How to be innovative in tough times

Seeking innovation does not have to be costly. While some businesses are happy to pay others to generate ideas, for many this is not feasible or appropriate. As a small business owner, the key to unlocking business innovation lies in making the most of what you have and being inspired by your surroundings. Here are some common myths which restrict businesses from being more innovative:

Myth 1: All good ideas come from those in charge

Not true. All staff can contribute good ideas. In fact, those involved in the day to day processes are best placed to know what would work on the ground. Similarly, listening to the views of new staff can help identify simple changes you’d never thought of before. This means the beginning of a brilliant idea could be as simple as listening to your staff, having regular team meetings or even staff surveys.

This is exactly what one small business owner did. Keith Henshall explains: “When young people join our team, I encourage them to tell me if anything could be improved. One day, a gap year student working for me suggested marketing our products with powerful visualisations. I let him run with it, and this generated much more business. I wish we’d thought of it earlier!”

Myth 2: Training staff only leads to them to take their expertise and ideas elsewhere

Research has shown that workplaces utilising the skills of their workforce have happier workers and good productivity gains. Allowing employees to apply the skills and knowledge acquired through training can breed a culture of learning, knowledge exchange and can lead to those all important innovative ideas. Findings from one of the UK’s largest employer telephone surveys shows that 4 in 10 employers do no training at all.  If you’re one of them, you’re missing out!

Training does not need to be expensive. A good way to start is through considering online tools, mentoring and job shadowing. There’s also a wealth of information and support services available, all of which may help crystallise ideas and build up the skills of your workforce. 

Myth 3: Working with other businesses just means they steal your ideas

You might have a good idea to revolutionise your industry, but you don’t have the time or money to make it a reality. This is where collaboration can help to share the load, the burdens and the risks.  While you may think it’s silly to work with your competitors, it is highly likely that you’re both facing similar skills shortages and issues relating to your locality. So why not work together to overcome them? 

Employer networks can help with this. This involves firms getting together to solve common problems, offer mutual support and provide insight into what works. Like all good relationships, it needs to be based on trust, communication and common aims.  So if you’re thinking about being a part of an employer network then it’s worth investing in this at the outset, and researching how they can work for your benefit.  

Seeking external advice and support can also help generate new ideas. Business development tools like Investors in People have a lot to offer. It’s a cost-effective way of aligning your business strategy with the skills of your people.  It also allows you to seek a new perspective on how you can improve your business and make ideas happen.     

Innovative ideas can be elusive. But this doesn’t mean you shouldn’t seek them out where possible. Lateral thinking and tenacity might just be enough for your ‘eureka’ moment.


If you are innovative, the Smarta 100 together with O2 wants to reward you! Apply here to win £20,000 including £1,000 especially for a business that innovates.

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