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10 Min. Read

Small Business Ideas for Small Towns: The Definitive List

There’s something appealing about small towns. Everybody knows everybody’s name (or at least it seems that way), there’s typically a quaint main street with buildings that date back a hundred or more years, and the hustle and bustle seems a little more subdued.

If you’re thinking of running a business in your town, here’s our top 10 small business ideas for small towns:

  1. Run a Bed and Breakfast
  2. Become a Handyman
  3. Open a Coffee Shop
  4. Build a Laundromat
  5. Run an Antique Store
  6. Be a House Cleaner
  7. Operate a Corner Store
  8. Start a Snow Removal Business
  9. Be a Companion Caregiver
  10. Open a Martial Arts Studio

1. Run a Bed and Breakfast

Travellers visiting a small town need a place to stay. Consider, if you have a home large enough and like meeting people from all over, running a bed and breakfast.

Here are some things to think about before committing to the idea:

Does Your Home Need Work?

B&Bs are not expected to be five-star luxury hotels, but should you do any renovations first? How about decorating? Are the furnishings looking tired? Try and look at your place with fresh eyes. Imagine what the first thing a new guest to your home will see, or what they will notice when they go to their assigned room. Will they be surprised at how well the home is kept up? Or will they be reporting on their TripAdvisor review that there was some mold in the bathroom?

Word of mouth and online reviews can really make or break a bed and breakfast, so you want to be ready when your doors open for business.

What’s the Competition Like?

How many B&B businesses are there in your town? And do they enjoy full occupancy? If this is more like a hobby for you, maybe you’re not worried about having your rooms filled every night. But if this is a concern, consider your options. Ask yourself if you can charge a lower price in order to be competitive, and if that amount of money will still make the venture worth doing.

Do You Need Help?

Consider that a B&B can be very demanding on your time. You have guests coming and going, meals to prepare, and rooms to clean. Can you do it all? If not, are there family members who can chip in and provide support when you’re not home? If not, consider hiring someone locally to help out.

If you have enough assistance to make the business work, consider if you need help to advertise online. Do you have those marketing skills? If not, find someone who does, so that visitors to town are aware you’re there for them.

2. Become a Handyman

Are you handy? Can you paint, or patch a roof, or fix a fence? Are you the go to guy for small jobs that family and friends need done? Do you have the necessary tools?

Many, many homeowners simply do not have the time for these small jobs, but they add up.

To begin, decide exactly what you’re offering (will you work anywhere in town?) and what exactly you are willing to do (perhaps wiring in a new Wi-Fi thermostat is a job best best left to a qualified electrician). Then start marketing yourself by going door to door and handing out flyers.

What you can do, as a handyman, depends on where you live. Some states require a handyman to have a license. But regardless of your location, it’s a good idea to have some general liability insurance. This is so that you are covered for damages to clients’ homes or items in those homes. General liability insurance will also cover medical expenses for your clients and the costs related to lawsuits. The good news is that this insurance is a tax-deductible business expense.

And remember, follow up with an email when the service is done, to ensure the client is satisfied. That’s a good way to get repeat business.

3. Open a Coffee Shop

The thing about running a coffee shop in a small town is that it does not need to be an all-day affair. If you’re an early riser, and are not looking to work crazy hours, maybe opening a small coffee shop is for you. You can get the local crowd on their way to work, or on mid-morning break, and shut down after lunch.

You don’t need to use Starbucks as your business model. You just want a comfortable place people will want to go to, where they know your name and what to expect.

There will be some considerable start up costs, not just your product but equipment, signage, furniture, licensing, insurance and overhead including rent, electricity, heating and water. But if you’re operating in a small town, your business may only need a few seats and can cater mainly to customers who are just planning to get coffee to go.

4. Build a Laundromat

This need not be complicated. Just find an area of relatively high density in your town, maybe you can find a space for rent near a couple of apartment building complexes.

Install a couple of regular and industrial size washing machines. You’re bound to pick up the overflow traffic from people who find their laundry room full to capacity, and the industrial size machines will help with items of considerable size that they can’t wash in a regular sized machine anyway.

Keep the place pristine so that people will want to come back. If you install some vending machines (another business opportunity!), make sure the place is cleaned well every night when locking up.

