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For businesses, 2012 is all about bravery

After a difficult year for many small businesses, 2012 will be the time of innovation and reinvention in the sector.

2011 was a difficult year for many. From the most senior chairmen and women in my network down, it was a year, certainly towards Christmas, fraught with redundancies, cost cutting, limited budgets, training and recruitment freezes and of course, reduced sales figures.

It was a time to be brave. It was a time for difficult, unpopular decisions, and most of all it is innovation around doing more with less and for some it was about reinvention.

2012 is calling for survival of the fittest and for business owners, this means re-innovate, re-evaluate or get left behind. 2012 is about finding your niche, focus and change management. The lesson for 2012 is one facing harsh realities and examining the value of proactive thinking.

Innovate on a local level

Innovation is often associated with new groundbreaking technology or extreme change – the sort of activity only achievable by multinational corporations. In reality, some of the best ideas come from smaller businesses with the flexibility to experiment with new ideas, products and services.

Courage, tough decisions and focus

In the business world, it pays to remember that the majority of so-called successful people have had their share of bad times. Most good business people have failed at least once in a business venture, or been through dark times to emerge stronger.

As someone close to me once said: “You will be remembered on how you performed under stress not for when times were good.” It is a good mantra for domestic and business living. Our ability to be forward thinking and our willingness to embrace change ultimately helps us grow a sustainable business.

Innovation is a currency. It can be a form of high-return investment when successfully planned for and managed.

Knowledge is power

The easiest way to innovate is to build upon something we already know and are excited about. Talking to one of my clients yesterday Sam Riley, CEO of Ansarada, who provide online data rooms for significant business transactions, it was the irritation of experiencing complex paperwork when working on transactions in his ‘day job’ that ignited his interest for a new business. Ansarada now has 70 percent market share of the Australian M&A market and has offices opening globally.

We are lucky to be living in a world of uber-connectedness. With the pace of technological innovation we are constantly exposed to new ways of communicating, a greater ability to find new ideas and we can do business in new and varied ways. It is a time that facilitates innovation well.

These days I start my day by monitoring the internet and some of my most useful business tips come from Twitter and LinkedIn. The online world is full of information waiting to be discovered. The best thing is most of it is free.

Meeting ‘stars’ of your industry

I am indebted to the friends and mentors I have in my network. So don’t be afraid to ask for advice, particularly when re-inventing. Inspiration comes from those around you who have done it before and share your core values, so surround yourself with people who inspire you. They can provide you with an ocean of advice, learning and teamship.

I personally get a kick out of meeting and working with entrepreneurs. They are quick thinking, passionate and have great vision about their particular market needs. Seek them out to assist.

Welcome diversity

Innovation, change and creativity can stem from the most trivial things. Diversifying your lifestyle and trying new things is a great way to reinvigorate. New experiences and new people help you look at your business in a different light.

The best brainstorms are often no more than 10 minutes. Throw together a team of three to four individuals and you will almost be guaranteed a fresh perspective. Winning teams need a mixture of talents and many minds tackling the same issue is a good way to gain support and resolution. We tend to refer to our own experiences to solve issues; the more diversified the experiences, the more varied perspectives will be brought to the table.

Promote a culture of progressive thinking

Dr. Linus Pauling, one of the most important scientists of the 20th century, once said: “The way to get good ideas is to get lots of ideas and throw the bad ones away.” Involve everyone and start from the bottom up. Invite discussion on how your business could be improved this year and harness the skills and motivation of your team by inspiring them to be creative.

More importantly, get your team to work together to discuss and develop ideas. This could mean the difference between a good idea and a game-changing innovation. Creativity relies heavily on attitude, and attitude relies on enthusiasm, motivation and positivity.

It could be simple

Change is as good as a rest. Is it time for a change of space? Reconfiguring the office space can refresh a work environment and bring in positive changes of energy. Office furniture is relatively inexpensive. Throw out grey and invite colour! Stimulating the senses is a great first step to stimulating the mind.

One of the first thing my new general manager did coming into the business was to rearrange our desks. Our new positions have created a sense of change and starting anew. Stimulation is a good thing. Start with the simple and attainable.

Also use this quieter period to examine your current filing systems and working processes. Every office has the chance to operate differently. I walked around the new Macquarie Bank building this month and it is extraordinary – no paper, no filing, just lockers and workers who can sit where they like.

While some offices opt for the social open plan approach, others may need to practice ‘Do Not Disturb’ periods or build ‘focus corners’. Don’t be afraid to overturn old working habits.

Getting your ‘brave’ plan started

Some recommended activities to get you started:

  • Conduct a SWOT analysis for your business – what have been your strengths and where could you improve for the new year?
  • Review your existing client portfolio – is there opportunity to offer any additional products or services?
  • Find out what business associations exist in your area and join them
  • Look on LinkedIn for interesting or inspiring professionals and make an introduction.
  • Implement weekly 10-minute brainstorm sessions for your team to think of new ways to improve the business.
  • Sign your staff up to trade newsletters and subscribe to relevant trade publications.
  • Cultivate a positive company culture and give your staff the freedom to initiate fun activities once a month.

Seth Godin, one of my favourite bloggers, said in his blog last week: “A failure is a project that doesn’t work, an initiative that teaches you something at the same time the outcome doesn’t move you directly closer to your goal. But a mistake is either a failure repeated, doing something for the second time when you should have known better, or a misguided attempt (because of carelessness, selfishness or hubris) that hindsight reminds you is worth avoiding.”

Beware mistakes, don’t fear failure!

There is no better time than the start of a new year to reinvent, innovate and grab change management initiatives to take you to a better place. Re-invigorate your business with new ideas and create fresh propositions. Forward thinking and creativity now could help propel your business and kickstart a brand new 2012.

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Sharon Williams

Sharon Williams

Sharon Williams is the founder and CEO of Taurus Marketing. She has founded a number of businesses and organisations and has more than 25 years experience in marketing and PR from the UK and Europe to Asia, and now Australia.

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