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Innovate in the Downturn – 7 Things You Must Do

Innovate in the Downturn – 7 Things You Must Do

Grasping the Sun

    Bill Gates recently said, “We are in an economic downturn but an innovation upturn.” Most people are focusing on the downturn and the dangers it poses rather than on the opportunity for innovation. Most businesses are restructuring and streamlining their operations. How can you maximize your chances in the change maelstrom? One way is to take a positive approach to change and to be seen as an innovative go-getter who will help make the re-organization a success. Here’s how:

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    1. Adopt a positive attitude.

    Like Bill Gates — see the opportunity. Don’t be cynical about change. Don’t assume the worst. Don’t believe and repeat rumors about management’s conspiracies to do down the workforce. Change is inevitable for every organization so it is time to start liking it. Change means new opportunities, new responsibilities, and new things to learn and do. People who are positive about new challenges are more likely to be given them. People who are resistant to change and reluctant to adapt are the first to be culled.

    2. Become a change agent.

    Make suggestions. Introduce ideas and recommendations. Look for ways in which your department could bring in new products, business processes or partnerships. Ask yourself — is there a better way to meet the needs of our customers? Anticipate trends and suggest ways of changing the department to exploit new opportunities and new technologies.

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    3. Listen to customers.

    Where can you find the ideas for change? One source is customers. In your dealings with clients you should make a point of asking how your product or service could be improved. What do they like and dislike about your offering? How are their business needs changing? What will they need in the future? Even better than asking them is to study how they use your product or service. What difficulties do they encounter? How could you alleviate the problems and make their life easier? Do they use your product or service in conjunction with others? Could you co-operate with another company or combine your product with others to bring an innovation to market?

    4. Watch the competition.

    Keep an eye on what they are doing and any innovations they introduce. Ask customers what other suppliers are doing that is smart and new. Study their initiatives and see what works. Suggest ways in which you cannot just match the competition but leapfrog them.

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    5. Be sensitive to office politics.

    For most ideas it is best to talk them through with colleagues in your department and in other areas to test their workability before you speak to your manager. That way you have checked out the concept, cleared some obvious objections and gained feedback before you propose it. It will sound better thought out. However, there are some ideas that are so sensitive that it would be silly to bat them around the office before proposing them. You have to choose your moments carefully. Often you can prepare the ground by describing the size of the problem and agreeing how pressing it is before you introduce your idea. Catch the boss when he or she is most receptive. Sometimes it is best to introduce your big idea outside the hurly burly of the office. If you can buttonhole the director in the pub or the car park you may have a better chance of a good hearing.

    6. Don’t insist on the glory.

    If you spark an idea and then other people adapt and improve it then that is fine. By letting go you have a better chance of it being adopted than if you insist on driving every aspect of the initiative because it “was your idea in the first place.” Sometimes the cleverest tactic is to let your boss take it over as his or her idea. People will still know that you were the one who planted the seed.

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    7. Be prepared for rejection.

    Most managers are analytical and critical. They are good at finding fault with other people’s ideas. The more radical your proposal the more likely it is that people will feel uncomfortable with it. Propose it carefully. Lay it out in a logical way and explain the benefits. But if your boss disagrees then don’t fall out over it and don’t bypass him. Let it lie fallow for a while. I once worked for a CEO who would tear new ideas to shreds and ridicule them. But the next day he would often say, “I was thinking about that idea of yours and I can see a way to make it work.” His initial reaction was to oppose an idea just to test it. But once the germ of the idea was in his head he could find ways to develop it. Above all don’t stop bringing forward ideas because the first few are rejected.

    Change means winners and losers. If you can be known as someone who is creative, innovative and a driver of change then the chances are that you will emerge a winner. Not only will you survive the change but you will be given the responsibility of making part of it a reality.

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    Paul Sloane

    Professional Keynote Speaker, Author, Innovation Expert

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    Last Updated on May 28, 2020

    How to Succeed in Business: 10 Skills Every Entrepreneur Needs

    How to Succeed in Business: 10 Skills Every Entrepreneur Needs

    Learning how to succeed in business used to be a case of being really good at one skill or area and milking it for all its value. Today, we are fast becoming a “skills economy”[1], driving trends in employment and even the way we approach entrepreneurship.

    To succeed in today’s business landscape, business owners and executives need to possess a mix of skills that enable them to stay ahead and adapt to change.

    1. Digital Savviness

    As the adage goes: “If you’re not online, you don’t exist.” Today’s entrepreneurs need to take to the internet to increase their presence and to remain relevant in an evolving business landscape.

    Companies like Amazon, Netflix, Airbnb and more are a testament to the disruptive impact of technology and the new image of what it means to be a skilled, successful professional. Think about today’s Mark Zuckerberg versus a banker from the 90s.

    Being able to quickly adapt to new technology, like cloud applications and collaborating remotely across the internet, is fast becoming the expected norm for executives.

