May 13, 2016 Posted by Cindy Bates
Innovation is quite possibly one of the most overused words in the business world today, but the definition — a new method, idea, or product — is at the center of what allows small businesses to expand and contribute to overall economic growth.
Once considered antiquated, brands like Old Spice and The Yellow Pages have managed to successfully innovate in the modern age — reinventing themselves to reach a new generation of consumers. Whether you have a long-standing business in need of a refresh or you’re just getting started, continuous innovation helps your business stay relevant and top of mind for consumers.
The Maker Movement — an umbrella term for the independent inventors, designers and tinkerers who are creating and selling self-made products — is an inspiring innovation source for any small to medium business. Underpinning the Maker Movement is new technology. Modern technology has made it easier than ever for individuals to create and distribute items that are customizable and unique.
The most recent winner of the Small Business Administration’s InnovateHER Challenge is a great example of the kind of innovation spurred by the Maker Movement. Elizabeth Caven, founder of the UpCraft Club, a modern sewing association, realized there was a need to bring together like-minded people who love to sew but don’t necessarily fit into traditional sewing categories like professional seamstresses or quilters.
UpCraft is taking traditional paper sewing patterns, which haven’t significantly changed in almost 150 years, and offering them in an innovative way online. This club is just one of the many places high tech and traditional artisans converge. Now in its second year, the UpCraft Club offers an amazing array of patterns — from polka dot socks to patterned clutches — as well as discounts at local fabric stores.
In my experience, the most successful entrepreneurs continually seek out inspiration to promote fresh thinking and help build capacity to innovate. Showcase TV programs like Shark Tank and recent addition America’s Greatest Makers, which debuted recently on TBS, offer a wealth of inspiration and free insights. Like the “Sharks,” longtime advocate for small to medium businesses and entrepreneurs Carol Roth is one of the judges on America’s Greatest Makers and dishes out great advice for those looking to develop new products or tap into new markets.
While you might not be ready for your television debut, here are four areas to embrace innovation:
1. Commit to continually expanding your knowledge
“Innovation” can be somewhat of an abstract goal. However, pushing oneself to step beyond an established comfort zone to acquire new skills, new thinking or more advanced skills forces you to connect with new people and in turn challenges the status quo.
2. Broaden your customer base
While repeat customers are the foundation of any good business, in order to grow, you have to acquire new patrons. Perhaps there are aspects of your product or service which are applicable to other industries. Or you have an entirely new idea for a related business sector.
3. Shift perspective and keep the long term goal in view
The fear that makes some risk-adverse is the same fear that prevents long-term success. When you commit to innovation, an idea that doesn’t create the positive outcome you’d hoped for isn’t viewed as failure, but rather as one step closer to your next great idea.
4. Examine business processes to increase productivity
One of the easiest ways to innovate is to incorporate new technology to streamline complicated processes. For example, note taking is, for the vast majority of us, a daily grind. However, advances in digital inking on devices like the Microsoft Surface Pro 4 combined with OneNote offer much more efficient ways than pen and pad. Similarly, if you’re too often tied to your office desk, get mobile with a tablet such as the new Microsoft Surface Pro 4 to get work done on the go. For more ideas on how to innovate through technology, download the Transform Your Business eGuide.
Developing an organizational focus on innovation, while potentially daunting, plays a key role in ensuring momentum and growth. If you want to take your business to the next level, embrace change, seek out insights, and don’t be afraid to take bold chances to improve your business and be a leader in your market.
Cindy Bates is vice president of Microsoft’s U.S. Small and Midsized Business & Distribution group. Prior to joining Microsoft 15 years ago, Bates was senior vice president in Merrill Lynch & Co’s. Investment Banking, Retail and E-Commerce Industry Group. She holds a B.A. in international economics and a B.S. in molecular biology from the University of Michigan, and an MBA from Harvard University.