smb-tech-trendsRecently Amazon founder CEO Jeff Bezos made headlines by announcing that the company was testing the delivery of products to customers using drones.  While the announcement didn’t prompt a mad rush to build residential drone pads, Bezos’ idea certainly captured the imagination. Moreover, it reinforced the message that Amazon will continue to push the envelope to keep at the forefront of the Web retail market.

Innovation alone doesn’t assure a business of long-term success especially since execution is more than half the battle no matter what new idea you pursue. However, without constantly striving to innovate in products – think Apple – and services as well as your marketing and operations, you stand to lose your competitive edge.  Even innovative companies need to avoid becoming complacent or so mired in process and procedure that they can’t respond quickly enough to competitive threats, as is the case with once mobile giants Nokia and Blackberry.

As we head into a New Year, here are some things to think about to make your small business more innovative and stay that way:

Make it part of your culture: Innovation should be part of your small business culture.  When you are hiring look for people who have fresh ideas and want to work in a place that doesn’t accept the status quo.  Also keep your team motivated by reminding them of the vision and values that led you to start your company in the first place.

lightbulbEncourage initiative:  Give your team the freedom to try new things, whether they involve a new service offering, new product development or a new process for managing customer service. The National Federation of Independent Business (NFIB) recommends holding regular innovation meetings and asking employees to come up with ideas on a specific topic and even building an innovation team that fields ideas from employees. Support initiative by providing your team with the training, technology, and working arrangements — in the office with areas set aside for collaboration or working remotely if necessary  – to be successful.

Get feedback: Your customers as well as partners can be a great source of new ideas or a sounding board for ones that you have. Find out about your customers’ challenges and needs and then generate new offerings based on the input. Leveraging social media is a great way to gather these new ideas.

Track the market: Follow the trends in your market and consider ways to improve on new ideas or developments or come up with even better alternatives.

Dig deep: Don’t just ask the obvious or ordinary questions when looking for ways to do something different. Ask probing questions and try to look at situations from a range of perspectives and viewpoints. At the same time, challenge conventional assumptions to find out how something can be done in a new way.

Set out to make your small business an innovator and chances are, you will be.