How to build innovation into your business strategy
Innovation is vital in every business strategy
When you have many jobs to do every day, ‘innovation’ might not be high on your list. Afterall, time is the most precious commodity in small businesses, and there are always competing priorities. However, Gareth Jude, co-founder of retail innovation specialists Think Uncommon, says innovation should be a critical part of any business’ strategy.
Success in business, at its fundamental level, is based on innovation
Gareth Jude, CEO, ThinkUncommon
“Consumers have ever-increasing expectations and businesses need to work harder than ever to attract and retain customers,” Gareth says. “If you want to keep ahead of your competition, you need to perpetually innovate.”
Innovation can offer a range of benefits
Innovative tools and services can bring many benefits. This includes helping to streamline operations, increase customer satisfaction or making it easier to manage your customer relationships. Here are three examples Gareth offers that show how new technologies can help change the way you operate for the better.
Get insights to improve decision-making
According to Gareth, the use of data is one of the most important trends in business today.
“A key factor in business transformation today is the ability of a business to use their data to inform decision-making”, Gareth says.
“One good use case is merchandise management. Analysing what your customers buy can help you keep your products relevant and help you manage your stock and supply chain more effectively.”
Speed up processes through automation
Gareth says small businesses can use automation to help reduce the time spent on routine tasks, such as sending appointment reminders, order confirmations, and enquiry acknowledgements. For example, you could set up a system to send automated emails to customers when they book an appointment, place an order, or contact you with an inquiry.
Automation can also help you save time on social media marketing. For example, you could use a scheduling tool to publish posts to multiple platforms at once.
Overall, automation can free you up to spend time on more valuable tasks.
Enhance customer experience
Chatbots are software designed to interact with users online in a conversational manner. They are often used by businesses to help them deal with common questions, or to route customer enquiries to the right team. Gareth says they can help businesses resolve a customer’s questions faster and improve their experience.
Find your approach to innovation
If you want to embed innovation into your business but are unsure where to start, Gareth offers the following advice.
Follow the ‘golden rule’
“Everything a business does must tick three boxes,” Gareth says. “It must have a benefit for the customer. It must benefit the business. And it must align with your purpose and values, with why you are in business in the first place.”
Gareth says it's important to balance the three aspects of the golden rule and review decisions with it in mind. Doing so can help you identify new opportunities to benefit innovation as your business environment changes.
“One example is home delivery. Delivery was vital for businesses’ trade during the pandemic, and it became a default expectation among consumers. Now we’re seeing more businesses move to an in-store pick-up model. It’s better for businesses because it brings customers back into the store, while helping reduce the challenges of the direct-to-consumer model and it’s better for consumers who gain delivery certainty and avoid problems with lost and damaged deliveries.”
Expose yourself to new ideas
Sometimes, the challenge is knowing what’s possible. This is where being curious and seeking inspiration from others is critical.
“Lean on partners and your network to stimulate your thinking and help with execution,” Gareth says. “These are the experts in their field. They have experience in what works, and what doesn’t work, for businesses such as yours.”
Move fast and be agile
Gareth recommends experimenting with ideas to test the benefits for your business.
“Adopting a ‘test and learn’ approach can help you identify the best solutions and tools for you,” Gareth says. “It plays to one of the great advantages small businesses have, namely their speed and agility. If you want to try an initiative, you can get it off the ground really quickly.”
As you test and learn it’s also important to consider how potential changes could impact your customers, your team, and the broader community. This helps you understand intended and un-intended consequences of any changes to how you operate, so you can make the best choices for your business moving forward.
Put time and budget aside for experimentation
It’s one of the persistent challenges for many small business owners: ‘we wish we had more time to plan for growth’. However, Gareth recommends reserving time and resources for trialling new ideas.
“Take time out at least once a year to seek fresh ideas. Then put some resources towards your experiments to see what works,” Gareth says. “The most innovative businesses dedicate about 20 percent of their operational expenses per year to new projects. The majority of that should be spent on ideas that can be implemented within 12 months. That gives you a timely return on the investment.”
Put innovation into practice
Technology, tools, and services can help bring new ideas to life – the key is to know what works for your business. Innovation looks different in different organisations. But every business can think about new ways of doing things.
The important part is to embed innovation in your business strategy. Doing so can help you get the productivity, efficiency or customer experience benefits that power your competitive edge.
Disclaimer: This article does not necessarily reflect the views of Telstra or its staff.