We all know individuals who have told us they'd love to start their own business in our community or reinvigorate downtown Dorchester. From services, to housing, to retail, we've heard dozens of great ideas. But making those ideas reality takes tough work and a stomach for risk. There is help out there, such as the Nebraska Business Development Center or the Nebraska Dept. of Economic Development. But you need to have a game plan first.
In an effort to encourage more would-be entrepreneurs, we searched a number of websites and publications and found several common themes that need to be considered by those who want to start their own operation in a small town, as well as those who are already in business. Here are some key tips:
- Be realistic, then be prepared. Only 50% of small businesses survive the first year of operation. As many as 80% to 90% fail by the end of the tenth year. Most of these failures could have been prevented by if the business owners had been more conscious and had a better game plan. Most potential business owners know the product or procedures in producing what will be sold but very little about the day to day operation of the business. You will also need a solid plan to request financial aid from banks or investors. They are going to want to know how you plan to make the business a success. Then it will be vital to revise your business plan on a regular basis.
- 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? Our suggestion: Do your research with business owners and potential customers.
- 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. Our suggestion: Questions to ponder are: What are people willing to drive to Dorchester from Crete, Seward or Lincoln for? What can you do in Dorchester that will also allow you to market your services or goods online?
- Make a great first impression. Promotion isn't hard in a small town. Ten minutes after you've opened, everyone will know. Your first impression will linger a long time -- good or bad.
- Uncover the town's market and memory. Whether a business in Dorchester closed a year ago or 20 years ago, it seems everyone miss it now. That's where a wonderful opportunity exists.
- 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. Our suggestion: Most well-planned small businesses can make enough money to be successful if they don't go overboard with labor costs or become overly dependent on the local workforce.
- Know your community. Enough said.
- 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. Prepare for all sorts of requests to donate time, materials and money.