What Small And Rural Businesses Need To Know

By: Sarah Childers

In the beginning, it was the national retail chains putting the small and locally owned businesses in a sleeper choke hold within months of opening.  Now, the championship belt in retail belongs to the mega corporations that can ship stuff the fastest, cheapest, and most efficiently.

As of September 2019, as I type this article, America is feeling the vibrations of corporations that once were a force to be reckoned with, fall on the mat, awaiting their final countdown. All because of the advances in technology. This can be witnessed in closings of stores and plummeting stock prices in recent months of brand names such as JC Penney’s, Sears, and Macy’s. This has also led to a stark reality of what is known as “ghost malls” existing across the country.  In addition, the values of commercial property is in a slump in most parts of rural USA. There are even websites dedicated to documenting the progression of the decline. According to some experts, the online shipping giant known as Amazon, is due to surpass Walmart in online sales by 2020 and has single handedly changed the retail business model as we know it. 

You can now have anything shipped to you from the comfort of your own home and modern society loves this option. It has even changed the way rural America shops and affects every business on every corner. In addition, the online retail business in the United States alone is worth over $279 billion.

This means that the days of opening a physical business in a rural area and expecting to make a living off of foot traffic alone, are over. 

So, with this being said, you will need to realize that as a small, brick and mortar business located in a rural area (I am talking about counties with less than 20k,) you are going to have to adapt to the digital age in order to compete with the changing landscape of retail. It will benefit you to adapt and glean what you can from an online presence in order to augment an already shrinking profit margin.

But, I know you are asking yourself exactly how you are able to do such a thing with very little advertising dollars available…… correct?

Here is what I feel that small and rural businesses need to know. Below are five economical tried and true ways you can adapt:

Stop solely depending on local organizations to do a bulk of your marketing for you. Yep, I said it. You are handing over the sustainability of your business to an entity that is mostly run off of volunteers and follows a business model that is almost 100 years old. Do I really need to go in depth as to why this is a very bad idea? Now, I am not telling you NOT to network with your community. Keeping yourself involved locally will be beneficial. However, it should not end there. What I am telling you is not to put all of your marketing eggs in that basket alone. 

Infuse some sort of online presence in with your business model. This could mean selling some of your products on an online marketplace such as Amazon or Etsy, or even marketing yourself over social media to reach a much broader customer base which leads me to my next point….

Create a website.  I know, I get it. Creating a website can be daunting. But in this day and age, when everyone is connected, it is going to be your calling card. Forget about the old way of exchanging business cards. Your online presence IS your business card now and everything about your website is going to represent you to your potential customers. You need to take into consideration things such as the flow of how it is set up, the color scheme, and even something as minute as the font that you choose. There are companies available that have designed very economically priced packages that you can afford. Not to mention they are also user friendly. So, sign up, click, drag, and drop. Go for it. It will also behoove you to read a bit about the ins and outs of a website operation such as how meta tags operate, driving traffic, why you need to register your websites with search engines, and search engine algorithms. 

Participate In Social Media. You will also definitely need a social media presence along with creating a website. Your website and social media will be catalogued differently by the search engines. I like to think of having both a website and a social media presence as two arms on an octopus, thus two different ways to brand yourself. It will also assist in building credibility for your business. If I could choose one social platform for you to go ahead and join, it would be Facebook since it is still ranked the largest in the world, with over 2 billion users. However, there are still formulas behind marketing yourself on that platform as well, that you really need to be aware of. Most, if not all website companies will let you link up to Facebook. So, whatever you publish on your website, will be published on your Page. 

Start A Blog. Most website packages include them. There are also free ones available such as Word Press. Start blogging to tell your story of where you have been and where you are going. Blogs are also referred to in the internet world as, “content.” Your website containing content and keywords is actually a cornerstone of what is also known as “SEO Ranking” and will help web crawlers catalog your website. Once you have a bit of content, make sure to link your blog up with your website and start promoting it online via social media. This will make it easier to build your brand online and expand your business.

So, in conclusion, I understand that most of what I have stated may sound a bit daunting. It also may take a bit of elbow grease on your part, but I really feel that in the end, this could be the difference between you barely scraping by or being able to pay cash for your next vacation to an island somewhere. Personally, I vote for the island……

In the event you need any additional information, please let me know, and I would be more than happy to clarify a few things. To the rest of you, I hope this helps you out somehow. 

Until next time,

Sarah Childers