Every business owner I know is trying new things. As a matter of fact, 78 percent of owners have said that coming out of the recession, the old way of doing business won’t work.1 Changing the way we do business may not often take on the title of innovation, but that's what it is. “Innovation” comes in all shapes and sizes: It can be as grand as new products or services or – more often – any improvement that helps you grow your business. Almost half (48 percent) of business owners this Fall are looking for innovations in marketing, for example.2
From my own experience, as well as those of some business owners I know, the following are a few suggestions that may allow innovation to flourish.
- This sounds obvious, but I will say it anyway… Encourage ideas. If you find yourself saying “no” a lot, you might not be encouraging your team to generate ideas. While you may not like the ideas you are hearing, you might be inadvertently discouraging them. Give enough of a leash to experiment, if for no other reason than to keep folks motivated to come to you with their best thinking.
- Embrace change. Innovation requires adaptability. It’s easy to rely on the habits, structures and standards that have served us well. We need to actively work at being receptive to change. At OPEN, when we noticed a number of high-performing employees were leaving to start families, we asked them what they needed to stay. We learned they wanted to add value, have a career track, and be connected – but they needed more time than their careers would allow to be at home. So we created the Project Resource Team, a flexible resourcing pool that allows them to work from home on projects with a part-time schedule.
- Focus on customers. There are many stories of people developing a product and then looking for a buyer – a solution in search of a problem. Ideally we would work to understand customer needs first and then develop solutions. For example, Maureen Borzacchiello, an OPEN Cardmember who runs Creative Display Solutions, Inc., realized some customers were reluctant to pay for new booths but still needed a presence at trade shows. So she started created a new service – booth refurbishment, thereby serving customers’ needs while generating new revenue for her company.
- Take the time to seek different perspectives. I often say that if you want something done right, don’t do it yourself. Instead, seek solutions from those around you, ideally from folks with very different perspectives from you. Create situations where you are surrounded by people who can offer creative ideas or inspirations. This means making time to network, to read about what others are doing, and to get out of your space to see how others run their businesses. And back to my first point, always be open to suggestions from employees.
- Engage and iterate. Your innovation doesn’t need to be perfect, it just needs to be constructed well enough to learn from your customers and then improve. With the launch of OPEN Forum, we invited a number of Cardmembers to try a beta version first and give us feedback. Their insights led to a number of changes before we launched, and we continue to collect and incorporate feedback into ongoing enhancements. Running a business requires constant iteration to adapt to evolving demands.
These are just a few suggestions. I hope you find if you have a suggestion or story on how you’ve been able to innovate your business, you’ll share it with us below. You can also e-mail me at susan @ openforum.com.
1From the Small Business Outlook 2010 conducted by Forbes Insights in association with CIT.