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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.

Business Social Media Mistakes to Avoid

Social media feels like it is everywhere! Depending upon your age, field of work, and lifestyle, you may be on Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn, SnapChat, Twitter, or Pinterest. It’s hard to keep up with all of the posts, pins, tweets, and snaps!

The good news is that you really don’t need to be everywhere, but you do need to be somewhere. Read on to find out about your business and what you should be doing on social media by looking at some pretty common mistakes of social media marketing.

Failing to Have a Social Media Strategy

Social media may seem like fun and games, but for businesses it is actual work that needs to be carefully crafted and maintained. Companies need to find their niche and use that to drive their marketing strategy. Without a strategy there will be no understanding if your efforts are working. What’s worse is that followers will wonder what’s going on with your company if they try to interact on a channel and there are no replies. That would send a message that your business is not thriving in this digital age.

Failing to Understand the Target Audience

One of the main goals of any marketing department is to understand who is using your services or buying your products. Demographics are critical. What age, gender, education level, and/or location is drawn to your company most? Without knowing who your audience is, you will not be able to focus your social media strategy in the right areas. For example, LinkedIn tends to be a platform for professionals trying to make connections in the business world, whereas Instagram and SnapChat tend to draw a younger crowd with more visual content. Once you understand who you want to market to, then you can focus your efforts on the right social media platform.

Failing to Address Negative Feedback

We have all seen it on social media, a benign post gets a negative comment and the company does not react. This is sending a message that you either do not care about your consumers or you are not on top of your social media pages. Either way, it is not a good message to send to potential customers. Along the same lines, do not delete the message but rather respond quickly and courteously to show that you are responsive and want to correct any wrongs that may have occurred.

Social media is a full-time job where someone on your team needs to develop content, post it and, most importantly, follow through with comments made by followers. Don’t have a spare employee to spearhead this process? You may need to hire a social media consulting company or social media specialist who can nurture your presence online and steer you in the direction you want.

Retaining Top Talent

Is your company a revolving door of employees coming and going endlessly? In today’s business world, young workers have a reputation for moving from job to job looking for the next big break. Unfortunately, that means that business loyalty is not as it once was.

How, then, do business leaders deal with this issue and retain the top talent that they worked so hard to attain in the first place? There are several methods that may help with retention and overall employee morale as well.

Create a Detailed Onboarding Process

Some workplace studies show that onboarding properly can help new hires become long term employees. Be sure that your onboarding process includes orientation, socialization with other employees, and continued monitoring that the new hire is learning the specific job well and with support. Seventy percent of new workers report that they are more likely to stay at their new company for three years or more if they experienced a favorable application and onboarding process.

Allow for Flexibility

Retaining top talent sometimes means thinking outside the box. Consider flexible work hours instead of the 9-5 of our parents generation. Flexibility may also be necessary when it comes to remote work. Does an employee have an ailing parent or a young child? Possibly the option of working from home may alleviate personal stressors and encourage an employee to stay with your company.

Provide Incentives

Employees like to feel like they are learning, growing, and moving forward. By providing training and incentives to educate themselves and move up in the business, young employees tend to stay put. Whether you offer a percentage of the cost of a class or include bonuses for each training s/he takes part in, you are investing in your company and the retention of your best and brightest team members.

 

Give and Get Feedback

One complaint that employees who move around a lot have is that they do not feel like they were listened to. Be acutely aware with new employees that you plan to listen and give feedback on a regular basis. Feeling invested in a company and that ideas are considered is a great way to retain some of your top talent.

Retaining your best employees can be difficult but with some creative thinking and an attention to the needs of those employees you can foster a long-term relationship that will be beneficial for both of you for years.

 

The Benefits of CEO Groups

We have all heard the old cliche that, “it’s lonely at the top.” It really is an accurate portrayal of life for most CEOs. Not only can executive officer feel lonely in their specific business, but they may also be in need of peer relationships that bring with it sharing of business acumen, professional experience, and insights that can help grow and mold a successful business. The roles of executives today have never been more daunting or fraught with disruptions. Let’s take a look at how joining a peer group of other CEOs can help.

