Easy ways to innovate for success

Innovation is often confused with invention, but it’s fundamental to business growth and maintaining a competitive edge. Chris Gebhardt, Director of William Buck, discusses the importance of building an innovative culture and suggests simple ways for generating new ideas.

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Innovating can help your business grow but it doesn’t mean you have to invent something new – it’s also about making changes in your business. Here’s some tips to help develop innovation in your business.

Innovation is fundamental to business growth and survival, yet it’s often missing from the business plan. Chris Gebhardt, Director of William Buck, explains why.

“It’s very common for small business owners to confuse innovation with invention, and to disregard it because they’re not in the business of inventing things,” he says. “Of course you can innovate by developing a completely new product or service but innovation is also about making changes within the business – changes your customers may never see.  If you stay still, you may be overtaken by the competition and the only way to drive your competitive advantage is with innovation.”

Innovation isn’t about pulling ideas out of the air. It’s about careful planning and adequate resources. It must also align with your overall business strategy, including your financial plan.

“You need to work out what you can afford to invest in terms of money and time,” says Gebhardt. “You must be clear about where you’re starting from, what you expect to achieve and how you’re going to measure your progress. You also need to give careful thought to the resources you’d need to implement innovation and how you’ll manage any risks that arise as a result of that.”

Generating new ideas

Simply ask the right questions of the right people and an innovative culture could be yours.

1. Talk to your customers

Develop a relationship with your customers, be flexible enough to respond to their needs and suggestions, and you’ll more likely stay relevant to the market.

Start by asking them what they like about your product or service and how they think it could be improved. Ask your top 10 customers what you could do better. What would have to change for them to spend more money with you? Why do they turn to a competitor for the same products or services you could provide.

2.  Talk to the people within your business

Are your people happy and productive? If not, ask them why, and what could change. Ask whether your systems and processes are as efficient as they could be and how they could be improved.

Set up an innovation subcommittee. It could meet every two or three weeks to discuss a specific aspect of your business, such as manufacturing, freight or suppliers. “Break the business down into bite sized pieces and talk to the people who live and breathe them every day,” says Gebhardt. “They’re the ones who know the problems and have ideas for doing things differently.”

3. Generate a culture of ideas

Innovation is an ongoing process of continually searching out new opportunities and responding to trends and evolving market conditions. It pays to be open to new ideas and to reward your staff for innovative thinking.

“People enjoy being challenged and they feel valued when they know someone will listen to their ideas,” says Gebhardt. “This not only creates a culture where innovation can thrive, it drives productivity and could make you an employer of choice for innovative thinkers.”

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