Disrupt Your Business: Innovate to Expand Profit
Your business needs to innovate. You know that. Everybody tells you so. But how?
When we think of innovation, we often picture caffeine-fueled geeks pounding away at software code, ready to disrupt an industry.
Or we imagine researchers in lab coats coming up with some new compound that will revolutionize how we feed the world.
But innovation can bring huge benefits much closer to home. When I forewent the standard WordPress plugins to create a floating form that doesn’t interfere with my website visitors, I was innovating.
Innovation simply means doing something new or doing something old in a new way. If you innovate enough, you can even disrupt your business. And that’s a good thing. Because if disruption is possible, somebody will do it sooner or later – and you want that somebody to be you.
Imagine how different things would be if Blockbuster had thought about streaming movies instead of letting Netflix come up with the idea.
How can small businesses innovate
Here are some types of innovation your small business might benefit from:
- More flexible work arrangements, varying hours, or telecommuting
- Outsourcing or partnering with another business, rather than doing everything in-house
- Cutting out a middleman or bringing production home from overseas
- 0utsourcing offshore to cut costs
- Bringing suppliers or customers into your process tracking application to work more collaboratively
- Packaging the same product in different ways for different markets
- Drop-shipping from warehouses around the world
- Making customer service part of everyone’s job
At Walt Disney World, part of everyone’s job description is to pick up trash. Everyone. That’s how they keep their parks so clean. What innovation! No technology. No lab coats…
Not all innovation is good, of course. Change for the sake of change can be even more harmful than no change at all. Disruption is only good if it means your new way of doing things is better than the old way.
So how do you decide what to change and how to innovate that change?
Here are some ideas…
Be a copycat
I know this sounds like cheating but there are no new ideas under the sun. So don’t be shy to curate content from a great idea when you see one.
There are two ways to curate content. You can copy your direct competitors, matching them innovation for innovation. This can get pretty tense, but in some niches it just makes sense. Why wouldn’t every theme park follow Disney’s lead?
You can also copy similar companies in other niches. They might be similar in size or in clientele, or in geography or in some other aspect. Look at how they solve problems or create advantages.
You can even ask for tips or advice if the idea is in a non-competing company. For instance, if you want a form similar to mine coded on your website, just ask. I’ll put you in touch with the coder.
Watch for overworking customers
Are your customers working hard to buy from you or to use your products?
If they can’t find what they are looking for in your store, you might have to move a few items around.
If they have trouble opening the packaging, then you might want to use less packaging.
If people want to use something as soon as they buy it, make sure your staff is prepared to remove the tags.
If your online shopping cart suffers from abandonment, find out why.
An overworked customer is an opportunity to innovate.
Brainstorm for innovation
I once belonged to an organization that brought all its staff on a two-day retreat each year. There were SWOT analyses. There were games. There were meals. The goal was to return to the office with a list of ways to improve the organization.
Brainstorming doesn’t have to be a group activity. One-on-one can work incredibly well.
Take time to ask the stockroom staff two simple questions:
- What do we do around here that doesn’t make sense to you?
- If you could change one thing around here, what would you change?
Don’t stop there. Ask the same questions to the front desk staff…. and sales staff… and delivery staff.
And why stop at the staff? You have suppliers and partners and clients. Ask anybody involved with your business. Different players will bring different perspectives to the table. Some will see things that you can’t. That’s too valuable a resource to waste.
Run a contest
Want an innovative way to innovate? Try running a contest instead of brainstorming. Have your employees compete for prizes. Each month, choose the best idea to implement. Then award that winner with a day off from work. This will, in turn, fuel motivation into employees to come up with winner ideas.
Or give employees the power to implement change. Establish a contest each year where they can submit proposals for projects, along with a budget. Winning ideas get funded, with the presenter in charge of implementing that idea. By the way, you might find some hidden leaders in the most unlikely places this way.
Outsource even when you don’t need to
Most people think of outsourcing as a tool for one of two situations. 1) You might be short-staffed or have a demand surge. To fill the gap temporarily, you need to either hire temps or outsource. 2) Or, you don’t want to build certain skillsets in-house. You might not think it is worth training a new team, therefore, you choose to outsource.
But what if you outsourced even when you don’t need to for operational reasons? What if you brought somebody in for each project, just because you know that an outsider will have a new perspective? An outsider will be able to see innovations your staff may not have considered.
Challenge every assumption
“There are dominant ideas in every walk of life. They are the assumptions, rules, and conventions that underpin systems and influence people’s thinking and attitudes… Once the dominant ideas are in place, then everything else is viewed in a way that supports them.”
He goes on to suggest:
“A lateral thinking technique we can use is to write down all the dominant ideas that apply in our situation and then to deliberately challenge them.”
This can be the most disruptive approach, if at all.
Don’t leave innovation for the big guys. They already have enough advantages. And don’t wait for someone else to disrupt your company.
There are probably 100 different ways that your small business can innovate its way to bigger profits today. Don’t waste it.