Innovation Needs Incubation…10 Ideas To Take Your Business To The Next Level


I just finished taking CiCi’s (The Six Figure Chick) free masterclass “How To Build An E-mail List From Scratch.” The class was a free webinar that I signed up for earlier this week. Cici provided amazing content that will be incredibly helpful for me as I build my business.

At the end of the course I was so happy that I had signed up for it and it was a reminder for me on how important it is to invest in ourselves as entrepreneurs. It was also a reminder of how important it is to devote time to innovation.

Most companies invest money into their businesses via a line item called R & D which stands for Research and Development. According to Statista in 2017, Amazon spent 16.1 Billion, Alphabet spent 13.9 Billion and Samsung spent 12.7. You can view the remainder of the companies listed here. It is no wonder why these companies continue to grow and bring in record profits.

Here is a working definition of R & D Activities based on getting tax credit for R & D from Swanson Reed, an R & D Firm:

  • New Product Development
  • Incremental Product Development
  • New Process Development
  • Incremental Process Development

Additional Examples:

  • Design and development of new products – particularly products that are safer, more effective or have increased functionality, better performance or longer shelf life;
  • research of new applications for existing products;
  • testing for compliance with domestic or foreign regulatory requirements;
  • design, development and implementation of new reagents, testing methods or protocols;
  • product experimentation and modification to increase yield or decrease reaction times;
  • improvement of manufacturing or production technologies, processes, techniques or procedures to increase yield, reduce waste and byproducts, improve safety, improve energy efficiency or comply with regulatory requirements;
  • design and development of scaled-up manufacturing processes;
  • development of prototype pilot batches of new product candidates for testing and validation;
  • implementation of automated processes or robotics to increase production efficiency;
  • Software development or information technology initiatives related to product or process improvements; and
  • research to receive International Organization for Standardization certifications, fertilizer safety or other similar certifications.

While we may not have billions of dollars to devote to R & D, we should allocate some of our time and resources to this very important area of our businesses. Here are some ways as a small business owner that you can do your own R & D:

(1) Take a class or a workshop. I’ve taken classes from Coursera in the past. You’d be surprised how much free content there is on YOUTube. Do a Google Search about the topic you’re looking for + free classes, or + interviews. Get a pen and paper and take yourself to school.

(2) Attend a conference. Conferences usually cost money but can be a great way to learn and make connections. There are conferences for everything. Save your money and attend the conferences that are standard to your industry. On Twitter The Plug released an infographic of Black Tech Conferences:

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(3) Do an informational interview or have a meeting or phone call with someone. I am working on an event for February and a quick conversation with my best friend helped me figure out what to call it. Have regular conversations with people about what you are trying to do, and you’ll be surprised at how many great ideas or suggestions will come up.

(4) Join a professional organization. You need a tribe. You need your personal tribe but you also need your business tribe. The people who you can go to that will help you solve problems that come up. The people who have literally walked the road you are walking and can forecast what’s coming up and help you avoid the potholes that they hit. The people who are as excited about what you’re doing because they know why it matters. Join at least one professional organization and actively participate.

(5) Spend some time developing a business plan. Getting things out of your mind and onto paper is one of the best ways to hold yourself and your team accountable. It is also important because it will help you to relieve stress and manage expectations. Think of your business plan as your road map. It helps you to articulate why you are doing what you are doing and the growth you hope to achieve.

(6) Spend some time doing strategic planning (long term planning for your business). Strategic planning is like a business plan. Think of the business plan as the bird’s eye view of your business. Think of strategic planning like the GPS instructions on how you are going to get there. To be able to achieve your customer reach goals, your financial goals, etc., you have to be intentional and strategic about how you are going to achieve those goals.

(7) Read industry publications. Similar to joining a professional organization but a little more passive. If you’re in marketing, you should be reading AdWeek. If you’re in music, you should be reading Billboard, Playback Magazine. Then there are general business publications that talk about all industries: Fast Company, Entrepreneur, Forbes, etc. Make these a regular part of your R & D diet. Many of these publications have robust online platforms as well, but I strongly encourage you to subscribe. One way that I access many of these publications is through an app on my iPad called Texture. For $9.99/month, you have access to hundreds of digital publications. Click here for more info.

(8) Follow industry leaders on social media and pay attention to what they are doing! People drop gems on social media. It’s like literal gold. Find the people who are at the top of your industry and follow them. Learn from them. When appropriate, interact with them. Before you know it, you will be invited to the same panels, and they may eventually come to respect you as a peer.

(9) Hire a coach. If you are having trouble with an area of your business consider hiring a coach. I will forever have an accountant and an attorney connected to my business because those are two areas that I am not comfortable making decisions on my own. I am strongly considering hiring a communication coach to help me become a better public speaker. Be sure to check references and make sure you’re working with someone that will actually help you achieve your goals. There are a lot of people out here fronting and taking advantage of the good will of other people.

