Small Business is Getting Bigger: How to Keep Innovating as Your Company Grows

Business innovation benefits business owners and consumers alike. It helps grow competitive advantage in saturated markets and time and time again have proven to be financially lucrative and socially inspiring. It's crucial to any organization's long-term success and especially hard to scale and maintain.

The problem with small businesses

Small businesses are not innovators nor thought leaders. They’re small and usually operate with up to 50 employees and a low client pool. Even if you offer an innovative product/service to the market, it’s less likely for you to grow over the initial scope in the first year without some huge investment.

Small businesses within this scope of employees and client pool usually develop their in-house organizational/business structure, which is adapted to the volume of work and internal resources and infrastructure.

The moment you break out the first great filter on the market, get in line with the competition, your reach expands and volume of work increases, your structure starts to break down. Not only will you have troubles in running your organization with standardized work output and its quality, you will be pinned down by the competition and their efforts to outrank you.

A setup for innovation management

In order to keep your business ahead of curve, you’ll need to devise a methodology and set up a framework which will help you to constantly innovate while keeping all of your employees oriented towards the same goal. The KPI needs to be as transparent and understandable to all employees in all sectors – to both accountant, salesman and CEO.

Here’s a simple framework set up for innovation – it is lean, fast, engaging for both your employees and customers, and will help in orienting the whole company towards innovative thinking.

The framework is divided in five steps ( divided in 5 days, 5 weeks, 5 months however you like it). It’s based on Design Sprint Framework by Google and it’s designed to be used in almost any sector for innovation. The process should include up to six people as its core group. You could go for more, however, the process could get a bit laggy as the input gets noisier and greater in volume.

Suggest

You open a panel for suggestions in all sectors to look for ideas and analyze if there is room for an innovative feature or improvement. The suggestions should be no more than a few sentences long, not to bother much in the first step.

The idea behind this is to collect different perspectives from people. When working on a single project for ages, you get to learn it’s inside and outs. And after a while, it becomes ever harder to notice room for innovation or improvement. That’s why it’s a good idea to gather as many different views from other people engaged with your project/product/service.

Filter and discuss

You gather the best looking, most intriguing ideas and discuss them further.

Move a few good ideas to the next step and let the people who suggested them further elaborate the idea. Engage in a panel discussion with the rest of the team. Share your expertise and knowledge, provide constructive criticism and ultimately vote on the best, most promising idea which is in line with your timeline and resources.

This panel should include tech staff and business consultant that will point out the limits and constraints an idea might have in its development and execution. the idea of this step is to opt for an idea that looks most promising and is the easiest to develop.

Sketch and Prototype

Now that you have an idea outlined, it’s time to get to work.

You sketch out the idea, devise a prototype (will it be a feature or a standalone product/service), and have it tested with a small group of people (either consumers or your team members). Gather the results and check for any loose ends. Don’t overthink it, just note it and make minor adjustments if necessary. It isn’t as important to cover all the gaps and flaws unless major in this step. Remember, you’re making a prototype for testing, not a final product.

Build and Launch

After you’ve tested out the prototype, gather the results and make appropriate adjustments.

In the build phase, you could be:

  • making a completely new product or launching a new service
  • adding new features to the product or module to your existing service

Either way, you should employ your best knowledge and expertise to build and pack the final product prior to launch.

Test and Validate

Testing and validation are probably the most important part of the process. Place your new/updated product/service into the market and track its performance. You should set out realistic goals and define a single KPI to focus your efforts on. If it works, double down on it. If not, just archive the idea and move on to the next. Just repeat the previous steps and stick to the framework.

This framework will help you constantly innovate in all fields. Whether you’re thinking of a new marketing campaign, testing out a new feature for your product or building one from scratch, or even making something as simple as a newsletter campaign.

Arguably, testing and validation should be employed throughout each step of the framework. There isn’t such thing as too much data, however, if not properly structured, you might get lost in a sea of mixed signals.

It’s all about leaning toward innovation and maintaining an organized process for everyone to understand and use it. Even though it looks logical and simple, setting up this kind of framework can be difficult if not impossible for a small business that just broke the first market filter. The later you embrace the methodology, the harder it will become for you to actually implement it. In that case, you should really hire an expert for your in-house team or even a digital agency experienced in product development to help guide you through the process.

Final words

Innovation is important for businesses trying to stand ahead of the curve. It means creating value from ideas. People often see ideation processes and innovation processes as the same. If you come up with an idea, you’ll need a lot of time and resources to refine it, knowledge and expertise input from the people and a user group for testing it. The journey itself can be much simpler with a well-coordinated team.

As with any other innovation process, it’s important to measure and test each change, so start by implementing this framework in short time spans with low inputs. Learn along the way and acknowledge the results. The biggest reward of the process is that it can be replicated to almost any development process of any volume or timescale. The learning curve is high as with each innovation sprint, you’ll learn new information and make data-driven decision. Each time you close a loop, you start with a better input and are able to make bolder assumptions for the next round.

By Natasha Lane

About the author

Natasha Lane is a web designer, lady of a pen, paper and keyboard and one hell of a tech geek. She is always happy to collaborate with awesome blogs and share her knowledge about IT, digital marketing and technology trends. To see what she is up to next, check out her Twitter dashboard. You can reach Natasha via [email protected]

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