Patrick Palmer on successfully starting a business in a small town

Many entrepreneurs dream of reaching millions with their product or service, but what if your customer base is only a few thousand?

Patrick Palmer successfully runs his small business, The Computer Guy, in a town of less than 5,000 people.

Here he is with Shawn Hessinger, executive editor for Small Business Trends, on this latest issue of Small Biz in :15, to tell us more about how to successfully start a small business in a small town.

You can follow Patrick Palmer on his website if you need more information after watching this episode.

Watch the full interview with Patrick above on YouTube or listen on SoundCloud with the player at the bottom of the page.

Establish the success of a small town by building trust

Shawn: What’s the main difference between starting a business in a small town or somewhere else like a larger metropolitan area?

Patrick: The main advantage for me in a small town is that out of my 57 years I have lived here for 54 years. That is, you can’t buy trust.

“Some of the same people who saw me walk the graduation stage or knew me when I was in Boy Scouts or from my radio days — those people know me and trust me,” he adds.

Many, many people say to me, ‘You know Patrick, the door is open. Just go in, fix the computer and leave me the bill.’ That’s small town at its best.

My main city, Hampton, has about 4200 people, so that’s about where I am now. I’ve used that small town niche to do other projects in other towns.

I use the radio station thing, where if they can hear me in that area, I can serve there. I basically do a free pick up and drop off 45 miles from Hampton.

And that’s how I ended up in Mason City and Webster City, says Patrick. I was also in Waverly for a while and was a member of four different chambers of commerce for a while. That also helped to some extent, he added.

You have to be active, volunteer and attend. You can’t say I’m a member and that’s all.

So being active in our city and on the city council in our city probably got me a little bit of business because people get a warning that their grass is too tall – they think I sent it.

It does have its pros and cons. But in general, I wouldn’t want to go to a big city and start a computer repair shop with the values ​​and morals and everything else I have. I think that would be very difficult.”

Declare yourself the expert in your niche

Shawn: Let’s say you didn’t grow up in a small town, or say you did, what’s the biggest challenge you face starting a business in a small town as opposed to a bigger market?

Patrick: What I’ve done when I’ve gone to a smaller town is I’m just claiming to be the expert here. I plant my flag in the ground. And I’m the expert until someone says I’m not.

“So I tend to find the current computer repairman’s pain points,

Oh, so they didn’t…

Oh, they didn’t know how to do that…

Oh, they’ve lost all your data…wwwwww!’

By finding those pain points, however, you can build confidence with them. And then the word spreads.”

Patrick goes on to say that one of the main reasons he is no longer in the Webster State Chamber was because he built his company big enough that he didn’t need them anymore.

“And a few other factors with Webster status come into play, so that’s not the whole thing. Anyway, I was already promoting myself more than they promoted me, he says.

There were no other computer repair technicians who had brick-and-mortar stores, and if there were, I could still do it cheaper because I didn’t have to pay rent.

So I come to town and have a set schedule on Fridays; I was there. And I have a set schedule — I go here and there and people just know it’s Monday or Wednesday — it’s last day in Mason City, Iowa.”

Shawn: Let’s say I’m a business owner or entrepreneur living in a big city and wanting to move because I like small-town life. Will I really make it in a small town with a smaller market? What do you think are the benefits?

Patrick: Depending on what the company is, I think you could. In 2020 I am also on the city council so I also have a little access to this information, when all was doom and gloom with Covid we had 20 new companies in our city.

“That’s quite big for a city of 4,000! Not only did we have a new funeral home and a new grocery store, I mean, those are two big items, but we had new hairdressers downtown, a few new downtown businesses, and a lot of home-based businesses everywhere.

And so I think it was a good opportunity for people to offer services in a pandemic that was really full of niches that could work.

Shawn: If you’re researching what kind of business you would like to start in a small town, how would you go about it and what would your advice be for someone starting out?

Patrick: I would definitely go to the room to find out what is needed in the city. And say I can do skills A, B and C, is there a demand in this town?

He added that talking to the mayor, or a few people in the city council or at the town hall could help you figure out if there is any demand.

His advice is to walk up and down the main street, pop into a few businesses, introduce yourself and reach out. He says that’s how he did it, adding that he’s a people person.

Main Street Business Market Considerations

Shawn: What kinds of market considerations do you think differ in small towns? And as for the financing, you said you don’t have overhead, but I can imagine overhead is a big deal if you have to have a high street business when you’re just starting out. What advice can you give people in those areas?

Patrick: I had a business shutdown for like 3-4 years and hired an employee – and what they don’t tell you is how much that employee costs. It’s more than just the hourly rate, and I guess I wasn’t as informed about that as I should have been.

Patrick goes on to explain that you have to pay the taxes, the matching and all the other things that come with it. I finally said enough was enough, so I went back to my home business. I make less, but I keep more, and that’s what matters.

“In terms of marketing, I did that a lot when I was trying to compete with people in other cities. For example, he says I used to have a van with my name on it, and it was all written down.

Every town here has a town festival and parades. I had Frisbees, and I would go there and throw them away, he says. They were like business cards. They had my name on it, my logo, my website, whatever.

After doing 15 parades a year, he explains that towards the end of the year he had declining returns. He said I was beginning to think I’d done enough parades.’

Patrick tells us that as far as marketing goes, he doesn’t spend any more money on it. He says, the people here know me, my word of mouth is good. I’m on Facebook with my page listing. I give tips and I follow the 80/20 rule of advertising: 20% sales, 80% information. If that information helps anyone, they’ll call me.

Learn how to successfully start and build a business in a small town

Be sure to check out the rest of the video where Patrick Palmer further discusses key points, such as ways to use your successful small-town business to create new subdivisions and predict the emerging creative niches he thinks will really deliver.

If after watching this you are considering starting a small town business near you, let us know in the comments section for How to Successfully Start a Small Town Business.

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