I’ve seen start-up businesses come and go in my years in small towns. What starts with someone stepping out to follow their passion many times ends up with them closing their doors. The reasons for failed business ventures is way to long to list in one article. But, one of the biggest reasons I see for most not making it is the lack of connection to their city.
I’m a firm believer that being connected to your community is a must for any local business, but it is especially important in small towns in the south. Smaller towns have years of history, community, and their own way of how things have always been done. To be successful with your business, you have to learn the DNA of your community.
When I moved to Canton 12 years ago, I decided to hold a music festival in our downtown area. At that time, our downtown area was dead. I didn’t know anyone, I made no connections, and I did nothing to get the established businesses downtown on board with what we were doing. The event drew a few hundred people when it should have drawn thousands. We made money but the event didn’t serve the purpose it was created for.
Since that event I have learned the importance of being active in my community and in return our city has become active in what we do. Business in a small town is all about relationships. If they think you are just there to make money, you won’t last long. Those who are willing to shop local want to know they are supporting a family that is supporting their city.
Here a few simple ways for you to get active in your city and build the relationships needed for your business to succeed:
SHOP LOCAL – Sounds simple but it goes against what most of us actually do. Shopping local is more expensive and is not as easy due to their hours, location, and inventory. Shop local anyway! Remember, you are going to be a local business and you are going to want people shopping with your business.
By shopping local you form a relationship with other entrepreneurs, you learn what is working in your city, and you support a local family financially. The return on your investment of time and money will pay huge dividends when you get ready to start your thing.
BANK LOCAL – I have done this from day one and I can’t tell you how important it is. He who has the money has the power. There is something about being looked at as a human instead of just another customer when it comes to handling my money that is important to me.
You would be amazed at the connections you can make when you have a relationship with your banker…..especially in a small town. Because of the relationship I have with the local bank I am able to get loans quickly (if necessary), have them connect me to the right people in our city and the local bank has been one of our biggest supporters as we do events. Again, the return on my investment has been worth every penny of sweat equity I have put into it.
EAT LOCAL – Networking happens best around food. Networking around food happens best in the local restaurants. Christine and I eat out a lot because of our schedules and 80% of the time we skip the chain restaurants to eat locally.
Yet again, you are helping a local entrepreneur feed their family. You are also connecting and building relationships with the owners, servers and other employees. Most of what I do is event driven and having a relationship with the local restaurants has paid off time and again.
GET INVOLVED POLITICALLY – Before I even start typing this let me be clear that this doesn’t mean you have to be a politician. Just get involved in what is going in on your community politically. I have served on a couple different boards in our city, I have attended city council meetings, I attend town hall meetings, I have workd hard to build relationships with our city council, etc.
I hate politics but local politics are vital for a city to become great. In our city there was a way of doing things that insured our city would die when I first moved here. 12 years later, we have a city council, city manager and mayor who are casting vision for our city and making sure it is relevant in 2016. Being active in this has made everything we do easier because we have support from those with the power to support us.
GO TO LOCAL EVENTS – I have always been a big event driven person. I don’t know why but putting on events is in my blood. Because I love and I’m pretty decent at putting on events, it is hard for me to attend events without being super critical of the event. However, I am getting better at it.
Our city hosts some very good events and I have learned the importance of attending and supporting those events. Attending local events is a great way to meet the people in your community who love your community. It is also a great way to get connected with those that have that entrepreneurial spirit.
Events are a great way to find out what those who live in your city like, it is a great way to meet vendors to network with, and a great way to see what works in your community.
Most importantly, it is another way to connect with the people who live in your commuity.
CONNECT THROUGH SOCIAL MEDIA – Social media is different in small towns. From my experience 90% of social media activity is on Facebook followed by Instagram. Twitter is off the radar and Snapchat is as well with the movers and shakers (but not the under 30 crowd).
I try and work all the platforms but by far the biggest connections I have made have been through Facebook. Follow local businesses, follow the local government, friend request the other business owners, and get active in the conversations. You will be amazed how easy it is to form relationships that will pay off down the road through social media.
There is nothing like starting a successful business in a small town. To know you are providing a service that benefits people and that people enjoy is the greatest feeling in the world. But there is more to being successful than just opening your doors. You’ve got to spend as much time building relationships as you do branding, building, and operating your business if you want it to be a business that lasts.