I recently spoke to a group of small business owners at a Chamber of Commerce in Belgium. As we began our discussion, it became clear that many were intrigued by the idea of engaging the crowd to solve problems, but were also concerned that tapping into the crowd was the purview of the big enterprise – a valuable, exciting trend that was beyond the budget of a small company.
It’s not the first time we’ve been asked: “can small businesses afford to run Challenges?” But as I’ll discuss below, the question should really be: “can they afford not to?” There are at least three reasons why small businesses should harness the crowd:
- Data-driven decisions – As they expand and grow, small businesses make selective decisions on which services and tools to invest in. This means that dollars or pounds are often spent where the opportunity for returns is highest. Our pricing models, combined with data derived from running more than 1,600 public Challenges, enables CEOs to make cost calculations up front as well as understand what outcomes they can reasonably expect.
- Diverse & expansive reach – Not only can Challenges enable you to benefit from the expertise and creativity of InnoCentive's crowd of nearly 300,000 problem Solvers, you can also view it as a marketing exercise. How long would it take, and how much would it cost, for a small business to engage thousands of people spread across every continent on its own? An exciting Challenge concept can elevate the profile of a small company and attract significant consumer and press attention.
- Stay lean (Talent On-Demand) – Crowdsourcing enables you to tap into the crowd when you need them – like the cloud computing of people, you don’t pay for the crowd when you’re not using it, but they are there when you need help. Small businesses have particularly tended to come our way when faced with problems outside of their core competencies.
One of my favourite examples of how to do this well concerns a start-up that was looking to develop a marketing strategy for a niche product that hasn’t yet hit the market. The CEO had a marketing executive to roll out the campaign, but wanted to be confident of the strategy before going forward – a lacklustre launch campaign could have had a devastating impact. He could have left it to the marketing executive to develop the strategy alone – this would have been cheaper in the short term, but would have cost the company dearly if the strategy failed to resonate. Alternatively, he could have hired a marketing agency to produce a strategy – for an experienced agency, this has a considerable price tag, and he would have received the best ideas from a group of only 3-4 people. An added risk was that the strategy they put forward would be one that the marketing executive couldn’t implement alone.
Instead, the CEO decided to run a Challenge. Without giving away the “secret sauce," the Challenge described the market and opportunities, as well as constraints, and asked Solvers to come up with a specific strategy and a method to assess the effectiveness of the strategy on an on-going basis. He exposed his concept to our expansive network, and received an enormous amount of input. The marketing executive, rather than working in isolation or relying on the input of only one agency, effectively brainstormed with people from around the world, many of whom shared lessons learned from launching comparable products in different regions. The winning ideas from this Challenge are currently in development, to be rolled out later this year.
The crowd can’t solve every problem, but in many cases, Challenges can be a cost-effective, comprehensive exercise that competitive small businesses can’t afford to ignore.
Authored by Siobhán Gibney Gomis, Director of Business Development, InnoCentive