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Rural Community Strategies to Support Small Business

Earlier this year, I wrote a blog full of tips and examples for rural small business owner to create success in their own businesses. {Read here: Success Tips for Small Town Businesses.} This week I'm back with community strategies to support rural small business development. I firmly believe that when our businesses thrive, our communities thrive. And when it comes to small business development and success, we need the commitment of community leadership from all sectors.

These strategies do take time, commitment, and coordination to implement, but the long term benefits are well worth the investment.

Introduce entrepreneurship early.

Teaching students the basics of entrepreneurship is vital to encouraging small business development. In kindergarten, our son's class grew produce in their Kinder-Garden to sell at the farmer’s market. In third grade, my daughter's class produced and sold a newspaper. Each of these experiences taught them the essentials of entrepreneurship, from creating the product, marketing, sales, and revenue.

I’d love to see our high school and junior high students running a main street business or recreational equipment rental stand seasonally. These hands on, real world experiences provide our students with a foundation for success and a deep connection to their community, regardless of where they land after graduation.

Create revolving loan funds and grant opportunities specifically for small businesses.

This may seem like a mute point, but historically funding sources in rural communities have focused solely on large industry, and small businesses without affordable funding either never make it into existence or run the risk of cash flow problems or failure due to high interest debt.

Implement and enforce building codes.

The high cost of renovating dilapidated buildings and the lack of finished affordable space kills both small business development and expansion. The same goes for buildings that sit empty year after year, or are used as storage on our main streets. It's a problem that can't be ignored. The best time to implement building codes was 20 years ago. The second best time is today.

Host regular community events.

Regional event tourism both drives sales for local businesses and creates a stronger sense of community. Winter festivals, live music in the park, food truck Fridays, cultural celebrations based on the community’s history, community events to highlight Diversity, Equality, and Inclusion issues, Shop Local promotions, wine and beer tasting, tours of historic buildings (Upstairs Downtown). The options are limited only by creativity.

Market your community.

Small businesses need consumers. Rural communities need residents. At the Rural Iowa Summit this past spring, the question was posed to our panel: "Do people follow jobs or do jobs follow people?" The resounding answer from our group was that jobs follow people. With many rural areas facing declining and aging populations, it is imperative that we actively market our small towns as places to live, work, and play to increase population growth. Communities can, and should be implementing the same marketing techniques used by businesses, analyzing results and changing tactics as needed.

Invest in broadband.

Prior to 2020, fiber optic internet was likely not considered an essential utility. We now know far too well how important reliable internet access is to success in education, communication, and business. Nearly every rural small business owner I know who survived the pandemic did so by creating or expanding their online presence and sales. In addition, most entrepreneurs utilize virtual meetings to network and further their skills.

Reliable internet is also essential for remote work, an option that has employees across the nation seeking communities with a lower cost of living, less congestion, and more space. Rural communities can only take advantage of attracting these workers if we can meet the internet standards held by their employers.

Ask. Listen. Act.

Bringing in experts and consultants to facilitate community conversations and develop action plans is great. It can also be time consuming and expensive. In my experience, rarely results in the level of insight or action that our communities need. The bottom line is no one knows what your small business community needs better than the small business owners themselves. Even more importantly, they're on the front line serving the public and are often the first to receive feedback from locals and visitors regarding our communities.

Prioritize getting to know them, ask what they need to succeed. Take the time to listen and understand community issues from their point of view, and most importantly, commit to taking action towards improvement based on their input.


Hey Yo!

My name is Kelly and I'm a speaker, coach, and serial entrepreneur with a passion for small business. My goal is to help you create the resources, support, and mindset to bring your small business dreams to life!

Get Started Today! Click to download my free {new} Business Checklist!

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