I just got back from 3 weeks unplugged. I’m exhausted!
This week, I wanted to talk about local investing. Small town businesses are starved for capital, at the same time as small town people bank and invest their money with corporate behemoths based on Wall Street. And we don’t notice anything wrong with that.
What if we could change investing from a gamble in the stock market into a local development tool? Local investing is the answer.
If we could redirect even a tiny percentage of funds invested outside our towns, we could change the face of our towns. And many towns already have.
Michael Shuman has written one guide, Local Dollars, Local Sense. Shuman has a long history of activism for local business. His book is an activist’s guide to remaking your town.
Amy Cortese wrote the other guide, Locavesting. She is a journalist and writer. Her book is more of the consumer version than the activist.
You want both books. In fact, Cortese and Shuman shared early manuscripts with each other to reduce overlapping examples and to make the books complement each other.
Ever since these books came out, you’ve been hearing a lot more about local investing, and both authors, at conferences and events.
Local Dollars, Local Sense and Locavesting are required reading for everyone in small town or rural economic development today. Local investing is that important.
If you’re a small business owner looking for alternatives to getting a bank loan, you will find descriptions of many different tools that can work: community ownership, cooperatives, royalty financing, CDFIs, and more.
If you’re an economic developer, you will find many exciting ideas in these books, backed up with examples and studies.
My email last week about banning “shop local” generated a lot of positive reaction. Surprisingly, I didn’t hear from anyone who disagreed with me. Maybe you all were just being polite.
I’m glad it got people talking. What I said about shop local is tied in to a bigger concept. The future of small towns lies in moving forward and changing.
We’ve talked about the fact that small towns are necessary, and that rural resources are absolutely vital to our nations. But that doesn’t mean every town will survive, or that any town gets to stay unchanged.
Even over your lifetime or just the time you’ve lived there, how much has your small town changed? Some change has been good, I’d guess, and some has been bad. But it isn’t the same as when you arrived.
Not every small town will thrive. Some small towns will decline and eventually disappear. Others will manage a turn around. Others are prospering now. Each town has its own trajectory.
What decides that trajectory? Well, that’s a great question.
Partially, it’s luck of the geographic draw, like being near a major tourist draw. (Can’t do much about that.)
Partially, it’s the prosperity of locally owned businesses. (That’s the part I focus on.)
Mostly, I think, it’s about the people. Do they make decisions that help or hurt? Are they willing to admit that future will not be the past? (That’s the part you can focus on.)
Think about the list of attitudes to succeed in a small town that Clay Forsberg shared with us. The first one was “Embrace change and be flexible.” And as you go on down the list, all the successful attitudes deal with change.
Think about the changes in finding volunteers we talked about. All your current volunteer opportunities need to be completely re-designed. That’s a sign of people changing.
Think about the positive rural stories you shared with me. Kat told us how Ponca City has so much good news. Gayle shared how Henryetta, Oklahoma, has millions of dollars of investment in just the past few years. And Rob told me about the new “good news” newspaper in Wyndham, Maine. All three are about moving forward..
Noticing a theme? Rural means change. We are in motion, not standing still.
Your town is on a trajectory. If you like that trajectory, keep working on moving forward and upward together. If you don’t like the trajectory, start with people and building community.
You can invite other people into this discussion by sharing this:
Rural means change. Every town is on a trajectory.
By the way, I ran a report, and I just had to share it. You are one of 1,108 small town people from 30 countries who receive this every week. Thank you for being part of this community.
If I missed your country, let me know, and I’ll give you a shout out next week.
Sounds crazy, doesn’t it? I mean, I’m something of a shop local champion. So why am I ready to get rid of “shop local”?
Because I’m afraid it has lost all its meaning. People have been beat over the head with “shop local” so much, that their heads hurt. They got the “shop local” part, but none of the bigger story made it through.
Here are two of my friends who recently shared very publicly why they didn’t shop local, and how local businesses brought it on themselves.
My friend James was trying to buy a coffee in a small town in the evening. The local coffee shop was closed. In fact, all the downtown businesses were closed. He ended up at McDonald’s. He wrote about it on Small Biz Survival.
Another friend, Chris stepped in to his local coffee shop, where he waited, without service and without attention for too long. And he left, probably for good, and went down the street to (you guessed it) McDonald’s.
“”LOCAL” DOES NOT EQUAL “GOOD.”” Chris wrote about it later. “Local equals local….If you intend to be a local business, what will push people to choose you instead of the competition?”
Now that’s a good question! Chris went on to list a whole bunch of ways to give much better service than the chain or the big guys.
“If you can add value, you can trump price or availability as a local business,” he said.
See, Chris wants to care about local, but he doesn’t want to reward bad service.
