Despite the pressures of the pandemic, small businesses still play a critical role in the modern economy.
In normal times, they create jobs, employ tens of millions of Americans, and provide an incredibly broad range of valuable goods and services. From a place to celebrate special occasions with family and friends to cutting-edge technology development, small businesses have a variety of important roles.
They can also be powerful innovators, developing new ideas, products, processes, and much more than others at businesses large and small can learn from. Let’s look at how small businesses innovate and the lessons that these achievements can provide.
Innovation, when successful, is a dynamic process that yields an especially useful result: A new way of making or doing something, or a substantial improvement to a current product or workflow.
However, you don’t have to create a new process on the level of sliced bread – something that now seems like a given but has only been commercially produced for fewer than 100 years, as The History Channel explained, to have it qualify as innovation. Nor must you develop a successful range of electric cars and a new direct sales model for them. Innovation simply means improvement and invention, The Balance Small Business pointed out. Successful innovation can mean working with a current or new supplier to lower costs or developing stronger, more resilient packing for your products.
Small businesses have a few important advantages when it comes to innovation. They aren’t limited by the sometimes complicated approval processes and other systems put in place by larger companies, which generally help to ensure smooth operations but can potentially stifle creativity. The financial and operational pressures of maintaining a smaller organization can also force innovation by necessity. If a problem needs a solution, the owners of a small enterprise and their staff can focus on the issue and do whatever is in their power to resolve it.
Forbes Coaches Council member Nick Leighton said innovation for small businesses requires focus, critical evaluation of current operations, and the ability for leaders to work on the ground floor as well as in their executive or management capacity. These qualities aren’t limited to small-business stakeholders at well-funded or technology-focused startups. They can be applied to everything from sole proprietorships to retail businesses, manufacturers, and small companies in a variety of other economic sectors. One of the most important lessons to learn from small-business innovation is that the right attitude, approach, and dedication of time and resources can lead to positive developments and beneficial changes. And those qualities sit at the core of innovation.
In some ways, it’s not surprising that small businesses have a better reputation for innovation than larger enterprises. Lower employee numbers and, often, more humble resources mean more people work together in close quarters.
As long as employees can maintain a sense of professionalism and cooperation, their smaller circle and direct interaction can spark discussions about issues and opportunities for improvement. This, in turn, can set the stage for innovation, with many different employees able to contribute to the process. Encouraging this kind of collaborative work environment isn’t particularly difficult for many small businesses, either. The right conditions tend to arise naturally for many newer companies.
Innovation through collaboration can also be possible even when staff doesn’t work together in the same physical location. With remote work growing increasingly popular across the economy, small businesses can help staff connect to each other by hosting virtual meetings and setting aside time in the agenda to discuss issues, potential opportunities, and possible targets of innovation. Because employees may not have the same close connections that come with sitting next to each other on a daily basis and to generally facilitate a positive meeting experience, a dependable video conferencing solution is a must in these circumstances.
SCORE, an association of volunteer business mentors, pointed to another quality common among innovative businesses: Allowing room for experimentation and even failure. Companies always have to balance this factor with efficient, stable operations, but there is room for both in many small enterprises. Giving employees the appropriate time and resources to try out new approaches and flesh out potentially valuable ideas won’t always lead to success, but it will produce some useful and interesting concepts that could change a company for the better.
As long as staff members complete key tasks and handle core responsibilities in a consistent and responsible way, giving them the power to build less-structured time into their calendars can assist in spurring innovation. This ties into another point mentioned by SCORE, avoiding the temptation to isolate innovation. Allowing as many employees as possible to participate in the process, instead of designating some staff specifically as innovators, means a broader range of perspectives on more pertinent issues facing your business.
When it comes to innovating as a small business, try not to force the issue. Give staff an appropriate amount of time and space to work out their own ideas, encourage group collaboration for more perspectives, take part in these sessions when possible, and remember that innovation doesn’t always need to be a totally transformational change. It just needs to be a positive one.
Cisco Webex supports effective collaboration for small businesses, whether focused on innovation or the many other times when your team needs to come together in a reliable, effective, and secure way.
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