Every week as SmallBizLady, I conduct interviews with experts on my Twitter talk show #SmallBizChat. The show takes place every Wednesday on Twitter from 8-9pm ET. This is excerpted from my recent interview with Rieva Lesonsky @Rieva is CEO of GrowBiz Media, a content and consulting company specializing in covering small businesses and entrepreneurship. Before co-founding GrowBiz Media, Lesonsky was Editorial Director of Entrepreneur Magazine. A nationally known speaker and authority on entrepreneurship, Rieva has been covering America’s entrepreneurs for more than 26 years. www.growbizmedia.com
SmallBizLady: Why is it important for small business owners to pay attention to trends?
Rieva Lesonsky: If you don’t keep up on what’s going on (what’s trending), then it’s all too easy for your business to stagnate. Trends often end up taking businesses in new directions, which can scare business owners who aren’t comfortable pushing the envelope. Following trends doesn’t necessarily mean changing your business every time you hear about a new trend, but you need to educate yourself enough to know when you should and should not react.
SmallBizLady: Are trends the same as fads? How do you differentiate?
Rieva Lesonsky: At first glance it might seem that trends and fads are the same thing. They’re not, though trends can start out as fads (that doesn’t happen all that often). Fads have short shelf lives. They’re in, everyone buzzes about them, and then they’re out. You can make a lot of money from capitalizing on fads, but it’s quite risky. Timing is key you not only need to know when to get in but more important, you have to know when to get out. If you don’t time it right, you can easily be stuck with a lot of expensive excess inventory.
SmallBizLady: What insights can a small business owner get from trends?
Rieva Lesonsky: If you pay attention, you can take advantage of a trend and add a lot of money to your bottom line. Trends take many forms: they can be about business practices, new technology, consumer behaviors, new demographics with buying power, or brand new business opportunities.
SmallBizLady: Is learning about trends the same as conducting market research?
Rieva Lesonsky: Not really, though the results may be the same. Market research is a more formal process, grounded in science. There are some hard costs involved, and you usually have to get other people involved. Trendwatching is more about seeing and adapting, and depending on what your particular situation is, it can all come down to your gut feelings.
SmallBizLady: Doesn’t market research cost a lot of money to conduct?
Rieva Lesonsky: While there usually are some costs involved with market research, it’s a lot easier today to conduct research on a budget. It all depends on what you’re trying to find out. But a smart first move is to ask your customers. You can do this in-store if you have a physical location, or using an online survey tool. Survey Monkey, which just bought my favorite survey company Zoomerang, is cheap and easy to use.
If you live near a university or college, and need more formal and/or extensive market research, consider approaching a professor at the business school and ask if the class can conduct your research for you as a class project. You’ll likely have to pay some reimbursement costs, but you’ll still save a fortune.
SmallBizLady: Is it expensive to keep up with trends?
Rieva Lesonsky: It sure can, but it doesn’t have to. For some industries, there are companies that specialize in observing and reporting on trends. It can be quite expensive to subscribe to these services, but many businesses swear by them. Other research firms create extensive research reports which can be purchased for several thousand dollars.
On the other hand there are lots of places to get trends info free or for a relatively low cost. Many websites, magazines, newspapers and blogs can deliver a lot of trend information at a relatively low cost or even for free.
There’s a lot of free information available from the government as well.
Really, it’s about paying attention. You need to be a participant. Know what people are watching on TV, what books they’re reading, what movies they’re going to?
SmallBizLady: What are some good places to find out about trends?
Rieva Lesonsky: Here are some of my favorite trend sites, and places to get info:
www.springwise.com, www.trendwatching.com, http://www.jwtintelligence.com/, http://www.npdinsights.com/, http://oxygen.mintel.com/index.html, http://www.hartman-group.com/, www.ibisworld.com, and you can sign up for my free weekly trends e-newsletter, TrendCast at www.smallbizdaily.com
I also get a lot of trends info from BloombergBusinessweek magazine, The NY Times and The Wall Street Journal.
One of my favorite sources is Census data and other government reports. It’s amazing what you can learn from perusing this data. For instance from looking at Census data several years ago I discovered were on the leading edge of a wedding boom, that will likely last for more than 20 years (and leading to yet another Baby Boom).
SmallBizLady: What are some trends that are going on right now that I should be aware of?
Rieva Lesonsky: In customer behavior, the trend is towards wanting value. Consumers aren’t necessarily looking for the lowest prices, but they want to make sure they are getting a good deal for their money.
In the world of technology we’re seeing several dominant trends, both which can result in increased productivity for us, and our employees. One is the continuing march towards cloud computing, which decreases costs, increases productivity and communication. I know some businesses that were able to go all virtual, because of cloud-based servers, saving the owner a lot of overhead.
Another is consumerization, which is the merging of our digital personal and professional lives. I’d also keep my eyes on gamification, which is increasingly being incorporated into business practices.
And mobile marketing is quickly becoming very important. Most businesses not only need a website, but they need one that is optimized for mobile devices.
SmallBizLady: We’re always hearing about how young people set the trends. Does that have influence on other demographics?
Rieva Lesonsky: Actually trends can start in any demographic, and affect (or should I say infect) other generations. Right now there are major trends going on in many demos. The over 50 crowd is acting younger, and many are not planning to retire anytime soon. They working, spending and are a great market to target. They’ve embraced technology more than people give them credit for.
Gen Y is having an impact, just by its size. They’re early tech adopters, and demand that workplaces offer better technology and have had a lot to do with the consumerization and gamification trends.
The lines between the generations have blended to some degree, which is good news for business owners, giving us broader markets to target.
SmallBizLady: Are there some business niches that are particularly trendy right now?
Rieva Lesonsky: The senior market is quite hot. The oldest baby boomers turn 66 this year, but the youngest turn 48, so there’s a lot of years left to serve this market. There’s a growing need for services to address parents of these Baby Boomers as well, like adult day care, senior relocation services, and home health non-medical care.
Another market that’s trending is the beauty and health industry. We’ve seen significant growth in things like Pilates and yoga studios, and clothing, and in men’s grooming products. And there’s a ton of money spent by teens, tweens and even young girls on makeup.
SmallBizLady: There always seems to be a food trend in the US. What’s hot right now?
Rieva Lesonsky: So many too many to mention actually. If you own a restaurant, even non-vegetarians are demanding more veggie choices. Hamburgers are going upscale, some burger joints have rebranded as burger pubs or burger bars, offering more exotic toppings, and meat, leading to more prices.
Mobile food is still hot almost anything can be served from a truck these days, and the overheads costs are reduced. Many entrepreneurs who started in trucks, graduated into sit-down restaurants.
And of course the battle to rule the dessert realm continues. Many have tried, gourmet macaroons, donuts, pies in many forms but cupcakes still rule.
SmallBizLady: What’s the one thing all small business owners need to keep in mind as they grow their businesses?
Rieva Lesonsky: Trends are important because they provide fodder for change. And that’s essential for the health of every growing business. You cannot, should not fear change. Embracing change will keep you ahead of your competitors, and in a better position to attract and satisfy customers.
If you found this interview helpful, join us on Wednesdays 8-9pm ET follow @SmallBizChat on Twitter. Here is how to participate in #SmallBizChat: http://bit.ly/S797e
For more tips on how start or grow your small business subscribe to Melinda Emerson’s blog http://www.succeedasyourownboss.com.
Melinda F. Emerson, known to many as SmallBizLady is one of America’s leading small business experts. As a seasoned entrepreneur, professional speaker, and small business coach, she develops audio, video and written content to fulfill her mission to end small business failure. As CEO of MFE Consulting LLC, Melinda educates entrepreneurs and Fortune 500 companies on subjects including small business start-up, business development and social media marketing. Forbes Magazine recently named her one of the Top 20 women for entrepreneurs to follow on Twitter. She hosts #SmallBizChat Wednesdays on Twitter 8-9pm ET for emerging entrepreneurs. She also publishes a resource blog www.succeedasyourownboss.com Melinda is also the author of the national bestseller Become Your Own Boss in 12 months; A Month-by-Month Guide to a Business That Works. (Adams Media 2010)