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Soliciting Business in a Small Town

Soliciting Business in a Small Town

Soliciting Business in a Small Town

My affairs are such that I can perform most of my engineering duties due North of my business and have set about doing just that. I’ve moved (or rather in the process thereof) to a town of about 300 people and the closest “major center” is about 30 mins away where about 5000 canucks reside.

I specialize in high-rise commercial restoration projects and metal fabrication. However, I get bored easy and moving up North offers the possibility of doing some design on cottages / residential that might be a nice change of pace. Also, it’s not totally foreign as I have done residential in a previous life (built custom homes, typical open concept renos, etc).

Question: If I wanted to offer such services via our engineering wing how best do you think about drumming up some business? I'm at a little bit of a loss as it's the exact opposite of what I do currently.

We are relatively restricted in terms of advertising in my Province (i.e. we cannot “exaggerate” to any degree) and so that option tends to be ineffective. All I can say in an advertisement is that I offer engineering, and am licensed. Not quite a marketer’s wet dream! Obviously, such a small place means grass roots is likely the go-to, and trying to take a step back in life I plan to volunteer to coach kids’ rep hockey and the like. That’s not for business but for fun. Though I am sure getting introduced the community that way will help. Perhaps more so than most things.

Still, if anyone has any great ideas, please let me know!

RE: Soliciting Business in a Small Town

I live in a town of about 5,000, having moved here three years ago to fill a void in local services. The local economy is far larger than one would picture based on population, meaning that I am able to scrape out a living here and enjoy the small town lifestyle. I knew of the opportunity to serve this community, as a good friend of mine is a local contractor. Similarly to you, this area has a large number of cabin resorts & a few vacation properties.

In small towns, word of mouth is gold. If you actually want the local work, and do it well, everyone will soon come to you. The same word of mouth can also have a negative effect if you treat the local projects as annoying side-jobs relative to your "big city work". I have personally built my own business almost exclusively on the word of mouth of the local contractors. The local AHJ also seems to occasionally refer on an unofficial basis.

In short, it's not hard to do well as a big fish in a small pond. Just be careful to keep that small pond clean and tidy!

RE: Soliciting Business in a Small Town

Thanks Craig_H that definitely confirms my thoughts in terms of word of mouth being the best (only?) way to effectively market in such a community. And I will definitely heed your advice of not taking on any work that would have to be put on the backburner. I very much intend to prioritize the small community work as I feel that A) it'll probably be a bit more fun, and B) I plan to live here long term and it would really suck to see disappointed people at the grocery store! Part of the reason I love this area is people are always so happy / light-hearted. I don't want to jeopardize that.

Any thoughts of breaking in with the builders given that I have no local contacts? My plan is to call around and see if anyone has any immediate need. Once Covid subsides I'll probably do a walk-in to some of offices to explain my history.

I was also planning to chum up the local commercial lumber yards. Instead of buying through large retail stores (for my personal projects) I might open accounts via my contracting business at some of these places just to establish some sort of relationship. And over a while let it be known what I do. I know a lot of builders obtain contacts via their material suppliers so I thought it'd be worth investigating.

Lastly, do you have any thoughts on rates? I imagine if I charged the rates I am accustomed to they would balk, which I totally get. On the other hand, just because I don't really need the money doesn't mean I want to demean the profession by providing good work for free. Do you have any advice perhaps even a rough % of what large city work might go for (e.g. charge 60% of what you would for similar project in a major metropolitan area)?

Thanks again!

RE: Soliciting Business in a Small Town

Visiting your local contractors in person is probably the best way to build the relationship. Showing them that you're a human with a personality and that you are invested in the community will probably go a long way. In terms of fees, I charge in line with my provincial consulting engineers rate guide. If someone wants to hire an engineer from the big city, and pay them to travel for site visits, I almost guarantee they will be significantly higher in terms of price. I do play with my own rate based on the complexity of the work that I am doing, but I think that is more of a reality of being a sole practitioner rather than a small town vs. big city thing. Temper this with the fact that my "big city" is not experiencing the craziness of places like Toronto.

RE: Soliciting Business in a Small Town

Thanks Craig. That is of much help! I'll report back with how the assimilation process goes!

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