Management expert Gary Hamel once said that innovation is “the only insurance against irrelevance … the only guarantee of long-term customer loyalty.” Achieving relevance and building strong customer relationships is key for any business, and that’s especially true for small businesses. Knowing how to achieve innovation, however, can be a challenge, even for small business owners who know their product, service and industry inside and out.
“Every aspect of entrepreneurship benefits from a healthy dose of inspired innovation, from the conception of a product or service to how you’ll produce it, market it, sell it and grow your business,” says inventor and entrepreneur Lori Greiner, Shark on ABC’s “Shark Tank.” Greiner and Staples recently co-hosted a panel discussion on small business innovation at a Staples location in New York City. Staples carries nearly two dozen “Shark Tank” products from entrepreneurs who have appeared on the reality series.
Greiner offers small business owners some tips for ways small business owners can leverage innovation to help launch and grow their businesses.
* Use research, data and brutal self-honesty to decide if your product, service or idea can really succeed. Research your market among multiple demographic groups, and ask people of all cultures specific questions about your idea. “You may think you have a winner, but your opinion isn’t the only one that counts,” Greiner says. “Know your product or service, who it’s for and if people really want or need it.”
* Be cost conscious. “When they’re just starting out, people get excited and start spending money where they don’t need to,” Greiner notes. “Be lean in your business practice.” Greiner advises against hiring more people than absolutely necessary. Instead, outsource small jobs like shipping products or designing marketing materials and use local services like Staples.
* Avoid high rent costs for a fancy office you don’t need, especially if you can launch your business just as easily – and far more cheaply – from your own home. Be careful ordering inventory so you don’t spend too much at once.
* Create the best possible packaging for your product. “Packaging is the first impression of your product for potential customers,” Greiner says. “It needs to be eye-catching, have an attention-grabbing image and a typeface that helps get the message across to consumers in one glance.”
* Be realistic. Even an awesomely great product needs hard work to get it to market and into the hands of consumers. Success rarely happens overnight, no matter how many headlines you read of an entrepreneur who hit it big quickly. “Having a great idea doesn’t guarantee success,” Greiner says. “It only means you have an opportunity to create success, but you’ll almost certainly have to work hard for it.”
* Be persistent. Obstacles will always crop up in business, but if you believe in your product, don’t give up. The annals of business success are populated with stories of entrepreneurs who failed multiple times before finally achieving success.
"Shark Tank" airs Fridays on the ABC Television Network (check local listings).