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5 Innovative Ways to boost Your Small Business

To remain visible in modern hyper-connected markets; effective businesses use communication and information technology to promote their brands, and engage with clients and staff.

Sarah Brooks

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Consistency and stability are generally good for business, but successful entrepreneurs also understand the evolving nature of their markets. Effective small business owners seldom rest on their laurels, choosing instead to innovate in forward-thinking ways that keep them relevant over the long-haul.

Technology, social trends, consumer habits and a host of other factors influence small business operations, so entrepreneurs best-equipped to respond to dynamic business environments come out on top.

Creative innovation is at the heart of progress, so successful small businesses continually strive for fresh perspectives and solutions. And though circumstances vary depending upon the goods and services you provide, these innovative strategies may help boost your small business.

Connect in New Ways

A longstanding retail adage acknowledges that the hardest part of doing business is getting customers to walk through your front door.  In many ways, the game has not changed in principle –it is still about connecting with customers. What has shifted, however, are the ways small businesses communicate with potential patrons.

Whereas local advertising and grassroots campaigns proved effective for small businesses in the past, today’s information technology affords additional opportunities to make an impact with clients.

Social media, for example, is a new frontier for small business, enabling astute users to gain a loyal following without a big-league marketing budget.

At the same time, hyper-connected consumers are quick to dismiss small businesses that make the wrong impression online or through social media platforms. More than ever before, image and brand consciousness influence consumerism, so new connections must be managed deftly.

Boost Branding for Better Returns

The flow of information facilitated by the world-wide web makes it easier than ever for consumers to find out about products, services, and the small businesses that provide them.

Defining your brand and consistently reinforcing its position in the market are essential strategies for long-term success, so innovative branding initiatives help boost small business.

Connecting with modern consumers is a two-way street.  With the proliferation of social media and other connections, small businesses that fail to take an interest in their client bases are less competitive than organizations that actively nurture customer relations.

The key to winning-over customers is to project a brand that reflects their values position your brand in ways that generate positive emotional responses.

Increase Access to Goods and Services

Acquiring and keeping customers is the name of the game for most small businesses, so expanding access to goods and services helps boost the bottom line. For some businesses, offering lower-priced alternatives opens-up new markets for increased sales.

In other cases, small businesses boost performance by finding new ways to deliver goods and services. Still other entrepreneurs expand their sales bases geographically, by making their products accessible to wider regions or larger populations.

However it fits in your circumstances; fruitful innovation is that which makes it easier for people to do business with you.

Track Trends

Change is constant, so staying tuned-in to prevailing trends and shifts in consumer habits are essential for modern small business success.

While your own industry provides a worthy reference point; wider trends in consumer behavior also furnish insight that can help your business succeed. In fact, the landscape evolves so quickly that professional consulting agencies furnish up-to-the-minute data for a fee.

Engage Your Staff

Generating excitement about your products and services starts within your organisation. Once infected with a culture of enthusiasm, your business is better-able to carry the passion to your brand and customers.

In addition to higher productivity and innovation levels, businesses with high levels of employee engagement project positive brand images and solve internal problems efficiently. The group mentality employees feel when their interests are well-represented by their employers also helps boost output and creativity.

Successful small businesses adapt to changing conditions, using innovation to stay ahead of their competitors.

This is a guest post by Sarah Brooks from Freepeoplesearch.org. She is a Houston based freelance writer and blogger. Questions and comments can be sent to brooks.sarah23@gmail.com

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Innovation

3 Strategies To Implement A Culture Of Innovation In Your Business (Without Blowing Billions)

Learn to think differently, encourage your team to do the same, and innovative disruption could become a part of your company’s DNA.

Douglas Kruger

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You’re seeing it everywhere. Disruptive innovation is becoming the new norm, and you’re concerned that your business is merely going through the motions, missing opportunities.

How can you join the Elon Musks of the world, without the corresponding bulging budget?

It turns out that many of the techniques of today’s top innovators don’t require vast outlay. They’re simply about different ways of thinking.

Here are three strategies for enhancing the culture of innovation in your organisation without blowing billions.

1Use ‘Ignorance as strategy’

You’ve encountered the aphorism, ‘To a man with a hammer, everything looks like a nail.’ Similarly, to a banker, the only imaginable approach to banking is ‘the way banking has always been done’. When bankers try to think of innovative new ways of banking, they invariably think of greater complexity.

Along came PayPal

In the April 2016 edition of Harvard Business Review, Reid Hoffman, one of the founders of PayPal, said, ‘All the banking people knew the rules. That prevented them from trying anything that looked remotely like PayPal.’

PayPal was not invented by a bank, just as Uber was not invented by a taxi driver.

Related: Demanding Customers Are The Ones Who Motivate Innovation

To make use of ‘ignorance as strategy,’ try this. Gather a group of strategic thinkers and set the rule: ‘The old way of doing it has been outlawed. How else might we serve the same need?’

