“There is nothing in this town, so how can we earn more money?”
I was discussing the issue of startup businesses with my friend, Paul Swansen, who lives in Bayfield, WI. With a population of around 500 about 85 miles east of Duluth, it is the home of Wisconsin’s national treasures including the Apostle Islands National Lakeshore and the famous Ice Caves as well other nature activities such as hunting, fishing (fresh and smoked fish available at commercial fisheries), and others. But there are also about 20 farms and orchards offering apples and berries as well as a host of other artisan food businesses such as maple syrup, jams and jellies, cheese, wine, and much more.
Our discussion centered around how to increase their economy through startup businesses. Any change will first start by creating opportunity eyes: seeing things in the future what could be not what currently is in the town. It’s about thinking outside their current experience box and expanding their current views and attitudes and seeing their town as an import/export business in Smallville, USA.
Small towns may see import business only
An import business is what most small towns see. They import customers or clients that might be seasonal tourists or “property owners” from the outlying or other areas or states. These customers will be temporary visitors and spend money for the event or moment, or, invest in what the town is offering, such as real estate. But the subject of importing is more than people. The whole picture has to be considered, people and products and services.
Seasonal is normally classified as winter/summer, much like skiing/snowboarding in the winter and swimming/camping in the summer. As the popularity of skiing grew in the Rocky Mountains and elsewhere, the 3-6 months of snow was the bulk of their yearly income. The longer the snow lasted, the more income they earned in the year. A short or drought skiing season could spell economic disaster for businesses, seasonal workers, and for the businesses living and working there that support them.
When mountain biking came along in the late 1970s and early 1980s, ski areas added another option to the rest of the year to their income potential. This made the ski resort’s mountain a nearly year-round income stream with their two-product mix, then having a short ski season meant the potential for a longer mountain biking season and increased their income potential. It’s the same idea when a landscaping company in the summer becomes a snow plow business in the winter.
It’s applying or using all of your resources to either solve someone’s problems or provide them with pleasure, no matter the time of year or location. The producer mindset of every entrepreneur is seeking and seeing profit potential from all of one’s various resources that are either misused or unused.
Activities such as boating, fishing, or hiking are one thing, but what about products and services? During harvest season, Bayfield has many activities and festivals bringing in tourists. But importing tourists is only one-half of a businesses’ potential income or revenue. Once you have a customer and his/her contact information, you now have the potential to export and ship to them, nationwide, maybe even worldwide if they’re international travelers. With the internet, the barriers to the world have fallen down and the world is now your oyster for your small business.
Import/export business between city, urban, and rural areas
While importing visitors, i.e. tourists from other towns and outlying areas and states and selling to them is primary, seeing what can be exported with and to these customers and their potential referrals is the next step. Most people may get away from the city life for a weekend or a few weeks to refresh themselves; this is importing customers to any small town. A single business, or preferably the whole small town, could create a signature town festival, event, product, or service to attract and “import” tourists who visit to experience the festivities or event.
But to continue the customer’s experience, businesses need to take the import blinders off and develop additional products or services to sell throughout the whole year. Most people and towns easily see their tourist industry. Unfortunately, they struggle to see the opportunity issue of the other side of the economic, income, and profit coin: Exporting.
Bayfield could create a chef-designed signature applesauce or other apple product that can be ordered online and shipped. It could also create a recipe book using their apples in various dishes. The special applesauce or recipe book could be sold in town during the season and sold online for their customers to experience over and over again, thus creating a loyal fan base.
Everyone in Bayfield could benefit from putting together the number and variety of dishes. Not only the growers of the crops, but a local restaurant, pub, or bakery could make, package, freeze, and then ship. Neighboring towns could collaborate by combining resources (different crops: strawberries from one, rhubarb from another) so that both towns could benefit from an event or festival or product or service that can now be exported nationwide.
Cottage industries + skillsets + export = importing money
A cottage industry is an industry whose labor force consists of family units or individuals working at home with their own equipment, a small and often informally organized business. Most often cottage industries are located in rural areas and small towns in single family dwellings, but they also occur in urban communities and cities, too. However, cities are better known for bootstrapping startups. In one scenario, creating a new orchard, vineyard, or new kind of cantaloupe or apple can take years. On the other hand, though, creating a new signature pie recipe could take weeks or months and is a far quicker
High-end products or services is where the price is higher compared with other like products. Think inexpensive Folgers or Maxwell versus high-end Kopi luwak, or civet, coffee. Kopi luwak coffee refers to the coffee that includes part-digested coffee cherries eaten and defecated by the Asian palm civet. Prices range from $50-350 per pound. Now whether or not it’s worth that, that’s up to marketing of the seller and the decision of the buyer. But you can see the export and profit potential of this high-end product not only locally, but worldwide.
Brett Alton of Colorado Cabinetry lives in Walsh, Colorado (about 100 miles SE of Pueblo), population around 500. Alton sells high-end custom cabinetry with typical job costs of $15,000 - $100,000 to home builders and owners. You don’t have to live in a city in order to make a good living from your talents and skillsets; it’s a matter of being creative with your resources. Or, like having your business on a laptop, you can conduct business anywhere you want to live.
I attended a BAM (Business As Mission) breakfast meeting at a local church where a farmer/businessman gave a presentation about his experience dealing with poverty in an African village. The farmers were growing corn, a low cost product, earning about $75 a year off of this crop, i.e. poverty levels. Because their land is not tainted from chemicals like much of the U.S. farmlands, they have the perfect farmland for organic products.
First step: Change mindsets
It took work and time, but this American businessman was able to change the village farmer’s mindsets to consider moving to high-end products such as honey. Not only would the honey product be considered organic, it would also be considered exotic and would last longer than corn. There would be little to no spoilage or loss of revenue. Because of the organic nature of their land, they also were looking into other high-end products such as various essential oils, for example. The cost, timing, storing, and shipping costs of the flowers from Africa overseas to the U.S. could be cost prohibitive versus converting the petals into oil first and then shipping this stage of the product development to the U.S.
By converting to high-end, high profit margin products, the African farmers could now earn around $500 a year, a 600 percent increase in income because of change in their economic and entrepreneurial mindsets. It took time and research through trial and error, but their new products allowed the whole village to become successful. Now, the farmers are able to invest their new profits and earnings because they have greater hope in their family’s future (See Zambeezi.com, organic beeswax lip balm, for another good example of this).
Import/export includes various demographics. It is not just for locations such as small towns importing people from the cities or urban areas to a small town anymore. It’s also for other demographics. How about offering Mexican or Chinese food for those outside their ethnic demographic? How about older people selling educational products or services for younger generations or children to parents of those younger generations and children? And men designing products for women, or visa versa. There are many ways to see your clients and potential products and services to sell to them. It is essential for you to have ‘opportunity eyes’ in order to see the potential. More often than not, women are the main buyers of stuff for their families. Knowing this, you must target your marketing toward women more so than men. This is also a new import/export demographic for you to discover.
"Do you want to know who you are? Don’t ask. Act! Action will delineate and define you."
-- Thomas Jefferson
Are you stuck with how to start a business and increase your self worth and net worth?