20 small business ideas for small towns
The ideas you’ll find here are collected from Small Biz Survival, the small town and rural business resource. The ideas came from all over, inspired by comments from friends, businesses I’ve seen, and ideas especially suited to small towns and rural areas.(20 small business ideas)
1. Local pride clothing
Create clothing that promotes local pride, and your place in the state or the region. Go beyond the usual high school mas-cot items, and promote your own local flavor. Get some ideas from Neighborhoodies. Expand this idea with related local pride items, like tote bags, kids’ wear, hats and visors.(20 small business ideas)
2. Local jewelry
Customize jewelry to your state or city. State of Mine uses state shapes with stones mark-ing home towns. Extend this concept to keychains and other jewelry items. Look for local jewelers to help with manufac-turing.
3. Local photos
Make local photos into postcards, posters, or mounted and framed art, as suggested by the Photopreneur photography business blog. You can target tourists, students or other part-time residents and visitors. The photos can be your own, or licensed from local photographers. You can market in existing local stores, or even create a roadside photo stand!(20 small business ideas)
4. Local postcards personalized with your photo
Customize local photo postcards by adding a personal picture of the buyer to photos of local landmarks. German company Cosmocard makes this easy with free standing vending machines. This type of business would be great at your local festivals, in your down-town business area, or at the local souvenir shop..
5. Local hospitality in a family summer camp
Create a summer camp for the whole family. Take advantage of your area’s unique climate and culture. Incorporate the local heritage. Make it special. Laura Fitton told me about Red Pine Camp, a success for over 75 years. They offer camping for the whole family, with the option to join in any of the activities planned for all ages or just relax.(20 small business ideas)
6. Add value through local and organic foods
Local food and organic food are two ways to make a more profitable small farm, restaurant, cafe, food market, or other food business. Food-borne illnesses have made headlines from huge commercial production and from im-ported foods. It’s better for the environment because of the lower transportation distances. Local food producers of all kinds should capi-talize on this opportunity.
If you grow produce, get certified as organic or dedicate more acres to organic items. Focus on local markets, promot-ing your local advantage. Develop direct marketing methods to go direct to consumers or consumer groups. Restaurants can seek out local partners and organic sources. If you serve local and organic items, promote it in all your marketing.(20 small business ideas)
7. Cater to local outdoor sports
Target the changes in outdoor sports. Rural small business expert Jack Schultz said, “The fastest growing spectator sport in the USA is bird watching. Geo-caching, biking, hiking and extreme water sports are also growing in importance.” Almost any type of business could expand to cater to the new types of outdoor sports bringing visitors to small towns.(20 small business ideas)
8. Create reference guides
Share your knowledge with students, professionals, or people new to your field. Laminated guides like those created by BarCharts could be customized and marketed to college bookstores, to business associations, and directly to students. A great idea for recent students, teach-ers, and ex-teachers.
9. Be a tour guide in online worlds
Offer guided tours of online virtual worlds, like SynthTravels used to. Share what you know about Second Life or World of Warcraft. This is a business or sideline you could operate from anywhere you can get online. You could set up your own business, or possibly sign on with an existing firm. Consider targeting parents or business brand-ing executives.(20 small business ideas)
10. Fix things and resell
Use your skills to buy damaged items from online auction sites, repair them, and then resell them. Specialize! Focus only on items you can repair well, and that have a strong re-sale market. Track your time, and carefully evaluate your profit potential. Be absolutely honest about repairs when you resell the finished items.(20 small business ideas)
11. Buy local items to resell in larger markets
Take a local resource into a larger mar-ket. Find local sources of overstocks, scraps or by-products. Add some value by cleaning, researching, matching or improving. Then take it to a larger mar-ket such as a larger city, an online auc-tion, or on consignment in larger stores. It could be something as simple as buying local garden pro-duce to resell in big city farmers’ markets.(20 small business ideas)
12. Buy global items to resell in local markets
Bring your international experience to your local market by importing hand crafts. Those who have spent significant time in a different country and returned home, have a unique per-spective on items that could be good sellers. To learn more about the challenges and regulations, talk with others who are currently in the business, such as Salvatierra.
13. Share your skills as a taxi
Be more than a coach, be a taxi. That means to take students and learners out of the classroom and into the culture. Author Robert Fulgham reports that in the world of tango, these special coaches are called taxis. In small towns, we take our way of life for granted. Cowboys, fishermen, traditional musicians, crafters, farmers, and more all have a valuable way of life. Take your guests out in the world, and help them enjoy the deeper dimensions of the ex-perience away from the classroom.(20 small business ideas)
14. Paint business windows
If you can draw, start a business painting win-dows of small businesses in your town. All you need is a vehicle, paints, brushes, and some tal-ent! An online resource for window painters is WindowPainting.org. They have a great page of tips to get you started, a photo gallery, a directory of window painters, patterns and a video for sale.(20 small business ideas)
15. Share your space and your creativity
Take old buildings or structures, in town or out in a rural set-ting, and convert them for creative conference space and ar-tistic residences. Probably an ideal project for a creative type struggling to decide on a business. Entrepreneur Evelyn Miller said, “There are lots of hidden assets in small towns, including inexpensive living space, peace and quiet, and the room to be creative.” You could implement this as either a development project or as a for-profit business.(20 small business ideas)
16. Build a Lending Tree style market
Take the idea of a Lending Tree market, and run with it! What other services can you build into a simple, easy com-petitive market space? Every customer can identify with the Lending Tree slogan, “When banks compete, you win!” Ap-ply that to insurance, legal services, accounting, web design, or any thing else you can think of. Don’t have the technical skills to build the web platform? Hire it out! Put your good business skills to work on it! Credit C.C. Chapman with this idea.
17. Create a Netflix style exchange
What if you could easily exchange business books? Steve Rucinski suggested this idea. “You sub-scribe, choose from a selection as many as you want, return them when you want. Would that work for used business books? They are like DVD’s in that they are usually used once, read in a few weeks and almost never looked at again.”(20 small business ideas)
18. Use memberships to support any business
Use memberships to support your small town business. One independent book seller using this ideas was profiled on NPR’s Marketplace.
19. Leverage government contracts
Securing government contracts can help build or support your business, even if you are located in a rural or small town area. Just looking at the list of products and services requested can give you ideas. Locally, we also have a gov-ernment contracts specialist who consults, at no charge, with small businesses. The program is called Bid Assistance. Look around your area for training and support.
20. Target the small town market
Make small towns your tar-get market, and rural prob-lems your specialty. The small town market is a smaller market, but radi-cally under served. Just off the top of my head online banking, business coaching, ac-counting, and business signs could all be targeted specifi-cally to rural and small town markets. Dana Wallert targeted the small towns around Lawrence, Kansas, for her virtual assistant and website design business. Farmers Only targets rural residents for their dat-ing site.