Can blogging work for local businesses in small town and rural communities?

I ask the question rhetorically, because I believe it can. And I ask it because the other day a man at a checkout told me he and his colleagues were about to lose their jobs and did not know what the future held.

In what may or may not be a sign of the times, one of our local fruit and vegetable stores, Farmer Charlies, the main business in a small drive-in shopping centre here in Tweed Heads, Australia, closed its doors last weekend. Judging by the shell-shocked demeanour of the guy at the checkout, who told me last week that this would be happening, it was not a planned move. In fact, it’s not long since the complex had a major overhaul and it appears Farmer Charlies had a lease till 2017.

I can’t help wondering whether Farmer Charlies would have had a better chance of surviving if the store had been more findable online. Using social media tools, including blogging, could have helped with that. Surely even a static website could have helped: the best I could do with a search on “Farmer Charlies Lismore” (the parent store) was a link to a local online business directory with a phone number and map (courtesy Google Maps) for that store. Alongside “Website” – “not supplied”; “Email” – “not supplied”.

As for any current reference to Farmer Charlies Tweed Heads, I couldn’t find one.

All those people out of jobs. Good, hard-working people, friendly, courteous, always helpful – what my parents’ generation called without a trace of irony the salt of the earth.

Why wasn’t someone setting up a website? Better still, why weren’t they using interactive, social media tools?

It seems not a lot has changed in these parts since a couple of years back when, in my enthusiasm, I did presentations to local businesses about how blogging could work for them and how economically that could be done. I used to get a very positive response from the participants, but no callbacks. I doubt that many have taken action.

These thoughts are prompted not only by the haunting memory of the look in the eyes of the fit, energetic young man at Farmer Charlies about to be retrenched, who when I asked “What will you do?” said simply “I don’t know”.

They are prompted also by the case study I have just posted today on my Des Walsh dot Com site, about small business expert and small town (Alva, Oklahoma) resident Becky McCray. She has used blogging to good business effect there and that’s got me wondering what lessons could be learnt and shared across the world by people in small, rural or semi-rural communities.

If you check out the post – and if you are at all interested in this topic I encourage you to do so, not because I wrote it but because of the story itself – you will notice that Becky and several colleagues produce a blog Small Biz Survival which looks precisely at this issue of small business survival in small town and rural communities.

I realize there are challenges in comparing what works in a small town in the USA with what might work in a small town in Australia. Also, there are ten times more people here in Tweed Heads than there are in Alva, OK. But we are still effectively a (relatively) small semi-rural community.

And I reckon the farmers I talk to at the local market on Sundays and the proprietors of the small shops in the main street here would not have much difficulty comparing notes with their counterparts in rural and small town USA.

So what if those of us who live in these small communities, not just in Australia or the USA, but anywhere in the world, were to start sharing information and ideas, comparing notes?

Then those of us who care about helping keep businesses alive and flourishing in our communities would have case studies, with comparative data and links to relevant sites, that could back up any efforts we might feel like making to share with our fellow citizens the potential benefits to them of using social media.

Wouldn’t it be good if a bunch of us could collaborate to help businesses in rural and small town communities not only survive but flourish?

I realise that a lot of the businesses I’m referring to are not home based. And I know perfectly well that some of our farmers are going to be competing with some of the farmers in other countries. But I believe the times call for some collaboration and mutual support, for mutual community benefit, so I don’t feel we should give up just because there are some challenges.

If you would like to contribute to this process, with ideas, suggestions, or even disagreement (I might be off with the pixies on this one, although I doubt it) I would love to hear from you, via the Comments section here or the Contact page.

You could also subscribe to Small Biz Survival RSS feed and/or the newsletter there – I have just subscribed to both.

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