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#ShopSmall: Small Town Business Survival Tips

Opening and operating a small business in a small town can be risky. With concerns of low traffic volume, low population income, and a limited target market, it seems unrealistic to try. In fact, many don’t. For the few that do take the risk, we applaud you and hope your business is booming. However, the unfortunate fact is that many small businesses in small, rural towns are stagnant…or nonexistent. In these scenarios, business owners often lose business to stores in larger, neighboring cities or to nearby box-store businesses. While finding ways to support small town America and the #ShopSmall movement requires quality city planners, we also believe it’s up to each and every business owner to find ways to stay current and on-trend with today’s shopping force.

So, how does a small town grow beyond its current state of stagnancy? While the right answers hopefully lie in the hands of a successful city planner, it’s also important to look into both the town’s and the business’ infrastructure. First, the city must support the business district by offering ways in which it can thrive in today’s world: small business resources, a decent city growth plan, and easily accessible (and reliable) high-speed internet options. That’s right…in some places, small town growth is hindered by something we all view as a necessity— the availability of reliable high-speed internet. Just take a look at how Tennessee and North Carolina are fighting the FCC’s Open Internet Rules, which were made to allow consumers to go where they want for better internet options. Basically, these zoning laws and zero competition means poor service for business owners (both with storefronts and those who work from home). Finally, the business owner must also take the necessary steps — and risks — to ensure their own infrastructure is sound, which includes a marketing plan that’s in-line with the market’s movement and demands. So, if your business resides in a small town, keep reading for both general and marketing tips that will help encourage your business’ survival for years to come.

Location is Everywhere

We all understand the traditional motto “location is key,” but in the era of online shopping and digital marketing, a business’ location can be anywhere, everywhere, or “nowhere.” So while traffic volume, a visible storefront, and the desired target market are all possible indicators of a successful business venture, they aren’t the only things to consider, and they don’t apply to all small business types anymore. For example, at-home businesses, internet-based businesses, and businesses on sites like Etsy don’t require a storefront, but they can exist and survive in small towns (or any town), if the marketing strategy is well thought out.

Stay Current: Revitalize Your Business

Towns that desperately need revitalized often have businesses that need revitalized (from the inside-out). When times get hard, it’s easy to sit back and let little problems slide. Before you know it, five to ten years have passed and the business location, its products or services, and the operating technology is either out-dated, grungy, unwanted…or they’re perceived as such because of the store’s poor visual atmosphere or the lack of customer service overshadows the business itself. If you don’t know what I’m talking about, watch an episode or two of Bar Rescue and Restaurant Impossible. With these shows, you’ll quickly see how a business’ drab atmosphere, poor customer service, and low quality products (to name a few) can send customers running out of your door and towards your competitor. Know your niche, but always be on the lookout for ways to keep your business fresh, modern, and enticing for the ever-changing market of potential customers.

Modern Marketing…Digital Marketing is Key

Your town many be in the marketing stone-age, but you don’t have to be. A major aspect of revitalizing a business lies in modern marketing tactics— specifically digital marketing. No matter the size of the town, businesses everywhere need to understand that today’s shoppers shop and research your business online, and they do judge a book by its cover…and that cover is your website. Don’t have one? That’s your first tip: get one or risk looking unprofessional and sketchy.

Tip #1: Get a beautifully designed, user-friendly, and mobile-friendly website. Not just any website will do. If your site looks dated, today’s shoppers will assume your business is sub-par. If it doesn’t quickly grab a user’s attention or quickly provide the required information, visitors will quickly leave and head to your competitor’s site…whose business is in the larger, neighboring city.

Tip #2: Make sure your site and its pages have a mobile-friendly design. The Google Mobile-Friendly Test analyzes and reports which URLs are mobile-friendly or not. It’s important to understand that mobile-friendly sites are the standard and can affect mobile search results, which is vitally important due to the fact that nearly everyone, at some point, searches for the desired topic on their phone.

Tip #3: Talk to a digital marketing specialist (like those at Smarter Searches) about ways in which you can help online shoppers find your business. Whether you have a storefront or strictly sell products and services online, digital marketing strategies like SEO, PPC, and social media campaigns are highly effective at finding new clients on the most widely used search tool in existence — the internet. Small town or large, digital marketing can help.

Be Available for Shoppers: Extend Your Hours

The number one complaint about small businesses are their hours (and sometimes days of operation). While we all need a healthy work-life balance, if small town business owners want people to shop, they have to stay open long enough for people to be able to get there. Knowing your fellow, local resident’s usual work hours and visitor’s travel patterns may help shop owners know which evenings would be beneficial to stay open later. Strengthen the success rate by encouraging other shop owners and restaurants to stay open late on a designated evening or two. Give locals something to do (shop in your store), and remember that visitors may want to shop or visit a local downtown in the evening— just make sure they know you’re open!

Final Note and Resources:

Small town businesses cannot afford to fall behind the competition. They must strive to stay current, both in their physical address and their web address. Know your competition, do your research, and be willing to seek new ways to find new customers. Do that and you just may find that your small town has a big personality worth showcasing. If you want more ideas and resources to support your small town business, check out the following list of unaffiliated sites:

  1. The Small Town and Rural Business Survival Guide
  2. The Doing and Growing Stage of a Small Town or Rural Business
  4. Revitalizing Small Towns: Resolving Downtown Challenges
  5. 12 Strategies That Will Transform Your City’s Downtown