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How to Change an Industry Before It's Ready

Innovation in an industry like construction can pose a challenge to entrepreneurs. Here's how to break through.
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Entrepreneurs are routinely the driving force behind change in our economy. Often it's the entrepreneur's ability to spot an opportunity and offer a unique solution that has prompted some of the biggest innovations of our time.  

And while some industries are quick to evolve, others can be slow to adapt to change. Whether it’s because they are steeped in a deep tradition or reluctant to leverage new technologies, this slowness can prove challenging for entrepreneurs who are trying to offer a new and better way of doing things. Such was the case for me when I created a cloud-based construction-management platform for the construction industry.

Construction is a trillion dollar industry, according to Empire State College's Harry Van Arsdale Jr. Center for Labor Studies' What Is the Construction Industry? Small to midsize contractors make up nearly 75 percent. Despite the size of the construction industry, this is still in the very early days of technology adaption, making it a natural target for innovation. Nonetheless, because of some of the reasons described above, this industry is one that’s very slow to embrace change.

Here are some valuable lessons I've learned along the way about what it takes to bring innovation to an industry that may not initially be open to it.  

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1. Partner with those with traction in the industry.

All too often, entrepreneurs fail because of the exceedingly high costs to acquire customers. This can certainly be the case for someone offering a product or service that the target customer isn’t ready to acknowledge a need for. A better path is to partner with those who already have traction and brand recognition in the industry, as they can bring credibility and relationships that can otherwise take years to establish.  

2. Keep things simple.  

Especially in industry that's late to adopt technology strive for simplicity. Two elements may be involved in the drive for simplicity: a sleek design with an intuitive user interface or creating a product that works well with other existing systems and tech solutions. This can mean plugging into existing tools like email and Excel (commonly used for construction management). That's much easier than asking people to build a new system entirely.  

Related: Sometimes, Keeping the Project Moving Requires You to Gently Tell Clients 'No'

3. Customer service counts.

Once an entrepreneur introduces a new product or service, he or she needs to anticipate that the transition may not be seamless, which is where customer service really counts. Make sure customers with a question can reach a real live person via phone or email, as customers shouldn't have to become frustrated about a simple question that could take just minutes to address. Don't give customers any reason to think that a change was more trouble than it was worth.

Ultimately, bringing lasting change to a traditional industry takes time. A strong strategy is required and roadblocks must be anticipated. But ultimately, it will be worthwhile if the innovation brings efficiency to an entire way of doing work across thousands of businesses.

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