How to innovate as a small business

Pete Jansons

Small businesses that consider innovation the realm of big guys such as Google and Apple may be jeopardizing their own growth potential. Small companies may lack some of the resources of their larger counterparts, but they also do not have the red tape. Intriguing concepts needn’t pass through several departments and decision makers, so they can be executed rapidly. And without multiple product lines competing for attention and money, small businesses can throw their efforts full throttle into pursuing an innovative idea.

Whether you’re looking to transform into the type of cutting edge small business that attracts buyout and partnership offers from wealthier firms or you simply want to enrich your reputation and customer base, innovation is critical. Here are ways to increase creativity and develop a culture of innovation at your small business:

Establish an innovative environment

Make it clear from day one that you see all team members as innovators by including terms such as “creative problem solving” and “ability to think outside the box” in every job description. Then, provide plenty of opportunities for your small business employees to share their ideas for better products or ways of doing things. Periodically turn staff meetings into brainstorming sessions where people can feed off of one another. Put up a suggestion box. Host an innovation day on which you challenge your team to come up with novel solutions to a problem. Take an occasional field trip as a group to break routine and get creativity flowing.


Learning about the company beyond their own role not only builds competent employees, it encourages innovation. A fresh set of eyes may see operations in novel ways, and inquiries as to why things are done in a certain manner can lead to thoughtful reflection. Plus, insight the “student” gains can shift how he approaches things once back at his own desk.

Discourage complacency

A staff that consistently (but respectfully) challenges the status quo opens the door to innovation. Let your team know you applaud such questioning and that nothing is off limits. In addition to encouraging them to think of how to make or do something better, urge them to solicit ideas from clients. The needs, wants, and suggestions of those with first-hand experience can be great starting points for innovation.

Appreciate effort

Finally, acknowledge that many ideas will be duds – and that’s perfectly OK. If enough thoughts are put out on the table – even if they are unconventional, not fully developed, or seemingly impossible – eventually something great will emerge. Praise team members exhibiting commitment to innovation and the bravery to share. A small business environment dedicated to the notion that the next great idea can come from any person at any time will foster excitement rather than judgment.

Want more small business advice? Find the answers you’re looking for at CareerBuilder’s small business advice and resources page.


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