Innovation seems to be all anyone’s talking about these days. Previously it was just another buzzword alongside “disruption” and “agility”, but now it’s become top of the political agenda, with the Prime Minister’s office investing over a billion dollars to build an innovation economy. While this shift is great news for startups, the average small business might be thinking – what does this mean for me, and how can I be part of it?
You’d be forgiven for thinking that the only innovative companies are those with deep pockets. But while seed funding, venture capital and government grants are definitely nice to have, they aren’t essential to adopting the innovation process. Small businesses can foster an innovative way of thinking with just a few tweaks to how they work and the tools they use. Here are three tips to innovate without spending all of your hard earned dollars:
- Collaborate with other people
The best ideas often come from crossovers between different industries or backgrounds. Steve Jobs created iTunes, for example, by combining expertise from both the software and music industries. Elon Musk’s Tesla cars brought together experiments in auto engineering and renewable energy. The more perspectives you’re exposed to, the more likely you’ll be able to solve your customers’ problems in new and exciting ways.
One way to do this is to spend time working in a co-working space. GoDaddy, for example, operates out of Sydney’s Tank Stream Labs, which allows us to discuss problems and bounce ideas off all sorts of people – from digital media experts to accountants. If a shared workspace isn’t your thing, consider using social media to join groups or round up a pool of other small business owners you know. Attend industry networking events or schedule your own regular meet-ups and, to make things more interesting, put a member’s business problem up for discussion each time you meet.
- Ask your customers what they think
Let’s say you have an idea for a new product or service. The big question is: does it actually help your customers? There are a few ways to use your digital presence to test how they’ll react to your big idea:
- Blogging: A business blog gives you a channel to write about customer issues and how your current or new products may solve them. The amount of traffic to particular posts, as well as how readers share or comment on them, can help you determine which issues really bug customers and what solutions have the most appeal.
- Email marketing: Email marketing not only generates great return on investment, it’s also an excellent way to reach out to your customers for feedback. Consider using email campaigns to survey your customers or to get their opinion on a new product. Offering a free trial or a prize is a sure-fire way to keep feedback coming.
- Social media surveys: a simple and cost effective way to engage your audience and garner instant feedback is through polls and posing questions on your social media properties. These are quick to set up and allow you to hear firsthand from your community and adjust your ideas along the way.
- Create an “Innovation Hour”
Put aside a certain amount of time each week for you and your employees to work on ways to make your products and services better. This is best done as a single hour at the start of the week when commitments are still minimal. Encourage your employees to pitch their ideas to the rest of the team: this allows you to determine where you might invest in more substantial product development. Or propose a business challenge on Friday afternoon for everyone to mull over in their spare time. Google has espoused this technique for many years, attributing to its success stories such as Gmail and Google News.
Collaborating with others, getting feedback from customers, and dedicating set time are easy things to accomplish – and the costs aren’t sky high either. These simple techniques can help your business stay ahead of the curve and help to continue delighting your customers.
Tara Commerford is the GoDaddy Country Manager, Australia and New Zealand