Even the biggest global companies, such as Virgin and Facebook, were small once. The key to their success and expansion? Innovation. Coming up with ideas that capture consumers’ imaginations is what shapes a great brand.
So how should small- and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs), approach their problems in order to come up with creative solutions? Here are a few tips to help you on your way.
It doesn't always have to be about complete reinvention. Not every idea is completely original, but that doesn't mean it won’t do well, particularly if it offers something that other similar businesses or products don't. There’s nothing wrong with offering an improvement to an existing product: if you spot a gap in the market to make something better, go for it.
Customers often go to a particular product or business because they can relate to the story behind it. You can tell people what the roots of your business are or you can invent a narrative for your market to believe in. Just think about how you tell the tale: with apps , videos and interactive design there is plenty of scope. It all goes to make your business or brand seem original.
Research and development (R&D) is key when it comes to innovation. James Dyson’s bagless vacuums and bladeless fans are a great example, with the company investing around £1.3 million a week into research and development. This is probably the reason why 85% of Dyson machines are now sold to global markets, up from 30% in 2007.
For SMEs, it's not always possible to divert resources to full-time R&D. However, there are plenty of grants and incentives available for small businesses, such as apprenticeship grants, tax credits and double annual investment allowance, to help with R&D opportunities. Any of these can help the company to grow and innovate further.
Innovation covers every aspect of your business. You can innovate with your products, your services or your business processes, so it’s not all about R&D. Think outside the box even when it comes to the everyday running of your business, from finding the right business insurance to where you locate your office space.
Encourage your workforce to voice their opinions about which directions your future business could take with brainstorming sessions. As well as speaking to customers and suppliers to gain feedback, speak to similar companies in your industry – it might give you more of an insight into what’s missing.
SMEs already have one major advantage over larger firms when it comes to innovation: they can often be more flexible and act more quickly to embrace new ideas. With a small team, you’re knowledge of the business and good judgement may be the only approval system you need.