Innovation is no longer classified as a “big company deal.” In fact, trends show that the United States economy relies more and more on small businesses to innovate and then for their innovations to be adopted or purchased by larger companies.
Innovation does not require you to lock yourself in a dark room, break out the lab equipment and dream up the next big thing to innovate. All you have to do is listen and respond to your customers', employees’ and business’ needs.
Small business innovation occurs in the following areas:
- New products and services, operational methods or marketing methods
- The need to reduce expenditures
- Re-alignment of the business model
Innovation is both a creative and problem-solving tool. The key to innovation is to think "incremental progress" rather than "massive change." Here are some ideas on how to stimulate innovation in your small business.
Put yourself in your customers' shoes. What do they need? What can make their lives easier? What could make them more loyal to your company? Think about what the customer needs instead of what you can do for the customer; it's a subtle shift in focus but an important one. Most companies think about how to service customers using the products and services they currently offer, and under their current mode of operation. For a moment, forget what you "do" and think about what a customer might really want; then adapt what you do to meet those needs.
Improve your internal business processes. Identify one thing you could do better or differently. Improvements can be small. If you are a mechanic, for example, positive changes could be as simple as re-organizing your tool storage so you spend less time looking for tools and more time working. Offices can do the same thing; a quick reorganization could improve overall productivity.
Pick one expense item and say, "How could I do without this expense?" You may not be able to, but the process may lead you to ways to cut other expenses. Do you need to generate that report? Do you need to distribute hard copies? Do you need to have a staff meeting every day? Imagine something you currently do has magically disappeared and determine what you would do to overcome that challenge, or whether you even need to overcome that challenge at all.
Observe another business. Borrow ideas from others by observing a different business or industry. For example, if you manage an office, visit a local manufacturing facility. Pay particular attention to ways they maximize productivity. You will be surprised by the techniques and strategies you can borrow from what would appear to be an unrelated business or industry.
Try a different promotional medium. Sometimes just reaching out to prospects via a new promotional or communications medium will create more demand. Try sending text messages or post on Facebook with special discounts when more business is needed.
Keep in mind that for innovation to pay off, an analytical process needs to overlay the innovation for the most profitable results. The process incorporates:
- Idea generation
- Screening and evaluation of each idea by a team of people
- Analysis of the revenue and cost implications for the ideas
- Development of the idea with a plan of action and prototype
- Testing of the idea through focus groups, pilot programs or surveys
- Commercialization or full implementation of the idea