Great ideas can come from anywhere, and smart business owners will take advantage of this to improve their bottom line. You may have no shortage of helpful suggestions (and some that might be less than helpful) when you first open your business, but that well will eventually dry up. Profitable companies are always open to change, but the challenge is often finding the right direction for the change to go. Putting up a suggestion box, either for your employees or your customers, is one sure way to get a creative mix of ideas to consider.
Creating an Employee Suggestion System
Want to create a loyal workforce? Give your employees a sense of belonging and the feeling that you value their input. Workers who feel they are part of a company are naturally less likely to leave than those who are unhappy and feeling isolated. As countless company owners have found, one great way to connect with workers is by implementing an employee suggestion system.
More than the traditional locked wooden box mounted outside the office door, these systems are responsive techniques for encouraging feedback and rewarding great suggestions. You can create a similar program by encouraging your employees to write down suggestions based on their daily observances in the business, and by putting a reward system into effect for those suggestions that you use to good effect.
The advantages of having such a system are twofold: improving employee morale and increasing the possibility of finding great business concepts. When workers see you using their ideas to improve the business, it instills in them a great sense of pride. The rewards are just icing on the cake.
Employee suggestion systems aren't all good news, though. They can be a bit labor intensive, especially if you want to give serious thought to every suggestion that comes into the system. Someone must vet these ideas, after all. Also, this system is often a magnet for unhappy or troublemaking employees. Every business owner has met one: the worker who's never happy and is always complaining, regardless of the circumstances. This person is bad enough for morale when left alone with the group; adding her contributions to the suggestion system can waste time better spent on legitimate attempts to help.
Asking the Public for Suggestions
Every successful business was built on giving the customer what he wanted or needed. Even if you have a fabulous bottom line, your customers' needs will change over time. If you want to get ahead of the curve and change in time to take advantage of their new needs, you need to find out what they want. The best way to find this out is to ask them.
The traditional customer suggestion box has all but disappeared, to be replaced by various systems online. From classic review sites like Yelp! and TripAdvisor to dedicated pages on company websites, businesses are taking their suggestion requests to homes and mobile devices.
Set up any system for gathering customer thoughts and you'll most likely end up with more ideas than you can use. The comparatively large size of the internet guarantees you'll have more people looking at your site and possibly willing to contribute. You're likely to get suggestions from people of all ages, cultures and financial backgrounds, giving you a better chance at finding unique business ideas. Customers are generally happy to give you their thoughts for free, as well, and are happy with a small reward if you decide to implement any of their suggestions.
Setting up a system for customer suggestions isn't all positive, though. Sifting through the larger amounts of material you find online can take up a lot of time and mental effort. The internet can be completely anonymous, making malicious suggestion writers a real possibility. It's likely you'll get a certain percentage of trolls and people trying to be funny, mixed in with the serious customers, and you'll have to weed them out before considering any suggestions. Finally, in this litigious world, it's a great idea to put a legal disclaimer on all suggestion boxes open to the public, stating that any idea left on your page immediately becomes your property. Give out surprise rewards if you want, but never give anyone the expectation that they deserve a part of your success.
Victoria Bailey has owned and operated businesses for 25 years, including an award-winning gourmet restaurant and a rare bookstore. She spent time as a corporate training manager in the third-largest restaurant chain in its niche, but her first love will always be small and independent businesses. Bailey has written for USAToday, Coldwell Banker, and various restaurant magazines, and is the ghostwriter for a nationally-known food safety training guru.