Stop Looking For That One Big Thing

What do these have in common: the Fountain of Youth, the Holy Grail, losing that last 10 pounds?

Each is a quest for that one big thing that will change your life. The problem is few, if any, ever find them. Maybe the answer is to inch toward the goal rather than jump to the final destination. It’s called “incrementalism” and there’s a lesson in it for small business owners looking to grow their business.

Taking Baby Steps

Incrementalism is the practice of making a series of small improvements that over time lead to a larger, more overarching goal. Think baby steps toward learning to walk. You may not find the Fountain of Youth but you can exercise more to extend your life. You can sip from the Holy Grail by learning to meditate. And you can focus on losing just one pound a week and eventually get to your goal weight.

It might mean adding two new prospects a week to your email list on the road to expanding your customer base for small businesses. Or trying out a few pop-up stores before deciding to open another location.

Incrementalism offers several advantages to business owners. By making successive improvements on a smaller scale, you can:

  • Promote focus – Smaller goals let you focus your efforts on specific, measurable tasks. That means your resources are used in areas where you’ll see more immediate results.
  • Preserve motivation – Smaller changes can be implemented faster so you achieve success more quickly. That spurs you to take the next step.
  • Maintain flexibility – Incremental innovation gives you time to adapt to changes in the market. That helps you better manage risk.
  • Gain consensus – Gradual change lets you gather buy-in from your employees, investors and suppliers. Having everyone on board increases your chances for success.
  • Compound success – Small changes can produce exponential results. Take a look at this video explaining its compounding effect.

Inciting Incrementalism

There are many ways to make incremental improvements work for your business. Look for ideas in these places:

  • Do the same thing, but look for ways to do it better. A simple process change can lead to big improvements in the customer experience. For example, when a customer asks where an item is in your store, lead them to it rather than saying which aisle it’s in. That also allows you to answer any questions they may have.
  • Seek staff input. Your employees are on the front lines of your business. They know what works and what doesn’t. So use their insight to make improvements. Maybe they have a faster way of filling online orders. Some businesses offer incentives to employees who come up with ideas to improve the business.
  • Leverage existing technology. Are there ways you can get more from the technology tools you already use? For example, say you want to increase engagement on your website. You could overhaul the entire site but a more incremental approach might be to tweak the current one by adding a chat feature. For example, you can add the free Messenger plugin to your website using your existing Facebook page. Then you can engage in a conversation with potential customers and answer questions in real time.
  • Consider product extensions. New products or services can bring in new business but they also eat up a lot of resources to bring them to market. A more incremental approach is to extend your current offering. For example, many businesses have expanded their offerings during the pandemic with several delivery options. Some offer curbside pickups and others will deliver to their customers’ homes.

Looking for that one big idea can be a risky (and costly) way to grow your business. A safer alternative is to embrace incremental improvements. Consider these advantages to smaller improvements and look for opportunities to try them out in your small business.