    For businesses, discoverability on the web is becoming a quick litmus test for credibility. Potential customers and investors bank on the first page of Google to make up half their minds about making further transactions with a business. GE Capital Retail Bank found that 81% of retail shoppers conduct online research before buying[2].

    How to Develop This Skill

    For a start, begin by hosting your website and reserving all of your brand’s handles across social media platforms. While hiring a web developer might sound like the next step, consider first hosting your company’s site on more user and budget-friendly options like Squarespace, Wix, or WordPress.

    From here, you can start on some simple search engine optimization techniques that will increase your discoverability over time. Through keyword research, organic content creation, and external back-links, your site will, eventually, slowly but surely garner more traffic.

    Note, however, that an increase in search traffic does not immediately imply an increase in revenue. But it’s a start for delving into customer conversion rates in the future.

    2. Financial Forecasting

    Let’s face it, many business owners feel that time could be better spent on developing and running the business instead of planning for it financially. However, a financial forecast serves as a roadmap for shaping any kind of business and is not just reserved for the likes of listed companies providing financial guidance to shareholders.

    Largely, forecasting and planning your financial goals will give you a clearer idea of resources required and ways to measure success. It can also provide assurance to investors as a testament to the thorough research and planning you have done when included in business plans.

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    However, inaccurate forecasts can lead to livid investors and mismanagement of expenses, which could potentially result in financial teething problems. When creating a detailed financial forecast, a rule of thumb is to always start with your expenses.

    How to Develop This Skill

    Generally, it is easier to calculate and predict your expenses compared to your revenue, so noting down your expenses is a starting point to benchmark how much you might need to generate in sales to turn a profit. It is a good habit to regularly update and evaluate how adjacent your operations are to what you have forecasted.

    Building a precise set of growth forecasting will take time, but, remember, you are an investor in your own business. You must have confidence in the validity of your business concept.

    3. Video Production Skills

    The rise of visual mediums and the dopamine boosts it gives to users has long been researched and proven as providing an unfair advantage to businesses that leverage it[3].

    If you’re a heavy user of social platforms like Facebook, LinkedIn, and even YouTube, you’ll know that it’s pretty hard to stop once you get started on a binge-watching session.

    In fact, video marketing is seeing a non-stop rise in popularity and effectiveness when used in conjunction with social media to drive traffic and boost conversions[4]. According to research, by 2019, 80% of global Internet consumption will be video content[5]. With video marketing becoming more ubiquitous, businesses that fail to leverage the power of video are almost certain to lose out.

    How to Develop This Skill

    Some ways to get started with using videos for your business would be:

    • Creating a series of educational videos that cover useful information for your audiences
    • Live videos interacting with your community at large (these can be shot on your smart phone)
    • Using videos on landing pages to boost your customer conversions

    4. Benchmarking Personal Goals to Business Performance

    As far as you get into achieving endeavours on your business bucket list, it’s important to remember that being an entrepreneur is just one facet of your identity. Don’t forget why you started in the first place.

    Ambition usually stems from some lifestyle goals you’ve always wanted for yourself and the people you might be providing for today or in the future. Working 24/7 is a surefire route to burnout and may manifest in an unhealthy interaction between partners and employees as well.

    How to Develop This Skill

    Money can’t be your only motivation, but look into the positives of how having more financial freedom and time can impact your life. In the short term, involving your interests in your businesses can make everyday tasks feel less like mundane errands. In the long run, your business may also bring you fruitful rewards, including personal fulfilment.

    Set realistic income goals to manage expectations for your performance and your company’s revenue, especially during its earlier stages. See how projected growth can align with your personal goals and make adjustments accordingly to maintain a balance between growth and your personal values.

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    5. Leveraging Healthy Competition

    Some of the best athletes who have spent their careers neck-and-neck with each other have changed the standards in their respective sports. The notion of healthy competition applies to the business world more than it may seem on the surface.

    Innovation has always been a key driver in free markets, which were intended to boost economies and provide customers with more choices. Just like the biggest sporting rivals that build on each others’ game, you can use your biggest competitors to hone your strategies.

    How to Develop This Skill

    Turn a competitive market landscape into an advantageous one by leveraging on long-established systems your business proposes an alternative to. Learn from the mistakes of predecessors once you discover their product or service loopholes.

    For example, the Dollar Shave Club’s viral video[6] became a big hit because it hit the right buttons of consumers being tired of purchasing expensive but low quality shavers from incumbent retail giants. Going in second meant they could fill a gap competitors might not even have been aware of.

    Apart from lifting off from what could have been your second-mover advantage, solidify your place with your business’ own first-mover advantage — whether you’re tapping into a new geographical region, unexplored market sector, or introducing a business model that proves more viable than others. There’s always room for improvement in business from mature markets to newly emerging ones.

