Keeping Your Business Relevant as Time Changes. What I’ve learned after 23 Years in Business.

In the digital age, staying relevant means that you can’t rest on your laurels for a moment. Continuous improvement and constant innovation are the keys to staying ahead of the pack. New trends, products and habits develop on a daily basis and part of staying relevant involves recognizing changes in customers’ wants and needs before your competitors do.

Here are some tips from my own experience in business that I hope help you stay relevant in yours.

Know the Importance of Relevance

Maybe you already feel out of the loop and don’t want to struggle to keep up. It’s all a matter of perspective. Staying relevant means the difference between moving forward in your career or as an entrepreneur. Chances are, if you’re reading this, you don’t want to stay in the same spot forever. Whether your competitor is a franchise down the street or Bob from across the hall, staying relevant is your key to evolving past your current situation.

Recognize When Things Are Changing

OK, so things are always changing. What we’re talking about here is big changes, sea-level changes that you can capitalize on — if you think of them before the competition does. To accomplish this, pay attention to what’s happening in your industry. You can do this by joining professional associations, reading the latest books and articles, and talking to other leaders in the field. Trade shows, open houses, and conventions can reveal the product line that becomes your next bestseller. If you stay in tune long enough, you start to recognize what trends will evolve into crazes soon enough to capitalize on them.

Enrich Your Knowledge, Then Apply That to Your Business

To remain relevant, you or your business have to be valued by others. This could be leaders in the company, distributors who consider you a good partner and push your products or a prospective employee who sees the spark in your eye and takes a chance on you.

The easiest way to gain trust is to provide knowledge that your target doesn’t already have. To pull this off, take classes, shadow experts in the field, do whatever it takes to gain more than pedestrian knowledge in your field. For example, getting an MBA or technical certifications, or hiring people who have them, is a great way to gain invaluable insight into the financial management and IT industries, respectively.

Embrace Cross-Industry Innovations

From my experience, you’re far more likely looking outside your industry than in it for innovation. For example, when I’m dealing with a personnel issue or trying to attract employees with a certain skill set, I look for individuals with experience in other fields who can provide a fresh perspective. Consider hiring an engineer to run your product development team or a business leader to consult with an out-of-touch IT team.

Personally, I spend nearly two hours a day reviewing journals, articles and resumes from other industries. Some of my top inspirations have come from this research. Never stop learning.

Put Customers First

Some things never change. Focus on the customer. Reach prospective clients and customers where they like to hang out. That could include targeted social media campaigns or experiential events on the lawns of college campuses.

It’s important to engage the customer, so reserve a high percentage of your marketing and ad spend for channels that allow customers to comment, share ideas and provide rich feedback to inform your decisions. When customers consistently bring up problems with product availability, pricing or performance — pay attention and fix it fast.

Don’t Be a Blackberry

What went wrong? Studying companies like Blackberry provides deep insight into how hubris and lack of innovation can kill a company — even if you start out with a monopoly on the market.

Blackberry was a mobile communication device, a precursor to the cellphone. Hollywood stars, CEOs and the insanely rich didn’t go anywhere without theirs. It allowed users to receive emails and make phone calls on the go. But they failed to recognize what was happening in the industry. New technology-enabled companies like Apple and Android started to develop smartphones, which made Blackberry obsolete. Don’t be a Blackberry.