When you think of innovation do you think of high tech companies and their multi-million dollar inventions? There are several definitions of innovation that may apply to the type of small business you run. Do you deal with new technologies, inventions or scientific research? Or does your definition of innovation include people, and new and exciting ways of developing their talents?

For most small business owners, innovation may originate in more creative ways. Innovation can come from something as simple as a new approach or turning a passion for a product or service into an original concept or idea.

A common idea when being innovative is to go against the grain:

  • Try using technology in a way other than its intended use.
  • Update the packaging or labelling of a product.
  • Seek out eco-friendly suppliers or resources.
  • Hold brainstorming sessions with your employees — you may find innovative thinkers in all areas of your business.

If you have an existing customer base, listen to feedback. The messages customers are sending may be the impetus for a ground-breaking idea or even inspire a new way of thinking. You may also think of partnering with like-minded companies to work together to develop new and innovative ideas. This could be especially useful if you can benefit from each other's expertise in a particular area.

If you are innovating by way of an invention or an improvement on an existing product, be sure to find out when you should apply for a patent. This applies whether you are working alone or in partnership with another company. At this stage you will also want to think about how you will introduce your new product or service to the market. Will you do the marketing and production yourself or hire a company to do it on your behalf?

Keep in mind that being innovative doesn't mean that you need to take big risks. Ideas should be thought carefully to ensure that your exciting new idea can be accomplished with the resources you have available to you.

By making innovative thinking part of your organizational culture, you may find that creative ideas flow more naturally. Define what innovation means to your business and reap the rewards.