Or: ‘We are now our competitors. We have half the budget, but our hearts and souls are invested in one purpose: To topple the original company. We can’t do it the way they do it. So how could we go about it?’

Or: ‘The company has burnt to the ground. We’ve lost everything. We need to keep serving our customers but we need a new, cheap, fast way to do it right now that doesn’t rely on any equipment or systems we used before. What have you got?’

2Use commander’s intent

military-commander

Imagine: You’re a military commander. You need to move a convoy of trucks through a dangerous canyon. Your intelligence tells you that there is a sniper on one of the escarpments.

There are two ways you could issue an instruction to a soldier:

The first way: ‘Go take out that sniper.’

That’s very clear, and very good. But there’s something surprisingly important missing from it. The ‘why’ is not overtly stated, and for that reason, the mission could actually fail.

Let’s try it again the second way: ‘Go take out that sniper because we need to ensure safe passage through the canyon for our convoy.’

That may sound like a ridiculously obvious addition. Here is why it’s not: In a real, dynamic scenario, things change constantly.

Let’s say your soldier breaks off from the convoy and heads up into the mountains. Very quickly, three things go wrong:

  1. He can’t find the sniper
  2. Enemy forces start firing at him, making it difficult to look for the sniper
  3. His own weapon fails to fire so that he can’t shoot back.

If our soldier thinks only about the literal instruction — ‘shoot the sniper’ — he is now unable to carry it out. But if he bases his actions on the commander’s intention — ‘secure our convoy’ — other options open up to him.

Related: Reel Gardening Warns That Innovation Is Never Easy

He might draw their fire. He might set a bushfire. Or he might cause a commotion in a different canyon, disguising the movements of his convoy. He might, he might, he might… But only if he is absolutely clear on Commander’s Intent, and not working according to an explicit tasked item only.

Managers love to create detailed rules and procedures. But these can actually stifle innovation. Commander’s Intent is the life hack by which we get the upper hand again, freeing up leeway for creative potential.

3Instead of rules: Imaginative debate

Organisations accumulate rules over time. Problematically, rules can become a form of culture. And there is a better way.

When NASA faced two separate, well-known challenges, their culture at each stage was very different.

In 1970, Apollo 13 was two days into its mission when an explosion knocked out one of their oxygen tanks. The ensuing creative scramble to get the astronauts safely home is the stuff of legend. The creative trial and experimentation that went into rescuing them was formidable. New procedures were made up back on earth, then tested in the simulator, then relayed to the astronauts 200 000 miles away, almost in real-time.

Through this process of creative trial and experimentation, of collaborative inter-disciplinary debate, one by one the issues were resolved and the crew was brought home safely.

At this point in time, NASA’s culture was ruled by imaginative debate. It was an exploratory culture, an experimenting culture, a culture based on learning and evolution.

By contrast, at the time of the Columbia disaster of 2003, the culture of experimentation had given way to one of formalised rules, regimented procedures and rigid hierarchy. NASA had stopped being a learning organisation. It had become a bureaucracy instead.

As Columbia re-entered the earth’s atmosphere, a large piece of foam fell from the shuttle’s external tank and broke the wing of the spacecraft. The shuttle broke into pieces. NASA recovered 84 000 pieces from a debris field of over 2 000 square miles.

The investigation revealed some damning insights about the culture that led to the problem.

Related: Howard Blake Stays Hungry With His Innovation Strategy

During a post-launch review, a group of engineers actually saw this foam dislodge from the rocket. They tried to pass on this information. NASA’s management, which by this stage liked to manage everything ‘by the rules’, had seen dislodged foam before, and, according to their institutionalised perceptions, deemed it to be unimportant.

The engineers tried to argue that it seemed like a lot more foam than usual. It was a qualitative argument, based on human insight and intelligence. But NASA was unable to listen. Dislodging foam was a known quantity, and the voices of dissenters went unheeded.

NASA by this stage was so bound in rules and procedures that, in important ways, it had ceased to be a learning, experimenting culture. And that made it incapable of hearing an idea, to its great detriment.

Situational awareness

Imaginative debate allows situational awareness to pass up and down the chain of command. It promotes the opportunity to see innovation possibilities. It shows up problems that fall outside of the capacity of norms and guidelines.

The Israeli Defence Force uses an examination of these two cultures within NASA as a way of perpetuating a learning culture within its own organisation. In Start-Up Nation, Israeli air-force pilot Tal Keinan is quoted as saying that if NASA had stuck to their experimental culture, the way his own air force and military do, they would have identified and seriously debated the foam strikes at the daily debrief.

Debating everything isn’t tedious. It’s illuminating.

Putting rules in place of debate isn’t clarifying. It’s dulling.

Rigid rules enforced by unlearning authority are a recipe for real danger. The use of strenuous debate helps to overcome these blind spots.

Cultures of learning are far more idea-friendly than bureaucracies. And it costs nothing to become one. Merely a little willingness.

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Innovation

To Have An Innovative Company, Let Your Employees Take The Reins

‘In order to clean, they need to get messy,’ serial entrepreneur Justin Klosky tells Entrepreneur’s editor-in-chief Jason Feifer.

