At Proclaim both our purpose and a key value ensure we drive unique and innovative solutions for our clients. As a small business that started from scratch, we feel that innovation is in our blood. For us it was a case of find ways to do things better, or perish. We don’t have a large benefactor bankrolling us – we have to make things work.
I recently finished reading “Raising the bar”, the story of the founder of US energy bar Clif Bar, Gary Erickson. What I loved about his story was how as a small business he ‘travelled the white roads’, the roads off the main drag. It is about the joy of discovery off the main path. On European maps the main roads are marked red, the minor arterials yellow, and the next level down are the white roads. Gary’s analogy of travelling on the white roads struck a chord with me. There are 2 main things about going on roads less travelled – there is a certain freedom in the path you ultimately take, while at the same time you tend to enjoy the journey more – it is not just about the destination.
To a large extent this distills quite beautifully the magic of working in a smaller business. If you don’t slavishly follow the main roads, and look for an alternative route, you may well find better solutions while enjoying the ride. Examples from Clif Bar of their white roads story included:
“My worst business decisions came when I listened to the noise rather than the quiet of the road”.
In the early days of our business we sought and obtained plenty of counsel – but at times there was lots of conflicting advice which cut across effective customer solutions. We learned to turn off the noise, listen more to our customers and our instincts to create the best solutions.
“No apparent alternative existed to the red road”.
Persistence and curiosity may just lead to an alternative that creates the best possible solution. It is not always yes or no. Gary tells the story of being offered the opportunity to sponsor Lance Armstrong. They couldn’t afford it. Instead they created a marketing campaign”beyond the podium,” which honoured the supporting riders in Lance’s team. Clif Bar was the first to sponsor the domestiques, the supporting riders, and their overall campaign was an amazing success.
The Clif bar story is an amazing example of innovation and enterprise in a small business. It is true that smaller businesses face huge challenges and that we constantly have to do more with less. However we hug this path, our white road, because it is hugely rewarding to shake free of market conventions and try and find your own solutions. What I have learned, and what Clif Bar knows only too well, is that innovation and ingenuity has to come naturally to a small business if you want to build a great business. As you grow, the challenge becomes how to balance the drive for innovation with increased risk. Systemisation and structure are vital, but at the same time these are often at odds with innovation. A bit of a conundrum, I know – but it remains vital at any stage of growth to create the environment where people can enjoy the journey and continue to be engaged in driving further innovation…