LSTA.com releases eye-catching new website features!

LSTA.com homepage

Vivid background photos, an eye-catching header image, and custom font choices for the page title give LSTA members even more ways to draw in visitors and display their community’s unique personality.

LoveSmallTownAmerica.com proudly introduces exciting new features to add an additional level of personalization and flair to community websites.Community webpages now include an eye-catching header image and premium level members have additional custom options designed to make a bold impression on visitors. Continue reading

Picking the Right Social Media Platforms for Your Business

This infographic, from MDG Advertising, helps make some sense of the Return on Investment (ROI) small businesses can expect from the resources they devote to social media.

Last month, we started a conversation about social media (“What’s So Great About Social Media“). Understanding what social media means in a professional context is crucial for success these days, but navigating the waters of instant, online marketing can be tricky. We’re breaking down a few of the basics to help you get a jump on social media for your small business or organization so that you can make the most of being online with Love Small Town America.

You’re still reading, so that must mean that you’re curious. The first step after deciding that you’re going to poke your toe in the water of social media is to pick a platform. In the simplest terms possible, all these fancy names floating around (Facebook, LinkedIn, Tumblr, Pinterest, etc. etc. etc.) are different places you could engage. Think of them as businesses on main street. The best ones aren’t necessarily the biggest, or the newest, or even the busiest. The best ones are the ones that are right for YOU. Think about it. If you sell fish food, you’re not going to reach many people by starting conversations about fish at the mechanic’s. You might catch someone’s interest – but it would be by chance, not design. Since most of us have limited time, we can’t be everywhere at once. We have to choose. Narrowing down your social media platforms is much the same – it’s about thinking through who uses those avenues and then finding the right fit for who you are and why you are online.

For small businesses, there are a few platforms that are too big too ignore, and are almost always going to start a few conversations.

Facebook: Facebook pages for businesses and groups are essential. Everyone is on Facebook, and you and your business need to be on there, too. Claiming your page isn’t just important for developing your online presence – it keeps imposters, spammers, or competitors from nabbing your spot! Facebook can take some time to learn – and requires more frequent updates than some social media platforms, but normally, if you can devote time to perfecting only one social media presence – this is the one you want.

Begin building a Facebook Page for your business.

LinkedIn: Think of LinkedIn as a resume for your business. It’s the ultimate professional networking site. The great thing about a presence on this platform is that it takes less time than some of the others. You can be more active (say, starting a group and posting discussions) but establishing a professional presence on this network helps legitimize what you’re doing – and may even pave the way toward future success. Have trouble finding qualified employees? Looking to develop a new market? This is a great spot to explore.

PinterestThis one is up for debate – but retail businesses especially should take note of Pinterest. Its purpose is still hazy, but this virtual pinboard connects with the visual nature of human beings – and the internet. Share, organize, and repin images that link to their website source in this open platform. Get top traffic (and repins!) by mastering keywords to make it easy for the right people to find your images. It works like a charm for retailers, especially if you sell something that photographs well!You don’t have to sell something tangible to make Pinterest a part of your social media strategy, though. Small towns could become internet sensations by sharing tourist attractions. The local church could share photos of prize-winning recipes from their cookbook. Be creative, seek inspiration as much as you offer it, and challenge yourself to stay abreast of trends and the newest ways to communicate and advertise.

Now, this isn’t an exhaustive list. You  may notice we’ve omitted Twitter, for instance, as well as some other heavyweights. That’s not to say that the other platforms aren’t influential or aren’t appropriate for *you*, but we feel for beginners, they can require a higher investment and offer more risks/fewer rewards than some of the other platforms, like Facebook.

Next time, we’ll delve into some dos and don’ts for your first profile on some of giants in the social media game.

What’s your favorite social media platform for small business?

Infographic Source

RedTire – Matching Businesses and Business Owners

RedTire is a new program from the KU School of Business that seeks to Redefine Retirement for business owners in rural Kansas communities.

At Love Small Town America, we consider ourselves matchmakers of a sort. We match businesses with employees via our job listings, we match potential citizens with new hometowns, and we match tourists with communities full of attractions that suit them to a tee. So, we were interested to learn of another matchmaking enterprise in our home state of Kansas.

When small town business owners age, they often shut the doors, taking with them the assets, experience, and wealth that business represented in the community. There are many reasons why this happens – but a lot of it comes down to basic economics – supply and demand. A new program called RedTire has been launched by the University of Kansas to offer one possible solution.

The RedTire program promotes their service as allowing business owners to redefine their retirement. The program matches rural business owners seeking an exit strategy with graduates from Kansas universities.

