You were country when country wasn’t cool. And now you’re ready to launch your small business at the core of rural America. It may not always feel like your big dreams can become reality in a small town, but in 2023, rural businesses are thriving. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the nation’s manufacturing jobs — once the beating heart of rural economies — sharply declined through the 2000s. But in the last few years, those jobs have been replaced by service and retail roles, largely in small businesses.
There’s no doubt that small businesses are helping rural America thrive, but how can you set your rural small business up to do the same? Let’s take a look at the ups and downs of running a rural business and how you can build a symbiotic relationship with your rural community to achieve success.
Benefits of a Rural Small Business
You might be wondering if you need to relocate to a more populous area before opening your business. That’s one option, but the other is to capitalize on all the upsides of starting your business in a rural setting. Here are some of the top benefits:
You’ll Be a Big Fish in a Small Pond
Options, especially retail shopping options, can be pretty sparse in rural locations. So if your business, for example, is the only bowling alley within a 50-mile radius, you’re naturally going to attract anyone in that area looking to hit the lanes. When you’re the sole provider of a product or service, you have the potential to grow far bigger in a smaller area.
Of course, if you open a brick-and-mortar business, you’ll still have plenty of online competition, but you might be surprised to find that your local customers still prefer to patronize your business over an ecommerce option. Why?
Shopping Local Is a Lasting Trend
In recent years, Small Business Saturday has become a popular shopping day, occurring right after Thanksgiving and Black Friday — the biggest shopping day of the year in the U.S. In fact, the Small Business Administration has reported that since its inception in 2010, Small Business Saturday has peaked at over $23 billion in spending on an annual basis.
Additionally, the most popular online searches now end with “near me.” People are searching for things — restaurants, shops, service providers, and more — in their local area. And if your business is one of the first that pops up because it’s the only business of its kind in your rural location, the customers are sure to follow.
The World Is Your Oyster
The trend toward shopping local is great for brick-and-mortar businesses, but keep in mind that a rural-based business doesn’t need to exist in a vacuum. As with any small business, you always have the option of taking it online and expanding your target market across the country.
There are many options available for online business owners today, and you don’t even need a warehouse or manufacturer to make it happen. You can look at options that get you started in ecommerce with little investment and little experience, like becoming a third-party Amazon seller using Fulfillment by Amazon, dropshipping, or creating and distributing online training courses.
Downsides of a Rural Small Business
Of course, like all things, there are downsides to operating a rural small business. Fortunately, once you’re aware of the challenges, you can find ways to work around or overcome them.
Connectivity Isn’t Guaranteed
Rural America is certainly catching up to more populated areas, but there are still locations in which it can be difficult to secure stable Wi-Fi or even phone reception. This can be a make-or-break issue for businesses that operate exclusively online. But it can also be an obstacle for brick-and-mortar businesses that rely on internet for point-of-sale technology, accounting and bookkeeping software, and more.
Your Audience May Max Out
For businesses with physical locations, you’ll need to keep in mind that your target market has a cap. If potential customers are only those that are within driving distance of your business, you might find it restrictive to your growth. Traditional marketing will only get you so far if you just don’t have the population to support your business. Fortunately, there are always options to explore adding new revenue streams and diversifying products so you can take at least part of the business online.
Be Prepared to Challenge the Status Quo
Life moves a little more slowly out in the sticks, and a lot of times, that’s a major perk. Sometimes though, it also means that people are slower to adapt and slower to change. If you’re starting a rural business, be prepared for some local pushback, especially if you’re competing with another more established business or if your business is a catalyst for other types of change (like construction, traffic, etc.). If you find it hard to make headway in your rural area, try leaning into your community and working to ensure your business has a positive impact.
It Takes a Village: Community and Rural Small Businesses
Speaking of community, when you own a rural small business, there are two different types of communities that will be critical to your success. The first kind is the actual community in which your business is located, and the second is the community of support you build with other small business owners.
First, you’ll want to get involved with your local community if you want to grow your rural business. Building relationships is key to thriving in a rural community, so get out there and start making the rounds. Introduce yourself, especially to other business owners, and actively look for ways to make a difference. Volunteer, sponsor local groups, and be sure to encourage repeat local customers with incentive programs and exclusive deals.
Outside your local community, you’ll also want to grow your small business community. This is your support network of like-minded entrepreneurs who can provide resources and guidance when needed. In a survey, 91% of business owners say that having a solid small business community is the key to success, and close to 60% report they find those needs met in a local community. Wondering where you can start to build your small business community?
- Find local business centers through the Small Business Administration.
- Reach out for a small business mentor through SCORE’s free program.
- Check out groups for entrepreneurs and business owners in your industry on social media.
- Seek out your local Chamber of Commerce.
Rural Small Business Grants and Other Resources
There is definitely support for rural small business owners, if you know where to look. If you’re in need of financial backing for your business, you might consider applying for a grant specifically for rural small businesses. Or you might just want to explore what your options are for getting funding and finding resources. Here’s where to start:
- U.S. Department of Agriculture: The USDA offers rural business development grants in all U.S. states.
- Small Business Administration: The SBA provides grants, loans, and other financial support to small businesses in rural locations.
- SCORE: This nonprofit organization provides a lot more than free business mentors. You can also find a comprehensive list of rural business funding options and other valuable resources.
Ready to Give Your Rural Small Business the Best Start?
One of the smartest steps you can take when forming any business is to register as an LLC. Limited liability companies are flexible, cost-effective, and best of all, they give your business all the liability protection you need to keep your personal assets safe. They’re a great choice for businesses across the U.S., including those in rural areas. Plus, they also make your business more trustworthy and reputable — an important trait in many rural settings. Ultimately, there is no reason your rural small business can’t be just as successful as any other business in any other location. If you’ve got the passion and the determination to succeed, just follow the tips we’ve provided above, and your small business can achieve big things.