Business Posts

Want to Improve Your Communication? Listen Up.

Communication is a two-way street. But most of what’s written about effective business communication focuses on just one side: speaking. The other side—listening—is often overlooked but at least as important.

Writing for, Anna Johansson describes several ways that active listening is important for helping a small business survive and thrive. For example, listening to your employees can clue you in to small problems before they become big issues. What’s more, the team members who alert you to potential problems may also have useful suggestions to help solve them, as well as new ideas that can lead to improvements or growth. An added bonus is that taking the time to listen to your employees also builds trust and loyalty to your company. The same goes for clients and partners: actively listening rather than coming in with a preplanned sales pitch makes them feel valued and understood.

Derek Miller, a recent contributor to the SCORE blog, cautions that effective listening is not easy, especially in situations where there is a power imbalance, such as a superior and a subordinate. Therefore, it’s especially important for entrepreneurs and small business owners to cultivate these skills.

In a 2016 article in the Harvard Business Review, leadership development experts Jack Zenger and Joseph Folkman describe how data from more than 3,000 participants in a program to develop managers’ coaching skills revealed four main characteristics of good listening:

  • Good listeners ask questions that promote dialogue and insight.
  • Good listening includes interactions that builds the other person’s self-esteem.
  • Good listening is a cooperative conversation with feedback flowing in both directions.
  • Good listeners make suggestions and provide feedback in a way that others will accept and consider.

So how do you improve your listening skills and become a more effective active listener? contributor Matthew Jones, a licensed therapist and coach, suggests some things to pay attention to:

  • Content: Focus on the specific words and phrases the speaker uses.
  • Context: What overarching circumstances and unique personal situations influence what’s being said?
  • Tone: What feelings are implied by the speaker’s tone of voice?
  • Emotion: What emotions are being conveyed by the speaker, and how can you amplify them in order to make him/her feel understood?
  • Body language: Be aware of nonverbal as well as verbal communication.

In addition, active listeners do the following:

  • Ask questions: Open-ended questions encourage elaboration, while closed-ended questions slow down the pace of the conversation and allow the listener to clarify important details.
  • Offer affirmation: Validate the speaker’s choices as important and valuable.

To learn more about effective listening and why it’s so important to the success of a business owner, join us on Monday, Sept. 30 for Building Relationships through Effective Listening. John Panarese of SCORE Fox Valley will address key skills in relationship building, including why people don’t listen, how to break the bad habits of responding before the other person has stopped speaking, and how we always learn more from listening than speaking.

This session is part of NaperLaunch’s 6th annual Entrepreneurs Week, a series of workshops focused on educating and guiding startup and experienced entrepreneurs. For more information, visit


Johansson, Anna. “5 Ways Listening Grows Your Business.” 28 Oct. 2015.

Jones, Matthew. “10 Ways to Immediately Improve Your Listening (and Networking) Skills.” 10 Jan. 2018.

Miller, Derek. “5 Ways to Improve Communication Within Your Small Business.” 16 May 2019.

Zenger, Jack, and Joseph Folkman. “What Great Listeners Actually Do.” Harvard Business Review. 14 July 2016.

Tuesday, September 24, 2019 - 16:45

NaperLaunch to Celebrate 6th Annual Entrepreneurs Week

NaperLaunch will celebrate its sixth annual Entrepreneurs Week with programs designed to explore the foundational concepts, skills, and techniques of entrepreneurship.

The week kicks off on Monday, September 30 at 6:30 p.m. at the 95th Street Library with Building Relationships through Effective Listening, presented by John Panarese of Fox Valley SCORE.

On Tuesday, October 1 at 6:30 p.m. at the 95th Street Library, Scott Miller of the U.S. Department of Labor Employee Benefits will discuss Choosing a Retirement Solution for Your Small Business.

On Wednesday, October 2 at 6:30 p.m., Lindsay Harmon, an Adult Services Librarian at Naperville Public Library, will present Part 1 of Marketing Using Library Resources. This workshop, which is part of the monthly NaperLaunch marketing series, will be held at the Nichols Library. Part 2 of the workshop will take place on Wednesday, October 16.

The week will conclude on Thursday, October 3 at the 95th Street Library with a panel discussion, All About Franchising. Moderator Gloria Spielman of The Entrepreneur’s Source and a panel of local franchisees will discuss the world of franchising and answer audience questions. Panelists include Pam Bartlett of Pinot’s Palette, Robin Helzerman of Tutor Doctor, Elliot Hershik of Supporting Strategies Far West Suburbs, Katie Powell of Expedia CruiseShipCenters, and Richard Ueberfluss of Assisting Hands Home Care.

For more information about Entrepreneurs Week, visit the NaperLaunch website.

Tuesday, August 20, 2019 - 13:00

Business Pitching

Is getting in front of people and convincing them that you have a great product or service one of your favorite things to do? If so, you’re probably in the minority among entrepreneurs. The truth is, many startup entrepreneurs who have a great business idea are fearful and unprepared to pitch their business to others.

Developing this skill can be one of the hardest things a new entrepreneur has to learn, but it’s one of the most important. Fortunately, like most things in life, practice makes perfect. The more a startup entrepreneur tells her story, the better she becomes at telling it. Almost every pitch experience is an opportunity to learn something that will make the next one even closer to perfection.

What is business pitching and how does one develop a business pitch? There are different types of pitching. The most commonly known is the pitch for funding. This pitch involves telling your story in such a way that an investor or a lender is willing to “show you the money.” A funding pitch generally follows an established formula and includes certain expected elements, such as identification of the customer problem and your unique solution, which is your unique value proposition. Add to that an assessment of the market, your vision of how you will achieve a commanding marketing share, a description of your team’s strengths and a clear plan of launching and running a successful startup.

Another type of pitching a business is inviting a strategic alliance partner to join forces with you in a marketing effort. If you share customers of another business that does not compete directly with you, but whose product combined with yours makes a better customer solution, you will likely make a stronger value proposition to potential customers if you can combine your marketing campaigns. An example of such a collaboration could be a mortgage loan broker striking an alliance with a realtor. There are many more examples of businesses that can align their marketing to become a more appealing choice for potential customers. This type of pitch requires an appeal to the potential partner’s needs to build a stronger relationship with current and future customers. By teaming up in an alliance, each partner has a broader product offering to market without having to expand their own operations beyond their expertise or available funding.

A third type of pitching is a sales pitch. Obviously, every business needs to make sales by appealing to potential customers. The sales pitch requires much more listening than talking. The successful salesperson discovers customer needs (problems) through asking questions. Listening to answers will guide the salesperson to pitch the benefits of a product or service that solve customer problems. In this way, the customer “buys” instead of the salesperson having to “sell” the solutions.

All three types of pitching require some research and analysis of the target audience and development of a solid pitch strategy. Practicing a pitch out loud with a partner is an excellent exercise. It is also a good idea to capture a pitch on video and refine the presentation to remove noticeable flaws and perfect the language and emphasis on key points.

The NaperLaunch new business startup center at the Naperville Public Library offers a quarterly pitch session for entrepreneurs to practice and prepare their pitch. The next Pitch Session will be Thursday, August 29, at 8:00 a.m. at the Nichols Library. The library’s Business Services Team members (library staff) are available for one to one guidance to put together a pitch for this session. SCORE mentors are also available for coaching interested pitchers through this entire process.

Get involved with our startup community and learn how to pitch. With preparation and practice, you will easily overcome the fear and your confidence will grow. It will pay huge dividends in the development of your startup!

Monday, July 29, 2019 - 16:45