Small Business Ideas and Inspiration for A Small Town

This article is about starting up a small brick-and-mortar business in a rural town. The logistics of pulling off such an act are secondary only to your passion to become your own boss at a business, whether product or service related, that you believe in.

If you have just came in from Jobs in the Country and you believe in the  quotes "Choose a job you love, and you will never have to work a day in your life," and "Do What You Love, The Money Will Follow" you are ready to start thinking about income  aside, away and apart from a weekly corporate paycheck.

Real Small Town, Small Business Examples

Business can be booming in a small town! Even just for the little tourist shops along the highway. Don’t believe me? Let me introduce you to a friend of mine who took her love of antiques and primitive home decorating, paired it with a lot of hard work, and who, in her first fiscal year sold nearly a 1/4 of a million dollars of product. In a town of less than 2,000 people!

A tiny but successful small town business in Birds Creek, Ontario.

A tiny but successful small town business in Birds Creek, Ontario.

That’s right nearly $250,000 in her first year. Of course that’s not all profit, (first year of any small business startup has many expenses), but with a 40% markup on product…I’ll leave the math to you. A quick calculation should tell you what her business will be worth in future years if she maintains her focus, determination and passion for the business.

She kept her startup costs down by soliciting friends and family to help set up and by working out a plan to modify certain aspects of the business once the profits started rolling in. It worked! Without giving away all her secrets, you should know that the next year she more than doubled her sales and profit.

Here’s Another Small Town Business Success Story…

In a nearby small town about six years ago, a coffee shop franchise opened up. Yes, just a franchise – similar to any other coffee franchise you see along the highway on your family road trips.

Their first year they grossed over a million dollars. The town they started in had a population of 3,500, but those numbers double in the summer when the cottagers and weekenders arrive.

Still, it’s a coffee shop in a small town that already had coffee shops.

How’d they do it?

$1 – $2 at a time.

What’s Your Small Business Passion?

Certainly those are only two small town success stories, and I do know that these two towns have seen an equal amount of failures for every successful venture, but their success is not obscure.

It’s a mindset.

You’ll make a success of yourself and your business whenever you:

  • fill a need in the community,
  • work from a place of sheer determination,
  • and believe in what you offer.

The people involved in the businesses above are not ‘exceptional’ people, overly talented, or highly educated. There is nothing that separates them from you or I, other than the fact that they followed a small business dream and let nothing stop them from achieving their goal. (And believe me, in a small town you’ll find many small minds that want to slow progress or another’s success – just have a look at our tiny town.

Don’t Know What Your Passion Is? Then Fill A Need in Your Town!

Often what happens to those of us that work in Monday-Friday, 9 to 5 jobs is that we don’t know what our interests are anymore…we’re too busy trying to make a buck for someone else.

You probably come home from your per hour job exhausted. You just want to eat a meal, relax with your family and prepare for the next work day. Are you in this rut? You’re not alone.

Want to make a fast break until you ‘find yourself’? Here’s how you do it…fill a need in the community.

Just like the coffee shop owner I mentioned in the blue sidebar above. That entrepreneur saw a small town that bustled with tourists in the summer that completely lacked a large common meeting place for the locals. Yes there were other coffee shops – but they were small and parking at each was a pain! That franchise owner filled the need – a place to park and meet, a product that Canadians are crazy for, and he even added the convenience of a drive through window for those too busy to stop in. Instant success.

As I said above there were other coffee shops, but not one with a drive through. Not one with a ‘known’ product (via franchise). And, he even made the shop self-serve (no wait staff flitting about interrupting conversations and refreshing everyone’s cup). Plus he ensured that he had ample parking so tourist filled buses could come through, and so on.

What’s the First Step?

First you must discover your interests, your love, your gift. Do you love to paint? Do you love fishing? Do you like building houses? Decorating them? Working on cars? What is your heart’s desire?

Once you’ve focused and determined a plan, get to work uncovering your market for your business. (You could create a market but this is a tougher row to hoe – and a longer path to profits – see more on this below.)

Let’s say your passion is fishing. You know all the best fishing spots, which lures to use, the best times of the month to fish, etc. On your days off you wake up at 5 am and head out for a day of fishing. How can you turn that into a small town brick-and-mortar business?

  • You open up a bait and tackle shop in a tourist laden community with lakes.
  • You buy a boat and sell charters or excursions.
  • You fish during the day, and hire someone to run the shop. Your shop sells fresh caught or fresh frozen fish and shellfish. From that same shop you might run a one night a month cooking class on ways to prepare and serve fish.

There’s more you can do with that fishing passion that isn’t brick-and-mortar.

  • You can write a book on hook tactics, or secret lakes, or trolling adventures, publish it yourself (this isn’t hard really) and sell it online or at tackle shops.
  • You can do what another friend of mine does, he bought some contraption for making lures and sells them at specialty shops and by mail-order.
  • What about hand-tied fly-fishing lures for sale?

There is so much a person could do with one interest or passion. The task at hand in coming up with ideas is to focus.

Having good management is crucial for any small business success. Consider earning a management degree from Notre Dame de Namur Online to acquire all the knowledge that can help your business thrive.

What are the steps to determining a need for a small business in your community?

Listen to people. Ask questions. Train your ears to perk up when someone says "I wish we had a … shop in this town." or "I have to drive all the way to the city just to buy …" or similar comments.

If you already live in the community ask yourself what you miss most about big city life…then bring it into the community yourself.

