One of the keys to business success is to anticipate what your market will want or need before they’re aware of it themselves. Since it’s unlikely you can see into the future, the best way to do this is to become a trend-spotter.
Professional trend-spotters charge big money for reports and industry trend updates. So learning to spot the trends yourself not only gives you great insight, but also saves you a lot of money. Learning to spot trends is not all that difficult -- and it’s fun. I’ve been doing it for years. Here are some of my secrets:
Regularly read the leading publications and websites affecting your business. This could include industry publications, trade association sites, major newspapers, key business magazines, thought leaders and influential bloggers. So many trends start overseas (London, Paris, Tokyo) or on the coasts (Los Angeles, Miami, San Francisco, New York), so make sure you read about what’s going on in those cities. At first, scan information from a wide variety of sources -- from international news on down to niche bloggers focused on specific aspects of your industry. Obviously, there’s a tsunami of information available. Use tech tools like RSS feeds, e-mail newsletters or Twitter to keep on top of it all and get the info you want delivered to you when you want it. You’ll quickly learn which sources are valuable and which you can jettison.
Talking to people is an equally important trend-spotting tactic. Start by getting involved in your industry’s trade association and attending events both online and offline. Network with other entrepreneurs, both in and out of your industry. (I promise, you’ll gain some of your most valuable trend insights by talking to people in completely different industries.) Take advantage of social networking tools like LinkedIn and Facebook. Start or join groups on the networks and see what people are buzzing about. Pose questions about trends you’re seeing.
It's also important to talk to your customers and prospective customers, both online and offline. Use social media or online surveys to get input on what customers are thinking, buying, craving and doing. Use Facebook and Twitter to identify key influencers and trendsetters in your target markets. Ask them to be on your “customer advisory board” and get their opinions and ideas on new products or things they’d like to see from you. In addition, pay attention to ratings and review sites -- not just what customers are saying about your business, but what they’re saying about your competition.
There’s no substitute for getting out in the marketplace. Make it a point to regularly go where your target customers hang out. If your customers are teenagers, that might be the local mall. If they’re businesspeople, it might be the region’s “power lunch” restaurant or office park restaurant center. Spend some time simply watching and observing. What are people eating, doing, wearing, using? What stores or restaurants draw crowds and which sit empty? Trade shows are a great place to get trend ideas, too -- even if you’re not looking to buy product, it’s worth attending many shows simply to see what’s hot.
As you begin regularly gathering all this information, you’ll start to develop a “trend-spotter mind.” As you absorb and mull about what you’ve read, heard and observed, you’ll start to make connections and observations that will lead to business-boosting insights. The news about rising shrimp prices, the lines out the door at the Asian-fusion restaurant downtown, and something one of your customers said last week will all come together and you’ll have a great idea for a new menu item, a new product line or even a whole new business. Trust me, it works.
Rieva Lesonsky is CEO of GrowBiz Media, a content and consulting company that helps entrepreneurs start and grow their businesses. Follow Rieva at Twitter.com/Rieva, and visit SmallBizDaily.com to sign up for her free TrendCast reports.
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