tailored toward the specific needs of small businesses within a wide range of sizes and structures.

Have questions about keeping the books for your company or need a change in the app that you are currently using? Check out our seminar “Bookkeeping Fundamentals for Small Business” and register today.

 

Drones for Business Use

Over the past several years businesses have cultivated new and interesting ways to add drone technology to their critical tasks. Amazon Prime Air Service is planning to offer fast delivery turnarounds with a drone prototype. Shell Oil Refinery uses drones to complete safety and compliance inspections. Walmart applied for a patented drone system to carry items around the store. And the British Broadcast Company (BBC) uses drones in order to broadcast events happening in real-time.

These companies are just examples of how business leaders have utilized unmanned aerial vehicles to bolster sales, get a jump on the competition, and be an innovator in the area of drone technology. Is your company considering using drones for transport, surveillance, safety, imaging, or any other reason?

The idea of using unmanned aerial vehicles is not a new one. In fact, the earliest unmanned aerial vehicle in the history of drones was seen in 1839, when Austrian soldiers attacked the city of Venice with unmanned balloons filled with explosives. As you can imagine, some of the balloons hit their targets, while others did not. Even then, drones had dangers associated with them.

Today’s businesses are looking for any means necessary to get ahead, cut costs, and make a name for themselves. Drones may fit the bill in many of those instances. However, there are some caveats to drone flying. Drone flying must meet the requirements put forth by the FAA – Federal Aviation Authority. Some of these requirements include an age requirement of 16, a remote pilot’s certificate, passing the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) vetting process, meeting a weight limit, conducting a pre-flight check, obtaining an operating license depending on the class of drone, and a myriad of flying rules once in the air.

In more recent news, commercial airline pilots have complained about having near misses with drones upon landing or having drones flying in restricted space. Know Before You Fly is a great place to start if you are looking for more requirements and regulations when it comes to drone use for your business. It is a great resource to connect with before you begin your business drone planning.

Are you considering integrating drone use into your business? We suggest checking out our seminar on May 13 entitled “Drones for Municipalities: What You Need to Know in Order to Fly (Hands-on Workshop).” Check out all of Enterprise Center’s seminars on our events page.

 

Getting Real about Goal Setting

Without goals, and plans to reach them, you are like a ship that has set sail with no destination.” — Fitzhugh Dodson

 

At the end of every fiscal year, do you find that you are just short of the goals that you so neatly created months ago? Or do you find that your business team took a left turn and went way off course and have not revisited the goals since the last time they created them? These are two extremely common problems when creating goals for your business.

Every business owner knows that creating and sticking to goals are what drive a business. Without goals, it’s difficult to identify ways you can grow, develop, and move toward continued success. Sometimes, however, when it comes to goal setting, it is easier to take a look at the mistakes that are common rather than the other way around.

Let’s take a look at a common personal goal that thousands of us make every New Year’s Eve and see how we can make it better. Many of us make it a goal or resolution to lose weight every year. While this is a wonderful goal that more of us should attempt, there is something wrong with the goal. Do you know what the mistake is?

The goal of losing weight is too broad. Most business owners make similar mistakes. Goals should be: achievable, measurable, and specific. Let’s rewrite the weight loss goal and see how we can improve it.

How about we change it to, “I will lose 15 pounds within three months.” Or, “I will lose at least two inches off my waist.” Or, “I will be down a dress size,” in the same time frame. Each of these is measurable, achievable, and specific.

Business owners should do the same thing when creating sales goals or any other kind of goal depending upon your field or industry. Each goal should be narrow in scope, have a time frame, and have a way to measure whether the goal has been reached.

Many business leaders use the SMART business model for goal setting. What are your biggest mistakes when setting goals? Do you get overwhelmed with the scope of a project? Do you make the goals too broad? There are a million mistakes that can be made. If you need help, you may want to attend one of our seminars on Setting and Achieving Transformative Goals.

