The trick to any business is to stay ahead of the curve. A business owner or leader must not only keep up with changing trends but to be ready for them and embrace them, if not create them. But that's clearly easier said than done. How are you going to be the one changing the industry when you're busy running a company?
1. Write for your blog or guest blog for others.
It's not enough to read industry news or skim the headlines on Twitter. Write about what you're seeing and experiencing in and out of your business. By blogging for yourself or for others, you're forced to stay ahead of the trends and really read specific articles and case studies.
Additionally, including your voice into the mix of industry news sets you apart from other business leaders. Now you're a resource and your expertise is noticeable. It'll improve SEO and give you more opportunities to meet and engage with other industry leaders and potential customers.
2. Contribute to podcasts or video series.
Not everyone is a writer, so if the first idea doesn't appeal to you, try appearing on a podcast or launch your own. There are so many great business news-related podcasts out there for you to offer your expertise or start a conversation. Host a Q&A or offer leadership advice. In fact, you could ask for business advice as a guest on a video series or podcast to help you get ideas and share some of your biggest business headaches.
Another option is to step away from business-themed podcasts altogether and join a conversation on sports, traveling, food or other interests. Make connections and create a voice for yourself and you're sure to learn a lot along the way. "Being active in a community outside your own industry enables you to keep a wide and diverse network," says Tim Timrawi, CEO of Sharktech. "This gives you the opportunity to establish personal and business contacts that may come in useful down the line. In addition, exploring a field outside your own industry -- even if it is just a hobby or a side interest -- can help you gain wider perspectives on issues that may be important to your business."
3. Keep an eye on job boards and get to know recruiters.
No, not for the reason you think. If you scan job boards and speak frequently with recruiters, you'll get a better sense of what skill sets are in demand and what industries and companies are looking for next. This gives you an idea of where these businesses are heading and it also makes you think about your team. Do you have the right people on hand to keep you moving forward? What you discover may be a good indicator it's time to make changes to your team.
John Sun, Chief Credit & Risk Officer and co-founder at Avant, advised, "Only hire the best and keep your people motivated and hungry any way you can. Your people are the only thing separating you from the competition. Reward top performers heavily and trim fat aggressively."
4. Collaborate with your customers.
If you need to know what future customers are looking for, ask your current customers! Send out surveys or call individual clients during and after a project is completed. Find out what you did right, what could be improved and if there is something specific that would keep them coming back to you. You can analyze website data and Twitter click-throughs all you want to keep up but in order to stay ahead of your industry, find a way to connect directly with the people who keep your doors open.
"Don't forget you need to take action on your data," said Mike Bleier, Founder of Drive Cleaning. "After several surveys we ran suggested that our pickup and delivery customers wanted a faster turnaround time than our standard 3-day service, we launched our 'uber-style' on demand app to give customers next-day service. The early response has been fantastic, and we would have never known about that area of weakness without our surveys."
5. Find or become a mentor.
Or both. There are always people out there who know more and different things from you. Offer up your expertise and learn something in return. Mentoring also provides a way to connect more people and ideas, leading to improved business processes, companies and workforce. If you're not sure where to start, contact universities with graduate programs in your field or join a professional network that has a mentor program for students or young professionals.
"More than seed funding, investment or networking, mentorship is one of the most important things that a seasoned entrepreneur can share with newcomers," says Alexa Davis, Head of Marketing at Icecream Apps. "Through mentorship, one can learn or impart wisdom that simply cannot be learned from any engineering or business school. Experience is a good teacher, but not everyone has had the luxury of gaining years of experience, hence the importance of sharing such wisdom."
Don't settle for keeping up with changing industries. There are so many fun and creative ways to keep learning, growing and improving your business and the industry as a whole. What are the ways you're getting ahead?