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Inside Innovation: How 6 SMEs shook up business

Sponsored by Commonwealth Bank

Our article series, Inside Innovation: How 6 SMEs shook up business, examines how small to medium businesses from different industries have shaken up their approach with change and innovative solutions.

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How we overhauled our approach to customers and got personal

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Getting personal with customers. (Bigstock)

Are you driving people away by giving them poor experiences? Customers come first, but often SMEs can be too slow to think of innovative ways to look after them.

Whether you’re an online retailer or a brick-and-mortar store, it might be time to update your approach to customer service to expand your reach, boost brand awareness and keep up with increasingly high expectations.

Individualised support for customer satisfaction

For web app-based security solution Cammy, establishing a dedicated customer support team for responding to queries on a one-on-one basis has been essential for remaining competitive.

The Cammy app lets you watch over your home, family, possessions and pets from anywhere, any time. This is a product where the customer needs to feel they are receiving a personalised service, according to Cammy digital marketing manager Jason Allan.

And the more personable the better. Addressing the customer by their name in emails, including a photo of the customer service operator and using language that speaks to one person and not a group are all valuable tactics, Allan says.

“This might not seem innovative in the digital age where everything is automated, but it’s invaluable to customers and it is one area where SMEs have an advantage over larger companies.”

Use data to better understand your customers

Over time the business has realised the importance of data for managing customer satisfaction by keeping better track of a customer’s actions within the app.

“The data can show us whether a customer is yet to try a feature we think is important to their experience, or tells us when we should set up auto messages,” says Allan.

Data also provides deeper insights such as what phone device is being used, how long someone has been a customer and how many cameras they may have set up.

Claire Roberts, Executive General Manager of Local Business Banking at Commonwealth Bank, also emphasises the importance of regularly examining your data for insights.

“Analysing the business landscape and your customer priorities can help a business see itself through fresh eyes and point them towards the right questions to ask,” she says.

Knowing these details by being able to access and interpret data gives you more information more quickly and shows the customer you care about them and their experience.

Get ahead with tech

If you’re looking to better understand customer needs, consider taking advantage of tools such as Survey Monkey, which allows you to analyse your target market, or Intercom.io to assist with customer communication.

Implementing technology that makes any and all processes easier for customers is a key part of good service. This might mean providing easy and flexible payment options for your customers, such as mobile EFTPOS terminals, says Roberts.

But it’s important to remember that customer innovation can extend beyond the use of technology; it’s about cultivating rich, valuable relationships.

“Innovation also involves a form of partnership and advice,” says Roberts.

“At CommBank, we aim to work alongside our customers to help them incorporate innovative thinking in their business plans and to empower them to deliver long term success.”

Drive business with social media

Many of your best customer service advocates are of course your customers. During your online social interactions, there’s no reason why you shouldn’t be transparent in your communication to build trust and rapport, advises Allan.

“By using Facebook ads, we target people who look like our customers but we also include existing customers who actively respond to comments and help sell our product for us.

“We even follow customers on social media to help build brand awareness and keep a very high response rate to comments on Facebook.”

At CommBank we believe innovation starts by asking questions. Discover new ways to keep your business moving.

Written by: Thea Christie

Commonwealth Bank

At CommBank we believe innovation starts by asking questions. Discover new ways to keep your business moving.

Innovation starts with your team

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an innovative team. (Bigstock)

To become innovative and encourage a culture of creativity, you need to start with your team. They are going to be a rich source of solutions for stagnant or out-dated processes within your business.

To do this well, you need to know how to foster a culture of creativity and innovation.

Leadership starts with you

Business owners and leaders need to have a clear picture of where their business is heading and involve their team in that vision, says Claire Roberts, Executive General Manager, Local Business Banking with the Commonwealth Bank.

“When employees believe in the change, it allows leaders to focus on the mechanics of making the change happen, involving their team throughout the journey, giving them accountability and ownership,” Roberts says.

Ashleigh McInnes, director of PR and communications company Paper Mill, says she realised that if her business was going to stay viable in an industry undergoing rapid change, she needed to build an innovative team culture.

“The challenge is how to define your team culture while it’s happening around you,” McInnes says.

“We have a culture of learning by doing,” she says. “We always try and reflect on what we’ve done, what we can do better and share that with the whole team.”

McInnes says these values have helped her business innovate and fast track growth.

“In any business there are things that aren’t going to go your way,” she says. “But as long as you can learn from that situation and take it on board it’s invaluable.”

Fresh eyes can make all the difference

A recent Commonwealth Bank innovation survey found that nearly half of Australian businesses (45 per cent) believe one of the biggest challenges to innovation is coming up with new ideas, whilst more than one-third (34 per cent) say the challenge is having the time to look at their business with ‘fresh eyes’ that makes the difference.

