Want to become a rural entrepreneur? 20 questions to ponder

No quiz can actually tell you whether or not you’ve got what it takes to run your own business. Our goal with this series of questions is to highlight some of the characteristics and abilities it takes to be a successful entrepreneur and give you some useful information to work with. We’ve also focused on some of the specific challenges faced by entrepreneurs in a rural setting. We hope it will give you food for thought as you start along the path to entrepreneurship.

Did you ever have a lemonade stand when you were a kid?

Many successful entrepreneurs were the kids who were constantly looking for ways to make money, with lemonade stands, bake sales, card trades, or other schemes. However, if you weren’t that kid, it doesn’t necessarily mean you aren’t cut out for entrepreneurship: according to a July 2009 study called “The Anatomy of an Entrepreneur” by the Kauffman Foundation in the US, many of the business people they interviewed hadn’t spent their lives dreaming of having their own business.

Are you under the age of 40?

If you are, that’s great. If you aren’t, don’t worry: the Kauffman Foundation report found that the average age for starting a business was 40. Of course some people start young, but many people come to entrepreneurship after years of employment has given them the skills and experience they need to succeed. The classic example is Colonel Harland Sanders, who started Kentucky Fried Chicken when he was 65.

Has anyone ever called you “stubborn as a mule”?

If so, you might not have taken it as a compliment. But as an entrepreneur, stubbornness can be a good thing. Not stubborn as in “never changing your mind about anything,” but stubborn as in “persevering in the face of all odds.” In fact stubbornness – or, if you prefer, perseverance – is one of the most common traits of successful entrepreneurs. Some might say that rural Albertans, with their “get it done” attitude, have a natural advantage in this area.

Can you think of a time when you created your own success?

Is there a story you like to tell about how you took a situation into your own hands and ended up looking like a hero? Maybe it was that time in high school when the grad committee fell apart and you ended up rallying the troops and pulling off the best prom ever. Perhaps your boss dumped a huge project on you and you worked night and day to make it succeed without any support from your peers. Or maybe you come from a family of farmers or ranchers who year after year survive by carefully managing their resources and adapting to circumstances. Creating your own success – or resourcefulness – is what being an entrepreneur is all about.

Is the glass half full, or half empty?

Generally speaking, successful entrepreneurs are optimists. It’s that simple. If you’re the kind of person who gets easily discouraged and tends to focus on the negative side of life, then running your own business and staying positive in the face of challenges is likely going to be difficult for you.

Given the choice at a Christmas party, would you rather be Santa or one of the elves?

Santa is a take-charge kind of guy, and that’s who you’ll have to be if you’re going to run your own business. Santa gets to take centre stage, hand out the presents, and get all the glory – however, he also has to do the tough stuff, like deciding who’s on the naughty list, keeping the elves happy and productive, and making sure the other reindeer aren’t jealous of Rudolf. It may be a silly analogy, but you get the point: being the person in charge is a hard job.

Have you ever gone bungee jumping?

You’re right. Bungee jumping has no direct link with running a business. However, successful entrepreneurs do tend to be comfortable with taking risks. Running a business offers a lot less security than working 9 to 5 and collecting a paycheque. You risk not making any money for a long time; you risk making bad decisions and having to face the consequences. Many of those risks are beyond your control, like the yearly risk a farmer takes at planting time, not knowing what the year’s weather will bring. If you’re a careful person who dislikes having to take risks, then entrepreneurship may not be the right choice for you.

Are you thinking about starting a business because you can’t find regular employment?

This is a situation faced by many workers in today’s economy, particularly those in rural areas where traditional industries are slumping. Starting a business can be a good solution, but studies show that entrepreneurship works best when people are pulled toward it by desire and ambition rather than pushed into it by circumstances. If you’re thinking of starting a business as “employment of last resort,” then it might not work out for you; however, if you’ve thought about starting a business but felt that the time has never been right, this could be the perfect moment.

How would you react if someone threw you a surprise party?

Would you step toward the flashing smart phones with a big smile, or would you shrink back and try to run away? Running a business is full of surprises and chaos. Business owners have to make quick decisions with little information, and stay calm while things go crazy around them – just think of farmers steadfastly working 48 hours straight to bring the crops in before a storm, or a rancher calmly walking through a herd of wild eyed longhorns. If chaos and unpredictability don’t stress you out, then you might well enjoy running your own business.

How do you feel about repetitive, day-to-day routines?

Along with chaos and surprises, running a business also involves a great deal of repetitive work – especially at the beginning when you may be doing everything yourself rather than delegating to employees. Keeping the books, counting inventory, maintaining up-to-date files, even tidying and cleaning your facilities may all be up to you. You’ll need to be consistent and disciplined to make sure that you keep everything in order.

