The Ultimate How-To Guide to Funeral Innovation

December 9, 2012
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Guest Article by: Joe Joachim, Founder/CEO – FuneralOne

When you hear the word “innovation” you usually think of people and companies like Apple, Zappos, Mark Zuckerburg and Bill Gates.

And when most people hear the words “funeral profession,” they don’t usually think innovation.

Fortunately for us, those people are wrong.

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The truth is, innovation occurs all the time in this profession. And now that we’re in the midst of some challenging times, innovation may be the difference between shutting down and staying in business in the next few years.

If your firm is looking to position yourself as the go-to in the community and better serve your families, innovation is what will give your firm the boost it needs.

Need some ideas on how to innovate within your funeral home? Follow this guide and you’ll be an innovator in no time:

#1 Embrace chaos.

Author Steven Johnson once said, “The great driver of innovation has been the historic increase in connectivity and our ability to reach out and exchange our ideas with other people.” Innovation can occur at the least expected times and places, whether it be at the water cooler, during a meeting, or while networking with other funeral professionals. To breed innovation, you’ll need to create an environment that encourages “chaos”.

At funeralOne, our colorful, open, Disney-esque environment inspires my team and encourages them to bounce ideas off of each other in a chaotic, collaborative manner. After all, you never know what two ideas might combine into something beautifully innovative.

Tip: Adapt this ideas to your funeral home by hosting weekly or monthly company lunches that encourage discussions where everyone’s ideas count.

#2 Don’t fear failure.

A lot of funeral directors I talk to are hesitant to try new things because they fear they’ll fail, but it doesn’t always have to be a bad thing. This takes me back from one of my favorite stories a client told me a few years ago. A funeral director was driving a hearse with the procession following him, and he made a wrong turn. So, the entire procession had to follow him as he finally found his way.

After he got out of the car, he expected to meet a furious family. But instead, the family was laughing and said, “That’s so like mom… she would get lost on her way to the cemetery.”

What we can learn from this forgetful funeral director? We can learn that it’s OK to make mistakes, as long as your families know you have their best interest in mind. Don’t mistake failure as a prerequisite for success, but don’t be afraid of it either.

#3 Obsess over iteration, not perfection.

Don’t overanalyze. Don’t wait for the perfect plan, product or solution. Just make a decision, and go with it. You won’t know if something is going to work until you’re actually doing it. So that 12 month business plan? Ditch it. You can’t guess if your new “something” is going to be successful among your customers until you release it, so find out by releasing it early and often. You can always test, get feedback and incorporate strategy along the way.

#4 Be weird, be yourself.

In the business world, there are a lot of people you might feel pressured to make happy:  your boss, your employees, your families, etc. But trying to please everyone is a battle you’re almost always going to lose.

When Bill Gates invented Windows, do you think he was given a list of guidelines to follow? Innovation knows no limits, so just be yourself and create something you think will better your funeral business. In the end, authenticity always wins the race. So whether you’re a spiky haired guy like me or a funeral guy who challenges the status quo, just be yourself.

#5 You don’t need a PhD to innovate.

What do Walt Disney, Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, Andrew Carnegie and hundreds of other world-famous innovators have in common? They didn’t graduate from college. Turns out, innovation isn’t always driven by knowledge. Einstein himself said that his greatest asset was his imagination, not his knowledge. If you can ask yourself “why?,” you can innovate.

#6 Don’t take baby steps, make the leap.

Setting realistic goals is great, but meeting those goals is typically approached by taking incremental steps. Create stretch goals for yourself that are so far out there that the only way to achieve them is to break the norm and rethink your whole business.

Those goals will make you realize that if you do things the way you are right now, you’ll never get there. Sometimes setting unrealistic goals will force your commitment to “thinking outside the box.”

#7 Let necessity drive invention.

Everyone’s talking about it… this “golden opportunity” our profession is experiencing. And they’re right.

Reflections Funerals and Life Celebrations recognized this opportunity to innovate, and decided to start interviewing their families about how to best celebrate their loved one’s life. They found their families love personalization, so decided to invest in personalization and as a result, they experienced a 19% increase in sales. Meanwhile, more than a dozen other funeral homes in town were laying off employees and shutting down.

My final thought

You don’t have to be young, rich or powerful to innovate. Your firm  can do something as small ascustomizing a casket for a family or as big as revamping your entire business model. Just… innovate.

Want some more inspiration?

Check out a few of my favorite reads

Rework– 37 signals
Where good ideas come from – Steven Johnson
Innovation and Entrepreneurship – Peter Drucker
Steve Jobs – Walter Isaacson

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

Joe Joachim is the CEO and Founder of funeralOne, the first global solutions firm leading a movement of change for the funeral profession. For the past 10 years, he’s developed game-changing solutions that help funeral professionals increase the value of their service offerings, connect with the families of today, and become more profitable. funeralOne’s solutions include: website designaftercarefuneraleCommerce, and personalization software.

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