The innovative small business

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Innovation can be defined as the introduction of something new.

It can be gradual or radical, hence small business owners do not always have to come up with a game-changing, revolutionary idea to be innovative – small tweaks and refinements can also be regarded as innovations (e.g. better packaging, new partnerships, and new negotiation and marketing techniques). Innovation is critical for small businesses because it makes them more competitive, increasing their odds of survival even under the most difficult circumstances.

Small businesses are well-placed to innovate because their small size makes it easier, faster and cheaper to respond to changing market conditions; they are accustomed to working with resource constraints and improvising; they are open to trying new ideas that could enhance the business in some way; and they are usually part of formal and informal networks which share ideas and experiences the small business owners can learn from. Small businesses can create a culture of innovation by continuously identifying specific issues or challenges that need to be addressed within the business, and encouraging employees to develop solutions.

Customers and suppliers can also be approached (e.g. through casual conversation, surveys) to find out what changes they would like to see being implemented. In order to innovate successfully, small business owners should acknowledge that complementary skills sets are required within the business. Innovation requires teamwork, bringing together people who can dream and come up with ideas, people who can plan and execute to make the ideas a reality, and people who can communicate the changes to internal and external stakeholders and secure their buy-in.

Importantly, small business owners should be risk-takers who are willing to fail as innovations do not always have the desired impact. There are companies that specialize in innovation (e.g. developing new product or services, system or process improvements, organizational restructuring, identifying a new vision and strategic direction), making this a potential business opportunity for small business owners who can adapt to different situations and consistently deliver good value.

Potential clients would include corporates and other SMMEs that are stuck in a rut or lack the time, resources and know-how to think creatively and explore new possibilities.

Outsourcing innovation is, therefore, a win-win situation, particularly where there is clarity around the ownership of intellectual property.

 

