Sit with a group of small business owners and executives and ask them what barriers they face in making innovation a part of their every day. You’ll probably hear these common reasons that hinder small business growth-
“Today’s climate doesn’t really allow for me to take risks”
“Time is always an issue – how do you take time out from your daily work?”
“It’s hard to mentally step outside the process and routines already in place”
“It’s not something I can do myself – but everyone else isn’t in the same innovative mind space”
“We don’t really have the budget or the monetary flexibility required for that”
- What an Innovation-led Small Business Growth Looks Like
- 5 Ways and Tips to Innovate on a Small Business Budget
- 1. Hire Creative and Out-of-the-Box Thinkers
- 2. Hold Frequent Company-Wide Meetings
- 3. Take Your Problems to the Masses
- 4. Invest in a Learning & Development Program
- 5. Invest in Research
If you’re a small business owner, we’re sure at least one of these sounds familiar to you. If you’ve given innovation a thought and a try but can’t really commit, you can probably identify with these reasons.
We are here to call you out and give you some inspiration.
Here’s a thought- Innovation isn’t a project. It’s a way of thinking, working and collaborating. If you want to innovate, it has to be a part of your culture.
So…is it possible for growing businesses to innovate on a small budget?
Of course, it is!
Let’s start from the top.
What an Innovation-led Small Business Growth Looks Like
An innovation-led culture starts from the very first block- the hiring. Innovation requires people who are willing to think outside the box, do something better than just what’s required, and constantly challenge the status quo.
You can’t teach people to think innovatively, so ideally you hire the right talent. The obvious barrier to this is all the people you already have in your team – but we’ll come to that.
First, here are a few qualities characteristic of an innovation-led culture-
Not the kinds everyone likes to say they have, but the kinds where the whole company feels like one entity and not a collection of departments.
Innovation is very often the result of collaboration and brainstorming, simply tossing around ideas and being very free to express those ideas without fear of judgement.
3. Big Picture Thinking
A clear line of sight into the company’s goals, and the goals of each level of hierarchy, helps drive innovation that actually has impact at a business level.
4. Growth Mindset
Having a growth mindset is to believe that skills and talents can be honed with continuous learning – a practice commonly found in the culture & employees of an innovative company.
5. Failure-ready Thinking
Innovators know it takes a few wrong turns before you take the right one. Innovation-led business cultures encourage trial & error, and chase success at the risk of multiple failures.
It isn’t easy to run a business that focuses on innovation, because you’re often doing it at the risk of taking an unsafe route that may or may not guarantee successes for small business growth.
To truly innovate, however, you must make the thought process a part of your culture, within the limitations of your small business budget.
With these characteristics in mind, let’s get down to…
5 Ways and Tips to Innovate on a Small Business Budget
1. Hire Creative and Out-of-the-Box Thinkers
Let’s revisit the earlier point about hiring people who think innovatively. Yes, you can’t replace your entire workforce, but you don’t need to. What you need is just enough out-of-the-box thinkers to shake things up and get everyone excited about innovation and doing things differently.
Here’s how to identify innovative thinkers-
a. They’re Resourceful
Innovative thinkers know how to get things done, and in the cases where they don’t, they are fast learners. They will go beyond their line of duty to learn and add value to a situation and the company. They are just the right people for identifying newer, better ways of getting things done.
b. They Don’t Need Hand Holding
In fact, they probably hate it. Micromanagement and spoon-feeding are a big deal-breaker for them – they’ll come to you for guidance, but they are great at exploring and discovering better solutions to problems you may not even know existed.
c. They Love to Learn
Everyone who’s innovative has a growth mindset – they are ready to accept what they don’t know and eager to put a learning curve to it. Because they are quick to learn, they enjoy the process and look at it as a challenge, usually lending new perspective to the solutions they learn.
d. They Are Constantly Thinking Beyond
They don’t accept the known solution at face value, and they’re constantly looking for innovative ways to solve problems. Neither are they sticklers for “going with the flow” or simply agreeing with everyone’s opinion. In fact, a productive heated discussion is breeding ground for their quick minds.
e. They are Highly Engaged
Not all your employees are going to be engaged and productive. Out-of-the-box thinkers, however, don’t take up a job unless they’re ready to give it a 100%, because that is what fulfils them.
Because they are intrinsically motivated, you don’t need to worry about them jumping ship as easily as you might with other employees…just offer them a great work culture, some leeway, and plenty of opportunities to innovate.
2. Hold Frequent Company-Wide Meetings
Collaboration and open communication are a big part of innovation – without them, people tend to resort to working in siloes. The most obvious way to increase collaboration, of course, is to break down barriers that might exist in the company by bringing everyone together.
Townhalls are usually a quarterly affair, but company-wide meetings can have a variety of purposes. While most companies are working from home now, an in-office work situation calls for activities such as Fun Fridays and open mic nights where the whole company can participate and mingle, generally building an environment of bonding.
