Free keyword research tools like
Answer the Public or the Google Adwords Keyword Planner can also help you assess large-scale demand.
4. Ask, listen, repeat
To further explore whether there is desire for your offering in your community, test the waters by asking strategic questions in multiple places and of multiple people, including these:
Local fora (Craigslist, community hubs, local newspapers, etc.)
Industry fora (agricultural, manufacturing, retail, etc.)
Buy Local associations
Chambers of Commerce and other business associations
Local government bodies and officials
A formal focus group
Friends and family
Local reporters and bloggers
Successful local business owners
What you ask will vary depending on your business idea. In my dried bean hypothesis, I might want to poll feelings of frustration about local food shortages and gauge interest in improving local food security, as well as discover if people would pay for direct-to-consumer (DTC) delivery of my crop on a regular basis. I’d be researching agricultural programs, grants, loans, and other forms of assistance to help me start farming myself, or to form a collective of farmers willing to devote acreage to a bean crop, or to supply stores and restaurants, or to market my product.
I’d want to gather as much information as possible from as many people as feasible to help determine whether a business idea is viable or not. Whether I want to become a grower/manufacturer, resell the output of an organized effort, or launch a marketing campaign, the fundamental requirement is that I’ve discovered my offering is definitely in demand.
5. Look Back
In 1960, 95% of the clothing Americans purchased was made in the US. In the 21st century, that figure has fallen to
just 2%. A couple of generations ago, 60% of us lived in rural areas near farms, but today, only 20% of us do.
As we weather the pandemic, my mind keeps turning to a drive-through dairy my family visited weekly in my childhood. It was convenient for my mother to steer the station wagon under a portico and have the dairy’s staff fill up the trunk with milk, yogurt, cheese, and a half-a-dozen frozen push-up pops for the kids. If consolidation and economies of scale hadn’t made that independent dairy obsolete, their curbside service would be doing record business in 2020.
Walmart wants to do this with robots — I’d prefer to make sure my neighbors have living wage jobs and my town has a tax base.
In these days of “buy online, pickup in store” (BOPIS) and same-day delivery, I recommend befriending your city’s library or historic society to gain access to business records depicting the state of local 20th century commerce. See how your community was sustained by the farmer, the tailor, the baker, the vegetable wagon, the milkman, the diaper truck, the cobbler who repaired non-throwaway shoes, the town-supported hospital and doctor who made house calls, and the independent grocer. What you find in the archives could shine a light on creating modern sustainability if trying times and local desire converge in a demand for change.
Once you’ve done as much research as you can into the demand, it’s time to consider how you would promote your offering.
Market like Ma Perkins
unemployment peaked at 24.9% and thousands of banks closed in the 1930s, who was still operational? It was Ma Perkins, “mother of the air”, progenitor of content-based marketing and soap operas, and radio star who offered homespun advice to her fictional town while selling Oxydol to the listening public. Realizing that people would still need soap even in hard times, Proctor & Gamble swam against the austerity tide, doubling down on their marketing investments by launching the “Oxydol’s Own Ma Perkins” radio show, making the brand one of the most famous Great Depression- era success stories.
This historic example of tying an essential offering to dedicated communication feels just about right for our current time. Scanning headlines like “
Some small businesses are flourishing in the COVID-19 pandemic”, I’m hearing crackling echoes of Ma Perkins in the storytelling ventures of Cleancult’s orange zest cleansers and Tushy’s bidets. There’s precedent behind SEOs telling clients not to pause their marketing right now if they can afford it. Being a visible, reliable resource in this moment isn’t just good for brands — it’s a relief and help for customers.
For your local business idea, there will be a tandem marketing task ahead of you:
Tell a story of and to your local customers and tie it into your offering.
Tell such a persuasive story of the need for local resource security that you needn’t go it alone. Help the local business community reimagine itself as a city planning task force with the goal of increased self-sufficiency.
Marketing needs to be baked into your business concept — not treated as an afterthought. To broadcast your storytelling to the public in modern times, local radio can still be a great tool, but you will also likely need to master:
Moz has many
free guides and a vast library of expert articles to help you gather skills you need, and I hope they’ll help you on your business ideation journey as you consider the role promotion will play in getting the word out about what you can do for your community.
Circling back to our tale of dried beans, if you can tell your customers’ stories, tell a good story about yourself like heirloom bean grower
Rancho Gordo, inspire others to talk about you as in this local industry news piece on Baer’s Best beans, you are on the way to a win.
If you learn how to cumulatively build press and awareness around your brand, your business idea could wind up a local household name by demonstrably improving life where you live.
Within the realm of possibility
“Could the reduction in air pollution be good news for fighting climate change? (University of Toronto researcher Marc) Cadotte says a small blip like the one we’re experiencing will have minimal impact on the long-term challenge of climate change. But if the pandemic continues and emergency measures remain, some countries may end up unintentionally meeting emissions targets set through the Kyoto Protocol and Paris agreement.” — Phys.org: Air quality improves by up to 40% in cities that took action on COVID-19
Theater buffs are currently arguing about
whether Shakespeare may have written some of his masterworks while quarantining from plague. What’s at stake in such debates is the scope of human creativity in the face of adversity. My own community in California has already been so hard-hit by the wildfires of climate change that COVID-19 has the odd feeling of being “just another disaster”. It has made the reduction in car travel feel trivial to my friends and family, given the benefits of a massive reduction in emissions.
Is it unsound to consider reenvisioning your business or opening a new one in a reality where upheaval has become a dogged companion and stability has become a prize beyond compare? Scientists warn we can only expect more of the same until we seize the full measure of problem-solving and make our own masterwork a sustainable planet.
Against that backdrop, let’s have the courage to say it’s within the realm of possibility for you to grow beans, or build an alliance of farmers to sell them, or market that alliance to your county. Or do whatever work strikes you as most powerfully contributive.
Let’s say it’s not beyond things dreamt of in your philosophy that a tri-county alliance could provide water, food, clothing, housing, home goods, education, professional services, safety net, civic life, and culture to all regional residents. And perhaps your region makes a blueprint for others, and progress is slowly redefined not by short-sighted market wins but, rather, permanent gains in the human
In an essentials-first economy, let’s say that people, and their capacity for solving problems have, in fact, become essential.
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