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25 comments
    I think it all starts with a definition... innovation ?n?'ve??(?)n/ noun the action or process of innovating. innovation is crucial to the continuing success of any organization synonyms:change alteration revolution upheaval transformation metamorphosis reorganization restructuring rearrangement recasting remodelling renovation restyling variation;More a new method idea product etc. plural noun:innovations technological innovations designed to save energy
    Small businesses should be constantly re-evaluating reinventing and innovating both their business as well as their service offerings. Many people tend to believe that innovation is only those massive ideas that change the world but quite often innovation is found in the small things we do. The additions to our after sales service or the value-added services that set us apart from our competitors. I believe that every so often business owners need to take a step back and ask themselves how they can differentiate themselves and what they can do differently.
    I cut my teath working for one of the most innovative people in the restaurant and hospitality industry (Ben Filmalter of Linger Longer and Mugg & Bean fame) Nobody tried more things nobidy innovated more and nobody was more at the cutting edge than he was. Occasionally he would find himself so far ahead of the pack that nobody understood what he was doing from that I developed my own motto.. Constant renwal through innovation... stay ahead of the pack but not so far ahead that nobody recognises you
    Brilliant motto to live by MikeSaidWhat may just need to integrate that into my own business
    Have a poster made and keep it above the door! We all need the reminder
    It also doesn't neccesarily have to be innovation within existing businesses. What I findfacinating to follow is the innovationsindividuals are coming up with in response to bigger worldy issues. Climate change lack of water and electricityetc. This has lead to individuals taking their creative problem solving ideas to market often with great results and ending up in a business. I think entreprenuers have an inherent curiosity which naturally leads to reinvention and change however the day to day grind can often cloud their creativity so I suppose the trick would be find ways to escape this and gain clarity. For me this tends to happen when on holiday I often come back from a break full of ideas!
    Quite a while ago I watched a documentary called 'The Naked Brand and it was a real inspiration to see how businesses both big and small are truly innovating the way we do business and how we are progressing towards openness and transparency and that operating ethical businesses can be more profitable than ever. It seems that more people are buying into a companies ideals when making purchasing decisions.... will try find a link to the website for you quick.
    What was his trick to staying ahead of the game Mike? Did you start to notice a behaviour pattern that was particulary different to the rest of the crowd? I have noticed that those kind of industry leaders tend to be mavericks in business brave enough to go with their guts despite what the others think thrive on disspruption and almost anti-establishment. Did you find that the case?
    @Gareth I made you a poster and posted it on Facebook you can check it out HERE
    Very true TasyChef I have the privilege of working on the Stepup 2 a startup program every year which is a program aimed at educating and inspiring young entrepreneurs on starting their own businesses and it is absolutely amazing the level of innovation that comes out of these young adults and more often than not it is to address real-world issues in their communities they are a true inspiration!
    Love that!
    Wow that must be quite something to experience in person! Do you by any chance have a link or website could check to see them in action?
    Love it Mike... definitely printing that one out!
    Have you ever read BLUE OCEAN STRATEGY? Without even knwoing it at the time we were following a text book blue ocean strategy with Mugg & Bean we found the perfect space between restaurants and the existing coffee shops and simlpy had no competition in the early days. Others looked at our offering of bottomless coffee and huge portions (nothing they could not have simply coppied) but instead they laughed and laughed until they started closing stores. It requires bravery but not without careful consderation and weighing the facts
    Watching it right now!
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TLnX4tvuQmg TastyChef this gives a brief overview but it is quite a massive campaign with many facets that rolls out nation wide
    ANYONE ELSE READING THIS RIGHT NOW... Would live to hear your opinion on Innovation and how you use it in your own business we could all use a little help and inspiration
    Haven't read it but I intend to now thanks Mike! It's strange how people go straight to mockery when they don't understand something instead of investigating why you would be doing it and how they could potentially emulate it...you could say they laughed all the way to (the) bankruptcy!
    Mike What are some of the innovations that you have used over the years in your business? Maybe we can help generate some ideas.
    Currently in my Upcycled Furniture Business (www.tufcom.co.za) we are generating great interest and business through socila media and we are constantly developing new techniques in furniture making and in particular in the area of finishing to combine industrial and vntage into our themes
    I know this was directed at Mike however an and idea I had a couple years back at a wine estate tasting room I consulted for in Plettenberg bay really stands out. We were one of 12 wine estates on the route and to make it even more challenging were at the end of the road they were all on everyone served the same type of stuff you know the type of tapas cheese board fresh bakes etc. So I had to come up with something to set us apart! What that ended up being was something called a Freak Shake a gloriously over the top milkshake that I had found trending in Australia at the time (SA has only just caught up as they are now pretty big here too) This freak shake with the help of a few instagrammer friends and some clever social media marketing started becoming the reason people came to the restaurant. And soon enough (a few months) the restaurant was booming! So this also goes back to the article above in that it doesn't have to be a monumentous change/idea to be effective.
    Nice.... Love the idea of upcycling... solves so many issues and problems while providing an awesome product! Went and checked out your website BTW you are doing some incredible work I love it! In the last film we produced we actually used Mushrooms as a basis for building a business more specifically Paul Stamets research on using mushrooms for bioremediation. I think more and more we will be seeing biomimicry and biointegration into technology we are living in some interesting times and it is fascinating to see where innovation will lead us over the next 20yrs
    That is a brilliant example of innovation TastyChef! Really glad it worked out so well!
    Innovation is I believe largely misunderstood it is a culture not a process and essential to success in the 21st Century for any company large or small. Though smaller companies are able to adapt with more ease than larger companies with existing cultures to change. It would not therefore be wise to outsource innovation but to rather seek partners to unlock innovation potential and ensure permanence of change. It is correct that innovation is the conversion of an idea into a product or service of value what enables that conversion though is a discussion. From my observationcompanies fail to innovate because they either donthave enough; idea inspiration which is rooted in deep empathy for another ideation which is the development of ideas to solve a human pain through empathy or implementation which is the taking to market of these ideas. Bar this process which is called Design Thinking a lot of other things underpin innovation such as creativity collaboration diversity etc. I believe though that we are all innovators we just fall into different types and all types play an important role and are essential. Innovation or transformation is essential and more relevant than many business owners large or small understand.It is what will continue to make them relevant as the world continues to change at a rapid rate given we are now in the Industrial Revolution or the Exponential Age.