Small businesses have a unique challenge. While larger businesses have more resources for continued-education programs and the funds to hire employees who specialize in niche categories, small business owners and their employees often have to wear many hats. This juggling of responsibilities doesn’t always leave time for nurturing creativity that can help grow your small business. Even so, it’s crucial that you avoid getting stuck in a creative rut that might slow your company’s growth.
Melinda Emerson writes about the book Innovate Like Edison in her blog SmallBizLady: “[Thomas] Edison believed that people have the remarkable ability to do great things if they are open to it. If innovation is how we grow in business; then without it, we remain stagnant. Give a culture of innovation a chance in your small business to help it grow. You must grow yourself to grow your business too.”
Following are three tips — that don’t require a whole lot of time or money — to get you started!
1. Encourage a positive, flexible office environment.
Freedom and flexibility are the keys to fostering the creativity of your employees. Give them a long lead and provide positive reinforcement for innovation. “Rewarding creativity by acknowledging and celebrating successes creates an atmosphere in which all employees realize the value of innovation and respond by striving to constantly improve and invent new ways of doing things,” writes Julie Bawden-Davis on Phonebooth Blog. These rewards can range from bonuses to gift cards to an employee of the month certificate. Why not survey your employees to find out what motivates them? Also, encourage an open-door policy — be available, to your employees, no matter how busy you are — to hear their valuable ideas. Employees who feel valued will want to go above and beyond.
2. Take a quarterly break.
Sure, it’s easier said than done. But if you, the small business owner and entrepreneur, make it a priority to take some time to refuel and reboot, it can only benefit your creative process. Consider it a “work retreat.” Take a long weekend to rest, clear your mind and just sit and think. Emerson says, “I try to do it every 90 days in my hectic business. When you rest your mind, amazing ideas can flourish. Keep a notebook with you at all times so you can capture these ideas in your daily travels — you’d be amazed how an article from a magazine you grabbed in the airport could give you the idea of a lifetime.” A relaxed mind can spark all kinds of ideas! What’s more, if you have the funds for it, consider a staff retreat where everyone involved gets a little R&R and fun, paired with some productive small business brainstorming sessions. It’s a win-win!
3. Stay on top of industry trends.
It’s important as a small business owner to keep an eye on new innovations in your industry as well as what your competitors are doing. Try using easy Internet tools like Google Alerts, where you plug in keywords like your competitors’ names or top industry terms to have Google track and send you an email about any conversations happening on the web using those phrases. You can also set up Twitter alerts, or do some weekly research on Twitter by typing in a hashtag (#) followed by the keyword or phrase that you want to look up. This will help you see what conversations people are having about a particular subject or competitor, and it could spur ideas for your own business, either to fill a customer need or to go above and beyond what your competitors are doing. These are easy and free ways to do your own basic market research to stay on top of industry trends and nurture the creativity of your small business.