Well, first off, to understand the needs of their customers and of the business – that’s why innovation is important. To keep ahead of the current downturn in economy, small business owners must be innovative and able to change directions quickly. Business owners shouldn’t think of innovation as a separate activity, rather they should think of it as something that needs to be intentionally pursued.
I found this to be true when I owned a security guard company. For the first year in business, it was easy to get good quality people to work for the company. Similar to the nature of security personnel, employees tend to migrate back and forth between the local companies. Whenever a new company opens up, they flock over to the new guy just to see if they like it better.
After the “new” wore off, it became increasingly difficult to find fresh talent who were trained and qualified. Customers began to complain that the officers weren’t meeting their needs. After a bit of listening, I decided the way to get the best candidates would be to train them myself.
So, I opened a security guard training academy along with my guard business. I had many years in law enforcement to tap into and other contacts in the field to help me teach. At this point, I was then able to pick and choose the best guards to fit the needs of the clients. The idea turned profitable, and I was able to provide my customers with good, quality security officers — tailored to meet their needs. Whether the job required a guard in uniform walking around an apartment complex at night or a blazer-clad officer sitting at a desk in a high tech facility, I was able to create a product rather than having to go out and find one.
Small businesses should realize that close communications with their customers can provide a great springboard for innovation; therefore, a customer problem can become an opportunity to sell another solution. Small businesses need to be responsive, have the ability to reevaluate, and to be flexible to change. Many Small business owners might think that they don’t have the resources to be innovative; however, customer constraints should be looked at as an asset and not a liability. Connect with your customers in order to understand them, pay attention to the problems the customer is communicating to you rather than the problems you think your current product or services can solve. At Dell, we talk with our customers in many ways like on Twitter, blogs, forums, Facebook and IdeaStorm. These and online innovations make it really easy to communicate with your customers rather than just push a message on them.
Innovation is not limited to products, services, technology or even creative thinking, but should focus on why the customer can’t adequately solve important problems. Then, an innovative business model helps you do the job in a new, novel way that will make the business more agile and profitable.