Having a leadership resource can be just the solution for executives who need to make a connection, want to grow their company, and often don’t have the time during the regular business day to make those connections organically. Joining a peer group can be the answer for several reasons.

CEO Groups Serve as a Sounding Board

During the course of a typical work day, most executives are busy handling day-to-day operations. There is not often the opportunity to call a friend in a similar circumstance to talk about future business questions or concerns. The CEO groups run by the Enterprise Center are a great chance for business leaders to communicate with other business leaders. Peers can act as a sounding board for ideas where CEOs are able to confidentially get feedback from people in similar positions. Other business leaders can add to their experiences and warn of potential pitfalls. The conversations can be incredibly valuable and may even help move your company forward.

 

CEO Groups Can Help with Scaling

One of the more difficult aspects of leading a business is learning how to scale. Oftentimes, CEOs do not have peers that can help them learn how to grow a business by getting more out of the people and resources or by employing better systems and methodologies. A peer group of other CEOs can provide insider access to insights learned from others’ experiences.

 

CEO Groups Can Help with the Big Picture

Often, business leaders do not take the time to plan for what lies ahead. This is especially true for small and medium-sized businesses that are still evolving and finding their niche. Peer groups of other business leaders can be a great chance to plan, organize, and take a look at the bigger picture. Being a part of an executive group means that monthly you will hear about other businesses’ successes and setbacks that can give you a sense of where your company may be heading. It is almost like taking a look into the future when hearing about where other executives are in their journey.

 

CEO Groups Can Provide Support, a Sense of Belonging, and a Little Bit of Fun

Joining one of the Enterprise Center’s three CEO groups can give the support that many executives need – even if it is once a month. These peer groups can not only be substantive in that they allow for professional support but also can spark humor, fun, and a sense of belonging to a group that can help in what can only be described as one of the more challenging positions in business.

Are you interested in joining one of our CEO Groups? Check out the programs page on our website and register now.

 

Creating a Useful Business Plan

If you hear the words “business plan” and immediately think, “Ho-Hum, boring” then your business plan is being done wrong. A business plan is a vital part of your company and it should live in the daily operations of your business as well as guide you when there are setbacks or hurdles to overcome.

This living document can be an integral part of your company and keep you on track for years to come. That means regular reviews of the document and how your company needs to adjust, or it needs to be changed.

The Small Business Association (SBA) recommends that a business plan include the following areas:

  • Executive summary – a snapshot of your business
  • Company description – describes what you do
  • Market analysis – research on your industry, market, and competitors
  • Organization and management – your business and management structure
  • Service or product – the products or services you’re offering
  • Marketing and sales – how you’ll market your business and your sales strategy
  • Funding request – how much money you’ll need for the next 3 to 5 years
  • Financial projections – supply information like balance sheets
  • Appendix – an optional section that includes resumes and permits

Now that you know the categories, how do you go about drafting a business plan? Our first suggestion is to NOT do it in a vacuum. Talk to other people who are in your field, including accountants, financial advisors, potential clients, trusted advisors, and anyone who will listen. The more you learn and research, the better off you will be with understanding how your business will come together. Here are three simple things to keep you focused as you write your business plan.

Keep it Simple and Straightforward

First of all, no one has the time or energy to read hundreds of pages of your business plan. A lengthy plan also makes it pretty unlikely that you will review it annually. Keep it short and simple, and get to the point. Bullets and charts can get your content across easily and make it reader-friendly.

Know Your Audience

As with presentations and sales, it is a good idea to know who your investors and business partners will be. Keep the language simple if your investors do not follow the lingo of your industry. This is especially true if you have a scientific or complex business plan.

Pick the Right Format

Not all businesses have the same needs or information. Choose a format that can bring out the unique aspect of your business. Check out the SBA’s types of plans such as a traditional or lean format that can convert what you need to in an easy to understand manner.

Working on a Business Plan? Check out our 2019 Business Plan Program and Competition Pitch Panel on June 12, 2019, from 8:30 am –  Click here for additional information including eligibility requirements and application.

