Innovation is key to the survival of any business, but particularly startups and small businesses. There is no doubt that it takes place in science labs, universities and the research and development departments of big corporates across the world, but what does it mean for small business?
Well, you don’t have to have a degree or PHD in astrophysics to be able to innovate. Innovation is all about a departure from the norm, a shift of emphasis, a break with tradition, a simple application of a better solution.
For small business, innovation is key to creating something new and fresh to take to market. Something which is different from what’s already out there, with a focus on one particular element which will make your version better than the rest.
Right, so now that we’re clear on what it means, how do we go about doing it? It’s all well and good to say it’s crucial for success in business, but how do you ‘innovate’?
The truth is that anyone and everyone can do it. You can do it and so can I. So to help you on your way, here are three of my top tips to help you build innovation into your growing business.
Number one: be aspirational
The foundation of any business is an aspiration to make a change. Whether you’re creating a new product to tackle a cure for cancer, or have devised a new way of providing an existing service, the reason any business exists is to serve an ambition for change.
Henry Ford once said that if they’d asked customers who bought the first cars what they wanted they’d have said faster horses, so go back to the drawing board and try to recreate solutions to problems in the marketplace, rather than just improve what’s already out there by ten per cent.
So embrace it. Don’t just use your aspiration as a focus for your business goals, instead use it through every part of your organisation. Instil it in your staff, ingrain it in to the culture of your business, and make it part of every decision you make.
If your staff are inspired and have completely bought in to the ambitions of your business, then you’re far more likely to think of new ways to deliver your product or service, succeed long term and achieve your goals.
Number two: embrace your willingness to discover
Entrepreneurs and business leaders all need to be willing to learn. When you first set out on your business journey you need to discover who your customer is, what you are offering, and what pain points you’re addressing.
By figuring out exactly what problem you’re trying to address, and discovering exactly what your customer wants, you’re allowing your team to think of new ways to address these needs and wants and embrace their creativity. Innovation doesn’t just need to be in a product, some of the fastest growing businesses out there right now have innovative business models – take Uber for example, it is the world’s largest taxi company but owns no cars.
This won’t be a fait accompli straight away. Most businesses will face many ‘failures’ and iterations along the way, but the process is all about the discovery. Sometimes you’ll learn something new as a result of one of your ‘failed’ ideas, or perhaps you’ll uncover a potential product along your journey, either way you need to allow yourself the time to try if you’re going to succeed.
Number three: work smart and work on the business
Across the business community, research and development teams are continuously working to create new products and discover ways of enhancing existing products or services. But often these teams spend far too much time working in the project as opposed to working on it.
It’s only by taking a step back and working on a project or an idea that you can truly reflect and reimagine. It’s important to work fast and think of new concepts, but it’s equally as important to take the time to do it right. And this is where the minimum viable product methodology helps. By creating a quick and dirty prototype you can begin testing, refining, and reimagining your idea before you spend money creating it.
This isn’t always easy, often the powers that be want to see a constant stream of ideas, products or services which look good and work well. But, by being bold enough to take the time to work smart instead of just working fast, you can build more innovation into the proposition.
This leads to a better product or service which truly addresses the customers and target market, and will help the company achieve long term success.
Entrepreneurs are always ‘on’. They’re constantly thinking about new ideas and looking at problems in different ways to come up with creative solutions, and this is what sets them apart from the norm. An entrepreneur will never settle. And neither should you. Why stay at second best if you could be number one with a little hard work, determination and innovation?