What can you bring from the outside world to make a living AND help your own community?

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In this age of technology where we are able to exchange ideas and currency with a worldwide audience instantly, we are encouraged to take our small businesses global. While there’s a lot of merit in being able to sit in your home office and do business all over the world, bigger isn’t always better and some of us still crave face-to-face time with our customers or clients.

Sometimes turning things around and looking at them from the opposite perspective can be enlightening. Rather than just thinking how you can expand your little home business to a universal scale, consider how profitable and rewarding it might be to bring something from “out there” back into your own world.

Maybe it’s time to think local, to look for opportunity to make a living and a difference in your own community.

Reading this week about a start-up, BigBox, who delivers Costco Items to small businesses in NYC, I recalled reading a couple of years ago about Modernash who delivers Ikea to customers in Nashville. (The closest Ikea to Nashville is 250 miles away in Atlanta).

As a proponent of shopping local and supporting small business, my initial reaction was. “Why would a local merchant (Big Box was started by a restauranteur) want to encourage buying from big box chains?”  Having lived and owned business in a small village 40 miles from the nearest big box chains, I am sensitive to the issue of people traveling to purchase what is available locally. It bothered me that local merchants would spend time and gas to purchase office supplies and hardware from Staples or Home Depot rather than spend a little more and support their fellow merchants. That is until I realized it wasn’t a matter of saving a few dollars. The local office supply and hardware store had limited selection and the prices were sometimes double or triple. I recognized they didn’t have the buying power to enable them to sell at the same prices as the big box stores or the cash flow to stock as much inventory, so a service that delivered from the chains wasn’t taking business away from the local merchants.

When I look at any small business concept, I ask myself a couple of questions right off:

What differentiates this business that makes someone want to chose to spend their money here?

How is this business making a difference in someone’s life, the community or the world?

In the example of Modernash:

I’m not aware of a local Nashville business that sells inexpensive KD (knocked-down or flat-packed) Danish Home Furnishings so they are not taking business away from a local.

Every trip ModerNash makes to Atlanta saves Nashvillians an average of 750 gallons of gas, thus cutting down on harmful emissions and pollutants.

In the case of BigBox:

They claim that: On average, your daily household items are 147% more expensive at local New York City stores

Local solo entrepreneurs frequently run their shops alone, therefore would lose revenue if they had to close and do their own shopping in the suburbs. Also, many merchants in NYC do not own cars so have no way to transport items even from local vendors.

I feature these business not because you’re necessarily interested in starting a delivery service but to demonstrate how you don’t have to be feeding starving children in an underdeveloped country to make a difference in people’s lives. Nor do you have to come up with a totally new concept for your business to stand out and succeed. Delivery service has been around forever. (Think ice man or milkman.)

The key is to do it better or different. More efficiently, higher quality or better customer service.

Now that we are able to get our message out to the world instantly, we are encouraged to look at the market place globally. That doesn’t mean some of the best ideas aren’t right in your own neighborhood. Try something new. Actually, it’s something ancient. Think local! Look around your community. What is lacking? Walk or drive around your immediate area and observe. What are people spending time, money and effort on that could be done faster, easier, most cost effective or more fun? (Yes, people will pay more for something more exciting.)

What service or product is not available in your local community that you could bring in to save people time or money that isn’t taking away from a local business?

AS always, your comments are welcome and appreciated.

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