Making Annual Reviews Productive

Oh no, it’s that time of year again! Performance reviews are not the most happily anticipated work events. In fact, most employees and business leaders report that they often dread, or at least get anxious at, the mere thought of reviewing the past year.

For some businesses, this meeting is not just a review of how an employee is doing but it is also tied to raises and bonuses. That adds a layer of pressure and stress in the days and weeks leading up to the review.

Performance reviews, although somewhat stressful, are one of the most effective ways to assess, motivate, and engage your employees. If you find that your employees are dreading these or that you want them to be more productive, follow some of these tips and suggestions to make the most of the time.

Be Prepared

As with any other aspect of running a business, be ready. Employees should be given a self-evaluation form so they can examine what they thought of their accomplishments and/or setbacks throughout the year. Management should fill out something similar. The worst thing you can do is forget and just go through the motions by having a review without any direction or purpose. A form that each person fills out can help keep you on track during the review.

Start on a Positive Note

Ask your employee to start off the meeting by talking about their most positive learning experience this year or something they are proud of. Always start on a positive note. This will hopefully put everyone at ease and set the tone for a productive meeting.

Be Open and Honest

As an employer, there are probably some areas where you would like to see some improvement or possibly some training over the next year. Talk to your employees about what training you think they could benefit from. You may find that they want to broaden their learning as well. Be honest as well about areas that you would like to see improvement. Ask your employees how you can help them achieve that improvement. Look at it as more of a group effort rather than an adversarial relationship.

Set Goals

As a part of your review process, you may want to set some SMART goals that can be evaluated next year. Make sure the goals are achievable, realistic, measurable, and specific. This can keep both of you on track.

Ask For Feedback

Not only should you be talking about how an employee can improve or in what areas you want to see growth, but you should be asking for feedback from that person as well about your contributions and how you can help him/her attain those goals. Remember, this is a two-way street.

Do you need help fine-tuning your annual reviews? Check out our workshop on “How to Conduct Performance Evaluations.”  Join Nancy Saperstone, Senior HR Business Partner and Communications Specialist, Insight Performance, on June 11, 2019, from 8:30 am – 10:30 am.

 

 

Print Marketing To Increase Sales

We live in a digital world, with emails, newsletters, pop up ads, and a constant influx of marketing materials on a daily basis. It stands to figure that businesses would cash in on this method of marketing since it seems like everyone is constantly on their devices checking their inboxes and social media. Shouldn’t print marketing be a thing of the past? Not at all.

Check out some of these startling statistics regarding print media and how it is very much still alive in the world of marketing and sales.

  • 79% of households say they read or scan direct mail ads
  • Direct mail marketing yields a 13-to-1 return on investment ratio
  • 39% of customers report trying a business because of direct mail ads
  • 56% of customers find print marketing to be the most trustworthy

Wondering about the benefits of print marketing vs. digital? Here are several reasons why print marketing is still thriving.

Print is Tangible

Print ads are tangible. They can be held, put on a fridge, and carried until used. A digital ad is only seen and then, many times, completely forgotten. Americans are far too quick to scroll past a digital ad or coupon as compared to a print ad. Many customers say they like the fact that an ad, a postcard, business card, or coupon can be held onto as a reminder until it is used. It is also a great way to keep contact information as well.

Print Marketing and A High Response Rate

According to PrintIsBig.com, advertisers spent $167 per person on direct mail in 2015, and earned $2,095 — that’s a 1,255 percent return! The numbers are actually increasing each year. Deluxe Online reports that studies prove that combining print marketing with digital promotions drives higher response rates and conversions than using digital-only communications. Honestly, who has the time or inclination to remember all of the online ads they see?

Print Conveys a Message of Trust

Print ads are the most trustworthy ads there are. Too many of us are afraid to click on a digital ad for fear that it will lead us down the rabbit hole to inadvertently downloading a virus. A print ad induces no such fear.

