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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.

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.

The Difference Between Recruitment and Talent Acquisition

The terms “talent acquisition” and “recruitment” are often confused as meaning the same thing, but this is not the case. There are key differences between the two, differences with which you should familiarize yourself if you’re looking to hire the most qualified candidates for specific positions within your company. For starters, recruitment means that you’re looking to hire someone, dare I say anyone, in order to fill a vacancy. Talent acquisition, on the other hand, is the process of strategically looking for specialists, leaders, future executives, or other qualified professionals for a specific position within the company. Let’s delve into both and take a look at which one is better depending on the industry and why:

  • Recruitment – Again, recruitment is the process by which you look to fill vacant positions quickly and without much regard for the candidate’s’ particular specialties, if defined. Recruiting may be seen as reactive, meaning that a position recently opened up and it must be filled.

 

  • Talent Acquisition – As previously stated, talent acquisition is all about actively searching for the most qualified candidate to hire for a specific position. This strategy is common among niche industries such as, medical, technology, legal, and even translation services. Kathleen Quinn Votaw, Founder and CEO of the HR consulting firm, TalenTrust, says that, “The areas with the greatest skills shortages are those that most need a talent strategy.” Typically, if you’re looking to hire people for a long-term position, you should aim for talent acquisition, so as to lower a potentially high turnover rate, which is a possible effect of recruiting less-qualified candidates.

 

 

Talent acquisition is becoming increasingly more popular, and usually requires some marketing strategies to make the position known to specific, potential candidates. As niche industries continue to grow and populate as preferred career paths, hiring managers within are simultaneously scouting out candidates with the best talent, who are most qualified, and who will both ameliorate, as well as benefit from working for, the company. Define whom you’re looking to hire and for which positions, and either recruit or acquire talent accordingly.

Common HR Traps and Managing Employees Effectively

The modern role of a Human Resources Manager is to recruit, interview, and hire employees, ensure the happiness and wellbeing of the employees in the office environment, ensure compliance with labor laws and employment standards, among other assorted responsibilities. It is a big job trying to advocate for each individual in the office, as well as trying to balance employee satisfaction with meeting the goals, objectives, and overall standards of the company, but someone’s got to do it. Due to the difficulties of this job, there are common HR traps which some businesses may experience. Here are just a few, as well as tips on how to avoid or resolve them:

 

  • Not Being Familiar with Employment Laws – As the HR rep, you should familiarize yourself with the proper procedures of hiring, maintaining, and terminating employees. If not, your company may be sued for improper or unlawful termination. Brainstorm clever interview questions that have to do with the job itself for which you are hiring, as well as a list of do’s and don’ts for your managers to follow during the interview process. These practices will help to ensure that you hire the best candidate for the position, and that you will be protected when it comes time to terminate.
  • A Lack of an Onboarding Process – Onboarding means that a new employee is properly oriented with the office and that managers and employees are ready to welcome the new hire to the team. Nothing sends off a bad signal like an unacquainted, new employee who walks into an empty or quiet office on their first day, particularly when the manager or other essential personnel is absent upon the newbie’s arrival. A good practice is to make sure the manager is in the office before the new hire arrives, in order to greet and familiarize them with the workplace and environment. Current employees should also be informed of the new hire’s arrival and should invite him/her out to lunch to make them feel welcome and like a valued team member.
  • Insufficient Training Periods – One of the most important, yet overlooked aspects of growing and expanding businesses is the need for continuous training. This is particularly common among smaller businesses because of the constant influx of new tasks and jobs. Combine that with the short history of the company, and you may end up with a recipe for disaster. These tasks are new to the company, meaning that people will have little-no knowledge of how to complete them. That’s where training comes into play. It is essential to train employees thoroughly, so they get a better grasp of their respective job duties, and, when the time comes, they can train someone else.

 

 

Don’t let your company be subject to common HR pitfalls and traps. The HR manager is on the front lines of the company, fighting with both the employees’ and the company’s ideals in mind. If you’ve experienced problems with your HR department, it might be time to consider formalizing it. This not only helps you hire and retain better employees, but you also build a positive reputation for your business.