 

Assembling a Great Management Team

If you have seen the Marvel Avengers franchise’s latest installment, End Game, (and, let’s face it, millions of you have seen it) then you know what a powerful, efficient, and productive team looks like. Your business team may not have Thor, Iron Man, the Hulk or any of the other members of the Avengers, but you probably have just as diverse a group that you are trying to mold into a great management team. Let’s take a look at some of the methods and qualities you will want to encourage in your management team.

Focus on Roles

One of the first things a small or medium-sized business owner may want to do is to define which positions are needed for a business to thrive. Make it a goal to hire with those specific needs in mind. Each person should have a particular specialty instead of just a general business resume. Look for someone who will fill a particular need and add a little something extra to your team, like fitting the pieces of the jigsaw together. Just like each member of the Avengers has special gifts or powers, your management team should be stacked with people who have something unique or specialized about them as well.

Excellent Communication

For a team to work well together, there should be multiple channels of communication, depending upon the project or work being done. For example, team members should be able to communicate on an informal level on channels such as Slack, or in more formal ways such as during presentations, client meetings, or emails. Look for team members who possess excellent communication skills and, if you are lucky, you may find people who communicate so well that they can intrinsically coordinate with other team members and anticipate needs.

Goal Seekers

Management teams should always be striving toward a goal, whether it is long-term or short-term. Arrange regular check-ins and meetings to determine whether goals are being met or if they need to be adjusted in any way. This will go hand-in-hand with communication between your team members.

 

Build Rapport

Teams don’t just come together and work seamlessly in unison. It takes time and nurturing for teams to hit their stride – even Captain America and Iron Man haven’t always seen eye-to-eye! Create a culture in your office where team members can get to know one another on different levels. Help them celebrate successes and milestones together, either business or personal. And when there is a failure, talk about it as a team without laying blame on any one person’s feet. The culture you create can help your team grow and learn together. If you are lucky, they will support each other to take calculated risks or get creative when the need arises.

Want to know more about building a great management team one that will rival the Avengers (ok not really)? Consider attending some of our seminars such as, “What Do You Need for a Management Team to Be Successful?”

Effective Time Management Skills

Do you ever notice that people around you always seem to get their tasks done and out of the way, while yours seem to pile up, and once you finish one thing, another or more come your way? Let me reassure you you’re not alone in this. Chances are those people are using time management skills to prioritize what needs to get done first, and set aside other projects and tasks to work on little-by-little. So, how can I change my ways to be more productive like those around me, you may be asking? You should practice time management, but this is easier said than done, as you need to put in a little time at the start in order to organize and plan. You will see results, though. That’s a guarantee. Let’s take a look at some time management tips and skills to get you started:

  • The difference between urgent and important – One of the most fundamental aspects of time management is recognizing the difference between tasks which are urgent and those which are important. Urgent means you should immediately address the task, but ignoring it may not have consequences. Important, on the other hand, means that the task requires your attention, and not doing it or ignoring it will usually have severe consequences. Look at the Priority Matrix created by the website Skills You Need. It lets you organize tasks by importance and urgency.
  • Clear the clutter – Another important, yet easily overlooked aspect of time management is keeping your spaces clean, neat, and tidy. When your room is messy, do you ever seem to lose motivation or the drive to get things done? I know I do. Research shows that cleaning up can improve self esteem and productivity. Clutter, when left ignored, can cause mild depression, so you lose the motivation to get things done. So clean up, tidy up, and feel the productivity levels come back into play.
  • Everyone has a certain time during the day when they’re most productive, usually in the morning within the first few hours of waking up. Once you’ve identified which tasks are urgent and which are important, choose the most difficult one(s) to do when productivity levels are high.

Time management may be the key to success. It allows you to break up your day, week, and even month, and tackle everything you need to do while still maintaining your sanity. It’s actually a more organized, planned, and methodical approach to reaching goals, both personal and professional, you set for yourself.

