Building a Business in the Back Country
If you haven’t dreamt about jumping in the car and moving to the countryside for good just once, I don’t believe you. I’d like to think that every adult human that lives in an urban or suburban setting has fantasized about this.
And maybe, if you’re like me, you actually threw up your hands and did it.
As a creative, you might view this transition as a little bit scary. Or maybe you’ve found yourself planted in the middle of nowhere with a fantastic business idea, and have no clue how to launch it from your cabin in the woods. In a more populated area, there are more people to work with and customers to sell to - which makes living in those places appealing to folks that have to get started from nothing.
But there are a few business advantages to living in a rural area.
Depending on what type of work you do, building your business in a rural setting can actually generate more loyalty to your art or brand than you would be able to in a more populated place.
Speaking from experience, folks who live in rural areas generally have a deeper connection to their community and take a lot of pride in what it offers to the rest of the world. Hometown pride is a real thing; everyone loves that great beer or clothing company that was founded just down the road from them. Other local businesses might be more likely to partner with you because they know supporting their peers is good for the local economy in general.
On a more practical level, if you need to rent a studio or purchase property for your biz, you’ll likely find it at a much better deal than you would in a city. The lack of competition for land and goods in a less populated place can translate to less competition for resources that can drive up your operating costs.
To get off on a good foot, really flex those networking muscles.
Networking in a city might mean attending conferences and trade shows, but in a rural area it can mean attending town-wide meetings, library events, and working once a week in your local coffee shop. Your only goal should be to just meet people.
People living in rural communities appreciate knowing their neighbors are genuine and truthful people. The better you get to know the people in your town, the more likely they are to point you in the right direction when you need the help. Before you know it, you’ll have a collection of phone numbers written on napkins for you to go home with and cold call.
Of course, don’t hesitate to take it a little further. Ask around or research organizations that assist businesses in your area. Starting with the local chamber of commerce is a great idea, but don’t forget to look for local writing groups, collective art studios, or any other organization that could provide some more specific information and support for folks in your line of work. You may need to drive a few extra miles to reach them, but it’s worth it.
Once you’ve established some local connections, it’s time to strengthen your online presence.
When I say online presence, I mean everything from your website to your social media, to your appearances on other websites. Obviously, as our world becomes more and more technologically based, this is an extremely important tip for any self-employed person. And though we’re all slowly growing to resent it (No? Just me?), social media is a necessary evil for a rural business owner. Because your location might prevent a multitude of people from physically viewing your work or product, you have to provide an outlet through which it can be seen. Think of an online store as your shop window where anyone remotely interested in your work can view it.
In my experience, another reason internet literacy can be a huge advantage in a rural setting is that many of the self-employed people around you may not have stepped up their web game. Meaning, if someone (local or not!) is looking for a certain service or product in your area, and it’s easier for them to find your website over your neighbor’s non-existent one, then you’ve already got a head start to winning their patronage.
One perfect example comes to mind: I have a friend who is a flower farmer. She is by no means the only flower farm within our small state, but she has a fantastic web presence and some pretty impressive branding for a farmer. Now, when someone throwing a destination wedding in Vermont searches for “wedding flowers Vermont,” my friend’s website is one of the top hits on Google, and even more likely the most impressive website. That’s because she’s gone the extra mile to perfect her online image, which helps her market to locals and folks from afar equally, even though she lives in a relatively quiet town. Which leads me to my last point.
Don’t forget to market yourself to your own community!
This is important. You may think no one of consequence resides in your tiny enclave, but you might not know who you’re missing.
In my town of roughly 1,000 people, there is a famous professional golfer who owns a second home up the road from me, there is a high-end textile company based here, and one of the members of our Selectboard serves as a state house representative for our county. If you don’t let members of your community know what you’re up to, you’ll never know what connections you could be missing out on.
I get it. Starting your business in a rural setting can be intimidating. You might be caught up in the lack of resources or funding available, or maybe you’re worried there aren’t enough people nearby to support your dream. But if you look hard enough, you’ll find there are as many benefits as there are drawbacks.
And if you think you’ll be happier living a lifestyle with a slower pace, imagine how the benefits of mitigating all that stress might impact your bottom line. So why not try it? Get to know your community, up the ante on your internet presence, and stay rooted. You’ll get there.