    6. Honing Pitches to Investors

    Stand out in a broad mix of budding entrepreneurs by mastering the art and science behind a solid investor pitch that can determine the acceleration of growth for your business. Get comfortable talking about your ideas and receiving feedback or questions from peers, partners, and advisors before setting out to make a good impression on potential customers and eventually investors.

    The phrase “If you can’t convince them, confuse them,” will certainly never get your business funded, especially in front of seasoned venture capitalists who have seen thousands of startup pitches. You should be able to deliver a quick elevator pitch that summarizes your unique proposition and its market viability for casual meet-ups[7] because you sometimes only have a few minutes to make a good impression and move on to another meeting.

    How to Develop This Skill

    Develop your investor pitch deck by highlighting your business’ strongest points, which will vary for every funding round. Create your deck with the investors’ interests in mind, balancing technical jargon and buzzwords.

    You can also introduce your diverse team of experts, some proven traction, or the current state of the market to demonstrate profitability and the attractiveness of the opportunity to investors.

    Ensure each slide flows into the other to develop a persuasive narrative, utilizing consistent and intelligent design principles to support your content.

    7. Developing a Strong Brand Identity

    In a world of saturated content and numerous emerging businesses that offer similar service lines, developing a unique brand identity will help you cut through the noise and stand out from your competition. From aesthetics to the body of clients you’re associated with, these contribute to how you’re perceived by prospects looking to buy.

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    Evaluating your brand identity is linked to identifying your target customers, your business goals, a proposed promised land your solution achieves, and identifying values that are aligned to these components. Brand identity serves as a guide to maintaining consistency and creating an image you want your business to be associated with.

    How to Develop This Skill

    Efforts to strengthen your brand identity are closely tied to giving marketing strategies a direction. By knowing what makes your target customers tick, their values, ideals, and behavior, you will be able to elevate your business from simply being a service or product to be utilized into a projected brand customers and partners would be happy to identify with.

    8. Automating to Your Advantage

    The need for efficiency is often the general problem new businesses aim to resolve across all markets and industries. Assure that your proposed solution is more efficient than what’s readily available in the market to instill the need for it.

    Efficiency is often achieved nowadays through digitalization and new technologies. While your product or service may not necessarily be the most innovative out there, you can apply the same automation concept across your business’ daily operations.

    How to Develop This Skill

    Shorten turnaround times and conversion rates by investing in small tools for automation where you deem fit. While it may come out of your pocket in the early stages, evaluate the holistic advantages and benefits of automating certain processes. At our office, we’ve tried using collaborative apps like Workplace by Facebook, Slack, Asana and a few other popular apps to reduce human error and friction.

    9. Managing Millennials

    Your team plays an integral part in whether your business will accelerate at breakneck speeds or be dragged down by dead weight. Hence, it is imperative to be selective and strategic when choosing your team.

    In leaner small business teams, the addition of every new teammate can impact how your organization culture evolves.

    Today, learning to manage millennials has become an increasingly sought after skill as well due to the increasing proportion of them in the workforce[8]. Some brand them as strawberries that are easily bruised and others loath their need for “meaning” and wearing t-shirts to work.

    How to Develop This Skill

    Naturally, there are many misconceptions surrounding millennials, and various businesses would do well to leverage their unique skills.

    A couple of ways to manage a millennial team include:

    Encourage a Flat Team Structure With Open Communication

    Maintain clear professional lines between supervisors and subordinates but keep communication channels open to ensure no negativity festers.

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    Offer Constructive Feedback

    Baby boomers are well known for their straightforward approach to delivering feedback. Millennials, on the other hand, don’t always take feedback in a form that could be construed as deep criticism.

    Being constructive with feedback ensures that we don’t coddle millennial workers but also tell them the things they need to hear.

    10. Maintaining a Network of Connectivity

    Instead of proposing a business that’s ambitiously and entirely disruptive to the supply or process chain in a respective industry, foster connections with other companies that cater to the same target customers as long as they provide a different service.

    By creating partnerships, both you and other businesses thrive simultaneously through creative avenues for customers to utilize your products and services for a holistically improved user experience.

    Sole market disruption isn’t always the best strategy to take. Not everybody has the opportunity, bandwidth, or financial capacity to dominate and monopolize a marketplace. See your potential for integration into other businesses and services as a good opportunity for co-collaborative marketing efforts with shared campaigns, split costs, and a strengthened customer database for everyone to tap into.

    How to Develop This Skill

    Regardless of the stage your business is in, never stop looking for ways to expand your network. Keep in contact with mentors you can look to for valuable industry advice that can help you avoid pitfalls and costly mistakes. Strengthen brand awareness by attending cross-industry events and casual meet-ups to open your business to reinvention and innovation.

    As the African proverb goes:

    “If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.”

    Collaborating will get you where you want to go quicker and gear you up for further growth.

    More Tips on How to Succeed in Business

    Featured photo credit: Tyler Franta via unsplash.com

    Reference

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