If you’re considering opening a new business in a rural community, you’re in luck — small towns often welcome small businesses with open arms.
Despite the encouraging atmosphere and untapped market potential, though, there are some special challenges that rural small businesses face. In addition to the regular hurdles that every new business has to overcome, rural areas present a unique set of obstacles — including limited populations and distance from resources — that require extra work to conquer.
Fortunately, with proper preparation, most of those stumbling blocks can be easily managed. If you’re ready to escape the rat race and set up business in a peaceful, rural setting, here’s a guide to making it happen.
Every new organization needs a detailed business plan to serve as a roadmap for company practices and to help executives evaluate what’s working and what needs to be changed. Your business plan should clearly define your brand and the products or services that you offer, as well as your general production timelines and target markets.
A complete business plan will also include funding data and a marketing strategy that addresses the unique challenges the business might face. As you build your plan, work to clearly identify the strengths you have coming into your particular industry, and try to predict major obstacles or challenges you’ll encounter in the future.
In a rural market, planning is especially important. You need to make sure that there is a sufficient target population to sustain your business model while still leaving room for growth. During this planning stage, carefully examine similar businesses in the area and differentiate your service or product from those already offered. If you’re bringing a new service or product to your rural area, do some market testing to validate demand for your business and what it offers.
Before you start your new company, take some time to identify available resources and establish a strong support network. For instance, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) has a Rural Development Program that disbursed 1.5 billion dollars in loans, loan guarantees, and grants to small businesses in 2015 alone. Taking advantage of those kinds of opportunities will give you a bit of financial security as you work to build your brand.
Rural small business resources don’t end with the federal government, either — most communities offer a host of other assets to help new companies get off the ground. Local chambers of commerce and small business clubs, for example, can provide mentorship, networking, and marketing opportunities. Mentored businesses increased their revenue by 83% while non-mentored businesses only increased by 16%. Whatever your industry, determine the types of assistance you’ll need — from funding sources to legal advisement — and identify where to go for support as your business starts to grow.
No matter where you set up shop, you will need to meet local, state, and federal requirements for operating a business. In addition to licensing and registration, you’ll also have to consider the legal status of your business — should you incorporate or operate as a sole proprietorship or Limited Liability Corporation (LLC)? Your legal business model will protect your personal assets from business debts and liabilities, and it may also provide tax benefits and credibility in the eyes of vendors, investors, and customers, so do some careful research before choosing your status.
If you have the funds, it’s a good idea to hire an accountant or attorney to help you make the best decisions for your business. They can advise you about licenses, permits, and structures, and their expertise will be invaluable when obtaining tax identification numbers and complying with state and federal requirements for hiring employees.
You may discover that finding a trustworthy adviser to bring on board is easier in rural areas than in urban locales, as close community networking often makes it hard for unethical practices to flourish. Try reaching out to established business owners in the area to get started — many will likely be happy to recommend reliable counsel.
Depending on the type of business you plan to operate, you may have to choose between working from your home and leasing an office or storefront. In either case, make sure that you are aware of all zoning requirements associated with the property you’re using, and take into consideration any restrictions on signs or other external advertising, too. If you are hiring staff to help out, identify their needs upfront and obtain the necessary furniture and equipment to get things running.
One of the most important things you’ll need to set up is your technical infrastructure: phones, Internet, and computers. Some rural locations have limited options for high-speed Internet, making it imperative that you fully understand the needs of your business before committing to an Internet Service Provider (ISP). The plan you choose will significantly impact your daily processes and productivity, so carefully consider the number of users that will be accessing the Internet and the types of activities they will be engaged in. Many companies offer bundled services to businesses at a discount. Find out if you can save by combining your phone and Internet services with one provider.
Starting your own business is exciting, and you want to do it right. Get your organization off to a great start with careful planning, strategic partnerships, and business solutions from companies like Frontier Business.