September 15, 2008 was a big and scary day for Mike Sperling. That day was his first day working full-time for himself after working at the Eagle Tribune for a number of years. Not only that, but that was the day the Lehman Brothers collapsed, causing the great recession of 2008. It was time of uncertainty, and Mike knew then he’d have to give his new business his all in order to flourish.
Mike’s business has come a long way in ten years. It’s no longer a one-man business. It’s now an agency located in a beautiful office on Derby Square in Salem, Massachusetts with 20 employees and 500 clients. With 98% of businesses failing within 10 years, Mike knows a lot about what it takes to make a business work so today we decided to interview him on how to build an agency.
What do you wish someone had told you when you were first starting out?
I wish someone told me the importance of setting boundaries. When you’re a business owner, you could literally spend all your time working, but it’s not healthy. Setting boundaries ensures you don’t burn out and have a better work/life balance.
What’s the hardest part about running Sperling Interactive?
Dealing with the anxiety of running a business. There are hundreds of decisions to be made everyday, some large and some small, and it can be overwhelming.
How do you provide good customer service to your clients?
I believe customers should feel important and have their needs listened to and acted on as soon as possible. I always try and hear my clients out. I think another way my company exhibits good customer service is we answer the phone when it rings as opposed to a computer. I feel this adds a nice human and personal touch for our clients.
What is your biggest tip for how to grow an agency?
I believe in slow calculated growth. There is no reason to take on debt or additional risk to scale the agency quickly. Slow growth enables sustainability.
What’s something everyone should know about owning an agency?
While owning an agency is a lot of hard work, it is also a lot of fun. I get to think creatively and analytically all the time. If you’re someone who likes thinking these two ways, owning an agency might be a good fit for you.
A lot of people start an agency after having some success freelancing, how can one transition their solo career into a full-blown agency?
I would tell someone who is interested in starting an agency to take their time and to evaluate who they want to serve and what they stand for. The biggest difference between a freelancer and a business is a business has a targeted audience and a mission statement. At Sperling Interactive, our targeted audience is businesses and nonprofits who want to reach and retain their targeted audience through custom marketing that speak to their brand. Our values are creative excellence, always going the extra mile for our clients, working like a family, and being accepting of others.
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