Consumers constantly want the “new and improved,” and innovation allows you to give it to them. It’s the lifeblood of your business, but it’s easy to forget. When life is busy and your business is booming, it’s simpler to put things on autopilot and coast.
However, it’s critical for small business owners to continue innovating, even in good times. That’s how they can stay competitive and keep their businesses growing.
You’ve no doubt heard some version of this quote by William S. Burroughs:
“When you stop growing, you start dying.”William S. Burroughs
Innovation is the key to unlocking potential and staying ahead of the curve. By continuously exploring new ideas and approaches, small business owners can ensure that their businesses are well-positioned to succeed in the long term.
How Does Continuous Innovation Help Small Businesses Grow?
By constantly looking for new ways to meet the changing needs of your customers and the market, you will position yourself for growth.
- Keeps You Competitive. Use innovation to stay ahead of the competition. Customers are always looking for new and improved solutions to their problems. Businesses that can offer them the latest and greatest will stay ahead of those who can’t.
- Meets Customer Needs. As customer needs evolve, businesses have to find a way to stay relevant. Continuous innovation allows you to keep pace with these changing needs and quickly adjust your offerings accordingly.
- Drives Business Growth. If you are constantly improving your products or offerings, you are more likely to attract new customers, increase customer loyalty, and drive growth.
- Improves Efficiency. Continuous innovation might also mean an improvement in internal operations and processes such as new technologies and better workflows. These types of changes can lead to greater efficiency and cost savings.
- Builds a Culture of Innovation. Embracing continuous innovation fosters a culture of evolution within your business. It encourages employees to think creatively and always be on the lookout for ways to improve products and services.
10 Tips for Encouraging Innovation in Your Employees
You don’t have to come up with every idea yourself. Harness the power of your employees. Encourage them to think outside the box—and perhaps, outside their expertise.
The biggest deterrent to creativity is fear. Employees don’t want to be responsible for floating an idea that fails, lest it reflect badly on them—and their next review. So, you will have to forge an intentional policy that creates not only a safe space, but a potentially rewarding space, for employees and their innovative ideas.
Use the following tips to craft an atmosphere that can keep your business growing well into the future.
- Start at the top. To truly cement the idea that you are a company that values creativity and innovation, everyone from the CEO on down, must exhibit behavior and attitudes that foster an innovative environment. For employees to fully embrace the idea their suggestions will be taken seriously, they need to feel that support in the DNA of the company.
- Create the Infrastructure. Don’t just designate one person to carry the innovation banner. Involve the entire company by creating the framework for developing new ideas. That means building time into the work schedule where employees can move beyond their daily activities and have the opportunity to daydream and explore ideas. Give them tools, technology, and time to collaborate and experiment.
- Follow Up. Much like a person that’s all dressed up with no place to go, you have to give your employees a place to share their research and ideas. This can be a regularly scheduled meeting, or an online, internal forum. But, this must be a safe space, free from judgement where people can come together to discuss ideas, not tear them apart. Not all the ideas will become actionable, but you don’t want to discourage sharing in the future.
- Reward Experimentation. Nothing kills creativity like the fear of failure. Lift a person or team up, even if their idea didn’t pan out. Talk about what was learned instead of it being a failed idea. Even if an idea doesn’t lead directly to a change, there’s almost always something to be learned from the process that may prove helpful down the road.
- Make It Official. Include the expectation of innovation in your job criteria. Craft metrics, incentives, and bonuses to underscore for employees that you truly value progressive thinking. Also, when innovation criteria are tied to an employee’s evaluation, it will encourage them to embrace the concept as they would any other measurement of their work.
- Prioritize Learning. Invest in workshops and training, which can help expand knowledge and perspective.
- Shake Things Up. Assign employees to a project that’s outside their normal scope. A fresh set of eyes may be able to bring a new perspective. For instance, assigning a customer service representative to an IT project. They may know nothing about coding, but they know everything about the frustrations and desires of the customer. They can provide invaluable insights into new product ideas or service features.
- Look at Other Industries. If you have an employee that doesn’t identify as “creative,” put them onto research. Have them take a closer look at successful businesses outside your industry. They’ll want to look at how they interact with their employees? How do they communicate with their customers? How do they create efficiencies in their realm? Is there anything your business could adapt?
- Boost Creativity. Look for ways to inspire fresh thinking. Spending time in nature has been shown to increase creativity. Consider holding a meeting in an unexpected place like a park.
- Encourage Vacations. When employees unplug and unwind, inspiration often finds them. Beyond that, when employees take a break, it makes them more productive in the long run. When an employee feels recharged and vital, they’re much more likely to have the confidence to step outside the box.
Consider adding some of these changes—or all of them—to construct a legacy of innovation at your company and not just a half-hearted pass at a trendy subject.
Continuously Improving Your Business is Critical to Your Bottomline
While small businesses do not have the vast resources of a large enterprise, they do have nimbleness on their side. With less bureaucracy and fewer layers of approval required, small businesses can make fast decisions and get innovations to market much quicker than their larger counterparts.
Continuously working to innovate is critical to the long-term success of any business. Stay on top of changing customer needs, offer cutting-edge products and services, and you can drive growth that will help make your business a successful venture well into the future.