Archive for Becky’s email newsletter – Page 4

Paint by numbers community building

What brings your community together?

What gets people to rally around your town? 

What if it was as simple as paint by numbers? 

In Webster City, Iowa, four groups (government, business, education and a nonprofit) created a creative placemaking art project that everyone in town could be involved in. 

They picked a downtown building with some boarded up windows on the second floor that they could use as a canvas for some art. The building was a good choice for bringing different groups together: it is owned by a Latino, and many of the businesses in the ground floor serve Hispanic people and young people in the community. 

A student artist from the University of Iowa drew a simple paint-by-numbers design of colorful geometric shapes, featuring subjects from the town’s history. The design was transferred onto panels to fit the windows. They took all the panels to the fairgrounds and laid them out, ready to paint. 

Then they invited everyone in town to come paint, even a tiny bit. Anyone could go for even a few minutes and be part of painting the designs. The local newspaper took pictures. You could see the camaraderie created when people come together to make art.  

Now that the panels are installed over the boarded up windows, that building is now a place the locals love to look at, and share with their friends. 

You build a stronger community through experiences that bring people together from across different groups to each play a meaningful role.

These experiences change the way people see themselves, the way they think and the way they act within your community. 

Deb and I talk more about this in our latest video, Building a Unified Community

Keep shaping the future of your town, 

PS – See two pictures of the paint-by-numbers window murals here

We’re not going to save your town. So why is that our name?

Here’s how we picked our name. Deb and I had decided to do a project together to work with small towns. We were trying to decide on a name. Deb was searching for domain names, and found out .town was a thing now. Almost immediately, she came up with SaveYour.Town, and it was available. So that sounded great, and she bought the URL. 

You can hear the rest of the story on our About page. It’s the first video. You can also scroll down and watch videos with Deb’s superpower, what our red and blue colors represent, and the story of how Deb and I actually met. 

These are our founding stories. Since Deb and I have been doing this for 5 years now, we decided to share them. If you need something to do for an hour, you can watch the entire recording of our FaceBook Live session here

Enjoy your holidays. Thank you for all your do for your own community. You’re part of a whole movement of people building community from the ground up. We love that about you!

Keep shaping the future of your town, 

PS – I asked the economic developers at MidAmerica Economic Development Conference for their best tip to support tiny businesses. I shared 17 tips here. I think number 17 is the best one. 

Volunteers not doing enough? Check 2 simple things

Small towns run on volunteer energy. In the new Idea Friendly way of volunteering, not everyone has to volunteer in the same way. Even clicking ‘like’ can count as a small but meaningful part of a project.

But how do you get people to even click ‘Like’?
That was the question in the chat at one of our recent virtual conference presentations.

First, the people have to actually like the idea. Maybe the people you’re asking don’t like the idea. And that’s OK.

Second, maybe they really aren’t online people. Like your Old Way board members and volunteers, for example. Some of them are probably not good at clicking ‘Like’ because they aren’t really comfortable online. Not all, but some of them. 

Look at it from a Fogg Behavioral Model perspective: you want to make the action you ask a person to do match that person’s level of motivation and their ability.

So make sure you’re the people you are asking to click ‘like’ are people who both have the ability and enough motivation to do it.

There you have it. Two simple things to check every volunteer ‘ask’ against: 

  1. Is this person able to do what I’m asking?
  2. Does the effort it will take them match their motivation level? 

Keep shaping the future of your town, 

PS – No one knows quite how holiday shopping is going to go this year. I shared a challenge and an opportunity I see for small towns in this post on LinkedIn. I’d love your thoughts on it.

Put down the sticky dots! Don’t vote on ideas!

You’re at a gathering with a group of people. You’re coming up with ideas for things that you could do. Someone is writing them all down. What happens next?

In the Old Way, the next step is to vote on the ideas everyone will work on together. Maybe even voting with sticky dots. 

In the new Idea Friendly Way, the next step is to encourage everyone to Take Small Steps to test any idea they’re excited enough to try.

One problem with voting is that none of us know which ideas will actually work. Especially when everything is changing around us so fast, our past experience isn’t as good of a guide as we think. 

We do know which ideas excite us, which we would be most enthusiastic about working on. And sometimes our enthusiasm can be enough to carry even a mediocre idea to success. 

So why do we expect everyone to give up the ideas they’re excited about and all work on the same one? 

Next time you’re in that moment of getting ready to vote, why not try this: 

  • List all the ideas
  • Go around the room and ask, Which idea are you going to work on?
  • Some people will naturally group up with others around an idea, and that’s OK. 
  • Some will go it alone, and that’s OK. Maybe they’ll recruit others who aren’t here right now to work with them.
  • Some will insist on trying an idea you are just sure will fail. Encourage them to test it with really tiny first steps. 
  • The best ideas will emerge as people try them. 