Small business owners face a lot of time pressures, but there are still ways of getting a renewed perspective without dedicating massive amounts of your own time.

“Leveraging customer insights (such as online data analytics) is a good example of a small step towards innovation,” Roberts says. “These insights are relatively easy to obtain and can have a huge impact on business processes.”

Paper Mill’s Ashleigh McInnes says that business owners need to realise they can’t do everything themselves and that they should occasionally relinquish control to allow their team to take over some of the burden of innovation.

“I was getting pulled in so many different directions, in terms of strategy and operations to HR, I realised I was not the person to implement the changes needed,” she says.

“We actually brought someone in last year and part of their job was to implement new systems and processes and put in place those changes quickly – it’s been invaluable.”

Even small actions speak louder than words

When it comes to promoting innovation internally, getting the ball rolling through small actions is a lot more helpful than just talking, says Roberts.

“As a business owner, it’s important to help the business overcome roadblocks by demonstrating how simple exercises can be innovative,” says Roberts. “Often it’s about asking the right questions and following through on what is uncovered.”

McInnes started a system where after every completed event or project her team would reflect upon how it went and work out how they could do things better in the future.

“Through that process and relating to our values, we looked at how we interact with our clients and our public,” she says.

“By using this approach we ask people to grow and adapt at a much faster rate than if they were forced to look at things form a solo perspective.”

Work with your team

Engaging your employees in innovative thinking can not only help further your team’s professional development, but also open up new opportunities.

Also, find out about your team members’ hobbies and interests – it can help you identify where their talents may be best directed, says McInnes.

“Learning what my team members are interested in outside of work has allowed me to get to know what their passions are and provide them with specific projects accordingly,” she says.

“I’ve found sometimes staff members can come up with some of the most brilliant ideas. Why not utilise that instead of putting them in a box?”

At CommBank we believe innovation starts by asking questions. Discover new ways to keep your business moving.

Written by: Jacob Robinson

Next in Series
Commonwealth Bank

At CommBank we believe innovation starts by asking questions. Discover new ways to keep your business moving.

The change journey

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Article Series_Commonweahtl Bank_article-4-change-journey

Businesses of every size know that there is no such thing as a constant market.

Whether it’s technological advances, new competitors or shifting consumer preferences, change is always on the way. Most SMEs realise that to survive, they must be adaptable and agile. An innovative business is a sustainable business.

Claire Roberts, Executive General Manager of Local Business Banking at Commonwealth Bank, says innovation provides an opportunity for small businesses to stay competitive.

“Businesses of all sizes need to be continually innovating to keep up with the evolving needs of their customers and stay competitive,” says Roberts.

“For small businesses innovation is particularly important as customers are increasingly going digital. Local businesses are finding themselves competing against larger businesses with bigger budgets.”

According to a recent Commonwealth Bank survey, smaller businesses value innovation more so than larger businesses. But many of these small enterprises are unsure of how to start innovating.

“Business owners often think of innovation as involving technology, however, more often it involves thinking critically to better understand business challenges and opportunities,” says Roberts.

While small businesses may not have the budgets of larger companies, she explains, they are often more agile and can be more responsive to changing markets.

Some have decided to put innovation and agility at the centre of their approach. One such company is Annex Products, co-founded by friends Chris Peters and Rob Ward.

Their core business is Quad Lock, a phone mounting system. Users can use a Quad Lock product to attach their smartphone to their car dashboard, arm or their bike, so they can be used hands-free while driving, running or riding.

Ward, a toolmaker by trade, and Peters, a designer, made their first product after seeing the success of other projects on crowdfunding website Kickstarter.

“We thought, ‘Gee this is a great way to get an actual consumer grade product to the market, and to see if people would like to buy it,’” recalls Ward.

The pair used the funds from the success of their first product on KickStarter to create the first Quad Lock product, which launched on Kickstarter in 2012. From the beginning, the founders have had direct contact with customers, allowing them to stay informed about changing preferences and market conditions.

At first, they went to product with a bike mount. Now, Quad Lock offers a car mount, a running band arm mount, a tripod, a belt clip, and cases for mobile devices.

The pair’s decision to go straight to consumers through Kickstarter, rather than waiting until the product was perfect, means that innovation is built into the company’s DNA, says Ward.

“You understand the customer, what they want and what they want to achieve, and – for better and worse – what can be changed.

“We’ve kept adding to the product. You’ve got to have your core concept solid. But I think every product goes through a ‘feature creep’,” says Ward.

According to Roberts, innovation is often a continual process which is supported by checking in with customer preferences.

