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24 Best Businesses to Start in a Small Town

best businesses to start in a small town
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You might think that little towns are where big dreams go to die. Realistically, big ideas can completely blossom in a small town where people are eager to see and do more than their town offers them.

I live in a small town, but I have a bustling digital business that has continued to expand over the last few years with little effort.

The beauty of an online business is that you can seek clients from all over the world; you’re not limited by where you live. However, you can also use that small-town vibe to your advantage by networking in your area and scoring local clients.

There are also a ton of brick-and-mortar businesses with which you can strike big when you live in a rural area.

As homey and inviting as these charming areas are, they don’t typically offer the variety that large towns and cities do. That means that you have plenty of room to swoop in and start the business you’ve always dreamed of.

Table of Contents

1. Wi-Fi Café

If there was one place I wish my town had, it would be a Wi-Fi café. A cozy place where people who work remotely can still feel connected to other adults. Wi-Fi cafés are a dime a dozen in cities, but you won’t have much luck finding one in a rural town.

Sure, I can hit the local McDonald’s or library once in a while, but it would be great to have a dedicated place with people like me who would love to work from somewhere other than their home office a couple of days a week.

The overhead to get this place up and running wouldn’t be terrible. You could rent a small place in a strip mall, gather some old tables and chairs from the local Goodwill or thrift stores, and get a good Wi-Fi network going.

Sell some basic coffee drinks to start and broaden your selection as you grow. Trust me, the locals will love you for this.

2. Touring Business

Cash in on the charm of your local neighborhoods by starting a touring business. You’d need to check your local laws before starting something like this, just to be sure you’re not stepping on the toes of any local departments that might already be offering some tours.

Figure out what your town is great at and highlight it. Maybe it has some beautiful scenery in places that a lot of people don’t know about. Perhaps it has some historical roots that tie back to the Civil War.

Find a unique angle for your tour and you’ll likely be surprised by how many locals are as interested in it as tourists.

3. Bed & Breakfast

Attract visitors with a bed and breakfast that highlights your town’s hospitality and charm. This business will take a lot of money and work in the beginning but has the potential to bring you a consistent income through the year if you do it right.

You can always start small with a one or two-bedroom guest area and expand as your business grows.

To give you an estimate of the upfront costs you should expect to shell out, use TripSavvy’s bed and breakfast cost worksheet.

4. Tutoring

Although it’s not always the case, students in rural areas don’t tend to get the same educational opportunities as those in suburbs and cities.

Students may not all have access to the internet in their homes and their school districts may not be able to afford the technology that larger communities with more funding can.

If you have experience teaching or tutoring, then you may be able to turn it into a business in your small town. You should have little costs for advertising since most schools would probably be happy to send out flyers to families if it means more help for their students.

5. Pet Grooming

It’s no secret that a lot of people love their pets more than they love humans. While pet grooming salons and spas are in just about every city neighborhood, I’ve known people in my town who have had to drive a ½ hour just to bring their dog in for a cut and wash.

You can start a pet salon right in your home if you have some extra space or a finished basement.

Eventually, scaling up to your own shop would be a great idea, but the neighborhood dog lovers will absolutely love having somewhere close by for their furry friends to get groomed.

6. Dog Walking

If you don’t know much about grooming but love dogs, then dog walking could be a better option. There are dog walking services that have walkers all over the United States, but they typically cater to people in large cities because that’s where most of their walkers are.

Start in your neighborhood and you probably won’t have much competition. You won’t even need a dime to start offering this service. Require your clients provide their own leash and harness for their dog and you’re ready to roll.

7. Pet Sitting

Pet sitting is another option for animal lovers that requires no money to start. Pet sitting hourly rates vary a lot depending on where you live, but even in a small town, you should expect anywhere from $10 to $15 per hour.

Some owners will want you for just an hour or two each day to feed and walk their dog while others may want you to stay in their home for several days to watch Fluffy while they’re on vacation.

Consider coming up with various hourly and day-rate packages to meet the needs of your neighbors and their furry friends.

8. Home and Office Cleaning/Organizing Service

Another low-cost business to start is a cleaning and organization service. I know plenty of elderly people who would gladly pay someone to help them tidy their homes every week.

I also know several moms who would rather pay someone else to do their dirty work than take up more of their time.

Most large areas have huge cleaning businesses available for sky-high hourly fees. Many people in your town will likely appreciate your reasonable prices as a one-man show.

Offering organization services is an excellent way to expand your business and gain the interests of more people. Not everyone likes to hand over the responsibility of cleaning, but they might love some organization help.

Check with local businesses to gauge their interest and offer your services.

9. Interior Design Business

Small town dwellers usually have to seek the help of interior designers from the closest metropolitan area because this isn’t a service that you’d typically find in rural areas. People selling or flipping homes in small towns need interior designers too!

With the median salary of an interior designer hovering around $44,000, you can expect to make some good money once you scale your business as the leading interior designer in town.

10. Car Washing and Detailing Service

If I want my car washed in my town, I have to either:

  1. Do it myself, or
  2. Go through one of those automatic car wash bays that will inevitably break a mirror, scratch my car, or knock my bumper magnets off. Worst of all, they take $10 of my money only to miss a whole bunch of spots.

I’d much rather fork over $10 (or more) for someone who can give my car a proper washing. I’d be willing to pay $100 for a thorough interior cleaning too.

Starting a car washing business in your driveway can be one of the smartest ways to make some extra money in your spare time and you can get everything you need to start for less than $50.

11. Bakery

Small towns are known for their family-owned bakeries, so if you want to go this route, you better make sure that your stuff is fantastic. What a fun way to earn some money, though, if you know how to bake with the best of them!