Candidates from both sides – businesses and potential successors – apply through the RedTire website or are referred to the program by third parties.

Ideally, the end result will be contract negotiations between successors and current owners to purchase existing businesses or make other arrangements to transition ownership.

The program is free and aims to help Kansas communities create transition opportunities to keep businesses alive and thriving. RedTire is new, so there aren’t any results to share, but there are an increasing number of attempts across the country to address this issue. We’ll be watching to see how RedTire progresses – so check back for an update!

We can’t help but think what an interesting complement this program – or something like it – provides for the Rural Opportunity Zone program. Theoretically, someone could move to a ROZ county, gaining access to tax credits and tuition reimbursement and possibly also create their own job by buying a business by engaging with RedTire – making the kinds of initiatives that are popping up across the state even more powerful. The future is taking shape before our eyes and there are definitely some interesting possibilities on the horizon.

What do you think? Is RedTire the kind of program that could make a difference?

Interested in applying?

RedTire Contact Information:

Wally Meyer
Lawrence, Kansas 66045
(785) 864-7583
wmeyerjr@ku.edu

Charlotte Tritch
Lawrence, Kansas 66045
(785) 864-7563
ctritch@ku.edu

Featured Business: Harvest Market

Owner Dan Godek knows the community of Gove County comes together at Harvest Market.

Love Small Town America is the online home for some of small town America’s best businesses. We’re giving them a chance to share with the world just what makes them so special. Please welcome our very first featured business to the Love Small Town America blog: Harvest Market

Where can you find delicious BBQ meats, household essentials, and a dead rat all in one, convenient location? Residents of Grainfield, Kansas know that Harvest Market is the place to find all of these things – and more!

At Harvest Market, household essentials line the shelves alongside quirky surprises.

Grocery stores are often the heart of small towns, where citizens gather to share the latest news and pick up a loaf of bread. Grainfield finds this in Harvest Market – and a little extra.

Harvest Market has been in operation in Grainfield in some form or another since the late 1920s. Current owners Dan and Nicole Godek have updated the market with energy-efficient equipment and expanded product lines, keeping Harvest Market a viable part of the small town economy while respecting its historic tradition of serving the people of Gove County, KS.

The family-owned store has imbued Harvest Market with a lively spirit that draws in customers from all over the area. Slogans like, “Eggs, Tomatoes, Toilet Paper… Everything You Need to Decorate Your Favorite Neighbor’s House,” and “We Get Up in Your Grill,” are proof that grocery shopping doesn’t have to be a chore.

Shopping trips become lively excursions at Harvest Market with a little help from the local "wildlife".

Although Harvest Market does have eggs, tomatoes, and toilet paper (and produce, dairy, party trays, beauty products, beer, tobacco, and more), it’s their mouthwatering array of Harvest Market Brand BBQ meats that promises to make summertime special in Kansas. The sight of pulled pork, beef brisket, and BBQ beef fresh from the heartland have wrecked more than one carefully planned dinner menu, but we have a feeling no one is complaining.

Harvest Market brand BBQ draws customers from all around.

Owner Dan Godek draws inspiration from his own children (or maybe from his childlike zest for life!) and makes a shopping excursion to Harvest Market fun for all ages. A big gnome, little gnome, dead hand, and toy rat wander mysteriously about the store every day just waiting to be found. If searching for a toy rat doesn’t sound like your kind of fun, a carnival mirror is an oracle of truth that could provide the answer to whether you should place that candy bar or that bunch of bananas in your shopping cart.

Looking for a great deal?

Coupons rotate frequently at Harvest Market, so check back soon.

Harvest Market rotates coupons on their Love Small Town America site, so check back regularly for updated promotions. Through May 31, 2012, they are offering a bargain on sunflower seeds – perfect for enjoying outside as the weather warms up.

BIGS Sunflower Seeds are on special at Harvest Market this May.

What Does Harvest Market Love About Small Towns?

They’re quiet, peaceful, affordable, friendly, safe, vibrant, caring, and conservative.

What Does Harvest Market Like Best About Love Small Town America?

Harvest Market calls Love Small Town America their home on the web. But it’s more than just good business sense – it’s about good.

“The fact that Love Small Town America is doing good. It’s helping small towns. It’s helping small town businesses. It’s going to give back to its communities through scholarship and grant programs.”

Harvest Market will be giving back to the community themselves, as a sponsor of the 4th annual Cruise, Shoes, and BBQs fundraiser this Memorial Weekend. With food, beer, and fun, it’s a natural fit for Harvest Market.

Harvest Market's friendly grocery aisle gnome.

Do you shop at Harvest Market? Have you ever found the toy rat or tried Harvest Market BBQ? Let us know in the comments! 