“Innovation is not necessarily a single big idea or an overnight change. At Commonwealth Bank, we believe that innovation can be as simple as making small, incremental changes and usually involves a form of partnership,” she says.

“This means businesses can continue to deliver on products and services, while regularly dedicating time to asking questions to help better understand customer needs and thinking long term about solutions for success.”

At CommBank we believe innovation starts by asking questions. Discover new ways to keep your business moving.

Written by: Jessie Richardson

What the technology revolution means for Australian SMEs

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What the technology revolution means for Australian SMEs

 

The technology revolution has turned every small business into a technology company – whether they like it or not. What once was the domain of large corporations has now filtered down into every aspect of the economy.

From payroll and project management to communication and file storage, these technologies have not only streamlined the way businesses work, but made processes incredibly cheap. Combined with the app economy, SMEs now have improved solutions for doing business, communicating, and collaborating in real-time.

But many small businesses in Australia still see technology as an afterthought. A 2014 report from the Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA) found there was a “lack of urgency to change”, among SMEs. They are deliberately choosing to be late adopters in fear of wasting money and resources.

However, it was also found the more knowledgeable and confident SMEs become about digital communications technology, the “easier the path to adoption becomes”.

Steven Strange heads one of these early adopter SMEs. As the head of health technology group Health Metrics, Strange’s company produces software and technology solutions for workers in the aged care industry.

Internally, technology has rapidly streamlined Health Metrics’ own services and processes. It has transformed the company into a faster, leaner and more productive work place, says Strange.

“We use Xero for accounting, we use SmartSheet to collaborate, and services like Trello to manage the collaborative development side of things.

“We’re always keen to use anything in the cloud and to work online.”

The reason for this is twofold – it saves money and encourages collaboration no matter where an employee is located. By using subscription based services like Xero, and other SaaS solutions including Trello, the business is able to connect no matter where they are.

For Strange, this is a perfect solution, as it means he can manage the business while on the road seeing clients and gaining new business.

“I can be on my smartphone and see staff positions at any time of the day, on anything. It’s a big difference to where I was a few years ago, where you were only beginning to see these types of collaborative and cloud-based tools emerging – now, they’re so commonplace.”

But this hasn’t been simply a case of adopting a technology and then looking the other way. Strange says businesses need to adopt a strategic mindset to embracing new technology no matter their stage of business growth.

Indeed, the ACMA report on technology found that newer businesses were more likely to adopt these technology solutions.

Strange believes businesses need to challenge the existing paradigms, disrupt themselves and be willing to change their culture for new technology if necessary.

“We’re aiming to disrupt the healthcare space, and so we have to be able to disrupt ourselves as well.”

The result is not chaos, but greater efficiency.

“We’ve got a stack of people who don’t even come into the office, and they’re creating all kinds of creativity from wherever they are,” he says. “Ideas never slow down, and…it’s been a real marker of our success.

“I honestly don’t know if we would have been successful if we were operating in another time, because we have all these digital tools now.”

These digital tools haven’t just allowed for the company to be more nimble – they change the way all staff think.

“These tools have generated a framework of ideas,” he says. “If we’re using these great tools, our organisation needs to be as good, or better, than those [tools].”

At CommBank we believe innovation starts by asking questions. Discover new ways to keep your business moving.

Written by: Patrick Stafford

How we got set to grow: Pana Chocolate’s story

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How we got set to grow: Pana Chocolate’s story

 

Most small and medium-sized business owners have growth on their mind. To some, that growth will mean getting more staff on board to improve their processes. Others are hoping to deliver their products to new markets, or to expand their offerings to their loyal customers.

No matter the goal, growth requires agility and innovative thinking.

One such ambitious entrepreneur is Pana Chocolate founder, Pana Barbounis, who launched his artisanal chocolate business in mid-2012.

“I’ve always been passionate about food and artisanal crafts, so when a friend introduced me to raw chocolate I just knew this was the journey for me,” recalls Barbounis.

Big ambitions

After the seed of inspiration was planted, Barbounis spent six months working on Pana Chocolate’s signature raw chocolate recipe and training in the UK and Belgium before kicking off the business.

Now, Pana Chocolate’s 10 flavours of raw vegan chocolate are stocked in approximately 2,000 stores in over 20 countries. Locally, the two Pana Chocolate shops, which offer raw desserts, cakes and chocolates, have boosted the brand’s social media following to 220,000.

“It’s a big change from the days of delivering orders off the back of my Vespa in Melbourne,” notes Barbounis.

Even in those days, however, Barbounis had high expectations of growth for his business.

“Our goals haven’t changed; we want to be the number one raw and organic chocolate in the world.”

His long-term vision is to become a “global brand with global recognition”.

