The Internet – in particular in its evolution into what has widely become referred to as Web 2.0 since late 2004 – has made technology extremely affordable and accessible to even the smallest of small business.
These new internet technologies are the great enablers for business innovation, productivity and growth.
Yet there’s still a stark contrast in their adoption by SMBs in Australia:
……more than half of Australian’s 2 million (small and medium) businesses still do their accounting manually. Fully two-thirds do not even have a rudimentary website. – Tim Reed, CEO MYOB in BRW, Feb 2 – 8, 2012
Analysis of the 400 entries into the last year’s Telstra Australian Business Awards shows that the nation’s top performers are increasingly reliant on the internet, with 93 per cent having a website and the internet being the second most popular marketing channel. – Nick Tate, The Australian, February 21 2012
Clearly, innovative businesses who are prepared to harness internet technologies in their business models are thriving – not just surviving – despite all the gloom and doom in the news headlines.
If you look back in history, some of the largest corporations of today sowed their seeds of success during the worst economic times. The secret of their success? Innovation.
In these fast changing times, saying “we’ve always done it this way” or “If ain’t broke, why fix it?” is nothing short of signing a business death warrant regardless of how long you’ve been in business or how big you are.
Look at the hammering that big brick-and-mortar retailers have taken because they failed to implement e-commerce strategies.
Kodak is an interesting case: it invented its own destruction. Digital camera technology, a Kodak invention, was a game changer and rendered Kodak’s traditional film business obsolete. Yet it never adopted its own technology in its own business model or strategies. So product innovation in itself is not a sufficient condition for business survival. The business model itself has to change.
How SMBs Can Make Innovation Happen
Innovation isn’t just limited to technology start-ups or big companies with humungous R&D budgets. It doesn’t necessarily mean changing the world a la Apple.
Innovation for a non-tech SMB is just as much about:
- improving products or services to better meet customer needs
- developing new products or services to grow sales in existing and new markets
- creative use of new channels like social media for branding and marketing
- developing export markets through online marketing
- developing greater supply chain efficiencies
- increasing productivity and reducing costs through use of cloud computing and outsourcing
The aim is to ensure that your business develops and maintains an edge over your competitors and that you can continue to grow profitably in both good and bad times.
Did I hear you say: “Nice theory. But how does a small or medium sized business do this in practice?”
Stephen Shapiro (ex-Accenture) lays out a very simple process for successful innovation in his article Three-Step Formula Boosts Innovation Efforts.
The essence of this approach is to “ask the right question the right way of the right people“.
Innovation Should Be Core Activity Of Business Owners
Innovation even with this simple process will only happen if you make the time to do it on a consistent basis.
In addition, in this fast changing world, you need to stay on top of whether your strategies need to be tweaked along the way. As Seth Godin neatly puts it: The Map Has Been Replaced By The Compass.
If you (and your key people) cannot find the time to focus on strategic value-adding activities like product and service innovation, marketing and growth because you are buried under routine day-to-day tasks, you need to re-think your systems and processes.
- Which activities in your business can be done more efficiently using cloud services?
- What cost and time savings could you achieve by outsourcing routine, low-value tasks via the internet?
Harness the internet for more efficient ways to get routine business tasks done. You and your team are then freed-up to focus on strategic activities that will produce long term sustainable growth.
Note: Make sure you adhere to sound risk management practices to cloud-sourcing. If you don’t already have a risk management framework in your business, you should establish this asap.
How Small Business Owners Can Stay Innovative
Small business owners who have only a few employees in the business have what is probably the loneliest position in the world. Who do you bounce ideas off? Where do you get fresh perspectives from?
This is where having an advisory board or an independent business advisor or mentor to work with becomes invaluable. Alternatively, participate in a facilitated mastermind group or round-table group formed with other small business owners.
Whichever way you choose, make sure that these discussions happen on a regular basis. Virtual meetings using current technologiesare a boon for the small business owner for achieving this:
- they can be as effective as face-to-face meetings
- you can do it from your desk, thus saving travel time
- you can engage with people from different geographies, markets or industries. This is great for getting fresh perspectives for your business.
You should also look for and participate in online discussion forums which are relevant to you and your business.
Don’t wait until there is a crisis before you start to look outside your business for advice. Your choices then might be limited to an administrator, receiver or liquidator. Not nice.
Contact me to discuss how I can assist in creating the optimal support solution for your business.