(10) Create operation manuals or other protocols for your business. When I had to start bringing on additional help for our social media management, we created a manual. It’s super short, maybe 3 – 4 pages but it was incredibly helpful in getting this new person acclimated. In the event that you get sick, need to go on maternity leave or anything of that matter, if you have manuals for people, ideally they will be able to just pick up the manual and run your business in your absence. This is also important for succession planning if you ever decide to move in a different direction. I’ve had so many colleagues that have stepped down from leadership roles at businesses or organizations they founded to go do other work. Writing things down also helps you to see where breakdowns may be occurring and to problem solve to grow your business.

It was nice to devote an entire morning to R & D. I will now take some of the lessons and recommendations from CiCi and apply them to my business. Feel free to comment below any resources that have been helpful for you to help you innovate and grow your vision.

Next step: Take out your calendar and schedule at least one hour per week to R & D for your business for the month of November. You can do any of the recommended activities above during that time. I’d love for you to send me a note in December to let me know how it impacted your business.


10 Questions You Should Be Able To Answer About Your Business

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One of the most important elements of being an entrepreneur, is being able to articulate key areas of your business. Whether you are talking to a potential customer, trying to differentiate yourself from other businesses, or seeking investment or capital, these are standard questions you should be able to answer.

  1. What do you do? This is the most common question that not only business owners get, but adults of all ages get. Can you simplify what you do to one word? One sentence? One “elevator pitch.” Simplification is important, because you want people to remember what you told them AND you want them to be able to share with others they may come in contact with.  My one word for Donda’s House is “access.” My one sentence is “We provide artist development and youth development.” My elevator pitch goes into more detail about what artist development and youth development is, and I also mention Dr. Donda West’s history.
  2. Who is your competition and how are you different or better? It is important to do your due diligence on companies or organizations that do similar work to you. Number one, you will often hear “Have you ever heard of x?” People may have an affinity for the brand or organization and they are curious to know your thoughts about it. Also, people think in patterns. If you can connect what you do to something they are already familiar with, it will be easier for them to digest (and remember) you. For the longest, people were describing their business as the “Uber of X.” You can even say like “The Boys & Girls Club, we do X, but we also do Y.” In business plans, this is called the competitive analysis. Subscribe to industry publications. Join industry membership organizations. Keep your eye on those who are top performers in your sector, and think constantly about how you can separate yourself from the pack.
  3. Who are your partners? Partners are key. Often, your partners will help to legitimize your company! Especially when you are new. Your partners include your collaborators, as well as your clients or recognizable contracts. Bonus points if you can reference any governmental agencies or institutions as partners. The most important thing you have as a business is your reputation. Partnerships help potential clients and partners to mitigate or reduce risk in doing business with you.
  4. Where can I purchase your products or services? This is super important if you sale goods or services. Most businesses are expected to have an online presence like a website, or a portfolio of some kind. Also, try not to make the spelling of your products or services to difficult, so that when people “google” you, they can find you! It is helpful to have something physical that you can leave with people like a sticker, or something else. Sometimes I don’t like to rely on the memory of a potential participant, I like to also collect their contact information and follow up.
  5. What is your plan for growth? If you don’t have a business plan or strategic plan, you should create one, otherwise it is like running a marathon without a finish line. You have to create milestones and checkpoints for your business so that you can measure growth and make adjustments as needed as you pursue your goals. At Donda’s House we are working off of a 10 year strategic plan that we wrote in 2014, that we are constantly adding ideas to. This is also important for potential investors!
  6. How can I help you? You should have 3 – 5 actions that people can do to support you. Do you need people to follow or share content on social media? Do you need people to test a product? Are you looking for case studies? Do you need legal support. Whatever those key priorities are, you should have ready to go, so that when you come across a supporter, you can provide them with the information or tools they need to help you. People are generally very generous with their time and with their network, but can’t help you if you don’t know how to ask for help.
  7. Who is your customer? Your business or service should solve a problem for a very specific customer profile. Who is your customer? Break down as much information as you can about their preferences, their spending habits and their demographics. If everyone is your customer… then no one is your customer. Really focus on developing this, and go find your people!
  8. What or who could threaten your business? You have to be proactive about the challenges and threats your business faces. If you would have told me 20 years ago that music would become digital and there’d be few physical records, I may have laughed in your face. Be mindful of what is happening in the world and in your sector and be prepared to embrace technology, policy (laws) and other external forces that could negatively (or positively) impact your business.
  9. How are you integrating choice into your business model? Even if it is a choice between (a) or (b), people often want choices. Think about how you are integrated choice into your business model.
  10. What is your marketing and outreach plan? You can have the best product or service in the world, but it won’t matter if people don’t know about you. How are you getting the word out about your business? What are you willing to invest (dollar wise) to help get the word out? Could you connect to another brand or business to help amplify the awareness of your business.