We’re taught from a very young age to
follow rules and fall in line so it’s no wonder we’re a little timid when
it comes to questioning the rules and stepping outside the box. My favorite
story that teaches us the importance of thinking for ourselves is about a
mother and a ham. Yes. A lot can be learned from ham ;) There are several
versions of the tale but the basics are:
A mother is cooking a ham and cuts the ends
off before putting it in the pan. Her daughter asks why she cut the ends off
and the mother replies because that’s
what my mother always did. The daughter asks her grandmother why she cuts
the ends off the ham and she replies because
that’s what my mother did. The daughter asks her great grandmother why she
cut the ends off the ham and she explains that her pan was never big enough to
fit the full ham.
Had the daughter not asked, this ritual of
cutting the ends off would have continued to be passed down, wasting a
perfectly good slice of meat and letting all the flavorful juices drip out
during cooking :(
So when it comes to your business, ask
WHY IS IT DONE THIS WAY?
Is there a method to your madness? Is it
the tried and true, best way of doing things or have you just always done it
The next question to ask after “why?” is:
DOES IT NEED TO BE DONE THIS WAY?
Maybe the great grandmother had a good
reason for cutting the ends off the ham that applies to future generations,
regardless of pan size. But does that mean the ham can’t be improved upon? Why
mess with a good thing right? I get it. But unfortunately in this fast paced
world, when it comes to business, you need to adapt or you’ll become extinct,
just like Blockbuster.
The last important question to ask is:
HOW CAN IT BE DONE DIFFERENTLY?
When we’re running a small business, we
have a tendency to look to the big dogs for how it’s done. But I want to
encourage you to break that habit and the mold on best practices. Instead of
checking out their products, the way they tweet, how their website is set up,
etc. in an attempt to mimic them, check them out to see how you can
differentiate your brand.
Sure there are some rules that everyone
follows because it’s the best way but it’s worth exploring whether it’s the
best way for you and if all of the rules apply. Maybe a website’s pages are
best displayed in the header of the site but do you need the same categories as
everyone else? Can you play around with the wording, order or nesting? If you
sell jewelry and rings are your best sellers, you may consider having a tab for
each type of ring and nest all other jewelry categories under one tab so that
your rings have prime real estate. You don’t want to go so far out of the box
that you confuse your shoppers, but be sure you’re adapting to get results.
Are you inspired? Keep reading and follow the steps below to brainstorm how to
better your business and stand out from your competition.
First, look around the room. Focus on a
common household object and ask yourself “what if?” to discover how it could be
different. What do you wish the item could do? What are the issues you
have with the item? Come up with 3 - 5 ideas to completely change it. They
don’t need to make sense and you don’t have to worry about logistics. This is
just to get you thinking outside of the box.
Common object: a coiled notebook
- What if it were a different shape?
- What if it didn’t use coils?
- What if you could do something with it besides
tossing or storing it once it’s filled?
- What if I could create and adjust the
dividers to suit your needs?
- What if you could store your laptop in it?
Next, brainstorm some answers. How would
the object have to change in order to have a solution to your question?
What fun shapes could notebooks come in?
Which materials would make it more environmentally friendly? Maybe notebooks
could be sold with a wick and wax so you could roll the notebook up once you’re
done with it, dip it in melted wax and burn it as a candle.
Go as far as possible outside of the box to
get your mind loosey goosey for the next step.
Now let’s look at your work. Write down all
areas of your business you work in, day to day, to create its main categories. I would
suggest you take a close look at each category by breaking it into
subcategories. You don’t need to bite it all off at once. Work on one area per
week, month or quarter.
- Products – the way they’re made, the
materials you use, the selection you offer, etc.
- Packaging – they types of containers or boxes
your items are sold in, the way they’re wrapped after a sale, etc.
- Website – the design, functionality, copy,
- Customer service – the way you interact
with your fans, how you deliver your products, your policies, etc.
- Sales – the platforms you sell through,
your selling techniques/pitches, the customer experience, etc.
- Social Media – the look of your pages, the
content you post, how often you post, etc.
Consider the way you currently run the show
in each area and ask why it’s done that way, if it needs to be done that way
and how it could be different.
If you were the customer and anything was
possible, what would you wish for? Imagine there were no limits. Again, start
as far outside of the box as possible, you can always reel an idea back in to
make it more realistic but don’t let norms and how it’s always been done hold
Now go through each area of your business
again and look at businesses similar to yours. Write down similarities between
them all. What’s the norm when it comes to your field?
Do they all offer similar products? Are
they all aimed towards the same type of customer? Maybe their websites tend to
use the same colors, have the same vibe or use really similar wording. Is their
branding or packaging lackluster or maybe even non-existent?
Once you have some similarities listed, swing
your ideas in the complete opposite direction. How can you be different?
For example, if you checked out 5 of your
competitor’s websites and they all use soft pastels, delicate fonts and are
lacking personality, you may consider making your website bold and colorful
with copy that might not appeal to everyone but definitely catches your ideal
Again, it doesn’t need to make complete
sense at this stage, just get crazy with your ideas and think of what the exact
opposite of your competitors would be.
The last step is to analyze each idea and
consider whether it’s a viable option. Read over the ideas you jotted down in
step 3 and 4 and see if any could actually work for your business. Would they
work with your brand? Will they be profitable? Will they appeal to your ideal
Take any viable ideas and write them down
to either research more, implement at a later date or get started on right
If you’re looking for some more ideas to
get your creative juices flowing, check out our CREATIVE PACKAGING board on
Pinterest. This board is full of really fun ideas when it comes to the
packaging of (mostly) ordinary products and shows us how you can make something as basic as water, interesting.
Although packaging is just one area of a
business, I think it’s a great one to explore, get the wheels turning and have fun with.