“We want to open more Pana Chocolate shops in major cities around the world, we want to continue building and nurturing creative and innovative thinking and we want to increase the demand for products that are better for you.”

Growing pains

Facilitating that level of expansion in the relatively short lifespan of the business hasn’t been without its difficulties.

“With rapid growth comes bigger demand on all areas of the business and it’s been challenging at times with suppliers of our raw organic ingredients to keep up,” he explains.

No enterprise works in complete isolation, but especially when growing, a business can find itself out of step with both its supplies and suppliers.

For those SME owners used to taking a hands-on approach to running all departments, expansion can also require them to relinquish control and adjust to new management styles.

“It also means bigger teams requiring a lot more people management as well as a lot more time management, and of course, as the owner, just letting go on certain areas,” Babounis says.

Innovation and expansion

Underpinning Pana Chocolate’s rapid climb has been the company’s spirit of innovation and strong creative culture.

“We really place value on creating an amazing culture at Pana Chocolate,” says Barbounis.

By making a deliberate effort to foster innovation, the business is able to better understand and encourage its employees and their ideas.

“At the very basics, we encourage creative speech, bringing ideas to the table and allocating employees’ time to develop new ideas and new products.”

Innovative practices, however, don’t just apply to internal staff, but to external collaborators.

“We also work closely with our wider family, amazing third parties in the creative and innovative fields which help build the brand inside and out,” Barbounis explains.

One thing the team haven’t changed, despite the swelling demand for their products, is their core ideals.

“We are everything we say we are – raw, organic and vegan. Our products are good for your insides and good for the earth, and we are very much handmade and hand wrapped.”

At CommBank we believe innovation starts by asking questions. Discover new ways to keep your business moving.

Written by: Jessie Richardson

Stuck in old habits? 5 ways to get efficient

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Stuck in old habits? 5 ways to get efficient

 

It’s easy to become established in your old ways and comfortable with your level of growth as a small business. But it’s vital to identify any inefficiencies or areas of potential to spur on growth.

Sue-Ellen Watts, founder and CEO of HR consultancy business wattsnext, says that it’s a business owner’s responsibility to be constantly looking for ways to improve their business.

“It’s the job of a CEO or managing director to look at how you can do things better and more efficiently,” Watts says.

Never say you’re too busy to look at improving efficiency, because it’s part of your role as an owner, she says.

Watts shares five key ways to challenge stale workplace habits and improve efficiency.

1. Workplace flexibility

“Technology has allowed us to be much more flexible and actually deliver better outcomes, but I think that we’re not utilising that enough,” says Watts.

“Look at the technology available and think about how you can reduce costs. We can all be connected all the time, so why do we all need to work in an office with set hours?”

Instead, focus on working where your energy best suits you, whether or not that’s different to the standard and expected working hours. Technology has made this possible, she says.

2. Cut down documentation, focus on outcomes

One of the most time-consuming areas of managing staff is the amount of unnecessary documentation involved.

“There is an enormous amount of inefficiency, so we need to focus on cutting out all that noise and focus on what are trying to achieve,” says Watts. “We need to be outcome focused.”

“Policies are really about reducing risk within your business,” says Watts. Yet company policies, often running into several pages, typically contain only a few important points. This not only wastes time compiling the policy, but means the purpose is not being achieved, she says.

3. Ditch the traditional performance review

Watts believes traditional performance reviews can also cause more damage than good.

“Any business that is doing annual performance reviews, or performance reviews based on a whole lot of documents, need to get rid of that straight away,” she says.

Instead, managers should regularly keep in touch with their employees to ensure they’re on the right track and their role is properly structured.

“Roles become what they are because people take on new responsibilities when they need to – but it’s not very effective.”

4. Recruit right, not just fast

When filling a gap in your staff, the temptation is to get someone on board as quickly as possible. But it’s worth taking the extra time to ensure you hire the right person, Watts says.

“It’s a speed thing and I understand why, you need to fill a role and you want to do it quickly,” she says. “But it can have such a dramatic impact if you get it wrong.”

Instead, outlining the role’s responsibilities in detail, conduct extra interviews and ask more in-depth questions to find the appropriate person.

“People go straight out to market to try and find someone,” she says. “But they’re not recruiting the right people for the role – this creates enormous inefficiency for you later.”

5. Encourage a disruptive mindset

It’s not just business owners who should think disruptively. Owners should encourage an innovation mindset within their teams to improve upon the way processes have always been done.

Listening and responding to employee feedback not only helps you identify areas for improvement, but can expose you to different ways of thinking, Watts says.

“Getting people thinking about what others are doing in your businesses space and how they can do things better – this can be valuable to any business.”

At CommBank we believe innovation starts by asking questions. Discover new ways to keep your business moving.

Written by: Jacob Robinson

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