From the October 2006 issue of Entrepreneur

When we start on our entrepreneurial journeys, we believe we must have all the answers all the time. We research our industries, take business courses and learn how others have achieved success. We hope the knowledge we gain will help us thrive.

Today, the marketplace changes so rapidly, you can't rely on previous information. To prosper, you need to tap into the wealth of knowledge made available to you by your customers and colleagues. You must make staying up-to-date on new market trends a high priority to ensure long-term success.

If you're like most entrepreneurs, other action items often take precedence over real-world investigation. Your creativity can become stifled as you focus on the nuts and bolts of operating your business. To keep your business relevant, take the responsibility to continually educate yourself on the changes in your industry.

1. Set specific investigative times. Schedule times during which you only search out new trends. This can be as simple as setting up a weekly five-minute conference call with one or two customers. Or you can gain specific knowledge by joining a networking club or a business organization where members share new strategies. You could also meet regularly with a business instructor from a local college to keep abreast of new industry approaches.

2. Make trend spotting part of your daily routine. Stand out from your competitors by discovering unique ways to apply devel-opments in other industries to your area of expertise. Use everyday experiences to collect information. For instance, pay attention while shopping at your local grocery or department store. What new packaging ideas can you spot? What unique sales language and colors seem effective? Carry an idea notebook with you at all times so you can keep track of what you discover.

3. Persistently investigate competitors. Make it a point to regularly check on your competition by surfing their websites or visiting their locations. You can "automate" your information collection by registering for their product updates and special promotions. Receiving these pieces of information will stimulate new ideas for your business. Don't judge whether your competitors are doing better than you are-your objective is simply to keep your finger on the pulse of the market by monitoring your competitors' moves.

4. Make reporters part of your research team. Don't conduct your research alone. Save time by reviewing national media outlets and specialty magazines pertinent to your industry and by finding savvy industry reporters. Their job is to investigate the marketplace and report back on new trends, sales techniques and growth strategies. Follow their stories. You can have any of their associated articles electronically sent to you by going to Google.com and setting Google Alerts on the reporters' names.

Make your research an asset by applying what you learn to improve your business and create new products and services. This personalized, real-world learning process will help you use your time effectively and take action with conviction. With your positive mental attitude and unique industry knowledge, you'll stand out and attract even more customers. Practice this process, and it will soon become a natural part of your business routine.

Speakerand consultant Romanus Wolter, aka "The KickStart Guy," is author ofKick Start Your Dream Business.