Don’t ask people to all commit to the same idea. Instead, give people a commission: take small steps. 

Keep shaping the future of your town, 

Some people won’t help. How you change that

You might have heard me say this:
Don’t worry so much about the people who don’t like your idea. They were never going to help you. You can’t lose people who were never yours. 

In the chat in one of my recent virtual events, Janet Bartlett replied, “I think that is a bad & toxic way of thinking towards [them]. You may not be able to lose people that were never yours, but you can win them.”

You definitely can win them. But not the way we’ve all been taught. 

You don’t win people by convincing them. It’s not your job to change the way anyone else thinks. 

Your job is to take your action and make it so attractive that others want to join in. And make it astonishingly easy for them to do so. Then keep doing it. And eventually they can be attracted to all the activity. 

A couple of people added similar thoughts in the chat. 

Brad Brown said, “Build a sizeable/committed-enough community to move forward, and you’ll drag those dragging their feet or stuck in the past along with you. And eventually (in my experience) at least a few of them will eventually see the merit in what you’re doing and become supporters.”

Shannon Hundley said not to let the people who aren’t helping stop you from taking action. “I think the idea is not getting stuck when/if they are not behind you. It’s easy to get discouraged when they are not with you, especially when they are in power, and then get stuck instead of progressing forward.”

Do you know the story of Willow and #CleanYourOwnSidewalkDay ? If you’ve got a minute and 45 seconds:

If Willow had tried to convince everyone to change their minds, forget doing a cleanup day and sweep their own sidewalks instead, and then tried to convince the city to change their street sweeper work schedule, they would all have resisted.

Willow didn’t try to change their minds. Instead, Willow attracted them by planting her own flag and taking her own action and making it easy to join in. And that’s exactly how it worked.

Instead of obsessing about changing other people, focus on taking your own actions. 

When once-reluctant people do join you, please please please do not make them feel bad about it. No gloating. No telling them “I knew you’d come around to my way of thinking.” Nothing like that. 

You didn’t win them over. You didn’t win. The community won. Keep doing your thing. 

Keep shaping the future of your town, 

PS – The #CleanYourOwnSidewalkDay story is a clip from our next video, The Idea Friendly Method. We accidentally sent out an email about it a couple of days ago, so even though it’s not official yet, you can actually sneak in there and get it early

Placemaking during a pandemic

My favorite definition of placemaking comes from Jeremy Zeller with the Oklahoma Main Street program. He says experts tend to name things by putting the words in the wrong order, so placemaking is just making a place.

There’s nothing about making a place that says it has to belong just to experts or officials. It’s not something that only organizations can do. Formality not required. 

We all make our places every day, by how we use them. If you go downtown, what you do there helps shape what kind of place it is. Sitting down on a bench and enjoying the sunshine helps make a place. Driving through downtown without stopping makes it a different kind of place. 

If you like the idea of a vibrant downtown where you could stroll from shop to shop, talk to friendly neighbors, enjoy public art and see kids playing on the green space, then you can help shape that. 

Even if there aren’t many shops open right now.
Even if there’s a pandemic and masks and rules and uncertainty.
Even if the design of the buildings and sidewalks and streets doesn’t feel like the place you wish it was.
Even if there isn’t much art or green space yet.

You can start right now with what you have already. Pull some weeds. Start a rock hunt. Hang out and read a magazine. Bring a friend and chat over snacks from 6 feet apart. Take a sketchbook and draw what you see. 

You’re a placemaker. You make this place. 

Keep shaping the future of your town, 

PS – Deb and I put together a video with some cheap placemaking ideas for you to use in your downtown right now. It’s called Cheap Downtown Placemaking Ideas, and it’s only $5.   

Grow more local vendors for events in 1 step

You know that festival or event you have coming up where you want craftspeople to sell in booths? I’d love for you to have more local vendors there. Here’s one thing you could do:

For a month before the event, make small work and storage spaces available in an empty building.

You have people in your community right now who make things they could sell from an event booth. But they don’t have enough room at home to make and store enough to fill their booth for the whole event. They just need someplace to work and store things until then. 

Not everyone has an empty garage to use. Not everyone has their own home, even. Some are in apartments or rentals or they’re staying with someone. Or they can’t trust their roommates not to take their stuff. 

By renting or giving crafters space to work, you’re opening up economic opportunity to a lot more people. And you’re going to get more local people renting booths from you. 

