Staying on top of trends is key to any startup’s success. Spotting trends early makes it possible tocome up with smart startup ideas – or modify your startup plans to jump on a new trend just as it takes off. Just as most important, you can avoid the risk of starting a business based on a trend that’s just about to fizzle out. Fortunately, tracking trends isn’t as hard as it used to be.

Here are my tips and sources to help you stay on top of the latest business and consumer trends:

Read industry news. Set up a system that works for you to regularly read the websites, blogs and Twitter feeds that matter in your industry. Stay active in industry conferences, events and associations: they can help you keep up on what’s new and what matters.

Get out of the office. Your ecommerce business may be online, but trends happen in the real world. Make it a point to get out and mingle where your customers are – offline. If you sell teen apparel, hang out at the local mall or movie theater. If you sell surf gear, hit the waves.

Listen in. Keep your ear to what your friends, family and connections are talking about. Are all the moms buzzing about some new deal-of-the-day website? Is your uncle nuts about a new online investing app? Listen, ask questions and you’re likely to spot trends in unexpected places.

Think global. The Internet has made it even easier for trends that catch on in one country to spread to others. Look to big cities, where trends are often born, and keep up to date with news and trends in New York, Los Angeles, London and Tokyo.

Watch for countertrends. For every consumer craving one thing (simple, streamlined investing apps) there’s another craving the opposite (personalized, one-on-one investing advice). Can you create a business based on a countertrend? If there are lots of competitors in your niche, how can your business deliver something totally opposite?

Watch demographic changes. Modifying products or services for different generations is a great way to capitalize on trends. A website catering to baby boomers will need to be very different than one for Millennial consumers. Keep up on demographic trends and be aware how your target customers’ needs may vary (or shift) based on their ages and life stages.

Need more? Here are three websites to help you keep up with trends.

Cassandra: Formerly TrendCentral, this site gathers trends in lifestyle, entertainment, technology, food and more, spotlighting breaking trends from all over the world while they’re still burgeoning. Sign up for the daily enewsletter to get more ideas than you can handle. This globally oriented site takes a big-picture view; it’s particularly strong on analysis. Its monthly trend newsletter is comprehensive in scope, garnered from trendspotters in hundreds of countries worldwide. If is big-picture, its sister site is snapshot-oriented. Sign up for the e-newsletter to get quick snippets of business ideas from around the world that will give you lots of fodder for fine-tuning your own startup.

And pardon the self-promotion, but you can sign up for TrendCast, my weekly free trends e-newsletter.

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