Possible Funding Sources for Schools, Groups, Others – Spring 2012 Deadlines

Funding is an issue that everyone struggles with – whether you are a small business, an entrepreneur just diving into your first startup, or whether you operate a non-profit organization or project. Small businesses, organizations, and schools are some of the primary groups we support on Love Small Town America.

The Kansas Association of Community Foundations compiled this excellent list of current funding opportunities that we knew you would find useful. Many of these opportunities are for grants and scholarships, so they are worth checking into! Thanks to our friends at the Kansas Association of Community Foundations for sharing and for allowing us to pass this on to you. Most of the deadlines for these opportunities fall in the next few weeks, so move quickly on those applications!

The Department of Justice is offering funds to nonprofits, public agencies, states, Indian Tribes, and local governments for projects designed to address and prevent sexual assault, domestic violence, dating violence and stalking in rural areas.  Deadline:  3/29/2012.  To apply, click here.

AARP Foundation has announced the Women’s Scholarship Program Call for Applicants.  The program provides funds to low-income women age 50 and older who are seeking new job skills, training and educational opportunities to support themselves and their families.  Deadline:  3/30/2012.  To learn more about this opportunity, click here.

HUD has announced the availability of grants for nonprofits to transform neighborhoods by investing in a wide array of infrastructure and other redevelopment activities.  Both planning grants and implementation grants are available from the Choice Neighborhood Initiative.  Deadline to apply:  4/10/2012.  To learn more about these grants and apply, click here.

 

US EPA Environmental Workforce Development and Job Training Grants.  The US EPA is soliciting proposals from eligible entities, including non-profit organizations, to deliver environmental workforce development and job training programs that recruit, train, and place local, unemployed and under-employed residents with the skills needed to secure full-time employment in the environmental field, with a focus on solid and hazardous waste remediation, environmental health and safety, and wastewater-related training.

The total funding available under this competitive opportunity is approximately $2,800,000, subject to availability of funds, quality of proposals received, and other applicable considerations. EPA anticipates awarding approximately 14 environmental workforce development and job training cooperative agreements from this competitive opportunity.  Proposals are due by April 12, 2012.  For more details see: http://www.epa.gov/oswer/docs/grants/epa-oswer-oblr-12-03.pdf

Wells Fargo NEXT Awards for Opportunity Finance! With a theme of expanding CDFI coverage to underserved communities, the NEXT Awards celebrate our industry—its creativity, accomplishments, and enduring importance—by awarding high performing CDFIs with attractive grants and loan capital.  Aligned with the new theme, the program features new awards:

The NEXT Opportunity Award recognizes up to four CDFIs with compelling strategies for expanding product and geographic coverage that are ready to execute within six months of receiving an award. The total pool of $8.25 million includes $7.5 million in low-cost, long-term debt and $750,000 in unrestricted grant funding.

The NEXT Seed Capital Award offers a $100,000 unrestricted grant to a single CDFI with a promising idea for expanding geographic or product coverage that is still in development. The expansion strategy should be on track to implement within eighteen months of receiving an award.

In addition to continuing generous support from Wells Fargo and The John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, The Kresge Foundation is a major new partner.  The final deadline to submit an application is 5:00 PM EST on April 17, 2012.  Application guidelines, applications, and more information can be found at the new Wells Fargo NEXT Awards Web site.

The Department of Labor is offering grants to nonprofit and public agencies to improve the employability of young adult ex-offenders by providing skills training.  Deadline:  4/17/2012.  To learn more about this program, click here.

The Retirement Research Foundation is accepting applications from nonprofits for projects in aging designed to improve quality of life for older Americans.  Deadline:  5/1/2012.  Applicants are encouraged to discuss projects in advance of submitting a full proposal by calling (773) 714-8030 or emailing info@rrf.org.  For more information, click here.

State Farm Insurance Companies is offering funds for student-led service-learning projects that address environmental responsibility, community safety and natural disaster preparedness, financial literacy, access to higher education, or social health and wellness.  Deadline:  5/4/2012.  For eligibility and to apply, click here.

Mini Grant Program
Application deadline is July 15, 2012
 Mini-grants to rural schools. From National Rural Education Association

Sober Truth on Preventing Underage Drinking Act Grants – Application deadline: Mar 29, 2012. Funding to prevent and reduce alcohol use among youth in communities throughout the United States.

Self Help Homeownership Opportunity Program (SHOP) – Application deadline: Apr 30, 2012
Funding to be used to facilitate and encourage innovative homeownership opportunities.

American Legion Foundation Child Welfare Grants – Application deadline: Jul 15, 2012. Grants to benefit the children of America. 

