My best advice for startups in small towns  ?

Patrysha Korchinski with Community Futures Yellowhead East (Alberta, Canada) asked my advice for rural people who want to startup businesses. I said try small experiments and test as soon as possible. 

I want you to test your business startup quickly because you’ll be more likely to succeed. You’ll save money over building a full-scale business before you find out whether it works. You’ll save time over spending a couple of years writing plans, gathering resources and getting ready before you know how well it performs with real customers. 

Just think of all the ways that you could test a product-based idea right now in your town. 

  1. You could rent a booth at the next festival or fair and try selling your items for just a few days. You’ll get to ask questions and listen to a lot of people about what they want. 
  2. You could contact a local store owner and ask to borrow or rent space to make a business inside a business. That will give you real market feedback. 
  3. It doesn’t have to be a store. It could be a beauty salon, an insurance office or any other business that attracts some of the same people you’re looking for. 
  4. You could talk to an owner of an empty building about renting it for just a few months for a temporary pop-up to test your idea.  
  5. You could partner with an existing business during an art walk or special downtown event to test some of your items. 

Service-based businesses can test, too.

  1. You could use co-working spaces to get professional and gain chances to interact with others without the overhead of your own office. 
  2. No co-working in town? You could look around for office-based businesses that aren’t completely filling their space. Maybe an insurance business, a legal practice or a real estate office has an empty space or two. 
  3. You could rent a booth at a festival or fair to introduce people to your service. Besides the chance to listen to customers, you’ll also be surrounded by other businesses that might be part of your market.
  4. You could do a temporary pop-up in an empty building.
  5. You could put your office in a trailer (like a mobile food trailer, only outfitted as an office) and test the idea in nearby towns. 

If you’re trying to support more startups in your area or you’re trying to grow an entrepreneurial ecosystem, you could encourage all of these and any other ways to test you can think of.

Make testing business ideas into a normal accepted activity in your town. 

For a more in-depth look at 8 innovative rural business models that encourage testing and experimentation in small towns, Deb Brown and I will be leading a webinar on March 16, at 6pm Central. The cost to attend is $20 per site (bring a friend, share the cost), and you can register at 

The webinar is sponsored by Iowa SBDC, North Dakota Department of Commerce – Tourism Division, and the NDSU Center for Community Vitality. If you’re part of an organization that is interested in sponsoring a future webinar (no cash outlay involved), hit reply and let me know. 

Keep shaping the future of your town,