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How to Succeed in Business in a Small Town

 

What inspires you? What drives you? What makes you forget to eat and stay up all night planning instead? Unfortunately, absolutely nothing makes me forget to eat {sigh}, but I have stayed up many nights planning for my business. Being able to live the life I want and help other business owners create the same for themselves leaves me inspired, excited, and grateful every day.

 

I took my side hustle - that I started at the end of 2010 - full-time in September 2013, and for the next four years, I worked almost exclusively online. The online world is a fascinating place, but as you probably know, it's not all hunky-dory. While we have more information at our fingertips than ever before and can connect with people all over the world, it's also hard to know which information to trust and, sadly, many people use the internet to spread fear and negativity, rather than making the world a better place. 

 

Yet, I felt that living in a small town like Merritt, there was no other option than to go online and beyond city limits, because there would not be enough local clients to sustain my business. Add a few unfortunate run-ins with city politics and bylaw, and I was convinced that Merritt is a redneck hell for small business owners and will never change. Until I realized I was actively contributing to the negativity with those beliefs, which made me part of the problem - and I can't have that. While part of my business will likely always be online, I want to build a strong local foundation, and that means *not* being part of the problem, but part of the solution! But how? And is it even possible to create a thriving small business community in Merritt?

 

 

I don't want to keep you at the edge of your seat for the remainder of this blog post, so here's the answer: yes. Yes, it's possible to create a thriving small business community in Merritt. And the benefits will reach far beyond the business community. I believe that real change in a small town like Merritt can be facilitated by a thriving small business community much faster than by a municipal government.

 

But let's not get carried away quite yet, and go back to the most important question: how do we build a thriving small business community? {Notice I said "we", because as they say - it takes a village.} The short answer: by choosing collaboration over competition. The long answer? Grab a drink and settle down. Here we go:

 

A while ago, I created a quick survey and posted it on my business Facebook page. Because the first step is always gathering information.

The purpose of the survey was to find out what kind of support and services business owners in the Nicola Valley are looking for, and what they would describe as their biggest challenge. Each question offered several answers, and multiple selections were possible.

 

The top answers for what business owners would like to see happen in Merritt were:

✔️ networking opportunities

✔️ mentorship program

✔️ help with starting a business

✔️ co-working facility

 

The biggest challenges those business owners are facing were:

✔️ marketing & PR

✔️ don't know where to start

✔️ make enough money to pay the bills

 

And because I don't want to just tell you to choose collaboration over competition, I'm going first. I'm pouring every bit of my business knowledge into this site to create an environment for business owners to collaborate. The basis for business success is a solid foundation of having a strategic plan that includes finances, a clearly defined target market, a problem you're solving for that market, and a kick-ass marketing plan that includes a community of fellow entrepreneurs who help you spread the word.

 

{Disclaimer: this is not the only way of starting a business and being successful with it, it's one way of many. It has worked for me and many of my clients, and maybe it will work for you as well - that's up to you to decide.}

 

Step 1 - clearly defined target market and a problem you're solving for that market

What are you offering, who are you offering it for, and which problem are you solving for them with it? That's your whole business idea and concept in a nutshell. You have a great product or idea, you know exactly who you are selling to, and how that will make their life easier and/or better. Can you clearly define that for your business? If not, it's where you start. 

 

Lots of business owners think that the broader they define their target market, the more chances they have that someone is buying from them. That's simply not true. It's a well know business truth that 20% of your customers will generate 80% of your revenue. That may vary a bit by industry, but it's generally true, and it speaks to clearly defining your market, because you really want to hone in on your biggest fans and make it even easier to buy from you.

 

Part of defining your target market includes knowing what problem your product or service is solving for them. Will they have more time afterwards? Will it make their life easier? Are you filling a basic need better than someone else? How will your customer feel and how will it benefit them after they have bought from you? Those are just some of the questions to consider.

 

Step 2 - strategic plan

There are many websites where you can download business plan templates and find out what a business plan needs to contain. One of those sites is Small Business BC and you can access their free resources and downloads here. The strategic plan I wrote for my own business mostly follows a standard template also, with a few add-ons and a more in depth marketing section. You can find my template {among other things} on the resource page.

 

A strategic {business} plan starts with the summary - but it's actually the part you write last, because it, well, summarizes all key points.

 

When writing a business plan, you start with the market and competition analysis. This includes categorizing your business to an industry, giving a brief overview of the industry in your region, and concluding how your business fits into the industry. It also includes your experience and education, and how you may be doing things differently than others in the same industry.

