Innovation Sets Your Business Apart

Steve Strauss, founder of www.theselfemployed.com, explains why your small business should invest in innovation.

steve strauss headshot photoIn last week’s column we looked at how innovation can be nurtured in companies. Specifically, I shared the story of 3M and how the company used an innovation culture to foster the creation of Post-It Notes. It’s a fun and interesting story and I like sharing it because it shows that empowering one’s employees to be more innovative can really help a business grow.  

But it also begs the question: Why should a small business invest in innovation in the first place? After all, if you are in business, you already have plenty on your plate. Running and growing an enterprise is tough enough without having to worry about coming up with the Next Big Thing, right?

Right, and wrong. It is a correct assumption in that innovation is indeed too much work for some small businesses. That’s fine, understandable even. Innovation takes time and money, and those things are sometimes in short supply. So yes, if you don’t want to innovate, we can relate.

But it is equally true that being innovative in your business and with your products can be the secret sauce that allows you to stand out in the vast sea that is capitalism. There is no shortage of competitors who want to steal your clients, and if they innovate and you don’t, they just may. Moreover, innovation fires up the team, invigorates the entrepreneur, wows customers, impresses potential clients, and, when done right, grows your business.

Let me give you an example: A few weeks ago I was invited by Symantec (a company I previously did some work with) to a product launch at the world headquarters of Tesla Motors in Palo Alto. Let’s just start there. That’s an innovative way to launch a product, is it not? Rather than sending out a boring press release, showcasing their products against the backdrop of some incredibly cool $100,000 sports cars captured one’s attention.

And it is also a good lesson for the small business: Your innovation, your creativity, can look many different ways and still have an impact. Even something as different as showing your products in a different space can be memorable.

But beyond that, what I found most interesting was the commitment to innovation Symantec showed when it re-engineered its small business product Backup Exec. While creating a better system to help businesses protect and backup their data may not sound sexy, what is sexy is that the company put more than 1 million man hours over two years into rethinking its product and making it better, faster, less expensive, more usable, less complex, and more flexible.

Innovating in your business in this way offers many benefits, not the least of which is that it keeps you ahead of the curve and delights your customers when they see that you are trying to offer them the best that you have.

Now, maybe you are thinking that innovating is a lot easier for a big corporation with their bigger budgets and all. That is somewhat true. But small businesses innovate all of the time, just on a smaller scale. Whether it is a catering truck that lets customers know where it will be each day by being followed on Twitter or the furniture store that rents out furniture for real estate open houses, the idea is not that you have to invent the next iPad. Rather, the point is that innovation and all of the benefits described herein happens  when a company focuses on the end user, thinks about what their customers really need, and comes up with a better way to help those customers solve their problems.

Innovation in its many forms – big and small alike – is what can set you apart and make your business special.

Today’s Tip: “Innovation comes from people meeting up in the hallways, or calling each other at 10:30 at night with a new idea, or because they realized something that shoots holes in how we’ve been thinking about a problem.” – Steve Jobs