7 Tips for Starting a New Business in a Small Town
by: Cathy Goodwin, Ph.D.
Q. I am transitioning to a new career after sixteen
years to spend more time with my family. We moved to a very small town
(less than ten thousand people) and I want to start an coffee shop business
and also offer PC repair. How can Iinvestigate and then promote this business?
A. In a big city, you'll make decisions by numbers
and neighborhoods. In a small town, you schmooze!
On the surface, everyone will be friendly, optimistic
Your challenge: Get below the surface and learn
the true story. You might consider asking a lot of questions before you
disclose your own intentions. Listen for, "I wish we had"
1. Talk to others who have opened businesses recently.
What challenges have they faced? What works and
what doesn't? Were others newcomers successful? If so, were they truly
new or did they have deep roots in the town, such as a brother who lived
here forty years?
If nobody's opened a business for awhile, dig deeper.
Maybe there's no market. Or maybe they're just waiting for you to arrive!
Sometimes a new business can generate latent demand. It's a judgment call.
2. Make a great first impression.
Promotion isn't hard in a small town. Ten minutes
after you've opened, everyone will know! Some towns resist doing business
with uppity newcomers. Others welcome new blood. Regardless, your first
impression will linger a long, long time. And you'll have trouble recovering
from a local opinion leader with a bad experience.
3. Uncover the town's market and memory.
Considering buying a business? Take time to discover
the owner's reputation. When the local residents seem eager for a change
of management, you'll need a new name and image. But if someone's just
moved away and everyone misses them, you've got a wonderful opportunity.
Right now in Silver City we could use a few first-rate pet-sitters and
But be sensitive to change. Before I moved here,
I'm told, at least three coffee shops failed. Now we have several, along
with a wine bar and a microbrewery. All seem to be thriving.
4. Search the fine print of local regulations.
Here in Silver City, our newest businesses had to
fight all kinds of red tape to get opened. One called City Hall to get
help with a business that was new to the area. "It's not listed here,"
said the clerk, "so it's probably illegal." (The business has opened and
thrives.) Another discovered his license hadn't come through because the
Council forgot to add it to the agendaand they weren't interested in making
Any time you serve food or drink, you know you're
facing permits. Find out what's involved locally.
5. Prepare to do most of the work yourself.
In a small town, you can have trouble finding good
help. The local work ethic may surprise you - in either direction.
6. Know your community.
Will your market come from second and third generation
local residents? Or are you serving those who relocated recently from
urban areas? Here I've met folks who think three dollars is way too much
to pay for espresso drinks. But those who bonded with Starbucks will buy
at least one cup a day, every day.
7. Build relationships.
If you can attract a town leader, you'll draw a
following. Conversely, if you inadvertently alienate a key player, or
if a local person's got an idea on the drawing board, you'll be miserable.
And in a small town, you'll be expected to be a
super-citizen. Choose alliances and sponsorships carefully. Prepare for
all sorts of friendly requests to donate time, materials and money.
Cathy Goodwin, Ph.D., is an author, speaker and career/business consultant, helping midlife professionals take their First Steps to a Second Career. http://www.cathygoodwin.com
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