5 Bold Ideas for Businesses

February 14, 2012

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In the aftermath of the recession, we have the opportunity to truly change the way business is done. While ideas like reversing offshoring and rethinking the 9-to-5 schedule aren't new, it's surprising that they haven't been widely embraced by industrial pros, considering their benefits. In fact, the following five ideas could set new standards.

Reshoring An initiative was launched in 2010 to efficiently reduce United States imports, increase net exports and regain manufacturing jobs in a non-protectionist way. Today, insourcing — keeping factories and production jobs that would normally go overseas in America — is at the top of Alliance for American Manufacturing Executive Director Scott Paul's trending list for 2012. Last month, the White House hosted a forum with top business leaders on insourcing and even reshoring, with the aim to bring jobs back to the U.S. and stimulate local and regional economies. There's an idea: Protect U.S. jobs in a non-protectionist, private sector-driven way.

Already, factors that drove companies overseas, such as cheap fuel and labor, no longer favor far-flung ventures, while economic conditions, natural resources and technological innovation are making it even harder for manufacturers to justify moving jobs offshore.

As such, some manufacturers, including Caterpillar, Ford Motor Co. and General Electric, are beginning to move some production back to the U.S., albeit slowly. As manufacturers have gotten better at reducing inventory and adopting just-in-time delivery, supply chains stretching around the world have begun to look like liabilities. The fragility of global supply chains became dramatically apparent when the tsunami in Japan last year caused major disruptions for companies.

In his State of the Union address last month, President Obama called for a wide-ranging package of policies to help create American manufacturing jobs — including trade enforcement measures, business tax breaks and worker training programs — arguing that rising wages in developing countries, falling wages in America and a weaker dollar have made moving work to or keeping work in the U.S. a much more viable option than offshoring, especially with a little help from Washington.

Crowdfunding Banks are not the only source for financing a start-up. And while there are many start-up funding alternatives to consider when banks say no, crowdfunding can help entrepreneurs raise small stakes from a large group of investors to fund their business, without the risks of traditional financing.

Inspired by crowdsourcing, crowdfunding is an approach to raising capital for new projects and businesses by bypassing angel investors and venture capitalists to directly solicit contributions from a community of stakeholders, typically online, following three types of models: 1) donations, philanthropy and sponsorship where there is no expected financial return, 2) lending and 3) investment in exchange for equity, profit or revenue sharing.

There's an idea: Get a large group of "regular people" to invest small amounts simply because they're inspired by your idea and want to see it grow.

"Crowdfunding, an online method for acquiring small investments in a business from several investors, is ideal for limited financial goals on a niche project," the National Federation of Independent Business (NFIB) explains. "Investors get little more in return than the satisfaction of helping people achieve their dream. But you must first tap into their desire to support your idea."

Of the many crowdfunding websites out there, some focus on funding creative projects — such as Kickstarter for arts and nonprofits — while others focus on meeting specific needs in the marketplace or community.

For entrepreneurs and inventors: MicroVentures targets firms that are creating technologies, products and services in core areas, such as business products, consumer products, electronics and online tech; PeerBackers is for business owners to raise capital from their peers in small increments in exchange for tangible rewards; 40Billion appeals directly to the start-up entrepreneur who is seeking capital from friends and family; ProFounder is platform for entrepreneurs to raise investment capital from their communities; Quirky offers inventors and product designers the chance to bring their products to market; and at GrowVC, entrepreneurs can connect not only with funders, but also experts, team members, new customers and partners to realize their ideas.

Social Networking The social networking phenomenon is not new, yet it is fundamentally changing the way people conduct business, as well as how businesses view customers' opinions and product ideas. Social media has amplified the power of word-of-mouth, with customers now able to broadcast their experience with a company's product to hundreds of their Facebook friends or Twitter followers, or to thousands of people reading their blog posts or online reviews.

"Using social media tools like Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn, manufacturers can create an environment that fosters collaborative conversations among customers, suppliers and consumers that can forever change their relationships with their stakeholders," Cheryl Perkins, founder of innovation consultancy Innovationedge, told IMT in September.

There's an idea: Improve relationships and expand business opportunities using a relatively easy and mostly free medium.

Businesses are also finding social networks useful for expanding their customer base, mining information that can help them improve their products and bottom line.

Kia Motors Corp. decided to modify the seat design for its' 2012 Optima "after noticing a groundswell of complaints from consumers and automotive writers percolating on the Internet," IndustryWeek recently reported. "Like Kia, Ford Motor Co. pays close attention to what people are saying about its brands on popular social media sites such as Facebook and Twitter, and elsewhere on the Web. But Ford has taken it a step further by inviting consumers to submit their ideas directly to the automaker, on a website called TheFordStory.com."

Nissan Motor Co. is also trying to grow its base on social media sites, not only to leverage the maximum impact when it launches new models, but also as a research tool. The automaker recently invited its 300,000 Facebook fans to suggest names for a new optional interior package for the Nissan Cube.

