Innovation is a word that appears on the ‘wish list’ of most companies I work with – often accompanied by ‘IP’.
Companies seem baffled by what they should be doing in this area and get worried about the expense.
But well-thought through innovation which can, in turn, lead to you owning more intellectual property (IP) need not be expensive. Nor does it necessarily require a big team, so can be a great way for micro/small companies and the self-employed/freelancers to build value within their business.
When you consider innovation – don’t feel it needs to be something totally new, a product or service that is disconnected from what you do already. Often innovation comes in small steps from something you currently offer. It will be evolutionary rather than revolutionary. And evolutionary innovation is both easier and less costly to implement than revolutionary innovation.
In your search for this evolutionary innovation one of the best places to start it by looking at your existing audience.
Compile a list of your past/present clients – are there unusual groupings or sectors that you haven’t identified. Move them around, sort them alphabetically, by their client type, geographically, company size, project size. Are there patterns hidden in here you haven’t spotted before?
I once did this and realised I had a ‘luxury’ client grouping I hadn’t identified. I then pulled together a much more specific offer targeting that commercial audience in a way I’d never done before.
The other great thing about this list is that you have already traded with them. They have paid you money, they like you, they know who you are. So what can you offer them that is new, different, will make them want to buy from you again?
This could be a simple review of how they work with suppliers (after all you have been one), or a commercial opportunity you have spotted for their business they are unaware of, an emergent trend that could harm them. Whatever it is, ensure you don’t just give away the idea. Present it as a new service from you, clearly indicating that you own the thinking, the rights behind this and charge properly for it.
The next audience you can evolve your innovation strategy for is your future clients. These are the people or companies you don’t yet trade with.
I encourage companies to really look at their offer – whether in their credentials presentation, on their website, in their packaging or in their contractual terms – to see whether there are ways to innovate there. When mention this, it really raises eyebrows, yet it’s a very simple way to innovate.
When pitching to a person or company, come up with a range of different ways you could be paid, initiate conversations around ‘rewards for success’ or sharing revenues if your work performs beyond expectations. Offer something new, different from your competitors – this could be a new service, a product or different way of working. Innovation can be simple tweaks as well as new advances.
One of my clients – a barre studio – was approached by a potential client looking for a gentle class. Further questioning revealed she was emerging from some tough physio treatment so needed careful next steps. Vicki worked out an appropriate plan for her continuing rehab. From that one conversation with a future client, she identified a new innovative programme she could develop for those needing rehab – a service she could also offer to local physio treatment centres.
Which leads neatly on to the next audience you can innovate for – new buyers.
These are companies or individuals who may be completely new to the world you work in. This means that you can create new and interesting ways of working with them as they don’t know what to expect. Just as Vicki can now take her ‘Barreworks for Rehab’ offer to local physios to help their patients’ next steps, what can you offer newcomers to your sector?
Companies or people who may never thought of buying the service or product you offer before may have needs that differ from your normal client profile. If you run an agency or design studio – you could offer talks around ‘how to buy design’, or you could structure your payment model to help early stage companies to work with you. How can you innovate in this space?
My last point about innovation for audiences? Look out of the window from where you sit reading this… What could you offer to the people walking past? What could sell to this new audience? What opportunity do they represent for your business?
A student once told me she was dropping out of university due to financial pressures. Studying fashion, she had just completed the pattern-cutting module – which she’d really loved. She leaped at my suggestion that the solution to her financial woes could be solved by offering local Saturday morning pattern-cutting courses with cheap advertising in local shop windows. Two weeks later her first class had ten people signed up for two-hour basic tuition. Lively, noisy, creative, colourful, informative. Not revolutionary innovation but evolutionary innovation for a new audience that was right for her business.
So think about how your business can innovate to these four audiences… What can you offer that is evolutionary, easy to implement but can really build new value for you?
About the author
Erica Wolfe-Murray is a force to be reckoned with. Dubbed by national media and clients as the ‘Delia’ of business she is renowned for her smart and savvy approach to innovation and problem solving. With over four decades of experience she is the UK’s leading business and innovation expert and has worked with over 250 companies to date.
Many of the companies Erica has worked with and continues to work with are global household names, others are small and emerging businesses tipped to excel and make their mark within the top of their relevant field. Erica is at the forefront of the fast-paced, ambitious, creative, cultural and tech sector. Frequently being asked to speak at prestigious events, conferences, Universities and Soho House to help inspire business owners.
Powerfully aware of the particular issues facing small companies and freelancers, Erica Wolfe-Murray has drawn on her extensive experience working with hundreds of people to produce a hands-on, easy-to-use book (due for release in January 2019) crammed with ideas, advice and tips to help your company grow. Having been both a creative head and a financial director, her straight-forward approach linked to practical diagrams and frameworks will helo readers kick-start growth in their business straight away with 95% of her ideas free to implement.