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Related: Demanding Customers Are The Ones Who Motivate Innovation

An innovative company starts with an innovative team. And what’s the best way to innovate? Give your employees the freedom to run with their own ideas, then manage the chaos later. At least that’s what Reid Hoffman believes.

“If you want your company to innovate, your job is to manage the chaos,” says the co-founder of LinkedIn, partner at VC firm Greylock and host of Masters of Scale, a podcast series examining counterintuitive theories to growing a company.

Hoffman’s theory doesn’t seem too far-fetched either. In fact, he’s not the only person who thinks giving employees the freedom to think and create on their own triggers innovation.

“When [people] have that ability to explore and innovate without the pressure of failing, you’re setting yourself up for a ‘win’ situation, because you’re going to get the best out of somebody,” Justin Klosky, founder of professional organizing company O.C.D. Experience, tells Entrepreneur’s editor-in-chief, Jason Feifer, in a video.

Although, when you’re empowering employees with this much freedom, you’ve got to be hiring people you trust. This can be easier said than done. Rather than dissecting a person’s resume, Klosky recommends digging deeper and asking prospective employees questions that will really open them up – anything from who they are, where they’re going and what brought them here.

Related: Beyond Innovation – it’s Innovation Velocity That Really Matters…

After you’ve hired a group of honest, intelligent employees, now what? Don’t tell them how to innovate. Instead, let them figure that out on their own. Allow employees to do what they do best, return to you with their results and from there manage the chaos.

“In order to clean, they need to get messy,” says Klosky.

For more insights and advice about managing an innovative culture, check out the video.

This article was originally posted here on Entrepreneur.com.

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Innovation

Do You Know How To Stay Relevant?

In this tough economic climate, you need to start focusing on business areas you can control. The ability to stay agile and relevant is in your hands.

Ed Hatton

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We have seen huge changes in South Africa recently. Just five years ago, we had a thriving platinum mining sector, good exports of commodities, no e-tolls, a rand dollar rate of better than 8:1 and peaceful universities.

All that has changed, with a significant effect on our SME sector. Imports cost more, finance is expensive and socio-political and labour issues disrupt business frequently.

Customers have changed too; many buyers now complete over 60% of the sale by Internet research. They make comparisons, shortlist potential suppliers and only ask for quotations when they are close to deciding on their supplier.

You could’ve fallen off the shortlist and didn’t even know it

Your company could have been a potential supplier and then fallen off the shortlist without you ever knowing about the lost opportunity. Customers no longer rely on sales staff to provide information about products and applications, and even the least tech-savvy customer checks prices and specifications online.

24/7 availability is now expected, and long delivery times become unacceptable. Customers assume you will be able to slot in unplanned orders efficiently. Loyalty is no longer a given; buyers will move to suppliers who provide better value, even if that supplier is overseas.

Related: 10 Steps For All-Around Optimising Your Business

Lead through quality

Entrepreneurs should recognise that the way we have done business in the past might need modification; there is a risk of being overtaken by more agile competitors. Uber, Airbnb and Netflix are great examples of competitors changing the rules.

What is happening in your markets? What are your competitors doing? Do not just accept feedback from your staff — they are also in their comfort zones. Research competitors and new technologies; ask customers what they would like to see you change.

If you make a decision to update your business, there are several areas you could focus on to build a more agile business that gives better value for money. Technology, quality, customer service, IT, Internet presence, continuous learning and strategy review are among those. A few of the vital ones include:

  • Use available technology. Check prices and terms from alternate suppliers, investigate IT solutions to provide flexible manufacturing systems, optimise inventory and give better response times for customer enquiries.

A good CRM system can track complaints, give basic data to spot new market trends and identify customers starting to move away from you. Develop apps to improve customer convenience or optimise sales calls.

Related: When Innovating Beware The Blindspots

  • Increase quality in all respects, from your products to the accuracy of your invoices. Spend money on quality systems and business processes. You will get it all back in direct and indirect savings by having less comebacks of all types. Better quality in all respects increases your value proposition, and helps to justify your price.

Embrace agility

Overhaul your customer service. Set improvement targets for order fulfilment, right first time repairs, shorter lead times, more convenient customer interfaces and all the other elements of great customer service. Then put plans in place and implement them. Financial returns will follow.

You need an effective and integrated Internet presence, with rich content, which means useful short pieces, not lots of content. Your social media presence must be integrated and support your brand and value proposition. Do not follow trends blindly because everyone thinks they are cool.

Revisit your strategy

Your company must be agile enough to change strategies and tactics to take advantage of market and competitor changes, rather than seeing them as threats. An outside facilitator helps.

All of this sounds like a lot of work and expense, but right now you may be using large chunks of time and money fixing errors, working around old systems, losing customers you should not lose and not getting new customers you should get. Stop all that and you will have time and money to create the new agile and informed company you could be, and stay relevant in your markets.

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