You might even be able to set up your beginning shop in your home baking goodies to sell at a flea market or bake sales for school fundraisers. You’ll get your name out there and might eventually be able to turn your hobby into a full-fledged business.

12. Specialty Foods or Drinks

My town offers several places in the downtown area for locals to get specialty foods (organic, gluten-free, etc.) and drinks (green smoothies, fitness drinks, etc.). The thing is, they’re all unique and have something special to offer their local consumers.

People flock to small towns because they have so many small businesses that you just can’t find everywhere else. The food and drink industry is one area in which you can really shine in a rural town if you have something different to offer.

13. Food Delivery Service

Most people who live in towns with small populations will agree that they’d love to see more restaurants willing to deliver food to their homes. You don’t need to work at a restaurant and convince your boss to start a delivery service though.

Instead, start a delivery service business of your own bringing food to homes and offices from a variety of food places in your town.

Uber has its own delivery service called UberEats that lets you deliver food in your car or even on your bike. DoorDash works similarly, allowing you to set your hours as a delivery driver and make as much money as possible when you’re available.

14. Fitness Center

Gyms and fitness centers are slim pickings in most rural towns. If you’re not a runner or don’t own any gym equipment, you won’t have much luck staying fit.

Fitness centers can be costly to start up unless you already have a bunch of equipment to start a small one or plan to offer classes that don’t require fitness equipment, like yoga or dance.

Or, you can go the franchise route and start a new branch of your favorite gym right in your neighborhood.

Planet Fitness, Fit4Mom, and Curves are just some of the fitness centers that allow you to own franchises for as little as about $5500.

15. Thrift Store

Thrift stores are huge in rural towns where people crave unique shopping experiences where they can find items at bargain prices.

The great thing about a thrift store is that you can get the community involved with donating items or selling them to you for low prices to keep your inventory updated.

Make sure you buddy up with a realtor in the area who can find you the best space for your budget with room for your business to grow.

16. Dry Cleaning/Clothing Alterations

Residents of big cities aren’t the only ones who have work clothing to dry clean! Small town folks can also benefit from a local dry cleaner or clothing alteration business that can take care of wedding and prom dresses, business attire, work uniforms, and more.

17. Transportation Service

Ride-sharing with companies like Uber and Lyft is one of the most popular ways to make money on the side, but they don’t tend to work well for people who live in towns with small populations because the rides may be few and far between.

However, starting your own transportation company, like a taxi service for people leaving the bar or transportation service for the elderly, could definitely work to your advantage.

No competition + a specialized service that people could really use = a winning business model.

18. Furniture Flipping

If you know where all the thrift shops, flea markets, and yard sales are in town, then you might find yourself making a living flipping furniture.

These types of sales are plentiful in most small towns, so if you have a knack for refinishing old furniture to make pieces look like new, you should have plenty of materials available to find success.

19. Handmade Crafts

I used to live in a very rural area of Pennsylvania where everyone knew each other and one of the highlights of everyone’s week was heading to the local flea market on the weekends, either to sell or to browse.

One of the biggest draws to the flea market for buyers was the many tables of handmade crafts sellers had for sale.

Small-town people love unique, handmade items that tell a story. Whether you’re into making jewelry, crafting hair bows for babies, or carving statues from wood, there’s likely a place for you in a small-town flea market.

20. Custom Printables Shop

Pick a spot in the central part of town to set up a shop for custom printables, like mugs, postcards, art prints, and t-shirts.

The locals will love having a place where they can get products that show their love for their hometown, while tourists will enjoy picking up some items to commemorate their visit.

One of your biggest selling points can be creating customized products that show pride for local schools. People in my town are known for always wearing school spirit t-shirts!

21. Arcade

Entertainment can be scarce for people in rural areas. I usually have to drive at least a ½ hour away to find something fun to do with my kids on the weekends other than going to our local park or movie theater.

An arcade can be a great business to start to draw in some families who want something fun for their kids locally. I’ve seen arcades as small as a medium-sized bedroom still be a hit, so you wouldn’t need a huge space to start.

22. Roller Skating Rink

If you have a lot of money to spend to start your business or several partners willing to help you out, then a good old-fashioned roller skating rink might be the perfect option for bringing some lively entertainment to a rural area!

Not only would you have families as loyal patrons, but you could also host adult-only hours late at night or on weekends, birthday parties, and fun theme parties to get more people in the door.

23. Blogging or Freelance Writing

Writing as a business is something you can start from anywhere (I should know – I do it from my home office!), so the size of the town you live in doesn’t matter.

If you have writing chops and aren’t interested in creating a brick-and-mortar business just yet, then this could be the business for you.

There are various forms of freelance writing, from copywriting to newsletter writing to the creation of white papers, so you can likely find something that fits well with your skills.

You can always make a living from blogging, too, by monetizing your own blog or writing for others.

You can even target local businesses to help with their writing needs!

24. Virtual Assistant

Virtual assisting is one of the coolest digital businesses in my opinion. These people have a lot of skills and can help companies all over the world with things like writing, designing, tech or customer support, emailing prospects, setting up phone calls, and more.

Even if you want to work with people in your town, you can do most of the work from your home office without spending tons of gas money driving all over the place to meet clients. Set up a video call or communicate via email instead.

Final Thoughts

Never think of your small town as a dead end for businesses. With a creative mind and entrepreneurial spirit, you can absolutely find a business model that will work for your area by pinpointing some of the things the locals need and want.

Without much competition, you can be on the path to having a thriving business with loyal, local customers and interested tourists.

Do you live in a rural area? What types of businesses there are your favorite? We’d love to hear your thoughts in a comment!

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