This project is part funded by Invest Northern Ireland and the European Regional Development Fund under the Investment for Growth & Jobs Northern Ireland (2014-2020) Programme

Starting a Small Business in a Small Community

DATE: 19/01/22


The last two years have changed the face of retail completely. As lockdowns and restrictions hit towns and cities across the country, consumer habits were forced to adjust along with the businesses who support them. The average footfall seen in city centres and out of town shopping dropped exponentially and it seems as though it’s still struggling to make a come back. Instead, consumers transferred their browsing and shopping either to online stores, or to small, local companies that were flexible enough to respond to their needs. This return to shopping local has been gratefully received by small businesses across the UK and waves a flag to those of us interested in launching our own small business that thinking local is a smart move. It seems as though big business can happen in small towns after all.

So, how do we capitalise on a newly ignited community retail spirit and why would any entrepreneur plan to start so small?

Concentrated Community
The first win of a small community business is that you have a concentrated community literally on your doorstep. Direct, face-to-face contact with your audience, up to date feedback, directly expressed problems and opportunities, and the ability to keep your customer base close as you launch, shape and grow your business. The close access to your audience base is invaluable. In a city based or online business, you have to seek out your audience, establish who they are and how you can make contact with them. Even when you do, you don’t immediately have a community in common, it takes work to build that consumer com-munity and to develop the trust and loyalty that you need to build your brand. In a small community, you know who your audience is right away, you can talk to them, hear directly what they need and want and respond to that in real time.

The Business of Trust
Any successful business is built on the trust and loyalty of its customer base. It is essential that your customers learn to believe in your brand and come to shop with you time after time after time. An online audience can be fickle, having access to endless goods and service options, being swayed by online recommendations and influencer advertising and the same can be said for the high street where advertising spend is big, competition is harsh and customers are highly price sensitive. In small community businesses, you are at an advantage. Local customers who want to shop local will keep doing so if they find what they are looking for. It’s unlikely that there will be an exact business match who competes with you in your town, and even if that is the case, you can use your relationship with the community to evolve and shape your business to pivot your offering accordingly.

Finances Matter
Every start up (in fact any business) has to consider their budget. Setting up a new business takes funding and the costs involved can span from minimal to very high depending on the products you develop, the locations you choose, and the employee team you require. Starting up a small business in a small town can be financially appealing since in most cases your rent and rates overheads will be lower than in a bigger city, and you can start on a smaller scale (less overheads, less stock, less equipment etc) while still servicing the needs of your community customer base.

Which business is for you
Deciding to start a small business in a small community means you first have to settle on what that business will be. Certain small businesses work particularly well and it’s vital to do your homework to find out exactly what those businesses are in the community you choose. Talk to your audience, set up market re-search chats or events when you figure out what the community needs and wants, what is working for them, what could make a big difference, and then take that information and use it to fuel your plans. Businesses that cover essential goods and services tend to be particularly successful – restaurants and coffee shops, childcare provision, beauty and hair care, home cleaning service, gardening, pet care and boarding, and IT services among others.

Don’t stop talking
Deciding on the business type means you’ll be in the position to meet the demands of your community. Make sure that’s not the end of the conversation. It’s vital that you continue to engage with your custom-ers and community going forward so that you as needs and demand evolves, so does your brand.

Where and how much
When you know your business type, you’ll be able to scout a suitable location for your needs. Establishing the cost of rent and rates, your overheads and other necessary budgetary considerations can be built into your business plan and inform you as to next steps when it comes to how you plan to fund your start up. Putting together a detailed and comprehensive business plan will be essential for local banks and community funding programmes if they are to consider investing in your business.

As we all recover from the economic impact of the pandemic, it’s encouraging to recognise that some are-as of our communities may benefit from the change in consumer attitudes. As many of us opt for smaller lives, our support of local businesses is to be treasured and may signal a welcome resurgence of investment in our towns and communities.

Whatever your business idea, whether it’s just something you’ve been mulling over or whether you’ve taken some steps on the entrepreneurial path already, we’d love to help. Read some of our Go For It Success Stories and get in touch.

Our business experts will be delighted to hear from you and to talk you through everything you might need to know to move forward with your business concept.