And this is why I’m thinking of giving up on “shop local.” In its place, let’s start with improving our own businesses, and get much, much better about giving service and adding value. Then let’s work with our neighboring businesses to improve, too. Then when we have a good group of outstanding local businesses, let’s take that story to our customers. I’m betting they will listen to that much better than any generic “shop local” message.
This is just one of the big changes I’m working on for the Shop Local Campaigns for Small Town ebook. I’m giving it a ton of new information on how local businesses can earn the business of those local customers. Maybe I’ll even come up with a new title, considering how I feel about the phrase “shop local.”
Because you’re part of the community here, you’ll hear about the new release first, and you’ll get the best price before I release it on Small Biz Survival. If you want to be notified the minute the new Shop Local Campaigns for Small Towns comes out, click this link and I’ll send you a special email announcement.
Welcome! Welcome to a whole bunch of new folks this week. Special shout outs to Tricia Braun, Wisconsin, and Brannyn McDougal, Oklahoma, who joined our community here and also reached out to share a bit about their own rural projects with me. I’m glad you’re here!
You know I have an unashamedly positive view of rural. My small town has a future! Well, I want to introduce you to someone who is even more positive about small towns: Ivan Emke, with the Grenfell Campus of the Memorial University of Newfoundland, in Canada.
Emke did a TEDx Talk on How Rural Will Save Civilization. You can bet that that title grabbed my full attention.
In an email to me he said: “I do like to extend beyond the usual sort of ‘defense of rural’ positions we get stuck with sometimes. I’m more likely to try to push the envelope a bit, doing talks on things like ‘is rural worth saving?’, etc. (Of course, I answer that in the positive – like a minister who speaks on ‘is hell worth avoiding?’)
“Some might say it is partly a result of growing up in a rural community but now working in higher education (which has uncritically accepted all the urban biases that come along with it). My own campus is in a city of 20,000, which is the regional centre for western NL. We’re surrounded by small rural communities, some are thriving and some are disappearing. Sometimes our public policy on rural tends toward the palliative care model – keep them out of pain until they disappear, but no heroic measures.”
Volunteers and nonprofits: I’m not sure a small town could even exist without them. A couple of you recently brought up the role of volunteering and nonprofits, and that got me thinking about the common problem, “we can’t find any volunteers!”
See, small businesses play a role in supporting nonprofit organizations, and nonprofits are important to small towns. We’ve all seen those small town business owners who are reluctant to volunteer themselves and are even reluctant to support their employees in volunteering.
Really though, that small business owner, and every small business owner, has a ton of things in common with those nonprofits. We’re all working on the same management, people, financial, and regulatory issues. We face the same problems. Nonprofits generate economic impact very much like businesses do.
Our local economy won’t prosper by accident; we have to cooperate to make it happen. There are no challenges that we can solve without working together.
So, we need each other. But how do we get together?
How do we get more volunteer participation?
After thinking about this question since about 1990, I have a few thoughts. You have to start with changing you, because you can’t change them. There is no magic way to make them volunteer more. The big secret is there is no them; there’s only us. And we’re all in this together.
The implication: You have to spend much more time thinking and working from outside your own perspective.
Your project is not the center of their world.
You care a lot about your project or your non-profit. Well, guess what? Your successful small business owners do not care. They care about their business. From their point of view, that is how they got to be successful in the first place.
I remember talking to a chamber of commerce leader. She was working on an event that she had come up with. It looked to me like it would be a wonderful thing for the community and for the businesses if they could do it together. She told me that she had walked into downtown businesses, handed them the event flyer and immediately asked how they wanted to participate. That seems reasonable, right? I mean, it’s going to help those businesses, so they should be all over it, right? Well, it hadn’t worked out like that. That was why she was telling me about it!
I suggested that the business owners might react better to someone who came in, learned about the people and their businesses. Only then would it be time to talk about events. More importantly, it would be time to listen to the kind of events that would work for them, and work together to create something even better for both the nonprofit and the business.
Your current volunteer opportunities don’t fit.
Throw away all your traditional volunteer roles, and make something new. Today, younger volunteers want short-term, not all-year. They want action-oriented, not meeting-oriented. They want to connect and communicate entirely online, not by paper and phone calls. I’m not really that young, and that’s what I want, too!
You have to let go of control.
I hear this over and over from younger people in small towns. They want to help somehow, but they run into existing volunteers who won’t let them help. The people currently in charge say they want help, but they won’t let go and trust the new young volunteers.
I know the young people might fail. They will make mistakes. They might even quit half-way through. But that is OK. They have to do that in order to learn. And if we’re honest, we learned by making mistakes, too.
Talk less about you and more about them.
Every communication that leaves your lips, your keyboard, your printer or your pen, should be about them. Answer their questions. Be a social media mirror. Share your community’s own photos and stories. Let them speak in their own words, their own voice, when possible. (Read more about “Be a social media mirror” here.)
