Wednesday, 25 November 2015

What Top Businesses did consistently in 2015

Business in 2015 has been one of the most challenging for many companies. The fluctuating oil prices and terrorism are some factors that shaped business decisions in 2015. The stakes are high; and companies are racing towards out-performing each other in terms of product development and customer satisfaction. That notwithstanding, many companies have succeeded in being above board, innovating, creating new products and giving customers more value for their money. New products hardly appeal to customers for long before they start demanding for something better, and companies are out to ensure that they come to the market when it matters most. Companies like Spacex, Google, Apple, Samsung etc have done relatively well this year, and a closer look at them will show a common denominator and pattern which small businesses can adopt.

Here are a few things innovative companies have done consistently in 2015 to remain successful in the market.

They integrate their dynamic capabilities: Successful companies adapt to changing business environment using their competencies. Innovative companies make the best use of their competencies both within and outside their company to address emerging problems in the world. Samsung embraced Google’s Android operating system and other applications to run on its hardware instead of building its own. They were able to harness both their internal and external competencies to remain the market leaders.  

They are continuously changing: Innovative companies are proactive. They don’t wait for problems to occur before taking steps to address it. They know when the market is saturated and it’s ready for something new. They set pace and decide the trend in the market. Alibaba is an online company that is not just into buying and selling online, but has moved from the financial industry to the entertainment industry. It is eBay-Amazon-Paypal put together. These companies are never late to the market, they know when the ovation is over, and when it’s time to move on to something new.

They invest in people: The best of the innovative companies in 2015 are those that invested in people. They are particular about supporting and challenging their employees and others with direct or indirect contact with their company to explore their innovative power. Providing an enabling environment for people to be creative is what keeps Google, Apple, Spacex etc going in business. As an entrepreneur, have you invested in yourself, how about those working for the success of your business? Innovating in business is one of the most challenging activities an entrepreneur will ever face, but with the right people and the right investment on them, you are sure your business is ready for the future.

They provide better value: Customers always love buying more for less. For a customer, an innovative company is one that will charge less for the same or even better services or products. For instance, Tesla cars are technologically developed to be affordable as well as environmentally friendly. The beauty and attractiveness of any innovative product is the value added. Yes, you cannot reinvent-the-wheel in your business, but the values you are planning to add in the forth coming year could make the difference.

Open Innovation: No company is self reliant. Successful innovative businesses have made open innovation a part of their strategy for new product development. This helps them in partnering with people outside the company in creating a new product as well as sharing the risk. Samsung as well as other companies have been engaging in relationships with global consortiums, Universities, Materials vendors, Research centres etc   with the aim of advancing their technology.

For small businesses, competing in the same market with established businesses in the coming year requires identifying what they have done and will continue to do to remain relevant in the market. Those could be your guide in shaping your business strategy.

Thursday, 19 November 2015

How to create innovation culture in your business

One of the characteristics of great organisations is the ability to develop a culture of innovation. This is a culture that puts a system in place to help the business always develop new-to-the-market products as well as improve on existing products seamlessly. It will be a herculean task bridging the gap between your business, the market and your customers if innovation is not a way of life in your company.

Innovation is like a switch, without turning on the right knob, it will not be enabled to work for your business. In Nigeria, many businesses are yet to enable the innovation culture; they still operate a laggard culture i.e. they are slow to innovate, they focus most of their abilities refurbishing or repairing past innovative successes and soon, they are driven out of the market without knowing it – the Blackberry Company is an example. They have perfectly developed a culture to renovate (fixing current problems) rather than developing a culture that will enable innovation (building and testing new solutions) in their businesses.

If your business is stuck already in the renovation culture, it’s time to stop fixing problems with old solutions. You need to move away from repairs, restoration, and reconstruction of ideas to novelty, advancement and originality of ideas by building a culture of innovation into your business. Here are a few steps you can take towards developing a culture of innovation in your business:

Decide what innovation really means to your business
Culture is a way of life, and what makes a culture tick is the shared language and understanding of phenomenon. Building a culture of innovation requires every member of your organisation to speak the ‘same language,’ and have a common understanding of what innovation means to the business. This common understanding of innovation in turn reflects on every task carried out in your company. Organisations define innovation differently, and this definition is affected by the availability of resources as well as the goals the businesses set out to achieve hence, you cannot define innovation in your business the way your competitor did. You will never get the same result.

Make learning a habit
The first law of innovation is learning and acquiring new knowledge. It is knowledge that drives innovation. Creating an innovation culture entails being a ‘learning company.’ Open up the information system within your organisation, work on improving the level of interaction among employees on one hand, and with the outside world on the other. There is nothing like a lone genius, great innovations came about as a result of multiple interactions amongst people. Like Tom Kelly, CEO of the design firm IDEO pointed out, “Y our only real path to innovation is through people. You can’t really do it alone.” Learning as much as possible from both within and outside your business puts you in a better position to always innovate.

Change your perception of risk
Nothing fuels innovation like a free atmosphere to exercise your mind. Many organisations are slow to innovate even with smart employees because there is no room for failure. Developing a culture of innovation in your company requires creating an atmosphere where people are not afraid to fail. While it is good to be cautious in taking certain business decisions, care needs to be taken to avoid shutting out ideas that may yield innovative products. According to NHS Institute for Innovation and Improvement, UK, “Make it routine and acceptable to talk about ideas that were tried but ‘failed’. Work from the mindset that the only ‘failure’ is the failure to learn, and that not sharing and learning from things that don’t go as planned is waste and lost productivity” When innovating, don’t think of success or failure of an attempt, rather talk about the lessons learned.

