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5 Ways to Keep Your Future Safe as an Entrepreneur (No Matter What 2021 Brings) Here's how business founders like you are forging the way forward.

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Whether you're a freelancer, have a side hustle, or are a business owner, entrepreneurs like you have had their world rocked this year. Staying ahead of market shifts and competitors is always important, but no more so than in the midst of these uncertain times.

Taking steps to position yourself and your business for long-term success may be as straightforward as acquiring new skills and knowledge or as challenging as a pivot in a new direction. To know what makes the most sense for your business, here are five of the most impactful tactics and tools entrepreneurs are using to ready themselves for future opportunities.

  1. Monitor other industries. Rachel Rodgers, business coach and owner of Hello Seven, which teaches women business owners how to become millionaires, recommends studying "tangential industries like real estate and technology, so that you have enough knowledge to pivot into another market." She relies on podcasts and books for a steady stream of new ideas and keeps a folder of potential business concepts she's uncovered. But mainly she's looking ahead and around her. This routine monitoring "also provides fresh ideas that you can borrow from another industry and bring into your own," Rodgers says.
  2. Tap into trend tools. Spotting emerging trends is much easier with online tools like Exploding Topics, which deliver weekly reports of the most-searched keywords and phrases, which Andy Cloke, founder of Data Fetcher, used to find inspiration for a side-project. Using Exploding Topics "to find growing keywords that might signal untapped opportunities," Cloke discovered a gap in the market and created one of the first platforms for TikTok influencers. Having recently sold it, he's now following a similar process to create a new product.

    But Exploding Topics isn't the only trendspotting platform. Google Trends, Trend Hunter, and What's Trending also deliver insights into what people are talking about now.
  3. Uplevel your skills. One of the best ways to scale your talents is through continuing education, on your schedule, online. After a handful of business classes at the University of Missouri, Army Ranger Patrick Montgomery decided vet school wasn't his destiny, but entrepreneurship was. During his last semester of undergrad, he started KC Cattle Company to sell Wagyu beef, pasture-raised pork, and lamb products, and then started the Mizzou execMBA program the following fall. "It was a great pairing," he says. He picked up tools and strategies during his online course work and his three days on campus, and could then turn around and immediately apply them in his startup.

    Montgomery credits his Mizzou education with the 1200% revenue growth his company experienced between 2017 and 2020. To his competitors who claim the "hard knocks MBA" they've earned is just as good as his official degree, Montgomery counters that "complacency kills." Meaning, that too many entrepreneurs reach a level of success and think they know enough—they don't need to learn anything more. "You see it entirely too often, where businesses [reach profitability] and then they plateau and eventually they'll fail," he says. Fortunately, Montgomery says, "Not only do I have the hard-knock MBA of starting a company, but I also have an actual MBA that taught me a lot of tools that help me think like a Fortune 500 company instead of a hard knock startup."
  4. Always be networking. To gain an advantage in the competitive fast-food industry, UK-based Chris Panteli says he uses "a fairly underutilized tool: Facebook groups." Panteli joined business and strategic Facebook groups in a number of different industries – beyond food service. "Having this ability to tap into different buzz topics and then relate them to my industry is what's kept me ahead of the game," he says.

    In a retail group, Panteli heard from one business owner that he was offering discounts on food to customers who brought their own packaging, so Panteli decided to make the same offer to his customers, stoking sales.
  5. Check in with customers. Of course, when it comes to envisioning what the market may want in the future, customers are your best source of information. Knowing what they're thinking about, worried about, looking for, or considering buying is extremely useful for planning ahead in your business. Ronan McGovern, CEO and founder of Point 5 Brewing says, "Conducting in-depth customer telephone interviews on a regular basis is one of the best ways of staying ahead of the competition. Interviews allow us to keep a finger on the pulse of what's most important to our customers and helps inform our product roadmap."

By devoting time each day to continuously improving your capabilities, sharpening your understanding of your market, and evolving your vision of what your business could look like, you'll be ready, whatever tomorrow holds.

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