What do you think? Am I way off base here? Hit reply and share your ways of getting nonprofits and small businesses working together. I’ll share your comments back with the community, unless of course you ask me not to.
You can invite others into this discussion by tweeting: Need more volunteers in your small town? Talk less about you and more about them.
PS – I was doing some work on this email list, and I noticed you’ve been a subscriber for quite a while! I wanted to say thanks. I appreciate your time.
I want to tell you three stories that people told me last week.
Kat Long told me about Ponca City, Oklahoma (population 25,000). They have lots of good news, lots of positive developments, but feel like the national drumbeat of bad news tends to drown it out. To work against that, Kat plans to feature local business owners in their annual economic development conference. She wants to let the actual business owners tell their version of the local news.
And Gayle Machetta (who I’ve known for something close to two decades) told me about Henryetta, Oklahoma (population 5,500). They hear from folks who “think this is a dying town” because that’s what they hear. They may be front-line people in minimum wage jobs, or people who are just going about their everyday lives assuming that it’s true. Gayle is collecting the numbers. She sat down with other bank officers and added up the cash investment that has gone in to their business district, block by block. They added up construction, remodeling, new businesses, new signs, and even removing dilapidated structures. Then they got counting the $22 million the glass plant has pledged, plus…. There was a lot more, but you get the idea. Gayle isn’t going to keep this news to herself.
“Any one project is slightly noticeable, but when you lump them all together and remind folks this is money invested in the community which turns over at least 5-7 times, that’s a pretty good chunk of change—DURING THE RECESSION,” Gayle said. “We’re gonna put it out there that our community is INVESTED in our business owners, and their investment is greatly appreciated and now recognized.”
And then Rob Hatch told me about Wyndham, Maine (population 17,000). They have a new newspaper in town. Like, a real newsPAPER. Rob asked the publisher what was going to make it different. She told him it will focus entirely on the good news. She’ll be telling the positive stories that the media “isn’t supposed” to cover. It’s called the Eagle. That’s the school mascot, but also a pretty good name for a positive news newspaper.
Three very positive views of rural from three very different towns. And three examples of changing the tone in your town.
What about your town? What are you doing to change the tone and spread a positive view?
PS You sent really interesting responses to the Placemaking topic last week. I’ve shared two on Small Biz Survival, including Michael Stumpf’s thoughts on why his dog makes him a better planner.
When you know everyone in town, what is the purpose of networking?
In small towns, we’re naturally networked. We know lots of people, we work together on community projects, and we run into each other casually around town. (Ever spend 30 minutes in the grocery store just to get 2 items, because you stopped and talked to 5 people you know?) So you might think that a formal networking exercise would be a waste of time in a small town. It’s not.
Intentional networking activities have a place in small towns.
Norfolk County, Ontario, did a networking exercise at their recent Economic Development and Tourism Symposium. People signed up, and they could choose from a list of other participants who they wanted to meet for a short session. Clark Hoskin had the unenviable task of working out all the schedules. (I’ve saved you a copy of the details as a PDF, including the hilariously perfect photo they sent by email with the caption, “This man is not a criminal.” Go read it, and save a copy to refer to later.)
One surprising finding: people asked for meetings even with people they already knew. They weren’t looking for an introduction. They were looking for a time to make a pitch or open a conversation about a future project. Even people who run into each other around town may not get a chance to start a deeper conversation. You know, the post office lobby often isn’t the right place to ask about earning someone’s business.
This deliberate networking exercise became the right time to kick off those important conversations.
The lesson learned: Intentional networking activities have a place in small towns.
So, how about your town. How are you facilitating intentional networking even among people who already know each other? Hit reply and tell me about it. I’ll share back all the good stuff on Small Biz Survival.
Dear Becky, (Hey, if your first name doesn’t show up properly, you can fix it here.)
I had one of those “I’ve had enough” moments. And that made it crystal clear what I want to talk with you about.
The trigger was another email lamenting the sad state of rural communities. I get quite a few emails from rural advocacy and action groups. They do great work on a variety of rural subjects, but going by their emails, it seems like they focus on the problems of rural, on our shortcomings. I understand that it’s their job to see the negatives and address them.
Whose job is it to share a positive view of rural?
I’ve decided it’s my job. Maybe it’s your job, too.
I know that we have a future. Despite all the urban bias* in the world, small towns have a future. Whether anyone else remembers it or not, rural people are necessary to the wider world.
We’re necessary for food and agriculture.
We’re necessary for natural resources.
We’re necessary for environmental conservation and recreation.
Sounds like we’re pretty necessary!
So that’s what we’re going to talk about in this email, each week. A positive story from a small town, a project that is worth getting excited about, or a quote that has got me thinking. Or a video, like my talk on “Do small towns have a future?”
The world just might as well get used to us. Because small towns are here to stay.