7 "Small Town" Rules for Doing Business on a Human Scale

According to Barry Moltz, consumers act like they live in small towns, so businesses have to play by a new set of rules.
Strategic Facilitation & Ideation, MatthewEMay.com
April 05, 2012

There is no question that major socioeconomic and technological shifts have changed the game of business. Business is now forced to play by a different set of rules. Those rules, according to popular OPEN contributor Barry Moltz, are reminiscent of how things work in a small town.

"When every customer can now talk directly to each other, it’s like a small town," he writes in a new book called Small Town Rules, which he coauthored with Becky McCray, the founder of Small Biz Survival. "When people listen more to what your customers say about your company than your advertising, it’s like a small town. When it now takes multiple jobs to support a family, it’s like a small town. When the individual human voice is valued over corporate mission statements, it’s like a small town. When everyone online is trying to band together in small communities, it’s like a small town. When everyone wants to buy their products locally, it’s like a small town."

The point is that if every consumer of every company now behaves like they live in a small town, business must now be conducted on a more human scale, and companies now need to play be a new set of rules–rules apply to small businesses and big brands alike–no matter how big or how urban.

That, of course, raises the question: What are the Small Town Rules? Barry and Becky outline seven rules that respond to the seismic shifts in the economy, technology and society.

1. Plan for zero. Planning for zero income requires building new sources of revenue. For businesses with the right kind of community support, memberships may be an option. Government contracts can also help provide more predictable income.

2. Spend creative brainpower before spending dollars. Spending brainpower before spending dollars requires creativity. Businesses that get creative can develop an experience that will draw customers to them, and many times even act as an unexpected source of supplies and income.

3. Multiply lines of income to diversify your risk. To multiply the lines of income in a business, look at existing knowledge and assets in new ways. Every business has some assets that can be leveraged into new revenue streams.

4. Work anywhere, anywhen through technology. With the loss of geographic advantage, businesses can look outside the usual limits and boundaries. Technology allows more types of companies to reach customers anywhere and “anywhen.”

5. Treat customers like community. Treating customers like community includes responding to their needs, even if the need is an entire underserved small town market, or for something less than you're giving that market right now. Take software, for example: all your great online support and documentation may not be as helpful as a simple phone call to walk a customer through the basics.

6. Be proud of being small. Being big is no longer an automatic advantage when winning customers. The preference for small businesses is most evident in the food industry, which provides the best example of the power of this rule.

7. Build your local connections. The local movement is much more than “shop local.” Consumers now prefer local products across all categories. Local can mean a wide range of local connections. Brands can be creative in finding and strengthening their local appeal.

As Barry and Becky write, "The small town rules represent a way of doing business that now applies to all businesses, no matter the size. This also means that all companies can learn from the types of business ideas that have worked well in small towns."

They list four specific ways to do just that:

1. Improvement. Every business, every day, can improve. Brands and businesses can be on the lookout for ideas that give a different point of view. This is where ideas for improvement and increased profit are often found.

2. Innovation. The marketplace is constantly changing and innovating. The most successful business people filter all the ideas they hear and create an innovative new approach to doing business.

3. Expansion. It is always easier to expand a business than to start a new one. Brands and small business can use these business ideas to complement their existing business in a direction they never thought about before.

4. Change the game. A new business idea or execution of an old one can change, completely shifting a dominant paradigm.

"Given all the change that has washed over the economy, technology, and society," they conclude, "it’s time for some new ideas in business. These business ideas all spring from one of the small town rules and may provide the new direction any business needs."