Open Meadows Foundation – Application deadline: Aug 15, 2012. Grants for projects that are led by and benefit women and girls, particularly those from vulnerable communities.

Guaranteed Loans Under the Section 538 Guaranteed Rural Rental Housing Program (GRRHP) – Application deadline: Dec 30, 2012
Grants to increase the supply of affordable rural rental housing through the use of loan guarantees that encourage partnerships between the Agency, private lenders, and public agencies.

Libri Books for Children Program – Application deadline: Applications accepted on an ongoing basis.
Donates new, quality, hardcover children’s books for small, rural public libraries in the United States.

Rural and Low-Income School Program – Application deadline: Applications accepted on an ongoing basis.
Formula grants to State educational agencies (SEAs), which in turn award subgrants to eligible LEAs either competitively or on a formula basis.

Rural Transit Assistance Programs (RTAP) – Application deadline: Applications accepted on an ongoing basis.
Funding for training, technical assistance, and other support services for rural transit operators.

SBA Certified Development Company (504) Loan Program – Application deadline: Applications accepted on an ongoing basis.
Provides growing businesses with long-term, fixed-rate financing for major fixed assets, such as land and buildings.

USDA Community Facilities Loan and Grant Program – Application deadline: Applications accepted on an ongoing basis.

Funding to construct, enlarge, or improve essential community facilities for health care, public safety, and public services in rural areas.

Kansas Association of Community Foundations

Have you ever applied for a grant to fund your project, organization, or business? We’d love to know if any of these are helpful to you. Please share your thoughts in the comments!

Startup Act – An Entrepreneur’s Perspective

Many of you may have heard of the Startup Act – Senator Jerry Moran and Senator Mark Warner’s bipartisan bill designed to jumpstart the economy by instituting five measures that would help increase entrepreneurial activity in various realms. As fellow Kansans and supporters of entrepreneurship, we recently responded when Senator Moran requested letters of support. Entrepreneurship has a *true* trickle down effect that benefits communities and we are living proof of that. We’d like to share with you the letter we sent to Senator Moran:

Dear Senator Moran,

My name is Nicole Godek. When I made the choice to leave corporate careers in graphic design to move home to my native small town of Grainfield, Kansas, I chose to do so for two reasons: 1.) The advantages of small town life; 2.) The means to establish a business that not only allows me the chance to earn a living for my family doing what I do best, but gives me the chance to make a difference. At the heart of it, entrepreneurship is personally satisfying and socially beneficial so when I go to work each morning on making Love Small Town America Inc., (www.lovesmalltownamerica.com) I am also working hard to add benefit to my community and giving it a legacy I can be proud to pass on to my children.

With Love Small Town America , I’ve used my graphic design skills to build a website that serves as a network to promote and catalog small towns and their resources. It serves as an important communication tool for small towns and their businesses – most of whom are locally-owned by entrepreneurs. It may not be easy for a metropolis to see the difference, but when I walk down main street in any small town across America, I see the difference a single entrepreneur can make and the hole they’d leave if they weren’t open for business. I also see the tremendous opportunity for entrepreneurs to grow if given more support and resources, and the ripple effect this has in individual lives, communities, and economies.

Love Small Town America accomplishes three primary things; it provides a cost-effective, controllable way for communities to catalog and publicize their businesses, events, real estate, and more, it helps advertise what resources the community already has, and it helps advertise what assets the community would like to attract. Whether you are fleeing the city like I did and are looking for an available property in a community that suits your lifestyle, or are ready to open a new business in a town that needs your skills, Love Small Town America is able to help.

A lot of small towns have experienced a big surge of people leaving, but Love Small Town America is a place where people can go who want to escape from some of the plights of urban living and have the chance to follow their dreams.

I support the StartUp America Act and what it means for entrepreneurs – and future entrepreneurs – everywhere. My business makes a difference and provides needed services at a competitive price and I know others will as well. Entrepreneurship is good for me, good for my community, and good for America.

Sincerely,

Nicole Godek

CEO of Love Small Town America, Inc.”

 

If you agree, like we do, that taking concrete steps based in solid research to encourage entrepreneurial activity, you can share your opinions as well. Whether through the Startup Act or through other means, it is our duty to request our lawmakers enact policies that facilitate entrepreneurial growth. It’s time to stop stealing big companies from one another in expensive economic development ploys and to grow our own. That’s the way we grow jobs and generate net growth in the economy.

We’d love to hear what you think, though. Are we on the right path – or just plain crazy? Entrepreneurship is having a hey-day at the moment, and we think it’s about time. Is entrepreneurship a buzzword or is this the way to build a stronger America? Let us know in the comments.

