As your business grows, change will be inevitable and entrepreneurs should constantly look ahead and shake things up. Marketing trends, finance trends, management trends — the more you have your finger on the pulse of relevant business trend research, the better your chances of success.
But finding a good crystal ball these days is difficult. What are some key trends facing startups? Who has good trend-tracking information for specific industries? And how can you tell the difference between a fleeting fad and a true trend?
Owners of new and growing small businesses today know one thing for sure: conditions change so fast that each day seems to bring a new technology, marketing strategy or buyer mood. Is that hot new trend you heard about the wave of the future - or will it be forgotten in a heartbeat? Chasing fads can be costly. Ditto if you miss a key trend.
Louis Patler, a trend analyst and market research guru for companies such as American Express and Dell, has spent a lifetime tracking emerging trends and studying their impact on business. He says the key to successfully piloting a business in the years ahead will be embracing new ways of thinking, including these:
- Forget about sticking to what your business does “best.” As you grow, valued business traditions and processes can hold you back.
- Customers are not always right. Offer savings and specials to your most valuable and loyal customers, and let the rest shop elsewhere.
- Don’t expect loyalty from employees. Workers won’t stay at a job for more than three years. Plan for this and take advantage of it.
- The future is here. Now. Don’t look for things to “get back to normal.” This is normal.
One sure bet is that tech advances will change how you operate. Business and technology are now a single system, and entrepreneurs will face an even greater need to keep up - or face extinction. Trend tracker James Canton, who heads the Institute for Global Futures, says that information - or “knowledge engineering” as he calls it - will be the greatest business asset in years ahead. Knowledge, he says, is the fuel that creates results.
Other top trends Canton sees
- Capturing and analyzing information about customer needs, wants, behavior and how they use your product/service will become increasingly critical.
- A new model of successful business leadership will emerge. The best will know how to attract talent, manage innovation, set sights high and execute profitably.
- Entire new industries will form from innovations not yet on the market. Look for health enhancement, interactive TV, nanotech and on-demand supply chains to emerge.
- Next to information, human capital — people —will be the most valuable resource.
Tracking trends requires effort. To bone up on specific industries, you’ll need to read research reports. Some are free, but the best you’ll have to pay for. Such reports go well beyond the surface information you’ll get from magazines and newspapers. The insight you gain might point you in a profitable new direction, or save you from a costly misstep.
Our Bottom Line
Business trend research and tracking is notoriously tricky for companies of almost any size or duration. And while it can be counterproductive to chase every new trend that appears on the horizon, keeping your entrepreneurial radar tuned to possible changes that might affect your market in particular is a smart move that can help you adapt your strategies for the road ahead.