How to Promote your Business without a PR Department

If you’re a business owner, prospective or current, you may be asking how you can promote your business without a PR department. Promoting your business is essential to gaining new customers and keeping old ones coming back. Business promotion is two-fold. The first part is to actively let consumers know about your business, services, and/or products. Don’t rely on word-of-mouth, as it’s not reliable. Anyway, people are more inclined to talk about how bad a service or product was for them than they are to rave about how great it was. The second part is to set a budget. It doesn’t have to be an expensive business operation either. Here are a few low-cost/free ideas for effective business promotion:

  • Promote in Communications – Sure, you may have business cards with the name, address, and phone number of your company, but this isn’t enough. Your emails should have an automatic signature featuring the same information, and any physical paper documents you send out should have a letterhead with this information.
  • Vehicle-Turned-Billboard – During your commute to and from work, or even while just enjoying the open road, how many vehicles advertising businesses do you see? Probably quite a few. There’s a reason they’re so popular – because it’s an effective advertising tool! Think about it, it’s the best way to get people to actually look at your company and the products/services you provide. Vehicle wraps are the way to go in the advertising world.
  • Blogging and Social Media – Does your company have active and engaging social media accounts across various platforms? What about a regularly updated blog on your website? One of the most effective advertising schemes in our newfangled digital world is to be active on social media and keep current with blog posts. You should aim to post at least a couple times a week on social media across various platforms. For blogs, you should upload at least one post a week. You can even promote a new blog post within a social media post, with a link to your site’s blog.

There are many more ways to promote your business for little-to-no money at all. Some strategies may work better than others, so research effective methods for your area of business. And don’t forget to come to The Enterprise Center at Salem State University on December 14 for a special presentation by PR Consultant, Robin Samora, beginning at 8:30 am.

The Steps to Take to Protect your Customers’ PII (Personally Identifiable Information)

If you have a company, chances are you keep a log of your customers’ personally identifiable information (PII) such as names, addresses, phone numbers, credit card numbers, etc… which is readily available to perform business functions. If such is the case, what steps do you take to protect all this sensitive data? It is important to keep this information private and secure, otherwise it could end up in the hands of people who wish to do harm, whether it be financial, cyber, or another form. Leaving this information unprotected and susceptible to thieves and/or hackers could mean the loss of loyal customers and their trust, and possibly even a lawsuit. Keeping sensitive information protected and out of the hands of would-be thieves not only protects you and your customers, but it’s a good business practice as well. Let’s take a look at some steps you can take to protect this information:

 

  • Inventory – The first step to protecting this information is to know what information you have and where it is located. In our current digital age, the majority of this information is probably on your computer. To this effect, inventory any and all electronics which store data. The next step in this process is to identify: who sends information, how your company receives and processes it, the kind of information you collect and where it is kept and, finally, who has access to it. You should focus most of your attention on personally identifiable information, as thieves will mostly use this to commit fraud and/or identity theft.
  • Minimize – The next step to take in protecting information is to really consider if your business needs to keep it in the first place. If not, make adjustments to the electronics which receive information and dispose of the information securely and properly. If, however, you find the need to keep this information, only keep it for as long as necessary.
  • Keeping it Secure – Once you determine the information you need to keep, be sure you have a proper procedure for doing so safely and securely. This can be done in one of the following four ways: physical security, electronic security, employee training, and the security protocols used by contractors and service providers. Whichever you choose, be sure to store the information properly and securely, keeping up-to-date with any modifications or updates on the best practices of storing information.
  • Proper Disposal – When you’ve decided to get rid of data, what do you do? How do you get rid of it? You can dispose of physical paper records by shredding, burning, or pulverizing. If you’re looking to dispose of electronics which contain sensitive client information, use software to clean out the hard drives and disks where this information is stored. Be sure all employees follow the same procedures.