Is your company using print advertising? Find out more about how this marketing tool can help boost your sales and create brand awareness for your business. Check out our seminar on, “Creating print Marketing Materials to Attract Customers” with local CEO Mike Sperling of Sperling Interactive. The seminar is on June 6 from 8:30 am – 10:30 am.

 

Succeeding in Business: Who is Your Audience?

Google search “marketing strategies” and you will find hundreds if not thousands of marketing tips, strategies, and ideas that could keep you reading for a lifetime. One thing you will find that all the sites have in common is a section on “getting to know your target audience.” Why? Because, fundamentally, every business owner should know their audience inside and out if they have any hope of succeeding in their field.

Knowing this, how exactly do you get to know your audience? What are some ways you can gather information about who is buying your product or using your services? Take a look at these methods that may help you connect with and retain loyal customers for years to come.

Do Market Research

Start getting to know the different demographics you want to target in your ads and marketing strategy by doing market research. A number of tools are available to help you here, some of which are free — like American FactFinder, which uses United States census information to help you find out key pieces of information about specific demographics.

Examine Your Competitors

Doing your research on the audience you hope to reach is important, but so is examining your competitors. Check out the social media, blogs, digital marketing, and print media of your closest competitors. Who are they targeting in their email lists? Who are they aiming to appeal to in their print and digital ads? Are they missing a group or do they have a group that you have forgotten? This extra layer of research can help you stay on track and know your audience compared to your competition.

Get to Know Your Consumers

If you have a storefront or visit clients often, get to know them personally. Find out what they like, and dislike about your products or services. Go the extra mile by trying to address their concerns. These personal insights may help you adjust your marketing to appeal to their needs or wants.

Monitor Reviews and Customer Feedback

The way to really get to know your audience is to listen to what they are saying on surveys, in reviews, and even to your face during interactions. Check out your company on Yelp, Google Reviews, and other online sites to know what clients think about your company. Adjust your marketing, products, and services accordingly.

Do you need help getting to know your audience? Check out our seminar called, “What is Your Business, and What Will It take to Succeed?” It is being offered on June 5 from 8:30 to 10:30 am. Check out our website for more details.

 

Franchising 101: Things To Consider

The franchise industry is a $2.3 trillion industry, with one out of every six jobs relating to franchising. Statistically speaking, therefore, a franchise has a better chance of succeeding than most small business start-ups, due to the support and name recognition. If you are considering getting involved in a franchise, now is an excellent opportunity, but there are also things to consider before you take the leap.

What is a Franchise?

Before we take a look at whether a franchise might be right for you, let’s examine what one is and how common they are. Drive down any main street in America and you will see a Dunkin’ Donuts, Starbucks, McDonald’s, a UPS Store, and a CVS. See, you didn’t have to go far to find a franchise, did you? Franchises are an extremely common way of doing business.

A franchise is a type of license granted by an initial business owner (the franchiser) to other business hopefuls (the franchisee). The license is sold to others who will continue to use the name, logo, and business model.

Things to Consider:

Is a franchise the right fit for me?

Franchising is not for everyone. According to Entrepreneur Magazine, “Some see it as a way to venture out and become their own boss, but at the same time have the safety net a franchisor provides. While as a franchisee you will be the boss, you’ll still have the franchisor to deal with – so, you won’t be totally independent of oversight.” Most people who join a franchise do not want to change the system of work but rather believe in the business model that is already there and want to become a part of that system.

How hard do you want to work?

If you are choosing to work within a franchise, don’t go into it with the mental idea that the work will be easier because the company is already formed and a blueprint for success is already there. That would be a big mistake. Any new franchise still requires long hours and dedication. Don’t confuse a system that is already set with coasting into your own franchising success.

What is the risk?

Before you sign on the dotted line, do some research. What is the failure rate for this particular franchise? What do you know about the community you will be working in? What is that community’s turnover rate for this type of business? Do your homework before you jump at the opportunity to franchise.

Do you have questions about franchising? Check out our event, “Is Franchising Right for You?” on June 4 from 8:30-10:30 am. See our website for more details.

 

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.