Brainstorming session

About 20 Webster City and Hampton area business and industry representatives met Monday to talk about igniting and growing small businesses in rural communities during a brainstorming session led by author, blogger and entrepreneur Becky McCray.

McCray, from Hopeton, Okla., led the session held at Whoop-Ti-Doos and La-Ti-Daas Monday morning.

The event was sponsored by the Webster City Area Chamber of Commerce. McCray contends that small businesses and small towns have a future. A small town business owner herself, she and her husband co-own a retail liquor store and a cattle ranch. She writes and speaks about small town business and along with Chicago entrepreneur Barry Moltz, authored of the book “Small Town Rules.”

McCray has been featured in The New York Times, BusinessWeek, and Entrepreneur Magazine. Her blog, Small Biz Survival, ranks in the top 20 small business blogs worldwide.

The speaker focused on three different concepts – marketing, connecting with local culture and “smell more to sell more.” To illustrate the latter concept, McCray talked about a barbecue restaurant which enticed customers by having them walk past the meat smokers to be seated at tables.

“That’s a smart marketing move on their part,” she said, explaining that the same concept works for those who market baked goods, candles and other items.

McCray said three-quarters of consumers prefer to buy from small businesses, citing better customer service and contributing to the local economy as principle reasons.

“Consumers are starting to shift from buying from large retailers to smaller sites,” she said.

McCray said it was important for small businesses to let their potential customers know more about them.

“You have to let those folks know what you do to the change the world,” she said. “Because you do change the world.”

Some of the businesses present talked about how they give back to the community by supporting local charities and causes, shopping close to home with local vendors and working to provide for the special needs of their customers.

“That’s what I mean when I say what do you do to change the world,” she said.

She encouraged the small business owners to actively promote each other in the community and suggested partnerships on promotions, including what she called pop-ups.

“Everyone has a little corner or space in their store or office,” she said. “Let someone have a retail space there. You might see a different set of customers and it could also springboard the pop up into a full business plan.

“And, of course, the more traffic the better,” she added.

The session also allowed time for the participants to toss around ideas, share concerns and offer suggestions to each other. With businesses from two different communities, the idea of creating a regional partnership was also voiced.

McCray encouraged the business owners to consider staying open until at least 7 p.m. a couple nights a week. She added that the businesses should try to have an online presences as well with a webpage and social media. She urged the entrepreneurs to create a blog on their website.

“Blogging lets you show what you have to offer and it allows you to show your knowledge and expertise,” McCray said.

McCray said she believes in the future of small business and small communities.

“We have the qualities that big cities are trying to find,” she said. “You have a lot to offer.”