 

  • Plan for the Future – Security breaches are a threat to any company and its clients. Implement an effective security plan to combat any security attack or breach. In the case of a compromised computer, the first step should be to disconnect it from the network. If a security incident does occur, investigate it immediately to determine and close up threats and vulnerabilities. Lastly, know whom to notify both inside and outside the company in the case of a security breach. This may include customers, law enforcement, and/or credit bureaus . Consult your attorney as well, as a number of states have laws and regulations in place to properly address data breaches.

Developing an Effective Strategy for the New Year

While most, if not all, businesses actively look to reach their target customers in an effort to make a profit, there are those that don’t implement an effective business strategy to do so. And what’s worse is businesses which don’t have a strategy don’t even know how it is hurting their business model. Do you have an effective business strategy in place, or are you at least developing one? If not, take a look at our ideas for getting started:

 

  • Reaching Customers – By far the most effective strategy is constantly adjusting your current strategy to meet the needs of your target customers. There are two parts to this. The first is prioritizing the needs of consumers, known as the “where to play, how to win” choice. The second part is identifying what makes your company unique and why customers should choose yours over your competitors’. Combining both of these ensures that you’re looking at both the consumer side and the business side of your company, which makes for an effective business strategy.
  • Creating a Brand – It’s not enough to advertise an already-leading brand. As the market changes, a good business strategist/marketer should be creating new brands, and identifying and targeting them to specific customers. Doing this demonstrates that you, as a business, are flexible and can take the time to think of new, creative ways to achieve your company’s goal.
  • Keeping up with the Customers – As previously mentioned, your marketing strategy must evolve in conjunction with the needs and demands of your customers. Continuously researching the demographics of your customer base will help you in this pursuit.

 

Don’t let innovative competitors snatch up your once-loyal customers. Stay in the game, if not ahead of it. Come to the Enterprise Center, located on Salem State University’s Central Campus, on Tuesday, December 5 from 8:30 am to 10:30 am for a hands-on workshop to develop an effective strategy for your business.

Employee Retention Strategies

In last month’s blog post, we discussed the difference between recruitment and talent acquisition. This week we will touch on effective employee retention strategies. One of the most difficult situations a business can find itself in is when a top employee quits unexpectedly. Almost immediately the management team must take on a whole slew of challenges, namely replacing the valued employee, as well as the effect this sudden departure will have on the rest of the team. One employee’s departure may cause others to consider the same. For this reason, both job satisfaction and employee retention should really be at the top of every business’ list, so as to reduce turnover. Let’s take a look at some of the best practices when it comes to employee retention:

 

  • The onboarding process – First impressions are everything That’s why an employee’s first day is so vital to their perception of and performance in the company. Orientation is a key component of the onboarding process, as the new hire is introduced to the team and can get a quick look at the operations of the business, as well as a layout of the office space. The team should be warm and welcoming to all new hires, even inviting them out to lunch or for a morning coffee can create fast friendships within the workplace. Good relationships between staff are an essential feature of job satisfaction.
  • Compensation and rewards – Another key element in job satisfaction is making sure that employees are compensated handsomely and that their achievements and accomplishments are recognized. Money is probably the most attractive and competitive feature of a job listing, so pay your employees fairly and entice them with raises after a long track record of top-notch work.
  • Balancing work and life – Yet another important aspect in employee retention is your employees’ abilities to balance work with their respective social lives, and even school. If an employee is working too many hours, s/he can get easily bogged down and lose motivation. This can lead to resignation due to lost interest and feeling unappreciated. There should be a healthy balance between work and life for all employees, and management should be understanding when employees request a reduction in hours or workload. Quality work comes from happy employees, so job satisfaction is very important in this aspect.

 

Employee retention is the key to keeping a successful business running at peak performance. Job satisfaction among employees is a deciding factor when considering applying for a new job or toughing it out at their current job. Make sure employees are happy, compensated well, and really feel like they each play an integral role in the team.