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No better time for SMEs to innovate

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“Gone are the days when business owners could rely on the business-as-usual model to keep their company profitable. In light of the increasingly competitive global environment, companies are constantly under pressure to innovate,” says Ethel Nyembe, head of Small Enterprises at Standard Bank.

The good news is that entrepreneurs are generally already innovative, realising that innovation is a necessity in order to accelerate their business. But what does this 21st century buzzword mean?

“Simply put, innovation can be described as taking advantage of new ideas that lead to the creation of a new product, process or service,” says Nyembe. “Many businesses identify a gap in the market and develop ideas to bridge the gap with a new market offering.”

Notably, the competition may copy and even improve on your new market offering; therefore, it is essential for businesses to realise that innovation is also an on-going requirement for sustainability.

“This could involve using technology to meet market challenges and to think innovatively about new products and services. Successful innovators see more than one solution to a business need and are prepared to move fast to meet that business need,” she adds.

According to Nyembe, an important factor for business owners to consider is that the innovation process is incremental and changes may be required from time-to-time to match business and market needs and to surpass the competition, which is also undertaking their own innovation process.

She also urges business owners not to forget to train staff members, because they need to implement the innovation solutions.

“Train your staff and listen to their ideas because they understand the needs of your businesses’ customers from dealing with them on a daily basis,” she says. “Innovative entrepreneurs who devote time to thinking about all aspects of their businesses, and are constantly searching for ways of making their offerings better, are the ones who succeed and build great businesses.”

Nyembe also advises business owners to network rigorously in order to keep in touch with industry developments and the people who drive industry trends.

“All business owners should be aware of changes taking place in the market and opportunities that these changes can bring. For example, those businesses that started selling energy solutions before the energy crisis hit the
domestic market are now at the cutting edge of business,” says Nyembe.

For those businesses that want to remain relevant in the current market and changing business landscape, innovation can ensure that their businesses grow from strength-to-strength. But most of all, in order to succeed in innovation, companies need to understand and deftly respond to ever-changing customer behaviours in this exciting yet challenging new world.