Dorchester and the surrounding area are home to dozens of small businesses -- all looking for ways to grow and expand their customer base. Meanwhile, we continue to hear from individuals who are currently looking to start their own business in our community.
Recently, we searched a number of Web sites and publications dedicated to entrepreneurs and the small businesses that serve as the backbone of the national economy. We found several common themes that need to be considered by those who are thinking of starting their own operation in a small town, as well as those who are already in business.
Here are some tips for entrepreneurial-minded readers who are contemplating starting a new business in Dorchester or other nearby small towns:
- Talk to others who have opened businesses recently. What challenges have they faced? What works and what does not? What appeals to community members and what does not?
- If nobody has opened a business for awhile, dig deeper. Maybe there is no market. Or maybe they're just waiting for you to arrive. Sometimes a new business can generate demand. It's a judgment call.
- Make a great first impression. Promotion isn't hard in a small town. Ten minutes after you've opened, everyone will know. Some towns resist doing business with newcomers. Others welcome new blood. Regardless, your first impression will linger a long time. And you'll have trouble recovering from a local opinion leader with a bad experience.
- Uncover the town's market and memory. Considering buying a business? Take time to discover the owner's reputation. When the local residents seem eager for a change of management, you'll need a new name and image. But if someone has just moved away and everyone misses them, a wonderful opportunity exists.
- Be sensitive to change and trends. In years gone by, coffee shops may have failed often. These days, they seem to be thriving.
- Search the fine print of local regulations. For example, any time you serve food or drink, you know you're facing permits. Find out what's involved locally.
- Prepare to do most of the work yourself. In a small town, you can have trouble finding good help. The local work ethic may surprise you -- in either direction.
- Know your community. Will your market come from second- and third-generation local residents? Or are you serving those who relocated recently?
- Build relationships. If you can attract a town leader, you'll draw a following. Conversely, if you inadvertently alienate a key player, you'll be miserable. And in a small town, business owners are expected to be super citizens. Choose alliances and sponsorships carefully. Prepare for all sorts of friendly requests to donate time, materials and money.