Finally, while moving from a culture of renovation to innovation is challenging, entrepreneurs must see to it that they nurture an environment that will introduce new ideas and new ways of thinking by modelling their business strategy around innovation, and developing a system that challenges the norm.

Wednesday, 11 November 2015

What Small Businesses can do in a Trade Exhibition

 The Lagos International Trade Fair is on. New customers are being acquired just as existing customers are being lost to other businesses. An international trade exhibition holds alot of benefits for the economy as well as businesses. As it is now, over 60,000 temporary jobs have been created, and alot of goods and cash are exchanging hands at the event.

To businesses, exhibition events are a great avenue to make new customers especially for new products or features. It provides an opportunity for you to show-case your goods, and engage new customers. A lot of customers get the chance to try new products, and may eventually remain with the new product if it provides more benefits.

While at the fair as a small business owner, you may not have all the luxury and resources to engage in promotional activities like big businesses, but there are few things you can do to get the best out of a trade exhibition, and also to increase your chances of getting customers to switch to your product if possible.

Build a good reputation they can’t resist
The reputation of any business influences how customers remain loyal to it. It deals with an attribute or characteristics you want your business to be known for, and it can be in form of financial performance, product quality, service quality, management effectiveness or the integrity of the owners. A good reputation can enhance customers’ trust and confidence in a business, and help them in making the decision about the business. Trade fair or exhibition event is an opportunity for you to build that reputation that customers will love to associate with.

Understand where their dissatisfaction is coming from
No matter how good a product is, there is always an element of dissatisfaction either in the product or in services that accompany it. The only reason customers are still loyal to a business or product is that there is no better alternative yet or such element of dissatisfaction is negligible when compared with benefits that come with the product. During such an event, customers are looking for something better and new in a product and knowing where customers find dissatisfaction in competitor’s product or service can help you find a new feature in your product. There is nothing that makes it easier for customers to switch brand like dissatisfaction. If you can identify where customers are not yet satisfied in a product, and can fill that void, you are likely to win more customers.

Improve on your service failure response
Service failures are inevitable in business, but ability to respond promptly is key to keeping your customers. It’s interesting how prompt businesses are responding to service failures at the venue of the trade exhibition. No business wants to lose customers on account of not meeting their needs. Service failures can provoke negative complaints and if not properly dealt with could drive away customers. Prompt response to service failures is now being used as selling point and a competitive advantage at the event.

Engage, Engage, Engage
If you can’t any other thing during a trade exhibition, you must engage with other participants customers and other businesses alike.

The whole essence of a trade fair is not just to make quick sales but to learn new tricks as well as engage potential customers. Getting visitors at a trade exhibition to come to your business later as customers is great, but keeping as ‘your customers’ is the ultimate. 

Thursday, 5 November 2015

The Entrepreneurs, their products and the Law

Patent and registered designs are not issues many entrepreneurs and small businesses like you take serious, and for some, it is a case of complete ignorance of what the law expects from them, and how they can use it to protect themselves.

Over the past few days, I counselled a small business owner who is a casual Foot wear designer. He was worried that his product designs were being copied and reproduced at a cheaper rate by an unregistered business. He wants to take it up legally because those who could not afford his product of N4000 for a pair, goes to this other guy to reproduce it at N800.

It was enough reason to be worried especially when someone is feeding from your hard work however,  you have to ensure that legally, you have the right over the property you are claiming. So I ask him, 'How can you prove that this other guy is copying your designs?' he showed me a label of his registered business name on his product, and said, "I have registered this business, I was the first to come up this design."
At this point, I knew that he just like so many other entrepreneurs know much about business and their products but lack sufficient knowledge of the laws guiding as well as protecting their business or product.

When it comes to innovative products and designs, the law specified criterias that give you ownership or patent right.  Some are:

Your registered business doesn't cover your intellectual property
This entrepreneur believes that his registration of a business name automatically covers that of his designs, and that placing his label on the product was enough to indicate that he owes the design. The first lesson I brought to his notice was that there are different laws guiding each. Registering your business name is different from registering your company, as well as different from registering an intellectual property.

Patent right is given to the first person to file a claim, not the first to take it to the market
When the young man said that he was the first to come up with the idea, I laughed because the Nigerian law says, '...the right to a patent in respect of an invention is vested in the statutory inventor, that is to say, the person who, whether or not he is the true inventor, is the first to file, or validly to claim a foreign priority for, a patent application in respect of the invention...'  by implication, it doesn't matter who came up first with the idea or design, what the law recognises is the first person to file a claim of ownership. If you have not filed a claim of ownership of a design or invention, you can't call it yours.

Once it is made public before filing a claim, you can no longer lay claim to it.
By law, you are not expected to make an invention or design you wish to patent public before filing a claim. Making it public before filing, invalidates your claim. The man said he was going to file a claim for the designs, but unfortunately,  it was already late. The design has been in the market for the past three years, so nobody can claim to owe it again. The law only allows for a period of 6 months in case you want to exhibit it officially in an internationally recognised exhibition.

In business, there are laws to protect your creativity, however you must know when and where it applies. That you were the first to come up with an idea in business doesn't give you ownership or patent right over the product. Depending on the country or region where your business is located, it is your responsibility as a business owner to get acquainted with the law to help you protect your business as well as your products from pirates.