Despite their obvious challenges (such as lack of experience, formal structures, established protocols and accomplished portfolios, among other things) start-ups cannot complain about lack of energy and ideas. Nearly every new business is brimming with enthusiasm and inspired visions of how to revolutionise the market, that stem from a range of sources, such as: a perceived gap in the market, frustration with a known product/service and the drive to improve it, making existing models more effective and efficient and so on.
But in every start-up’s life there comes a moment when they cease being start-ups, and in most cases they become Small and Medium Enterprises (SMEs). The business idea keeps growing over time as more market knowledge is acquired; structures emerge both organically and through design, creating the particular flavour of the company as they solidify. But this period can also have a stifling effect on the growth of the business: the newly established structures can be too rigid and the leadership too quick to rely on them for day-to-day operational success.
The key to success as we have identified here at BUNKER48 relies on the solution to this two-fold problem: how can I incubate new ideas while staying focused on day-to-day revenue generation? A company’s culture can either foster or stifle innovation. Fortunately, business leaders are able to shape a more creative work environment if they follow a few basic guidelines.
Connections, leadership and expertise are all crucial in making your business viable, but not enough to move it forward and keep it relevant in the market. If you want to be great now and in the future you need to learn to diversify and innovate whilst generating enough revenue to stay afloat and invest.
As markets change and competition becomes more sophisticated, business leaders must overcome the restraints of previous product thinking as well as competitor noise; but constant innovation and strategy adjustment in the face of the ongoing pressures of running a business is a daunting task. It is the reason that once-successful businesses are failing.
On top of that, many people wrongly believe that innovation is something separate and external to the regular course of business, something they have to pursue intentionally; something akin to creating the iPod. In fact, innovation comes in all sizes and flavours and it is often the smallest of businesses that manage to drive change in the market.
Another misconception regarding innovation is that it requires considerable resources. Change your thinking – constraints are a friend to innovation, not a foe. More promising innovations have been killed by too much time and money, and too many people, than have been killed by lack of any of these.
Top Seven Tips
1. Capitalise on Your Close Connection with Your Customers and Clients.
Many SMEs thrive through having quite personal relationships with their clients and customers, which often results in a business model based on referrals. Make the most of this model by connecting with your customers through your digital channels and surveys, spend time trying to understand their problems, focus on them rather than your own product and let your clients and customers become a source of inspiration.
2. Find Something People Want, Then Do It Better
It’s difficult to come up with an idea so novel that no one has ever thought about it before; you can improve on an existing idea without reinventing the wheel, but by making it more relevant to your target group. It may be a restaurant whose marketing is based on a local character, or it may be a temporary custom car paint that allows you to transform your car at will without damaging the original paintwork. Again, start with your customers’ needs and see where you can improve.
3. Get Everyone Involved
Your employees are one of your most valuable resources. Getting not just your product R&D and design team but virtually everyone involved will result in not only having a greater number of more unorthodox ideas for future products and services, it will also create this sought-after culture of innovation within your company. But how can you unleash the creative spirit lurking in your workforce?
‘When it comes to innovation, our theory is that you should enable a lot of your employees – not just a small group – to invent business ideas or product features. We encourage this by allowing our engineers and product managers in most of our divisions to devote 10 percent of their workweeks to new ideas. That’s how we developed many of our products and features,’ says Mitch Henderson, Co-CEO of BNP Media.
4. Encourage Risk Taking
Actively inspire your workforce to come up with ideas that are outside the box, risky. To be sure, you won’t be able to exploit all of the ideas created this way, but this approach will help foster a fertile atmosphere of unrestrained creation. Don’t punish your employees if their ideas don’t seem good enough as this might discourage others from taking risks and being creative.
Some companies take a more active role, such as BrightHouse, which organises an annual event known as March Fo(u)rth. On that date, each employee is encouraged to do something he or she has never before attempted – say, skydive or give a large presentation. ‘If we’re known for anything, it’s possibilitarianism,’ says CEO Reiman.
5. New Project, New Team
Another great way of securing a stream of new energy into your company is working with consultants and freelancers. You may want to maintain a group of core employees on payroll, but consider creating a network of highly skilled professionals you can call on for particular projects, and give them freedom to organise their workload.
’Some people are amused when they work with us, because we’re so averse to telling people what to do,’ says managing partner of InnovationLabs, Langdon Morris. ‘But we want our people to be creative about how they help clients be creative.’
6. Use New Software to Collect Staff Ideas
Sometimes your employees might just be too shy to share their ideas. What do you do then? One idea to break the ice is to offer a prize for the best submission for a particular project. Once the prize is set, you can also use technology to collect ideas – it could be a social network or a survey, even a suggestion box that sits in your office. Or you can devote 10 minutes at the end of a brainstorming session to sharing what your workers have come up with.
7. Improve Your Leadership through Self-Awareness.
Self-awareness is a reflexive activity that should become second nature for any aspirational leaders. It’s built through process – everyday practice. Innovation needs good leadership – someone who will facilitate change and inspire new ideas. But it’s easy to become completely absorbed in the immediate chaos of running a business. Learning to pause to build self-awareness is a process critical to success. It is immensely valuable to know your strengths and weaknesses as well as vulnerabilities in order to leverage your potentialities. Good leaders are always teaching and learning, and in so doing they mould brilliant and eminent people. Self-awareness is also about knowing when you’ve made a mistake and what has not worked in the past, admitting it and building on that experience.
Challenges Are Opportunities
Being innovative is not an easy task but one most definitely worth pursuing if you want your business to thrive and grow in changing circumstances. It’s not something that happens outside of your normal everyday activities – it’s a way of thinking and a way of living. Most challenges have solutions and it is those difficulties you encounter that should serve as a springboard to ingenuity. Stay open minded, give your employees a degree of creative freedom, avoid parochialism and you’ll be on your way to a brighter, more exciting future.
Do you need help with your digital strategy? Give us a call today to discuss what we can do for you and your business!
BUNKER48 provides a full technical & digital services, including building websites and managing your IT needs. Contact us on firstname.lastname@example.org or call on 020 7078 4848.