"If the pace of change outside your business is faster than that of inside your business, then the end may be near for you" ..... So said Jack Welsh when he was chairman of global company, GE
The ability to change and adapt is an essential survival skill if you run a small business
- Are you resisting change?
You weren't afraid of change when you went into business, so why should you resist it now? ..... Well, maybe part of you is reluctant to change because you feel like you've found a formula that seems to work for you in your small business, so why change something that doesn't appear broken.
A fair point. Except that the market changes and your competition is very likely changing. So unless you are open to change and innovation, you run the risk that you will be left behind.
For example, what was a good or distinctive level of service three years ago is now the norm. In other words, standards rise and customer expectations increase. Almost certainly some of your competitors have been looking for an edge and unless you continue to be open to new ideas, you may find these competitors increasing their market share at your expense.
So, how can you ensure that your small business remains fresh and relevant?
- Where can innovation come from?
Well firstly, listen to what your customers are saying to you.
They may be asking you for a product or service, and you or your staff may be saying that you don't offer it. Your customers then start looking elsewhere for this ...... and end up finding a supplier who can not only offer them this particular service or product, but can also provide them with your product or service. And bang - you've just lost a customer to a supplier who can provide them with a more complete solution to their needs.
Secondly, listen to your staff. They are dealing with your customers every day and they may be getting the customer feedback that you're not.
Maybe you think your staff should be telling you this sort of thing ...... but perhaps they're not telling you because they don't want to bother you with customer "complaints". Whatever the reason, the main thing is that you encourage them to provide you with their ideas and suggestions about either how you can improve your existing line of products/ services - or what can be added to the existing range.
And it's not just ideas about innovating new products, it can also be about improving efficiencies within your systems and procedures.
Too often over the years, I've seen many small business owners failing to capitalise upon the experience of their staff. They mistakenly believe that they themselves are the ones who must drive innovation - and they overlook the treasure chest of golden ideas that are buried in their own backyard.
And thirdly, keep an eye on your competitors and remain vigilant to new initiatives they may be introducing to their product line or services.
- Reward good ideas
Hey, if you want more ideas from your staff to help improve your small business, then remember to offer them some type of reward for a worthwhile suggestion. Whether it's movie tickets, a paid dinner out for them and their partner, or a $100 voucher at the local hardware store - find a tangible way to say thank you
Heck, even if it's not such a great idea the mere fact that they are putting some thought into improving things for your business should be appreciated.
Steve Jobs of Apple fame, said "Innovation is not about how big your R & D budget is ...... When we made our early technical break-throughs, IBM were spending more than 100 times what we were on research and development. Instead, innovation is about how you lead your people and whether they are given the opportunity and the encouragement to be creative"
- Innovate and stay relevant
So in a nutshell, if you're running a small business then embrace the need for change and innovation. Actively encourage ideas from your employees and listen carefully to your customers for indications as to where your business can continue to grow and develop. Avoid becoming lulled into complacency by the comfortable routines and traditions of "business as usual" ...... What was a good standard three years ago has now become the norm. Unless you accept the need for change you will eventually lose your points of advantage and differentiation.
Push yourself to keep on learning. New technology may offer opportunities to improve customer response times or streamline some of your record keeping - so don't keep your head down and focus only within your own business. When you're talking to other small business owners, ask them about any new software they may be using and whether they think it's improved things. Join in online conversations with small business forums and enquire about their experience with new email marketing systems for example.
Remember the old saying "Your mind is like a parachute - it works best when it is open"
- Good can be an enemy to improvement
In his book, "From Good to Great" Jim Collins says it's all too easy to become overly comfortable with processes and procedures that are "good enough". But the companies who move beyond good and leap into greatness are the one's whose management ask questions and engage in conversations with their staff and customers about how things can be done better. They don't make the assumption that just because there don't appear to be problems with a process, it doesn't mean that it can't be improved. Collins says that becoming great is usually about a lot of regular little steps that improve things - rather than necessarily one big revolutionary idea that transforms the business.
So in summary, look up and beyond your immediate horizons and open yourself up to new and different ideas that could revitalise your business And keeping your business fresh is just as much about ensuring that you find ways of refreshing yourself.and have developed strategies for coping with stress
By the way, if you're looking for some good tips on implementing change in your workplace, have a look at How to Manage Change After all, there's not much point having a great and innovative idea if it's executed poorly and generates resistance from your staff.
- Small business innovation
Here's a short video clip featuring an interview with the author of the popular book, "The Innovation Zone" in which he advises the small business entrepreneur to be willing to adapt their ideas, and remain open to the potential need to change their idea in response to feedback from the market (ie. customers). Yes persistence and resilience are important qualities for an entrepreneur - but not to the point of stubbornly clinging to an idea that the market would like modified in some manner.
Copyright 2013. Brian Carroll is the founder of Performance Development - a corporate training company based in Melbourne that delivers management training and leadership development services.