From the advice I hear these days, if you want to be a successful entrepreneur, you need to be in Silicon Valley, Boston, New York, or one of the few other financial hubs around the world. What does that mean for the rest of us, who reside or grew up in the thousands of small towns that cover most of the landscape? Is entrepreneurship ever viable or recommended in a small town?
I was pleased to see these questions addressed in a new book, “Small Town Big Money,” by Colby Williams, focused on entrepreneurship and opportunity in today’s small towns. Colby is a living example of how it works there, starting with his Parengo Coffee Shop in Sikeston, Missouri. He offers some practical entrepreneurship lessons I most often see talking about Silicon Valley:
- You still need a good business plan to start. As an advisor to aspiring entrepreneurs, I’m still surprised at how many people believe the myth that business plans are only required to appease big investors. In reality, a business plan has real value for every entrepreneur, since most people can’t build and retain a complete plan in their head.Especially in a small town, for credibility, you need to quantify your plan consistently to local leaders and organizations, as well as bankers and customers. Sizing the market, projecting revenue, and calculating break-even points are critical, even for a coffee shop.
- Don’t get too comfortable—take comfort in fear. Don’t expect any entrepreneurship venture to be comfortable. There are too many unknowns, whether it’s building a coffee shop or producing electric cars. If you are looking for comfort, stick to that nine-to-five job. Being an entrepreneur anywhere without fear likely means your business is at risk.For example, in a small town with no other hardware store, you may be lulled into complacency as customers flock in at any price, but soon a competitor will pounce. Work to build memorable customer experiences today, or the store may be empty tomorrow.
- It still takes collaboration to build a business. No matter how hard you are willing to work inside the business, you still need external relationships with suppliers, people in your business network, and your community. In small towns, this may mean sponsoring local events, supporting complementary businesses, and community involvement.In any business, collaboration is really your ability to move people from customers to fans to friends. This is often more important than your product or service, and it requires letting the “real you” show, really listening, and responding. All businesses require collaboration.
- Brands are all about a story and selling an experience. More than a product or service, you are founding a brand when you start a new venture, large or small. You are selling an experience. In today’s world of social media and the Internet, people want to know who you are, what makes you outstanding in your field, and relate to your vision.We all know the fate of too many small town restaurants, started by someone who loves to cook and expects the food to do the talking. Every ad, every review, or lack of one, tells a story about how much you care, and what customer experience one might expect.
- Don’t forget to stay a step ahead of the market. Businesses that never change are now forgotten. I still remember when every small town I knew had a Sears store and a JCPenney. Even if your town never seems to change, there are always changes in trends, people, and technology. Entrepreneurs not innovating are actually losing ground.High-tech ventures in Silicon Valley know they have to constantly innovate, but small town coffee shops can easily forget. Yet the best are always offering new flavors, new specials, new decors, and ways to reach new customers. People flock to the new.
I came away from this book with two takeaways for every entrepreneur: 1) The opportunities are more abundant in a million small towns than in a few sacred hubs like Silicon Valley; and 2) The ingredients for success are the same all around, with a healthy dose of localized flavor.
So for those of you want to be entrepreneurs, but don’t relish the thought of leaving the community that you know and love, now is the time to get started. Small things can easily grow to be the empire and legacy you always dreamed about.