Posts Tagged ‘innovation’

Marketing for Entrepreneurs and Small Business

Friday, November 12th, 2010

A recent article at Yahoo Finance, “Ten Mistakes that Start-Up Entrepreneurs Make,” is a must-read for inventors, entrepreneurs and small business owners. Mistake Number 3, in particular, rings a bell with this marketing guy:

“3. Spending too much time on product development, not enough on sales”

Most inventors and entrepreneurs – from the newest medical device, to 3-D imaging software, to a designer cupcake and cookie business – are stretched just too thin. Under-resourced, under staffed and under-funded, the typical start-up is forced to prioritize and sacrifice … and areas often neglected are marketing and sales. Here are 7 things every start-up and small business should be doing to assure that the customers will be there, $$$ in hand, when you open for business:

1. Early, EARLY, EARLY in the life of your start-up, figure out who your likely customers will be. Who has the passion – and the $$$ – to buy a product or service like your? Where are you likely to find them? And even more important, where are they mostly likely to go – on the street or on the internet – to discover a product like yours?
2. Understand what your potential customers love and what they hate about products or services like yours. Then, emphasize the things the like, provide a solution to the things they hate, and don’t waste your time and resources on things they don’t care about
3. Test your concept – early and often. Ideas that seem obvious on paper or in your discussions around the company coffee pot are often far less than obvious to outsiders – investors, supplier or distribution partners, and potential customers. Entrepreneurs often fear that a competitor will ‘steal’ their idea, but for most start-ups, the much bigger danger is sinking all your hard work and $$$ into a venture that customers don’t care about.
4. Nothing can jump-start your start-up better than an early success, so Focus, FOCUS, FOCUS! I know, that dazzling set of opportunities that you envision is seductive, but the temptation to pursue them all is an invitation to doing none of them well enough. Pick a particular offering (or closely related family of offerings), a customer segment you know well, and a well defined distribution scheme. Then, invest all your effort in making it work. The credibility, confidence, publicity, and knowledge – not to mention cash flow – you gain from your first success will make it that much easier to pick off the next and the next and the next opportunity.
5. Remove any hurdles that make it inconvenient for your customers to do business with you. Take a look at your own business through the eyes of a customer: Is it easy to find and get into your store – on the street or on the internet? Does your website and your storefront signage clearly and succinctly explain your business? How can I learn more about you, your product, your business? Do you offer a convenient assortment of payment options and customer-conscious return and refund policies?
Remember – What you think about your business is ultimately a lot less important than what your customers think and feel about it.
6. Share your success. You deserve to be amply rewarded for pushing your idea to fulfillment, but don’t forget the ones who helped get your there. It’s the right thing to do – and it’s darned good business. The more closely that your partners’ success is linked to yours, the harder your employees, your suppliers and your distribution partners will work for yours.
7. Get to know, understand and appreciate your customers. Organize your business so that it’s a positive, rewarding and hassle-free experience every time your customer touches you – beginning with their first phone call, email or their first step inside your store.

Hot Button!!!

Monday, April 26th, 2010

My most recent posts – about innovation in the US – really hit some people’s hot button. A near universal anger focused on what should be a small and minimally controversial element in the Rx for making the US economy more innovative: Improving the quality and availability of education in the US.

I was surprised by the near universal disdain for our schools because of ‘lazy and incompetent teachers’ and the near universal anger at ‘throwing more money at the problem.’

There certainly are lazy and incompetent teachers in the system, and we need better ways to deal with them (just as we need better ways to police medical malpractice than the currrent system of professional non-oversight and lack of legal review of incompetent and negligent doctors). But to suggest (as some readers did) that the solution is to do away with teachers’ unions or to abandon public education is political rhetoric disconnected from rationality.

Of course, education alone will not solve the problem of innovation in the US; far less will it single-handedly create millions of new middle class jobs. But a quality education, available to all Amaericans, if a vital piece of the foundation.

Brainstorming Innovation

Tuesday, March 30th, 2010

A Science Daily report throws some doubt on the usefulness of “brainstorming,” one of industry’s favorite tools for idea generation and creativity:

 “An upcoming study … suggests that this may not be the best route to take to generate unique and varied ideas. The researchers from Texas A and M University show that group brainstorming exercises can lead to fixation on only one idea or possibility, blocking out other ideas and possibilities, and leading eventually to a conformity of ideas.”

I’ve personally participated in, led and moderated many of these group brainstorming activities.  Formats vary widely – from an hour or so to a few days duration;  face to face, relatively no-holds-barred discussion or communication via keyboard;  small, select group of insiders vs outside experts and lay persons.   But regardless of format, the structure is nearly invariable:

– ‘Divergent’ brainstorming (the “there are no bad ideas” phase)

– Combining and ‘building out’ related ideas

– Assessing, rating and prioritizing of the ‘processed’ ideas

The A&M study provides substance to what I’ve long suspected – that the ideas that come out of group brainstorming sessions are long on consensus and conventional wisdom and short on breakthrough innovation.  A major part of the problem is the “nothing new under the sun” phenomenon – that truly new and truly valuable ideas are also truly rare.  Even the best idea generation strategy can’t fix that, but brainstorming methodology can be made better:

1. Use a mix of inside experts (to ground the discussion in reality) and informed outsiders (to broaden horizon and challenge conventional wisdom), but be diligent in suppressing the experts’ tendency to dominate.

2. Separate, as much as possible, the idea generating steps from the evaluation and selection parts of the process. Assign plenty of time and resources to flesh out and ponder the possibilities and consequences of each idea before passing judgment.

3. If you face a legitimate “We tried that back in ….” objection (and they’re often more legitimate than conventional wisdom will admit), succinctly identify what went wrong way back then and focus on what is different in the situation today.

There is, of course, no perfect recipe for coming up with the Next Great Idea, but there are some ways to increase the value and frequency of your successes.

I’m sure that people would appreciate hearing about your idea generation experience and techniques.