The Top Rural Small Business Challenges

image of main street with blog title: The top rural small business challenges

Learn about the biggest rural small business challenges along with solutions.

We discuss how to help shape a better future for your town on The BIGG Succees Show, and we are joined by the creators of the 2019 Rural Challenges Survey. Here’s a summary of that discussion.

We’re coming off Small Business Saturday – where the message is to shop small this holiday season to support small business and your local community.

Our guests today are 2 BIGG advocates for rural small business. They’ll share the results of their national survey on the unique challenges these businesses face.

Becky McCray and Deb Brown

Image courtesy of SaveYour.Town

Becky McCray is a lifelong small-town entrepreneur. She’s the founder of, which publishes practical articles for rural small businesses. In addition, Becky is the co-founder of Save Your.Town, which is where she shares insights from her real-world experience as a business owner and cattle rancher.

Deb Brown is the founder of and the co-founder of Save Your.Town. Deb is a small-town enthusiast and expert for small towns. Deb’s practical approach for getting communities into action right away has been shared at national conferences, local visits, service organizations and everything in between.

Who Took the Rural Small Business Survey?

[Becky] There were 680 responses from people that were our own subscribers and visitors who came, either to SaveYour.Town, any of our other sites, media coverage, and we had some cooperating groups that serve rural communities that shared it around as well.

Most of the people were business people, or non-business people but they were mostly small town people in the US, and some from Canada and some from Australia.

The survey has been done in 2015, 2017, and 2019.

You say these results don’t match common rural stereotypes and media themes – what are they?

[Becky] Here’s what just doesn’t match up at all with kind of the common themes that you hear in the media:

  • Rural people are focused on well-publicized crises like opioid addiction or poverty
  • Most rural communities are devastated by lost factories, closing mines or damaging natural disasters
  • Lack of small business lending is a big challenge in small towns

Hear more about these stereotypes in the discussion on our podcast. Click the player above.

What Are the BIGGest Rural Small Town Business Challenges?

[Deb] They are in this order:

  1. Can’t find good employees
  2. Marketing isn’t working
  3. People buy from online competitors
  4. Tried opening later hours without success
  5. Need a business idea

A new choice, “Can’t find good employees” was chosen by over 50% of respondents.

“Marketing isn’t working” has been consistently in the second spot.

Online competition moved up to 3rd this year from 6th in 2017 and 2015.

What Kind of Marketing Isn’t Working for Rural Small Business?

[Deb] Business owners feel overwhelmed with online and social media. And there’s this belief that newspapers and radio isn’t working anymore. They really don’t know how to combine online and offline marketing. For some, it’s clear that customer service is lacking, and the store hours they have when they close at five just aren’t working.

We also find that there isn’t consistency in getting the word out. So we think of branding your business as being very important, where you want to create an atmosphere in your small town that businesses work together, and that way they can promote each other.

Shopping Online Continues to Grow – How Can A Rural Small Business Ramp Up Online Sales?

[Becky] I made up a term called Rural OmniLocal to talk about how small businesses in small towns can actually be on all the channels.

I ran a retail store for not quite 13 years. And there’s a lot of tricks we can use that help us to capture some of those online sales without having to start a giant eCommerce site that seems like such an overwhelming thing to do.

One thing you can do is just mention to your customers that they can order from you through their home or phone assistant, whether that’s Alexa, Google Home, or Siri. People can place an order from you that way by teaching their assistants to email, text, or call you. Your tech savvy customers will know how to do this, you just need to make sure they know it’s possible.

Becky explains this strategy further. Listen to the podcast by clicking the PLAY button above.

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What’s Working Best in Rural Communities?

  1. Traditional economic development groups
  2. Informal idea copying
  3. Formal programs

[Becky] Some people told us that businesses working together is best, others said teamwork isn’t working. Some said economic development groups helped, while others didn’t. Every community is different, each has their own challenges and that is one reason that we do this survey –  to find out those differences and commonalities between communities.

Becky and Deb tell us that the survey results fell into 3 BIGG themes. Find out what they are in the podcast. Click the player above!

What Are Action Steps for Rural Small Business, Those Who Support Businesses, and Consumers?

[Deb] Using these survey results, we developed a free video of action steps you can take to shape the future of your town or the towns you serve.

Our video is for: Chambers, tribes, government officials, agencies, any people who are charged with supporting small towns and rural communities. It’s also for regular people who care about their town and want to make it a better place, especially if you’ve ever faced opposition or struggled to make headway. The video is free of charge.

See the full survey results and access the free action steps video at: SaveYour.Town/Survey.

Direct link to The Bigg Success Show audio file | podcast: