Successful military engagements are not based on luck. They are well planned and they rely heavily on intelligence reports. The better the intelligence, the more successful the campaign. Gen. George S. Patton made a career of reading the books of famous military leaders both living and dead. By getting inside their heads, he was able to spot trends and tendencies that led to many victorious battles in World War II.

Smart business owners are also proficient at spotting trends and using that information to stay ahead of the competition. How do these business leaders do it? Here are some inside secrets that will help you get a glimpse of the future.

Number One: You Can Spot Business Trends If You Read, Read, Read

Here’s the rule to remember. If you spend just 20 minutes each day reading something about your industry, I can almost guarantee that within one year you will know more that 75 percent of the people in that industry. Twenty minutes — either get up 20 minutes earlier or go to bed 20 minutes later. It doesn’t stop there; in order to spot trends you have to dig a little deeper.

Reading about your industry will only keep you informed about what is on the surface. You need to examine the things that affect your industry as well. For example, if you are making furniture, you need to be aware of other industries that supply to the furniture industry. Wood, fabric, stains, and changes in styles can all have an effect on the end product. Advance knowledge of a problem in any of these areas could mean the difference between a loss and gain in your business.

Every business office usually has a stack of business magazines gathering dust in the corner that never seem to get read. Scan the table of contents for articles of interest and tear them out of the magazine and put them in your “To Be Read” file. Try to read at least one every day. Take it to lunch with you, or anywhere else you can get a few minutes along to focus.

Number Two: Spot Business Trends by Looking At the World Around You

My wife is a big fan of the TV show, “Law and Order.” Sometimes there is more to be learned about the world in fiction than in information gleaned from the 24/7 cable news channels, Facebook or Twitter. In nightly TV shows, one can often spot trends that reveal how people are thinking about the events that touch their daily lives. Does “Ripped From Today’s Headlines” ring a bell?

Information sources like the Wall Street Journal or Saturday morning investment shows on radio and TV can often reveal where markets are headed. You can find online newspapers from all over the world at RefDesk and All Newspapers.

Number Three: Spot Business Trends Using Technology

The world is literally at the tips of our fingers. With a few keystrokes one can find volumes of information on any topic imaginable. With social networks like Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn, you can connect with people across the country and around the world. Put out a question and a hundred points of view pop up.

Real Simple Syndication (RSS) feeds allow you to access articles and tips on various topics by free subscription. When you subscribe to your favorite blogger or columnist, any new articles, and posts are sent to you automatically. It’s a great way to filter information from your favorite sources and improve your productivity. I also use Google Alerts to let me know anytime my name or my company name is mentioned on the web.

Check out your competitors web sites. What are the offering their customers? Any new direction or change in suppliers or products? How are they talking to their customers? What phrases or keywords are they using on their sites to be more attractive to search engines?

Number Four: Great Minds Think Alike

Contact other business owners in towns similar to yours. Try to find like-mined people. Just because people are in your industry doesn’t mean they are doing it right. Look for people who are written about in the magazine articles in your “To Be Read” file. Together you can look for clues for what might be on the horizon. They can be a great source of knowledge and inspiration.

Number Five: Spot Business Trends By Looking At Economic Indicators

The U.S. Government, the stock market and the Federal Reserve all use economic indicators to set policies and examine what the future holds. There is no crystal ball for business, but there are pockets of information that, when combined, can give a somewhat hazy view of economics and trends. For more information on economic indicators see:

Some Final Thoughts

There is no question that customers are more informed when they walk in your place of business. They may know as much about your products as you do. The good news is that if they are in your place of business looking for a product, the chances are they are ready to buy. They can either buy from you locally or they can touch and feel your product and buy it online. As a local merchant, have you explored offering that option with your suppliers?

The easiest way to combat this “go home and buy it online” is to offer a package that they can’t compare online. Make them a better deal by spending a few dollars more with you than they can get online. Remember, they will also have to add shipping to their purchase. Be prepared.

Tom Egelhoff is an Amazon best selling author of three small business books. His 400+ page web site is one of the oldest continuous sites on the internet. He has been featured on MSNBC's "Your Business" and quoted in business publications in China, Turkey, India and the UK. He hosts "Open for Business" each week, 11-2 PM Mountain Time on

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