Innovation for Small Business: 4 Keys to Success
Innovation for Small Business: 4 Keys to Success

There is a common misperception that only very large companies are capable of innovation. If you are small, there is just no way to be innovative. It’s too expensive, it’s too risky and it takes a lot of people. The truth, however, is that you got where you are today – an entrepreneur or small business owner – through creativity, risk-taking, team building and the right attitude. While you do face challenges, due to the small in-house team you may have, those challenges can be easily turned into your 4 keys to success!

Creativity: One Part Environment, One Part Attitude

People often equate statements like “I can’t even draw a straight line” with creativity, so it’s important to begin by learning the difference between artistic ability and creativity. Artistic ability is what it takes to generate works like the Mona Lisa or Rodin’s The Thinker. Creativity, however, comes along in life all of the time. When your child asks you why the sky is blue, and you really don’t know, or you know an answer they wouldn’t understand – you get creative. In many instances of your life, you turn to your creativity for a solution, you just don’t think of it that way.

Environment can inspire creativity, especially as it relates to being innovative. What do we give kids when they are young, to inspire creativity? Blocks, Legos, crayons, scissors and a host of other things. Those same tools are effective for adults! A workplace environment can be pretty sterile, but that is easily remedied with a few additional items. Raid your grandmother’s attic, head off to a thrift store, go to a store like Michaels® or JoAnn Fabrics and check out what is there. If you leave empty handed, you need to readjust your attitude – then go back!

Risk Taking is Part of Innovation…But

Yes, in order to innovate, you take on a little risk, but you have already taken on some level of risk by being where you are right now. In order to continue to grow your business, more risk is necessary. Either you take risk with innovation or you take a bigger risk by not innovating, either way, it’s a risk. Why not take risk in a positive direction, and learn how to mitigate that risk a little bit along the way?! There are tools available to help mitigate risk, tools that are easy to obtain with the right coaching!

Team Building: Thinking Outside the “Box”

As an entrepreneur, you are probably a one- or two-person operation. Even as a small business owner, statistics say you probably have fewer than ten employees. How do you build an innovation team with so few bodies in-house? It’s much easier than you think!

The key to building your team is diversity. Rather than assemble a group of PhD’s in a room and issue the innovate order, try looking around, finding people with different backgrounds, of different ages, and from different perspectives. The more diversity, the richer your team! The richer your team, the better the ideas, and the more success you will ultimately have.

Attitude and Failure

Previously mentioned, attitude is a big part of the equation. You might say it’s the main key to your innovation success. Your attitude not only relates to creativity and risk-taking, but it comes into play in other places. As an example, your attitude toward failure likely needs an adjustment. As kids, we are taught to get back up and try again. You can’t get on social media without seeing a meme about failure and trying again, but seeing and believing are very different. You will need to learn to embrace failure, rather than to fear it. You will need to understand failure for what it is – a learning opportunity.


Being innovative and small isn’t your challenge. Your challenge is in overcoming the misperceptions you hold about innovation in general. It’s a big step one in your journey to growing your business!

By, Kirbie Earley, Founder of Innovation Coaching Excellence, a Central Ohio-based Manufacturing and Technology consulting company. Kirbie has worked with Kevin Hammond for over two years in the Ohio MEP program at PolymerOhio and the MT-SBDC Program based at Columbus State. Learn more about Innovation at our upcoming Learning Event.