Here are a few instances where you can bring the whole company together, or conduct an activity that increases company bonding-
a. Formal Company Meetings
These include the aforementioned townhall, where you take the time to brief everyone about the progress and accomplishments of the quarter, along with the business goals and planned efforts for the coming quarter. This helps everyone feel aligned with the company, its goals, and each other (and it increases team spirit toward achieving common successes!).
b. Fun Events
This includes the Fun Fridays, open mic nights, yoga & Zumba sessions, sports tournaments and team outings. While a lot of these are now impossible with remote working, you can still hold virtual events over video conferencing software.
A great way to get everyone thinking in one direction is to hold workshops that add value and growth to everyone’s journey. Identify the right workshops by choosing the right area of learning, find a trainer who’ll keep things interactive, and taking the effort to get everyone excited!
3. Take Your Problems to the Masses
Find yourself faced with a new business goal or target? Invite everyone in the company to send in their ideas and make it an all-hands-on-deck kind of project!
Large brands do this all the time; think about when Lays decided to launch a new flavor and turned the decision into a large-scale contest where everyone could send in suggestions (‘garlic bread’ won).
It’s easy enough to execute at a company level, even on a small business budget, because all you need are the resources to allocate for the selection process. Do, however, remember to keep the whole process as transparent and fair as you can to avoid conflicts.
Here’s how it would work-
a. Identify a business goal or problem
b. Frame it into a challenge or contest statement
c. Get together with your HR head and formulate the rules of the entries-
- How many ideas per entry
- What parameters need to be met
- How the winning idea will be chosen
- What the winner will receive (besides their idea being put into motion)
d. Create some buzz and hype with internal marketing communications!
e. As a bonus, add in surprise prizes for ‘best collaboration’, ‘wackiest thinking’, etc., to encourage innovative behaviors
4. Invest in a Learning & Development Program
This isn’t the first blog post where we’re making this recommendation, and it probably won’t be the last. An L&D program ensures that everyone is growing and learning something new – something they will usually be looking to apply in their work.
That is the idea behind an L&D program – you invest in the learning to add value to your employees’ careers, and they put the learnings back into solutions for the business. When you’re running on a small business budget, we recommend-
a. Skipping the expensive courses unless where absolutely necessary
When it comes to learning online, expensive doesn’t necessarily equal good quality. Where there’s great learning to be had, try to get bulk rates, but otherwise you will definitely have economically-priced online courses to offer employees.
b. Call for internal trainers
You probably have experts among your leadership that don’t get the chance to share all their knowledge on the daily, because they are so caught up in work. Arrange for informal learning sessions on relevant topics, where employees can interact and ask questions, learning how to apply the takeaways in their work.
c. Hold workshops to apply learnings
You always hope that what is learnt gets applied at work, but that may not always be the case. Plenty of times, the new learnings get sidelined to the notebook and work continues as before.
To ensure the learnings are applied practically, hold a workshop after a session/course where you or other leaders can draw up business cases, mock brainstorming sessions and mock projects for employees to work on with their new knowledge. Perfect for a small business budget!
5. Invest in Research
Have you noticed that the companies that are true pioneers in their fields, are great researchers and thinkers? That’s because they’re out there learning, analyzing, applying and optimizing patterns & trends before anyone else.
When we say you should invest in research, we don’t mean a state-of-the-art research facility with an independent team that explores the depths of your industry. Let’s be small business growth- and budget-friendly.
We mean putting together a team – or diverting some time for an existing team – where you explore what’s happening in your industry, the kinds of trends that are shaping it, how consumers are playing a role in it, how it’s evolved over the years, and so on.
Identifying trends in these answers can help raise new correlations and ideas that you can apply in your business.
Here are a few things to keep in mind when ‘investing’ in research-
a. Always Start with a Goal
Open-ended research never accomplishes anything. We recommend starting with a SMART (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, Time-bound) goal based on your business targets
b. Choose the Right People
You want thinkers and deep diggers – people who will go beyond a customary Google search online
c. Go Multi-channel
Online research is only one way of exploring the industry and new ideas. How about talking to people in parallel industries, or your clients?
d. Collate Often
Hold a research meeting every week where findings can be shared and discussed, patterns can be found and ideas shared.
e. Involve People Outside the Team
Just because you’ve put together a research team doesn’t mean they work in a silo – remember the mantra of collaboration! Encourage constant collaboration with the rest of the team, and encourage execution & experimentation of the ideas found.
So, here’s hoping…Have we gotten your creative juices flowing yet? Have we inspired you to hop to it and make that innovation-led culture happen?
Innovation is the cornerstone of every super-successful business today – in the end, it all comes down to the consumer, and the consumer today is jaded and looking for something new and better, all the time. The more you’re known to be the brand that offers solutions that are efficient and relevant today, the better your business will be.
So don’t get bogged down by reasons like small business growth challenges as a barrier to innovate – ironically, it just needs some out-of-the-box thinking!