Says American businessman and TV personality Dick Clark, “I don’t set trends. I just find out what they are and exploit them.” Sensible advice from a man worth an estimated $80 million!

Identifying emerging business trends is fundamental to your success as an entrepreneur; through observing trends, you can anticipate new opportunities, and develop new business ideas. Follow these five steps to expert trendspotting, and stay ahead of the pack…

Step One: Read Widely

In her paper, What Reading Does for the Mind, Anne E. Cunningham – Associate Professor in Cognition and Development in the Graduate School of Education at the University of California – points out that reading makes you smarter. Reading widely not only informs you of current sociocultural, political and economic events, but also expands the mind, presenting you with different perspectives. Subscribing to industry publications is a must – they will keep you abreast of business trends in your particular focus area. But industry trends are always set in a wider global context. To get some inspiration for new business ideas, consider subscribing to these finger-on-the-pulse publications:

Step Two: Surf the Net

The net is the world’s most turned-to information source and it contains a wealth of valuable trendspotting data. Here’s how you can use the net to identify emerging business trends and generate new business ideas:

  • Get Googling – Googling phrases like ‘top five growing industries’; ‘top five products consumers are buying’ or ‘what are consumers spending money on’ yields fascinating results. Tailor search queries to your specific requirements, et voilà! Customised trend data is but a click away. Google Trends is a great tool to see what people are searching for on any given day.
  • Get SocialJoin social networking sites, not only to monitor the buzz, but also to make connections with interesting people in-the-know. Facebook and Twitter are must-join social networking sites for the trend-observer, but don’t forget to check out what’s trending on YouTube and Flickr.
  • Read Blogs – good trendspotting blogs to try include Josh Spear Trendspotting; Betty Newman Trendspotting and Cultural Espionage.
  • Visit trendspotting websites which showcase consumer trends and web and business trends – start with Trendoscope, Trendspotting and Trendwatching. And don’t forget South Africa’s very own trend guru, Dion Chang, at Flux Trends.
  • Subscribe to RSS Feeds – RSS stands for Really Simple Syndication. RSS feeds provide you with headlines, links and summaries of news items from your favourite websites, without you having to visit them to find new information. You can get RSS feeds on virtually any topic, but you could kick off with a daily dose of news by subscribing to South Africa – the Good News; SABC News; BBC News and CNN News.

Step Three: Watch TV

Can TV be good for you? Yes, it can! But rather than being a passive couch potato, be an active viewer – turn your telly into an informational source for new business ideas, taking note of trends presented in news stories or on lifestyle programmes and reality shows.

  • Don’t stick to just one news source – watch a variety of news channels to gain local and international perspective on current events. Remember, current events form future trends.
  • Reality shows may seem like mindless television, but can be a useful window on the world of the masses
  • Don’t dismiss dedicated business channels – give SummitTV and CNBC Africa half an hour of your day.
  • Tune into specialist channels related to your business area – there’s a channel for almost everything these days, from food (BBC Food) and fashion (Fashion TV), to lifestyle and dècor (The Home Channel) and travel (The Travel Channel). Whatever business you’re in, there’s a bunch of info to be accessed via your remote control.

Step Four: Follow the Money

Another way of uncovering new business ideas is by keeping tabs on where money is being spent – on local, regional and global levels. Reading retail and consumer reports – like those published by consultancy company EIGHTY20 will help you glean a sense of what’s selling, who’s selling it and who’s buying it. Apart from monitoring consumer spending, also watch government and private equity spending. The South African Venture Capital and Private Equity Association’s website is an excellent resource for industry news and surveys, as is the National Treasury.

Step Five: Get out There

According to trend analyst, writer and management consultant, Peter Drucker, he ‘never predicted trends, but just looked out of the window to see what’s visible, but not yet seen’. While reading, researching online and tuning into TV news channels are all excellent ways of gathering information, nothing beats getting out of the office and experiencing the world at large. Whenever you’re out and about – driving your car; waiting at the airport; sitting at a street café or walking the aisles of your local supermarket – keep your eyes peeled and your ears open for what’s happening on the streets. Ask yourself questions like:

  • What are people wearing?
  • What are they talking about?
  • What are they doing?
  • What are they buying?

As well as observing business trends at street level, make a habit of talking to people outside of your particular business area, or ordinary field of contacts to encourage a cross-pollination of ideas. There is an abundance of new business ideas out there, just waiting to be found!