Small Businesses can be successful in rural communities

As a line in the famous song, “New York, New York” goes, “If I can make it there then I can make it anywhere.”

But is that really true?

Running a small business anywhere — urban, rural, and suburban — has its challenges. Starting and running a small business in rural America can be the hardest. So if you can make it rural American then you can make it anyway.

The recent recessions hit small business and rural America hard. However, according to the Small Business Administration, small businesses account for 62 percent of net new jobs in the United States. And microbusiness, those small businesses with 50 and fewer employees, have contributed the most job growth.

Instead of focusing on the challenges, let’s look at how small businesses in rural America are making it work.

According to the Center of Rural Affairs the most effective development strategy for rural communities is small entrepreneurship, which is locally owned and operated small businesses.

Locally owned and operated small businesses are making the difference in rural communities, providing needed products and services. The restaurant and hospitality industries are often the most difficult to be successful with, with the sobering statistic that 60 percent do not make it past the first year.

So how can you be successful in rural America?

NN Burger based in Kilmarnock and Tappahannock, Va., is one such business making a difference in rural America. NN covers three rural counties in eastern Virginia from the geographic perspective. However, their customers come from all over the mid-Atlantic and beyond.

NN Burger started in the winter 2013 when two cousins and long-time restaurateurs, Jay Wolfson and Steven Sponder, decided to open a burger joint serving craft burgers and beer with live music. They wanted to create a place that was fun while providing great food. NN Burger started out with one location then opened a second location with more on the way.

Sponder is a serial entrepreneur who has opened and sold eight restaurants in Florida, Virginia, California, and Hawaii. Over the years, he has learned what it takes to run a successful restaurant in rural communities.

For example, NN Burger promotes itself so that it’s not solely defined by its burger, but the total customer experience. While providing quality food is paramount to the business, making NN Burger a place that people want to come to is also important. The entire dining experience is well thought out, from the layout of the dining area to how people order.

So how can your rural business be successful?

Get it right the first time. Unlike in urban and suburban areas, rural areas you have one chance to get it right. Period. It does not matter if it is a restaurant or a shoe shop, there is no wiggle room for missteps. Word of mouth spreads fast. Bad word of mouth spends faster than good, unfortunately. And it takes longer for customers to come back.

Communicate regularly with customers. Social media as a communications channel is an ideal way to reach your customers. Connect with people on their level. Social media isn’t all about the sell. NN Burger rarely talks about their products on social media, but they share information that interests their customers such as weekly NN Burger-branded brainteasers.

Always be troubleshooting. As a business owner, you should always be paying attention to the good and bad reviews about your business. Listening to the bad reviews can give you an opportunity of how you can do things better. Look at a less-than-five-star review as a learning moment, says Sponder.

Collaboration is important. The idea of collaboration and sharing may be counterintuitive to most businesses; however, businesses working together make the community stronger even if they are restaurants. There is nothing wrong with sharing information on best practices, sharing costs of advertising, or networking with other businesses.

While the above tips came from a restaurateur, the insights can work for any small business anywhere.

This column was originally published in the Lexington Herald-Leader on August 27, 2017, and nationally distributed to over 300 media outlets through the Tribune Content Agency.