Innovation has become such a commonplace word in business that many entrepreneurs lose sight of how it should really fit into their overall business strategy. So often, innovation is being forced for the sake of being innovative rather than using it as a tool to help your business grow and differentiate from the competition.

Innovation can be described as a new method, idea, product, etc. that challenges the status quo. Most commonly, it is associated with technology as this tends to be where people push the boundaries most in this day and age. However, it can relate to anything, even a simple day-to-day process.

While innovative thinking is important in any business, there are a few things to consider to make sure you don’t drown in the wave rather than ride it smoothly to the shore.

Encourage an entrepreneurial workplace culture

An entrepreneurial workplace culture will be key in terms of hiring on a team that works collaboratively. They will also collectively work towards a unified goal of building and growth rather than focusing on maintaining the status quo.

Be honest with customers when you are “experimenting”

There is nothing wrong with wanting to further develop what you offer to your customers. Open communication when you are trying new things will help them feel invested in your growth rather than slighted by it if something doesn’t work quite right. It works best to try new things with a core group of loyal customers who you trust. That way you know they will be honest with you and they will stick with you regardless of the outcome. When your “something new” turns out to be great, then you can introduce it to your broader audience.

Understand how innovation is received in your industry

Innovation has touched each industry in some way (whether significant or not). The key is working either just within the comfort levels of your target audience, or just on the outside of the boundaries. While it can seem tempting to completely break the mould and shatter all expectations, you may have a customer base that isn’t ready for that kind of change, which can backfire on you. Either work within the zone, or be prepared for a potentially hard education period. If your innovation solves a well-known industry problem, then you will have an easier time introducing something completely new.

Don’t work beyond your capabilities

You should constantly seek opportunities to educate yourself. However, there is a difference between educating yourself then implementing what you have learned and just starting something new, learning as you go. In most cases, the learn-as-you-go method will have you fall behind. You will get too busy to learn the fine details because you are moving a little more slowly than you should be. Take the time to learn first, then implement.

Don’t break something that works

If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. Why spend time focusing on areas of your business that are running efficiently? Why not sit down with your team or a mentor to figure out where the gaps are. These are the areas you should focus on. Being innovative doesn’t have to mean changing the world, but it can change your professional life if you do it right.

Don’t put efficiency before customer relationships

It can be tempting to try to make the day-to-day as efficient as possible – and it should be! However, it shouldn’t mean that your customer service falls flat. You can be the most efficient business in the world, but without customers, you won’t really go anywhere. You have to find the happy medium where both sides of the equation are happy.

Build innovation into your business planning

Innovation can be spontaneous if you have a great idea, and that is OK, however, overall, you should build it into your strategy. You have to make sure that the innovation is aligned with your business goals and growth. And if it’s not, but you think that’s the direction you need to take, then it’s time to revisit your goals. The other thing to consider in your planning are the costs associated with constant innovation. If you plan for it, you can expect it and work towards it accordingly.

Keep it simple

Simplicity of process and product/service offering is key. If you are constantly adding new product/service offerings, then you will inevitably stretch yourself thin financially and you will likely lose your brand focus. Similarly, having too many communication channels, gadgets, and fancy processes for your team members to navigate will complicate the day-to-day unnecessarily. Streamline.

Innovation in business is a great thing because it helps us move forward as a society – to stop accepting status quo as the only option. However, when it’s not done right, it can be more damaging than helpful.

Originally posted to the SongBird Marketing Communications Blog.