For instance, I came from a large (pop: 3 million) multi-cultural city. The things I miss most are the specialty restaurants, fine baked goods, and department stores.

  • As a result of living here I have learned to cook and bake many ethnic dishes and treats. There is no doubt in my mind that if someone opened up a restaurant here that served authentic ethnic food many people would eat there.
  • Or if we had a decent sized department store here everyone would do their shopping there (instead of paying $3 for a tube of toothpaste at the inflated prices the local drug store charges).

The point is: listen to others and listen to yourself. Be aware of the lack, then fill it.

More on Creating A Market for Your Small Business

I mentioned ‘creating a market’ for your idea in the main article above…

To be honest, creating a market for your goods or services is the toughest route, but it can be done.

Your enthusiasm alone for your business will infect others, to the point of providing you with free word-of-mouth advertising!

Generate some added excitement around town by leaving brochures in frequently visited locations, like the drugstore or bank!

The community could become so excited about your idea that they’ll be happy to give you their money for a product they hadn’t thought they needed until the day they met you or heard about your business!

For instance my friend in the first small business example I used…

"…took some cheap pieces of pine sheeting from the lumberyard, literally slapped on some crackle finish, then a coat of paint, attached the two together and sold "primitive shelves" for $30 a piece. The time and costs involved were less than $4 of materials, and 20 minutes of time per shelf – and she did it all while she watched television at night!"

Once the community saw the charm of her primitive products they started selling like crazy.

She’d found the key – she had the community buzzing about this new style of decorating. She then continued on to make different products with similar investments and markups.

Again, this was a small town ready for some new ideas. And ready to collectively spend a quarter of a million dollars in the first year.

Still don’t have a big idea? Don’t worry. Often inspiration comes to us in dreams, in fragments of conversations or in some other moment of creative spark – the secret is not to push or force an idea, just let it happen…

Click around the articles at right for home based business ideas. You’ll find articles that you can reply to, latest news on working from home, and more.

Signoff by Laura Childs, small business author.

Laura Childs

Entrepreneur and Author – Small Business Management

14 Comments to "Small Business Ideas and Inspiration for A Small Town"

  1. Dollee's Gravatar Dollee
    April 15, 2009 - 18:45 | Permalink

    I am a property owner who would like to accomodate people with affordable space for their business to flourish, Any ideas on how I can tap into your world?
    Thank you!

  2. Bob's Gravatar Bob
    December 15, 2009 - 19:57 | Permalink

    I moved to a small town in Kansas pop of about 2000 I have bought a 10,000 sq foot church I have rented out one floor to company that does skip tracing and it has about 6 employees currently. I have rented the third floor as an apartment. And I have a large over 3/4 of the church still open and this town need employment I need some type of business to go in here with some type of that would employee at least 10 people full time any suggestions

  3. Michelle's Gravatar Michelle
    January 9, 2010 - 22:46 | Permalink

    Laura, I have a mobile food unit which I am the cook. But, my passion is to market a baked good which is a Homemade Bread Pudding. Can you give me any suggestions on where I should began.

    Thank You!

  4. Michelle's Gravatar Michelle
    February 17, 2010 - 06:33 | Permalink

    Thank You Laura,I thought about this route before but wasn’t sure to take because I didn’t know if I could do such a thing. But with your advise, I will be taking this aproach and hope this take me to the next level. Again, thanks for your advise.


  5. Courtenay's Gravatar Courtenay
    February 18, 2010 - 13:30 | Permalink

    Hey there. I would love to see some pics of the primitive shelving that your pal made. Can you e mail me one of them? Thanks!!!

  6. Stan's Gravatar Stan
    March 13, 2010 - 11:52 | Permalink

    I make these delicious pies and many of my co-workers love them. I had about 30 orders during for Thanksgiving. Want to make this a full-time business in a couple of years. What do you suggest?

  7. Ace's Gravatar Ace
    June 16, 2010 - 14:00 | Permalink

    Hey there! Well im pretty young but have a really strong passion for baking and I’m quite good.The problem is that i dont know how to get people to know about my baked goods.Any ideas?

  8. gambhir's Gravatar gambhir
    July 25, 2010 - 00:31 | Permalink

    hi , i want to start a small bussines in india in a small city can u tell me what kind od bussiness i can start

  9. sarwinder kamboj's Gravatar sarwinder kamboj
    September 7, 2010 - 10:56 | Permalink

    hi , i want to start a small bussines in india in a small city can u tell me what kind od bussiness i can start.ply


  10. Rayees Ahmed's Gravatar Rayees Ahmed
    November 24, 2010 - 05:37 | Permalink

    I am Rayees from chennai(india) now i have moved to a town with 80k population where restaurants, theatres,gym etc are not there. But many in that town already tried for setting nice hotels but the cost was a bit high compared to existing small hotels so it was a failure. but i wanna take some chance any suggestions..


  11. Shannon's Gravatar Shannon
    January 24, 2011 - 18:09 | Permalink

    Your small business stories are great!! I am interested in seeing some pictures of the primitive shelving that your friend made! Can you e-mail me some photos?? Thank you !!

  12. Lloyd's Gravatar Lloyd
    December 4, 2012 - 05:27 | Permalink

    thanks Laura 4 such an insight . I am from Zimbabwe and I have some boilermaking experience and equipment , your stories have pushed me into thinking mode ,on what I could do for a profit at home. My mind was thinking of futons ,slate tables and the likes, I hope it does not get lost like previous ideas

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