5. Run an Antique Store

One of the great things about small towns is that often people hold onto things forever, or have items passed down from generation to generation. Sometimes they don’t even necessarily want these things, but they also don’t want to just give them away. That’s where you come in. You can be that person who will come to a person’s home, assess the value of their items, and even offer to buy or act as a seller for them (by taking a commission).

You may need a fairly large store to operate out of, as people may be uncomfortable browsing items in your home (so maybe leave your home for product overflow). You’ll need insurance and some start up capital, but this could be a lot of fun. When not running the business, you could be researching the history of the items you did find.

6. Be a House Cleaner

The need for cleaning never ends. The larger the family, the more cleaning needs to be done, and more often. A home cleaning business doesn’t require much in the way of supplies and often your clients already have what you need.

All you need to do is market yourself (through flyers, friends on social media, and word of mouth). Typically, homeowners only want you to work during the day, when they’re not there, so likely your evenings will be free.

Here’s the thing though. Ever hired a cleaner and although the job was good, it just wasn’t what you were hoping? Be that cleaner who does something extra. If the client provides a list of five things to be done, make sure they are all done amazingly well, and then do a sixth. This is the way you’ll keep getting called back time and again, and how you’ll get recommended to others looking for someone to clean their homes.

7. Operate a Corner Store

Operating a corner store is not for everybody. There’s a lot of deliveries and accounting to deal with, and the hours can be long, depending on how much help you have.

But consider that many neighbourhoods don’t have a corner store, and the people living in them are willing to pay extra for the convenience your store would be providing. Visit some other general stores, and take note of those items that appear to have been sitting on shelves for a long time, perhaps years (don’t buy those products for your store). This way you can keep your inventory and costs low, concentrating on the products that are always in demand. Hire some part time help for the evenings.

Also, consider offering a delivery service for a small fee. Just require some advance notice from your customers so you’re not locking up the store door during busy times.

8. Start a Snow Removal Business

Although seasonal, this can be a profitable business, regardless of whether it snows or not. This is because you are signing clients before winter, at a reduced rate, if they lock in early. This means if it snows 20 times during the winter, you’re there 20 times, clearing your clients’ driveways. If it’s a green winter, and you only have to go out once, well you’ve been paid in advance for the season anyway.

Snow removal is one of those pains that most people don’t want to deal with. It means getting up extra early to go out in the cold and dark to the back shed, or garage, getting a shovel and clearing the driveway. This, when they’d rather be inside drinking hot coffee and reading the morning’s news. You can take advantage of that.

You will need a plow attached to a truck, as you can’t spend the time manually clearing out everyone’s driveways. But aside from insurance, a permit and gas, that’s about all you need to start this business. The good news is with a plough it will only take a few minutes to do a client’s driveway.

Keep in mind you don’t want to be late. If it snows at 4 a.m. and you haven’t started clearing until 3 pm., then likely your clients will not sign up again. Consider that next year comes fast and people will remember what you’ve done for them. Also, don’t take on 40 clients if it’s just you ploughing the driveways. Even with limited time at each site, someone somewhere is going to be upset you didn’t get to them first.

9. Be a Companion Caregiver

Often in small towns, the kids grow up and move away. This leaves the parents, now elderly, looking for companionship or assistance in the community. You could consider becoming a companion caregiver in your town, driving seniors to medical appointments in the city, picking up groceries or supplies, cooking a meal or just being there for conversation.

Depending on your town and the services already available (or not available), you could be filling a niche.

You should check if there are any local or state requirements for this role. It is advisable to know CPR and First Aid.

10. Open a Martial Arts Studio

Okay, it doesn’t have to be a martial arts studio. But take a good look around your town. What’s missing? What services do other towns provide, that’s missing here? Maybe a martial arts studio would fill that hole, or maybe it’s something else – like scuba diving lessons in the local indoor pool, or volleyball tournaments in the high school’s gym on weekends. Start a little business that way. If you don’t have the required experience or skill set, say you’ve never taken a karate class in your life, maybe you hire the expert and just run the business and find the clients.

If it’s something unique that nobody else in town is offering, people will come.

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