Do you know where all your money is?

As a business owner you’ll likely work with an accountant, but you’ll do much better if you’re already skilled at managing your money. Do you know how much you have in your bank accounts right now? How much is due on your credit cards? Can you make a budget and stick to it? The good news is that, if you don’t have money management skills, you can learn them. Your local Community Futures office can help you find the help you need to take control of your bottom line.

Have you ever made a 5-year plan?

Some people go through life from day to day never thinking about what will come next. Others are much more strategic, plotting their course and planning for the future. In business, you can’t fly by the seat of your pants; Mark Zuckerberg (founder of Facebook) may come across as relaxed, but in fact he is a very focused long-term strategic thinker.  Even if you don’t plan on being a billionaire, it is important for your business that you create strategic documents and revise them regularly. Again, this is something you can learn if it doesn’t come to you naturally (and your local Community Futures can help).

How often do you like to go out for dinner?

Why? Because starting a business means that you may not have any money for little extras like going out for dinner for a long time. You and your family need to be prepared to tighten your belts until the business becomes profitable – and most experts say that you should have the resources to support yourself for the first two years without expecting any business income. That’s where your strategic plan comes in, and where Community Futures can offer concrete assistance in the form of loans and business training.

Have you ever been to a Town Council meeting?

Operating a business often means dealing with local government, so if you’re already interested in municipal affairs you may be one step ahead when in comes to understanding the rules and regulations you’ll have to adhere to. One of the advantages of being in a rural area is that it can be easier to establish relationships with the administrators and politicians you have to deal with as a business owner, since the bureaucracy is much smaller and less anonymous. If you live in an area with an Economic Development Office, so much the better – it’s to your advantage to get to know the people who can support you in your endeavour.

How do you get along with your neighbours?

Heading a business is all about creating relationships, so if you’re the type of person who knows everybody and loves to work a crowd, then you’re already a step ahead. However, as Bill Gates and Steve Jobs have proven, you can still be successful if you’re a bit of an introvert – you just have to find the right people to work with. You don’t necessarily have to be the life of every party, but you do have to value people and know how to create solid ties. This is especially true in a small town, where business is more often based on a handshake and an expectation of mutual collaboration.

How do you feel about mixing work with pleasure?

There’s no getting away from it: the smaller the place you live, the more likely that your clients, stakeholders, and even competitors are going to be the same people that you meet at your kid’s soccer game or the community fall fair. Anybody who lives in a small town knows that maintaining friendly relationships over the years can be a delicate balancing act; this is doubly true if you become the purveyor of an important service or a sought-after employer. It’s important to think about whether becoming an entrepreneur will create any tensions in your personal life, and come up with a strategy to deal with any challenges.

How far do you have to travel to “get into town”?

As in real estate, one of the most important issues in establishing a rural business is location, location, location – transport costs may be higher because of distance from major centres, and it may be hard to reach a critical mass of clients. Your business plan must honestly address any potential challenges created by your location. Hopefully, as a rural entrepreneur, you’ve come up with an idea that will succeed because of your rural location, rather than in spite of it.

Are you prepared to work harder than everybody else?

In Canada, the average workweek is 35 hours (if you grew up on a farm or a ranch, that number will make you laugh). Self-employed people work 40 hours on average, with many putting in upward of 55 hours per week. Are you prepared to put in those extra hours? Can your family manage if you are less available? And most importantly, will you enjoy establishing your business enough to justify all the extra work?

Who is on your support team?

As an entrepreneur you may be owner, operator, and chief bottle washer, but you won’t be on your journey alone. It’s important that you know who supports and believes in you, and that you have people to turn to when times get tough. Your team could include:

  • Family and friends
  • Business mentors
  • Investors and stakeholders
  • Local politicians
  • Outside experts and teachers
  • Government agencies like your local Economic Development Office
  • Your local Community Futures

Finally: Is your business idea really filling a local need?

There are so many reasons to become an entrepreneur: to follow a dream, to provide for your family, to be your own boss, to have a more flexible lifestyle, to get rich. But no matter how much passion and idealism you bring to your business, it cannot succeed unless it is truly answering a need. Sometimes it’s a need we don’t yet realize we have (who knew that we actually couldn’t do without Post-It Notes?) – in which case your business plan better include a lot of resources for marketing. Sometimes it’s a very clear need that nobody has managed to fill locally – in which case you’ll need to make it clear why you can do it when nobody else could. Perhaps it’s a need that is a perfect fit with your skills and experience.

  • Have you found a need that you believe you can fill?
  • Do you think you have what it takes to be a rural entrepreneur?
  • Rural Alberta needs your energy and ideas. Contact your local Community Futures to find out about the tools, resources, and expertise we have to help you on your way.