How to Innovate and Grow as a Small Business
As an advocate for small business innovation, I was encouraged to see the value of innovation being emphasised in Small Business Britain’s latest report (2023) ’How to Grow (In a Recession)’.
Packed with a number of illustrative case studies from a range of industries, the report shares valuable insight and advice on how you can adapt, change and grow as a small business - despite the economic challenges we currently face.
Having surveyed 1002 small businesses, the Small Business Britain and TSB research team discovered that, during the past 12 months, small business owners have innovated in the following ways (p. 22):
46% of survey respondents took new products to market;
37% took new services to market;
36% developed new digital sales channels;
20% targeted new customer groups;
11% created a new digital channel to deliver their products/services;
4% developed a completely new business.
As a result of these innovation efforts, small businesses will have diversified their revenue streams, increased their profitability and developed their competitive edge. Depending on their innovation, they may also have improved their customer experience, reduced their operational costs, or improved their efficiency.
If you are working on your own, or in a small team, you may find it difficult to know where to focus your innovation efforts. Through my own postgraduate research into small business innovation, I identified six core areas where small businesses can innovate:
- Products/Services/User experiences;
- Business models;
- Partnerships (individuals and organisations);
- Communication (strategy and tools);
- Use of technology.
Whilst we often associate innovation with new product and service development, as you can see from my list, it isn’t the only place to innovate in a small business.
When you look at the list of potential areas to innovate, what do you think you could innovate? Could you “package up” your existing products and services in new ways, targeted at new customer groups? Could you adopt new software in your admin or sales processes, in order to free up some of your time? Could you develop a new business model, which embraces inclusivity and enables your customers to “pay it forward”? Could you collaborate on a new initiative with another small business owner or corporate partner? Or could you experiment with the way in which you communicate with your community? Your options are limitless…
Whatever you decide to innovate, try to embrace an entrepreneurial mindset - be curious, spend time exploring new opportunities, and don’t be afraid to experiment until you find something that works. Most importantly, evaluate the impact of your innovation, and learn from your mistakes and successes.
As an innovation adviser and business mentor, I like to practise what I preach, and over the last couple of years, I have innovated in a number of ways, whilst staying true to my Thrive mission to deliver powerful learning and networking opportunities for female founders and women in business.
For example, I have partnered with Barclays Eagle Labs (Brighton) to host quarterly brunches for women in business. I have partnered with other small business owners - most recently, with Lulu Minns - to co-host a Female Founders’ Away Day. I have collaborated with local charities NIWBH and RISE to host Business Clarity group sessions for their beneficiaries. I have developed a new website (thanks to the intuitive Create website-building platform!), and in 2022, I launched my first product - a pack of 69 prompt cards to help founders ignite their creative thinking in business.
Reflecting on all these experiences, my biggest piece of advice to you would be - don’t innovate for the sake of it. My favourite definition for innovation is ‘something different that has impact’ (Anthony, 2012), and I believe this definition is a useful reminder to innovate things that are needed - either by you, your business, your customers, or the planet (in the context of sustainability). It is only by creating something that is needed will you successfully change your business for the better.
If this blog post has inspired you to innovate within your business, I encourage you to use Thrive’s ‘Ignite Your Creative Thinking in Business’ prompt cards, to help you explore new opportunities and generate fresh ideas. And if you would like to discuss your business plan on a one-to-one basis, feel free to book in a Business Clarity session with me.
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