Sustainable Growth for Small Businesses :: Thriving Through Innovation


If you’re not in the financial services industry, it’s unlikely you’ve heard of FactSet Research Systems, a financial data and software company headquartered in Norwalk, Conn. But as a small business owner or an entrepreneur, you might want to take note. With revenues of $727 million in 2011, FactSet’s innovative product suite rivals giant competitors like Bloomberg L.P., Thomson Reuters and Standard & Poor’s Capital IQ. Sustained innovation through a repeatable process has landed FactSet on the Forbes’ “200 Best Small Companies” list for 15 consecutive years.

Doing business in a transformative age leaves every industry vulnerable amid unprecedented change. So many companies that grew into giants have blown up, leaving a legacy of collapse as they failed to adapt to change, whether it was unforeseen market conditions or a nimble competitor that seems to have sprung out from nowhere. Small businesses struggle to manage success as they grow. It’s easy to give into momentum at the fist sign of success and forget that others are forging ahead while you rest on your laurels. FactSet ushered in steady sales and earnings even as the global economy and the industry it serves sustained massive losses and setbacks.

Fiscal 2011 was FactSet’s 31st year of consecutive revenue growth. Since the company’s initial public offering in 1996, FactSet was among just six U.S. public companies to post 15 consecutive years of earnings growth. Howard Wille and Charles Snyder left their Wall Street jobs in 1978 to start a computer-based financial analysis business. FactSet released its first customer terminal in 1981 and has adapted its model to work on new technologies as it grew its business globally. FactSet Content is now used as a source by thousands of major news organizations, including The Wall Street Journal, CNNMoney, The Associated Press, Barron’s, MarketWatch and Dow Jones Newswires.

Traditional business practices did not stress the need for agility and innovation. But physical boundaries have been blown away by the Internet age, and agility and innovation are paramount to the growth and survival of any organization.Organizations must understand the business mission and appreciate the technologies that enable it in order to survive and thrive. Convergence occurs when you establish an organizational structure, process, information flow and automation that unite decision-making from the boardroom to the project team. All members of the converged organization must work together knowing what resources are available and what is required to act on any opportunity or threat.

Every small business owner must be familiar with these terms:

  • Sustained innovation is a high-productivity state in which an organization innovates across management, divisions, operations, customers and suppliers.
  • Agility is achieved through repeatable management processes.
  • Convergence leads to a viable economic model by applying enabling technologies, essential to the process.
  • Transformation occurs when the individual or enterprise has successfully launched a new course to achieve its goals.

Many small businesses operate below the radar until they become behemoths. I behoove you to name a man who hasn’t chortled about shapewear (the 21st century term for girdle) company Spanx. Sara Blakely started peddling Spanx from her apartment, stuffing packages all night after working her day job. Using a repeatable process, Blakely built on the first garment that quickly won support among women in the know, to a product line that’s become indispensible to A-list celebrities. Blakely owns 100% of the private company, which has been valued at an average $1 billion by four Wall Street investment banks. She has zero debt, has shunned outside investors and hasn’t shelled out a cent for advertising, staying true to the process that put her on the map. At 41, she’s the youngest woman on this year’s Forbes World’s Billionaires list who isn’t relying on a family wealth.

Whether your goal is to stay small and thrive, or stretch to the status of Spanx, sustained innovation is key to your success. Small and medium-sized businesses and entrepreneurs have been influential across the globe for centuries. Major shifts in demographics, geography, and distribution now impact all industries and enterprises. An experience-based economy requires business owners to create positive memories for customers, like Blakely has, or consumers will turn to a competitor in search of a better experience. A brand is based on the emotional memories tied to a product or service. Small business owners must constantly innovate to compete in a digital world of entrepreneurs that has no physical boundaries.


Faisal Hoque is the founder and CEO of BTM Corporation. He is an internationally known entrepreneur, thought leader, and was named as one of the Top 100 Most Influential People in Technology. A former senior executive at GE and other multi-nationals, Hoque has written five management books, established a research think tank, the BTM Institute, and become a leading authority on CONVERGENCE, innovation, and sustainable growth. His latest book, The Power of Convergence was released in April 2011 and named one of the Best Business Books of 2011. © 2012 Faisal Hoque


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