Every big business starts out as a small idea. Whether it's the online bookstore run from a garage that becomes an entertainment and technology behemoth, or the limited social network started in a college dorm that now has the power to influence governments, they all had to start somewhere.
What sets the likes of Amazon and Facebook apart from others is their ability to innovate. It may be a single bright idea that no-one's had before or, more often, a new approach to an existing way of working, but whatever it is, it will define your firm’s success.
However, many businesses never get over this initial hurdle. In fact, one in five small firms won't make it beyond their first year, and only half will still be around after five years. While there are many reasons for this, if you can't innovate, you'll never get anywhere.
It's easy to fall into bad habits that stop you from innovating. But by being aware of what these are and how to avoid them, you stand a much better chance of success. Here are three of the most common pitfalls to be mindful of.
1. Being too focused (or not focused enough)
A keen focus on your goal can be a good thing, but it's important not to develop tunnel vision that prevents you from seeing the bigger picture. For instance, if you're devoting all your attention to the perfect product launch, you might not be giving adequate thought to how you'll sustain momentum in the months afterwards, or how to build on the platform you've created.
At the other extreme, an unfocused approach where you're splitting your attention between dozens of things at once can be equally bad for your business. Go down this route and the key unique factors that separate your firm from its competitors can be neglected.
Learning how to delegate effectively is one of the most important lessons for any aspiring entrepreneur, yet it's also one of the most difficult. If you've started a business from scratch, it can be hard to hand over the reins, even for the most simple of tasks. After all, you've poured your time, money and passion into it, so who knows it better than you?
But if you want to grow your business, you'll have to know when to take a step back. Trying to micromanage the entire business by yourself means you end up spending most of your time on mundane, everyday tasks rather than working on innovative new ideas.
It will also breed resentment among your employees, and this can cause its own set of problems. You'll need your staff onboard if you're to evolve, so it's vital your people feel excited about the future and not as if you don't trust them.
3. Coasting along
It's impossible for any business to innovate if its people aren't willing to step outside their comfort zone. It could be that you're uncertain about the best way forward because you've never mapped out a plan, or are concerned about what will happen if you go in the wrong direction. But all innovation carries an element of risk - and without risk, there can be no reward.
There can be many reasons why you may be happy to just coast along without taking that next big step, and fear of failure is just one of them. It may be the case that you’re so invested in the daily demands of the business and meeting your customers' immediate needs that long-term planning takes a back seat, or you're too complacent about your sector and haven't spotted emerging opportunities or threats.
Again, this is something that can be overcome with the right delegation and developing a clear strategy of how you take your firm to the next level.