 

Next comes your target market. Who are your customers and what do they need? What problem does your business solve for them? What do you already know about your customers? Go into detail!

 

Moving on, you talk about your competition. Who are they? How long have they been in business? What do they specialize in? How are you solving your target market's problems better than them? Remember, your competition may not only be in Merritt, they could also be in nearby communities or online.

 

Next comes your pricing. How do you price your services and products, and why are you choosing those margins? 

 

Also part of the analysis are regulations and licenses {which local, provincial, and federal regulations do you have to comply with?}, suppliers {who will you buy from and how will you establish those relationships?}, and facilities {will you work from home or have a location, and how does that possibly affect regulations and licenses?}.

 

The next chapter in your strategic plan is your marketing strategy, and we'll talk about that more in depth in step 3. 

 

Key goals and objectives are up next, which you'll divide into short-term {first year of operation}, mid-term {2-5 years}, and long-term {6-10 years}. This will include projections on hiring, moving into a different location, expansion, etc.

 

Another important chapter of the strategic plan is the SWOT analysis, which includes a critical look at yourself and your idea. SWOT stands for Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats, and you'll take an honest look at each of those and write down how they apply to your business. 

 

The last chapter is finances, and needs to include start-up financing and a very realistic projection of {at least} the first year of operating costs and expected revenues. You also need to be clear how much money you have to pay yourself every month to either maintain or elevate your lifestyle. Don't forget about licensing costs, insurances, health benefits you may have had as an employee, initial stock orders if you are a product-based business, etc.

 

Finally, you'll read through your entire strategic plan and finish it off with a summary. The summary will be the first thing potential investors or the bank will read, so it needs to clearly state your idea, who you serve, and what you do for them. Don't go too much into detail, but include your "why" {why are you even starting your business?}, your mission, and your vision statement. 

 

At the end, read through everything front to back one more time and make sure none of the individual chapters contradict themselves.

 

Step 3 - marketing plan

Your marketing plan is part of your strategic plan, and it's often a problem for {new and established} business owners, so we'll talk about it a bit more in-depth now. 

 

Many business owners don't allocate a budget to marketing, whether it be on a monthly basis or for start-up, because "I'll just post about it on Facebook a few times" or "nobody reads the newspaper anyway" or "I just don't have money for this" or "I don't like tooting my own horn".

Your marketing plan, and especially a long-term consistent marketing plan is a vital factor for your business' survival in the marketplace.

 

To have a consistent and perpetual presence where your customers can learn about your offering and services sends the message that your business is here to stay and when they need your service or product, they will come to you. Think of it this way - marketing is not a one-night stand, it's a long-term, trusting relationship. 

 

When crafting your marketing plan, it's really not about you. It's about your target market, your customers. Where do they hang out? Online? Which platform do they use most? Do they read the local newspaper? Listen to the local radio? What's important to them? How can you help them get there? Do they want to talk to you in person or get emails from you? Answering those questions will not only help you with your strategy, but also show you which medium is best for advertising for your business. And even if you're not a fan of Facebook? If that's where you customers are then that's where your business needs to be.

 

Once you have answered the questions how to advertise and where, you need to set a budget. Plan on spending more during the first 3 months of being in business {and possibly for one month prior to opening up}, and then drop down to a monthly budget for the long run. For many things in business, you either have to spend money or considerable time to see results, and this is especially true for marketing.

 

Step 4 - build a community and collaborate like a boss

Steps 1 - 3 seem pretty overwhelming, right? That's where step 4 comes in. It's vital for your business that you work through steps 1-3 yourself first and make sure your business idea is viable, but once you're past that initial stage, building a community and collaborating is what will take your business to long-term success. 

 

Being able to ask questions and share your challenges as well as solutions you found, helping each other out with spreading the word about your services and products, knowing where to send customers that are not a good fit for your business, holding each other accountable with goals and progress, having a mentor to coach you through difficult situations, and being able to tap into the collective knowledge of a community of business owners is what a thriving business community is all about. 

 

Let's create that, in Merritt, together.

 

Are you in? Yes? Sweet. The first step is to sign up below and you'll get access to download all the free resources I created. I will also keep you in the loop as things unfold and every time I add another free resource to the site.

 

{The resources I provide on the page are free, but you do have to sign up for access.}

Talk soon!

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