If the building is one big undivided space, then you can chalk or tape out smaller work spaces on the floor. It doesn’t have to be right downtown or near the event space. Maybe the crafters can help each other organize pickups and trailers to move their stuff the day of the event. 

Let’s sketch out some of the extra benefits:

  • Capture more local sales at events, rather than relying on outside vendors who depart with their profits 
  • Keep more money recirculating locally
  • Put an empty building to work, at least temporarily
  • Show public support for local entrepreneurs and encourage entrepreneurship
  • Introduce entrepreneurs to each other so they can spur innovation and cheer each other on
  • Find out if starting a crafter makerspace might work in your community 

The Idea Friendly principle is to pull down the barriers to entry so entrepreneurs can Take Small Steps. Try it out. Let me know how it goes. 

Keep shaping the future of your town, 

PS – Sign up for membership this month and we’ll give you three videos to keep. We’ve never offered that before.  

Want to save your local businesses? Put them together

You wish you could help stabilize your existing businesses that just need a little help right now. And you need to support your newest startups in this tough time to get going: Let’s put them together. 

When you put a new startup inside an existing business, the startup brings new energy. They’re actively striving for new customers. They’re willing to try new things. They’re in the excited phase. That’s going to boost the enthusiasm of the existing business. 

The experienced business owner could share some of what they’ve learned. They’re able to give back to the business community. They’re doing something meaningful. And in those conversations helping the startup, they’re more likely to see new answers to their own situation. 

Lower startup costs help the new business. Anything the startup can pay towards rent can help the existing business keep going. Any ideas they exchange are good for them both. Any cross promotion they do helps, too.

Of course it won’t work in every case. But what if the perfect pairing is right there in your town now? 

Keep shaping the future of your town, 

PS – Putting businesses together is just one of the ideas in our video Refilling Your Business Pipeline

In Washington, Iowa, (population 7,000) a huge old department store building sat empty for years while the owners struggled to find any tenant that could fill over 15,000 square feet. A few stores came and went over the decades, but by the Great Recession, it seemed impossible to fill. 

Then a group of locals came up with a different solution, one that looked to tiny businesses to succeed. They took 15,000 square feet of the retail space, and divided it up into individual storefronts facing the inside of the building.

The Village opened in 2008, the middle of the economic downtown. During a downtown renovation that tore up the sidewalk in front. And then key towns in their market area were hit with devastating floods, cutting down their potential customer base. 

In the face of all that, The Village succeeded. It’s still thriving over a decade later. (Check out The Village Facebook page.) 

It works because it nurtures tiny startups. 

When you walk in today, it looks just like a little village of shops inside the building. Each storefront is only 80 to 140 square feet, so tiny retail businesses can fill them up. Inside the mini village square in the center, they set up push carts to give even smaller retail opportunities for even tinier startups. There’s even a one-wall bookstore, just shelves on a wall. So you can start a business on a pushcart, then step up to fill a tiny storefront, maybe expand to two spaces, then graduate to a larger of your own somewhere in the downtown. 

They made room for everyone to try an idea.

When you’re thinking of supporting new small startups during your own economic downtown, keep thinking smaller and smaller and smaller until you get down to just one wall. Make room for everyone to try an idea in a small way. 

Keep shaping the future of your town, 

PS –  Deb and I share more ways to nurture new business startups in a rough economy in our new video, Refilling Your Business Pipeline. You’ll get ideas for nurturing food businesses, industrial startups, artists and entrepreneurs. 

Rebuilding tip: look one size smaller

While you’re focused on rebuilding your local economy, look one size smaller than you’re used to. 

Here’s why: your future entrepreneurs have fewer resources right now. They need smaller opportunities. 

If your economic plan says you want 10-employee sized businesses, support self-employed people wanting to make their first hire. If you want more self-employed people, give people more tiny and temporary opportunities to experiment with starting a business. 

If you want to fill downtown storefronts, create more shared storefronts with multiple smaller businesses in them. If you want more new smaller businesses to fill your shared storefronts, create more chances for people to sell from booths at events. 

Support retail and services with one day business fairs, afternoon pop-ups and evening booths. 

Build manufacturing with crafternoons, maker fairs and shared garage-size workshops. 

Bigger projects may make bigger headlines. Tiny businesses build resilience.  

Keep shaping the future of your town, 

PS – ICYMI, I kinda cut loose with this editorial on Economic self-defense for small towns. Let me know what you think.   

Get a weekly dose of positivity for small communities from Becky McCray and Deb Brown, co-founders of SaveYour.Town. We share practical steps you can put into action right away.
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