Cloud Computing Cloud computing promises to make powerful applications and mass data storage available in a flexible, cost-effective manner to companies of all sizes, in all industries, representing a transfer of traditional IT services to an Internet-based model where users don't have to worry about the IT infrastructure. Instead of buying, installing and managing their own servers to run applications, a company can rent server time from Microsoft, Amazon or Google, among others, then manage the servers over the Internet while paying only for the processing and storage it actually uses. There's an idea: Pay only for technology that your business uses.

Cloud computing also offers more flexibility than the traditional setup. When changes can be made on the fly, a company can deploy once and then adapt an application as business needs change or become clearer. A firm could, for instance, rent a dozen servers during its website's traffic peak and then scale back to just two when traffic wanes.

"By offering a more cost-effective, less risky and fundamentally faster alternative to on-site application developments, cloud computing is poised to transform the economics of information technology in the next few years," according to Global Industry Analysts (GIA). The market research firm projects the global cloud computing services market will reach $127 billion by 2017, driven primarily by factors such as growing prominence of enterprise mobility, need for business continuity and increasing adoption of cloud strategy among small and medium enterprises.

"Small and mid-sized businesses have long missed out because of their size: they don't have the budget to buy hardware and don't have the scale to show up on the radar of innovative software vendors," Inc.com says. "The cloud is leveling this playing field."

Workplace Flexibility Even as technological advances make more flexible working options available, and research repeatedly shows that workplace flexibility programs can benefit businesses of all sizes and result in increased job satisfaction, lower turnover and lower insurance costs, many employees today are still held to a mandatory 9-to-5 workday. There's an idea: Pay less attention to employee time-keeping and focus more on results of employees' work.

As employers and employees experience greater work and home-life demands, flexibility "becomes a strategic necessity to keep employees and employers working and living well," according to a recent report, published by the When Work Works initiative of the Families and Work Institute (FWI) and the Society for Human Resource Management. Another recent study, published in the Journal of Health and Social Behavior, redirected the focus of employees and managers towards measurable results and away from when and where work was completed. After employees were allowed to routinely change when and where they worked based on their individual needs and job responsibilities without seeking permission from a manager or even notifying one, researchers found that participants got more sleep, had higher energy levels, were less likely to come to work sick and generally boasted improved health and well-being.

A common misconception is that employees will take advantage of workplace flexibility. "The assumption is that if you give employees an inch, they take a mile," FWI President Ellen Galinsky said in a statement. "But that's not the case. Overall, 11 percent of employees with access to daily schedule flexibility use it several times a month or more, 70 percent use it once a month or less, and the remaining 19 percent never use it."

Of course, "flexible working" should not be confused with "anything goes," as it is a structured system with vital ground rules.

"Treating employees like grown-ups made it more likely that they would behave the same way," entrepreneur Margaret Heffernan, author of the book Willful Blindness, writes at Inc.com. "Of course, this also implies that no one person's schedule should mess up anyone else's: We all work collaboratively and to do that, it's helpful to be in the same place at the same time occasionally."

Resources

Could Your Small Business Survive Without Social Media? by Rieva Lesonsky American Express OPEN Forum, Aug. 23, 2011

How Social Media is Fueling Automotive R&D by Josh Cable IndustryWeek, Sept. 14, 2011

Viewpoint: OUT: Outsourcing IN: Insourcing by Scott Paulan IndustryWeek, Jan. 12, 2012

President Obama Issues Call to Action to Invest in America at White House "Insourcing American Jobs" Forum The White House, Jan. 11, 2012

Moving Jobs Offshore Becoming 'Harder to Justify' by Steve Minter IndustryWeek, Jan. 11, 2012

For Some U.S. Manufacturers, Time to Head Home by Matthew Philips Bloomberg BusinessWeek, Feb. 2, 2012

Cloud Computing Services: A Global Strategic Business Report Global Industry Analysts, Inc., Nov. 21, 2011

The Great Cloud Migration: How to Stay Ahead of the Pack by Zvi Guterman Inc.com, Aug. 2, 2010

Workplace Flexiblitiy in the United States: A Status Report by Kenneth Matos and Ellen Galinsky Families and Work Institute and Society for Human Resource Management, November 2011

Flexibility Makes Significant Impact on Workplace, FWI-SHRM Report Shows Families and Work Institute and Society for Human Resource Management, Nov. 3, 2011

Changing Work, Changing Health: Can Real Work-Time Flexibility Promote Health Behaviors and Well-Being? by Phyllis Moen, Erin L. Kelly, Eric Tranby and Qinlei Huang Journal of Health and Social Behavior, Dec. 2011

Flexibility at Work Might Help Improve Employee Health, Study Shows by Laura Walter EHS Today, Dec. 14, 2011

Tips and Tools When Work Works initiative

Why Flexible Hours Inspire Performance by Margaret Heffernan Inc.com, Feb. 6, 2012

13 Crowdfunding Websites to Fund Your Business by Sig Ueland Practical Ecommerce, June 15, 2011

The Kapipalist Manifesto: Principles of Crowdfunding Kapipal.com

5 Tips for Raising Money through Crowdfunding National Federation of Independent Business

Can Crowdfunding Work for Your Business? National Federation of Independent Business

9 Crowdfunding Websites to Help You Change the World by Paul Anthony Web Distortion, July 18, 2010

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