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Success usually doesn’t come to those who just “go with the flow”

Although the Phoenix Coyotes struggled a bit financially (to put it lightly) during Wayne Gretzky’s time as head coach, the man has a quote that has put plenty of dollars into my business: “Skate where the puck is going to be.”

When you’re starting a business, you have to think, you must be creative, and you need to look beyond what others are doing to mine your own fresh ideas. Essentially, you have to determine where the “puck” is going to be one day from now, one week from now, and one year from now. Then, you have to beat it there.

Innovate to Meet the Puck

Take Netflix, for example. Although Blockbuster was already “there” in terms of movie rentals, Netflix wasn’t discouraged. The company entered the market with a new idea — online renting and streaming services — and improved upon the foundation Blockbuster had already built. Now, a few years down the road, it’s no secret that Blockbuster is hurting and Netflix is rolling in piles of cash.

If the wheel isn’t broke, you don’t necessarily have to fix it — but you still can. Proven ideas are definitely great places to start a business: You know the model works and you have an example to follow. What will propel your business to new levels, however, is considering a new angle or improvement on an existing product and applying it.

Even if it’s simply a new way to market an existing product, novelty is often the driving force behind a new business. Innovation is also a great way to compensate for what you lack in size (size of your business, that is). If you’ve got the big bucks, you can muscle your way into the market. If you don’t, innovation’s going to be your friend.

You’ll always find that one business that simply copies an existing business because it makes money. But with little capital for marketing and no improvements upon the existing idea, the company inevitably ends up wasting time and money. Don’t be that guy. You’ll have better luck in Sin City than you will in winning customers if you don’t have capital or innovation on your side.

Slide into a Risk

Let me tell you, being a publisher in the age of Amazon, Google, and Apple is no easy feat. But six years ago, my company and I took a risk. We entered the eBook business before all of the giants. This was during a time when the majority of the public thought eBooks would be the next LaserDiscs — in other words, the next attempt at a crappy innovation that survived just a few short years.

That didn’t stop us. We’ve continued to grow, and oftentimes, we find ourselves reevaluating our services. These days, the giants are focused solely on the distribution of eBooks. While we still do that, we’ve now begun helping people create eBooks on our website. Here are a few signs your company might have room to grow:

  • Are you currently meeting the demand for your existing product or service?
  • Can you duplicate your product or service without saturating the market? For instance, if you have a restaurant people love, can you open another without splitting your customers?
  • Can you add value to your existing product or service?
  • Upon asking for — and listening to — customer feedback, do your customers express a desire that you had more to offer? If you’re an author, for example, do your readers want new books?
  • How much loss can you afford if your innovation doesn’t go as well as you planned? Do you have a buffer?
  • Can you run small tests?
  • Can you determine if anyone else has tried to expand into the area? If so, can you see their results?

These are just a few of the many questions you’ll ask yourself when growth is on your radar. If you find yourself nodding your head while answering these questions, wake up and smell the coffee: It’s time to take a risk.

Take a Shot

With the emphasis on the Internet, the constantly changing economic landscape, and the rise of crowdfunding resources like Kickstarter, the business world has become an environment that fosters startups more than ever. What comes paired with this inviting environment, however, is a heck of a lot more startups. To survive, you must be innovative.

Wayne skated to where the puck never ended up plenty of times, but he still nailed it many more — and he’s hailed as the greatest hockey player of all time. You might miss a few times, but you’ll never make it if you don’t take a risk and try. Race to meet the puck — you might overshoot, but you’ll never be left behind.