9 Small Businesses Share Their Secrets for Staying Innovative
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Today’s Question: How do you create and maintain a culture of innovation at your small business or startup? What advice do you have to help other entrepreneurs do the same?
1. We Stay Up to Date on Trends and Best Practices
We maintain innovation by constantly researching trends and best practices. Being a lifetime learner is crucial to maintaining a competitive edge. Subscribe to as many blogs as you can, network with people in your industry, and never be afraid to admit that you could learn more. The truth is, we all have something to learn.
We also ask ourselves, “How can this be better?” After events and promotions, we meet as a team and discuss what worked, what didn’t work, and most
importantly, how we can do better next time. Even if the campaign or event was a total success, there is always room for improvement.
— Kimberly Marek, 7 Charming Sisters
2. We Leverage Our Customer Base
Staying innovative is always important for any kind of business. For us, it’s about always improving on our designs for our shirts. But how do we know if one design is better than the last? We leverage our customer base.
Run polls, give them surveys. Let them give you their opinions. Too many companies don’t want to listen to their customer bases. As a result, they make subpar products and never deliver.
— Eric O’Bradovich, Expo Apparel
3. We Keep a Staff Wish List
At Doubledot Media, we have a staff wish list where employees can share their ideas. When the time is right, we implement them! A staff wish list helps everyone feel personally invested in the overall goals and success of the company, and employees feel more motivated when working on something they suggested. The wish list keeps everyone’s creative juices flowing and helps us maintain a vibrant, innovative culture.
— Simon Slade, SaleHoo
4. We Build Diverse Teams
Diverse teams are able to better understand complex problems and make more informed decisions, compared to homogeneous teams. When you’re able to bring people together from completely different demographics, they come equipped with a variety of perspectives and opinions that help you view problems from all angles. Diversity encourages creativity, new ideas, innovation, and breakthrough.
A perfect example of this comes from a study conducted by scientists who created several groups containing three people of different racial backgrounds. Some groups had all white members, and others had some white and some non-white members. Each group was provided with identical information to begin, but each person was given vital clues that only he or she knew and would have to share collectively with the group. The study showed that the diverse groups performed significantly better than non-diverse groups.
— Adnan Raja, Atlantic.Net
5. We Clearly Define What We’re Looking For
In order to create a culture of innovation within your small business, it is important to first establish an expectation of the type of innovation you’re looking for. Are you looking for product innovation? Process innovation? Sales and marketing innovation? The list goes on and on. Before you communicate with your employees, make sure you are clear on the innovation you are going to be asking of them.
— Evan Harris, SD Equity Partners
6. We Stay in Touch With Leaders in the Industry
The way we stay innovative is by staying in touch with leaders in our field. Whether at trade shows, while reading industry publications, or during key conversations, we’re always engaged with technology and thought leaders to learn what is on the horizon.
— Ammi Borenstein, Transitions2earth
7. We Encourage Our Employees to Play
We believe that when a company creates an environment based on trust and connection, people are more willing to share ideas and fail without shame. We teach (and use ourselves) games, tools, and models that a team and/or company can use to spark employee creativity. We keep these enviroments thriving by injecting play in our work. We call it “playing with a purpose.”
— Akshay Sateesh, Ziksana Consulting
8. We Start at the Top
A culture of innovation starts at the top. Our company founder learned early on that innovation is key to growth and survival. As company directors, we hold monthly debriefing meetings with our teams to discuss and analyze past projects: what went right, what went off track, whether the project came under budget, and other factors. We use this information to brainstorm ways to innovate and improve future projects. Since everyone is involved, all employees are vested in the process and are encouraged to contribute.
— Sally Kane, PaperStreet
9. We Hold Regular Hackathons
We’ve discovered that company-wide hackathons are a great way to foster team building and creativity while identifying new business ideas. At ArcTouch, we help businesses engage with their customers via fast-changing technology in mobile and the internet of things, so we rely on a culture of innovation and fresh ideas for our projects. Hackathons are a great opportunity for employees to tinker and freely explore ideas and new technology, without the constraints of work projects or deliverables. Any company can hold a hackathon, regardless of its industry or size.
— Eric N. Shapiro, ArcTouch