Business adviser's perspective on innovation

Business adviser Ian McGinn has 30 years experience in helping people nurture and develop business ideas. Whether going online or introducing a new product or service, Ian writes that businesses need to understand both the risks and rewards of innovation.

In all my years as a business adviser, I don't think I've ever met a small business owner who wasn't innovative.

It's because they're close to the action - morning, noon and night - and survive day-to-day by solving problems. They may not call it innovation, but they know when business is going well and when they need to improve a product or service.

Innovation is ongoing

Whatever it's labelled as, innovation is an intrinsic part of small business. It's not a quick fix or something you can do in a month - it has to be ongoing practice.

It's about creating, developing and improving a business as a saleable asset to make money, put food on the table and pay the bills on time.

Innovation should be strategic

When looking to innovate, it's essential that business owners understand the direction their business is heading in. Innovation that is misguided, not based on research, or for the sake of innovation itself, may not be in the interests of the business at all.

For example, a lot of businesses I speak to think that they need to be online or they will fail. While we encourage small businesses to become involved in the approach to getting online, it may not suit every business. There's no point in paying thousands of dollars to have a website made - one that looks so beautiful you could hang it in an art gallery - if no one is going to use it.

I tell my clients that, when looking to innovate, the first step is to analyse all facets of the business. This includes:

  • its products and services
  • where it's come from, where it's going and how it's going to get there
  • the competition now and potential competition in the future
  • its ability to survive the coming years
  • its short-term, medium-term and long-term goals.

After analysing the business, they should then test and record the results of an innovation before it is implemented on unsuspecting customers. This is not a quick and easy task - it takes courage and requires the business owner to do as much as possible to ensure the innovation won't run foul and impact negatively on the business.

They can then more confidently implement the innovation, which should be closely monitored and measured.

While this may seem like a cautious approach, it is necessary to make sure businesses can innovate with confidence. I've witnessed the terrible harm that misguided or ill-researched innovation can have on businesses and, more importantly, the lives and relationships behind them.

Small businesses should embrace innovation

On the other hand, there are many wonderful cases of small business innovation, from great new inventions to small changes in products or services that have made a big difference.

Small businesses should embrace innovation for the wonderful good it can do for their business. It's important for businesses to take a measured approach, be persistent, and know who they are and where they are going.

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