What differentiates an entrepreneur from an innovator?
In today’s hectic, change-driven business world, we may think they’re one in the same. Entrepreneurs these days are all those bright, future-focused men and women launching the latest startup, with products and services that promise to change the game and the world.
But research suggests otherwise. That the vast majority of new business owners do not start businesses based on their own, original idea – but rather, someone else’s: a local service provider, a franchise, a brick-and-mortar or online retail store, etc.
So does this suggest that innovative thinking and a visionary approach to business are only required for the groundbreakers of our world?
The reality of business today is that everyone must be an innovator, or risk becoming irrelevant. Today’s consumers, clients, and even employers have come to expect better and better experiences with everyone they conduct business with. We as a society are no longer content with things that simply work. We want things that work faster, are less expensive, more enjoyable, more efficient. Better.
This innovation imperative applies to you, whether you are selling the latest, technologically-advanced, cloud-connected gadget, or delivering outstanding lawn care in your community, selling a great sandwich, or managing a gift shop.
You will either come up with fresh, new, innovative ways of delighting your customer… or someone else will.
Here are 5 simple tips for using innovative thinking to be a more successful entrepreneur.
- Just make something better. Some people get hung up with the notion of “innovation,” thinking that only truly game-changing ideas are worthwhile. “Incremental innovation” is simply taking something that exists, and making it better. It’s the most common type of innovation, and very important and valuable. Be on the lookout for anything in your business that can be improved. Over time, small changes add up to big results.
- Make innovative thinking a daily activity. Try not to think of change-making as something you do every now and then. Make it part of your daily routine to search for ways to improve the way you do business. How can you make your product better or more desirable? How can you improve your customer’s experience?
- Empower your employees. A good idea can come from anyone, at any time. Make your business a place where everyone’s ideas are heard and considered. Ask your team periodically what areas of the business represent the biggest problems, and what they think could be done to make things better.
- Listen to your customers, and don’t. If you’re not engaged in an ongoing “conversation” with your customers, you need to be. Your success as a business-owner is dependent on their support. So if your customers are complaining about or asking for something, by all means listen and respond. But, true innovators don’t just reply to market demands – they anticipate their customer’s needs and desires, and give them what they want, before they even know it. What might you do that would be totally unexpected, that would delight your customers or clients?
- Keep an eye in the rearview mirror. The way to build a successful and sustainable business is to be a leader in your market – not just in sales, but in your perceived quality and value. Who are your competitors? What are they doing well (that you’re not doing)? Always be aware of what’s happening in your competitive marketplace, and make sure you’re as good or better in every area.
Basically you have three options: innovate, copy others (and always be playing catch-up), or do business-as-usual, and be left behind. Make no mistake, innovative thinking is a critical and necessary part of entrepreneurship today, no matter what business you engage in. Be an innovator, and you’ll be a success.