Tips for Pricing your Products and Services

When you’re first starting out as a new business, how do you know what price to charge for the products or services you offer? You want to make a profit, that’s why you started a business, but you also need to be realistic in what you charge, otherwise people might not buy. It’s a tricky balance to master between covering costs and making a profit if you want your business to grow. Here are some tips on setting the right price for your products or services:

 

  • Consult your Business Plan – Obviously, you started a business in order to make some money. Consider how pricing will affect your ability to grow and expand your business and plan accordingly.
  • Understand your Costs – As you should well know, it costs money to make money (or a product or to provide a service). It’s not enough to cover your costs; in order to survive and grow as a business, you need to factor in profit, too, after costs. Costs go deeper than producing the product itself. You probably have to pay rent, pay employees, and pay suppliers, among others. All of these will affect the price you charge for your product or service.
  • Look at your Competition – Chances are your customers are too. If the products your competitors offer are similar enough to yours, you can probably base your prices off what they charge. If you offer the same product and then some, that is an additional service or a higher quality product, then you can bump up your price a little. It is good practice to compare the net prices as opposed to the listed price.
  • Know the Market – Research and study outside factors that influence the demand for your product. These factors are fairly flexible and can range from the price of the materials you use to produce your product, to a change in the taxes or income levels your customer base can expect in the near future, either lower or higher. Again, you should research your competitors’ trends as well.

 

 

Choosing the right price for your products and services can mean the difference between making a reasonable profit and robbing people blind / being robbed yourself. Know the products or services you offer, or rather what your competition is charging, and see if you can match or beat those prices while still making a profit.

Incorporating U.S. Military Leadership Techniques into your Business’ Success Strategy

It’s no secret that the military produces great leaders, and this has been proven, not only in the field, but in the office as well. Many successful businesses are led by individuals with some form of military background. For example, Verizon’s Chairman and CEO, Lowell McAdam, was in the U.S. Navy Civil Engineer Corps. for six years. Aside from discipline and obedience training as a results of boot camp, the military teaches you various skills and techniques that translate from victories on the battlefield to success in the boardroom. Here are just a few:

 

  • Proper and Clean Attire – The military enforces a strict dress code down to shined shoes. Dressing sharp ‒ that is, well-fitting, professional clothes and coordinated outfits ‒ creates a sense of confidence, which is important in decision making and leading. Confidence is the key to making tough decisions and being sure about them, versus hesitation no matter which way you look at the situation.
  • Becoming a People Person – First and foremost, the military teaches you to care for your team, and a strong team is founded on diversity. A diverse group of people means that each member has unique experiences, which may provide special skills, talent, or thought processes down the road in order to achieve goals or objectives.
  • “Be, Know, Do”– Taken from the U.S. Army Manual of the same name, this is all about knowing how to do a job or perform a task. When giving instructions, orders, or just telling someone what to do job-wise, you yourself should know the ins and outs of the task itself. Lead by example and show them how to do it correctly, and they will follow suit.

 

 

The military mass-produces great leaders who can adapt and confidently lead their team into battle. The ability to adapt is important because once they’re out of the military, they can take what they’ve learned and modify it for an appropriate job setting, and achieve a level of success which might otherwise not be attainable.

Tips to Improve your Website

The Internet is an ever-changing miracle of technology, and it is important that you keep your website up-to-date. Improving your website often makes for a better, more seamless user experience, which in-turn will reward you with a satisfied customer. A website that looks dated or that doesn’t have the latest features ‒ as they pertain to your business ‒ is almost a turn off for would-be customers. Here are some helpful tips to improve your website for the modern world:

  • Add a Mission Statement – Also known as a value proposition, this informs visitors to your website about your company. Information to be included in the statement is: the location of your company, to whom you market and serve/sell, what your company does, and the benefit(s) customers can get out of using your company. The mission statement should go on your homepage, and you can add it to your About or Blog page(s).
  • Incorporate Social Media Links – If your company has social media profiles ‒ which it definitely should nowadays ‒ you should add links on your website for visitors to follow. Utilizing social media greatly increases the amount of traffic your website receives.
  • Use Calls-to-Action – When a visitor first gets to your website, can s/he easily navigate through the various pages to fulfill the purpose of their visit? While there are some basic calls-to-action, such as “call/email for a consultation”, you should strive to update them for a better user experience. Some examples of more advanced calls-to-action are: click here for more information, sign up for a webinar, and view pricing.
  • Is Your Website Mobile-Friendly? – The advent of the Internet has birthed new technologies, most notably the smartphone. Almost everyone has a smartphone nowadays, so it’s important that your website be optimized for mobile. You can test this out yourself on your own smartphone, and ask yourself the following: when would someone go to my website on mobile? How is the experience on the website right now? Remember, mobile optimization is all about user experience, so your visitors should be able to navigate your website effortlessly and with ease. Check out the mobile category on our blog for more information.

One of the biggest considerations for a quality website is user experience. Most updates and new features are released to make the whole experience for visitors to your website easier, and more enjoyable and fluid. It’s a smart technique to garner more traffic to the website and, therefore, more potential customers. The content should be flattering and attention-grabbing, but not so flashy that users are turned off. There’s a delicate balance to making a user-friendly website, and getting it right will be so beneficial, not only for you, but also your new customers.