Innovation Tips for Small Business Owners

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Many small business owners find it very difficult to "settle" for what they currently have. It's this forward-thinking entrepreneurial spirit that encouraged you to start a small business in the first place and it's what motivates you to grow your business. Even if you're enjoying record sales, great revenue and stress-free workflows, then you're probably thinking, "How can I make even more sales and more revenue?" Your business-oriented brain can't stay content for long.

But wanting to be innovative and actually doing innovative things represent two opposite sides of a spectrum. One involves little to no tangible effort, and the other involves action and success. We know which one you want to associate with!

If you feel stuck in wanting to be creative and innovative but don't know how to do it, try these tips.

Surround Yourself With Innovators

We pick up on the energy and enthusiasm of the people around us. If no one in your circle aspires to improve themselves professionally, personally, physically, mentally, spiritually, etc., it's harder to feel inspired to do the same. Instead, when you see the energy and effort of other people, you realize the benefits of trying new things and taking action.

Suddenly, you're making changes with confidence. Your peers innovate and take risks, so it's normal if you do too. If you don't feel like you're hanging out with a creative crowd, investigate local networking opportunities. Even virtual networking on social media puts you in a habit of reading and thinking about innovative ideas on a regular basis.

Aside from forming a motivating peer network, you should also evaluate your employees. Are they creative and do they have many opportunities to showcase their talents at work? Have you ever accidentally discouraged them from being innovative? Foster creativity among your current team and look for that characteristic among future hires.

Make a Point to Read Regularly

Just as you should surround yourself with innovative people, you should also immerse yourself in creative knowledge. You cannot become innovative overnight — you need to get in the right mindset, and that requires regularly reading and listening to other people's examples of innovation. Find the thought leaders in your industry and follow their blogs. Check out books at the library from successful and influential business leaders.

If you don't have time to read, listen to audiobooks or podcasts during your commute. Go even further and watch Ted Talks or free university lectures on YouTube from business coaches and professionals. You don't have to spend money for the kind of information that can keep you inspired. You just have to prioritize it and spend time learning.

However, if you can invest a little money in your continuing education, attend reputable conferences. Make the most of the opportunity to network, ask questions and access conference resources. Conferences are designed to inspire, so don't make the mistake of thinking they're a luxury.

Regularly Brainstorm With Your Team

Group brainstorming sessions can be so helpful for breaking down creative barriers. If you're in a rut, you can bounce ideas off of other people and come up with a better idea than any one person could have invented. The key is to let ideas flow freely and to allow the process to be a messy one. You can organize everything later.

Identify the go-getters in your team and collaborate with them on business strategy. You'll get fresh perspectives, departmental insights and important feedback. One trick you can use is to conduct these meetings in short bursts with participants standing up so that their body language reflects energy and excitement.

Tread carefully in group meetings to avoid the group-think phenomenon, however. Encourage opposing or critical viewpoints to be expressed. You can have an initial meeting for voicing ideas and a separate one for evaluating ideas, which gives everyone a little more time to think. Mix and match meeting attendees to bring in fresh ideas when it makes sense to do so.

Do a Hands-On Creative Activity

Sometimes you need to get out of your own head. Over-thinking can actually block your creativity and innovation if you get too obsessed with the fine details, start to talk yourself out of an idea or simply fail to take any tangible steps forward. If you feel like you're either thinking too much or not enough, do something totally different: Translate your thoughts into physical activity. You can go for a walk, run, work out, play a sport, ride your bike, etc. and let your brain take a break.

Or, start channeling your creativity with your hands. Pick up a paintbrush, marker, pencil or other colorful utensil and create something. Work with clay, wood or metal. Find a physical outlet that allows you to practice different types of innovation, and you'll be amazed at how your thoughts can clear and become more focused.

You can even host office-wide creative breaks that double as team bonding exercises. There's a reason some people doodle during meetings — the physical and creative outlet can help some people focus and collect their thoughts. Why not encourage more people to give it a try?

Build Confidence With a Mentor

You can't innovate without having the confidence to take risks, and you can get a substantial confidence boost from studying with a mentor or following the teachings of your idol. Learn their philosophy backward and forwards. Before you ask for their advice, try to anticipate what they'll tell you. When you start to predict their answers, you know you have a firm grasp on their teachings.

If you don't have a mentor you can call, find an innovator whom you admire and read everything they've ever written. Try to get inside their mindset. Then, when you're up against a tricky situation, try to think like your idol. How would they approach the situation?

Another way to build confidence is through an activity that has absolutely nothing to do with your career. For example, work with a personal trainer to learn how to focus and push yourself through something that seems impossibly difficult. Or, take a dance class to understand that things get easier the more you practice. The lessons you'll learn translate well into the business world.

Stop Feeling Overwhelmed About Innovation

If you're not currently feeling innovative, stop and ask yourself why. Is it because you tend to feel like you need to know exactly what you're doing before you take the first step? Understand that you can take small steps forward. The key is to just move forward, even if you feel like you're completely winging it.

This "fake it until you make it" approach can actually deliver surprising results. Don't fall prey to impostor syndrome, which is where you feel like you're not qualified to be in your career. You can absolutely learn as you go. In fact, your idols undoubtedly took a trial-and-error, learn-on-the-job approach when they began.

Despite what you may think, you don't have to be perfect in order to run a small business or practice innovation. You just have to start, get messy, make mistakes and come out on the other side, even if you're still not entirely sure how you got there.

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About the Author

Cathy Habas specializes in marketing, customer experiences, and behind-the-scenes management. Cathy has contributed to sites like Business and Finance, Business 2 Community, and Inside Small Business. She served as the managing editor for a small content marketing agency before continuing with her writing career.