What can businesses learn from small towns?

A new book, Small Town Rules: How Big Brands and Small Businesses Can Prosper in a Connected Economy, examines the lessons that businesses can learn from small towns. Small Town Rules argues that the interconnectedness of a global, web-based system of commerce where, “your customers can talk to everyone else,” presents similar challenges and opportunities to those of a small town, where, it could be argued, everyone talks to everyone else, too.

Small Town Rules

The book is co-authored by Becky McCray and Barry Molz, two digital heavyweights who have used the interconnectedness of the web-based system of exchange to foster respective careers in rural small business advocacy and entrepreneurship. Together they have outlined seven rules that businesses can learn from small towns and shared them in this book.

Whether or not the seven lessons revealed in this new book are ground-shaking epiphanies or statements of common sense remains to be seen; it’s not available until April, although you can pre-order now on Amazon.com. However, the symbiotic relationship between small towns and businesses is one that resonates with us at Love Small Town America. What do you think a business could learn from your small town? Tell us in the comments.

If you can’t wait until April, Small Town Rules co-author, Becky McCray, will preview her new book at the Social Media Tulsa Conference March 15-16, 2012.

 

Give Your Customers More of What they Want with More Frequent Updates

Main Street Dugout's February 2012 Coupon on Love Small Town America

Choosing is a bit of a Goldilock’s conundrum no matter what you are deciding between. If you hedge your bets, you  may end up with too little of what you need. Or, you may worry about diving into something that is “too big” for you. Love Small Town America offers three different update packages to fit your small business or organization: you can choose to have us update your page annually, monthly, or weekly. Even better, we give you the option to change your mind.

Main Street Dugout, a Grainfield institution we love, recently changed their update frequency from annual to monthly updates and we couldn’t be more excited (and that’s not just because we love to eat there). They are using their webpage on Love Small Town America to begin offering customers a coupon. So, more frequent updates make perfect sense for them- and for their customers.

We can’t wait to see what they do to keep all of us coming back to their webpage for more. Some information, like your address, only needs to be changed once in a while. But if your hours, promotions, merchandise, or other information changes more than once a year, monthly updates may be for you. Changing out photos will keep your page fresh and attract customers.

Updating your webpage more frequently to refresh content like pictures, information, and promotions, makes your webpage a destination visitors will return to again and again. If there were something simple you could do to help generate return business, wouldn’t you want to do it?

Offering a coupon on your Love Small Town America page is just one great idea. How will you make the most of your webpage?

Don’t have a webpage? Let us create one for you today. 

Growing from Grainfield

 

A sampling of images from the Grainfield photo gallery on Love Small Town America

Love Small Town America is based in Grainfield, Kansas. It’s where CEO Nicole Godek grew up, and where she returned to find her roots. We thought it was only fitting that as we launch this blog as part of our expansion to bring Love Small Town America to towns across Kansas, that we pay homage to where it all started.

Grainfield is a lot like many other Midwestern towns, built on a solid base of agricultural interests. With a population of 289, it certainly fits the bill of a “small town”. Grainfield’s inhabitants are hard-working, friendly people who are more than residents; they’re a community. As Love Small Town America’s home base, it is only natural that Grainfield be one of the first communities to come online.

When Nicole returned to Grainfield after living in bigger cities, she knew she would find the small town advantages she sought. What she didn’t realize was how difficult it would be to find everything else. Her difficulty finding local resources she sought to remodel her new home online prompted Nicole to realize that if she couldn’t find small town resources on the web while she was living in the heart of a small town, there were probably 1.) a lot of other people out there who couldn’t find them either 2.) a lot of small businesses and small towns who weren’t connecting with customers, residents, etc. Nicole helped Grainfield make those connections and now Grainfield has a great online presence full of information about community events, local schools, businesses, and even job opportunities.

Seeing the community embrace Love Small Town America and helping our local business owners to find a way to have an affordable, professional web presence helped us to know, right from the beginning, that what we were doing would work; that communities need what we offer, that they support our mission to put small towns and businesses back on the map, and most importantly, that we are making a difference.

One of the Grainfield businesses that we helped create a custom website for is D&D Ranching. Until Love Small Town America came along, D&D Ranching didn’t even have a website. Now, they proudly share with the world their decades of experience in the cattle industry. Their business webpage under the Grainfield umbrella makes it easy for anyone looking for the services they offer to find them. (Anne adds: I just tried googling them – and sure enough, I wound up at the Love Small Town America page!)

D&D Ranching is a family owned, small feed yard offering the latest in technology, individual pens and rations, and bunk feeding.”

We’re proud of all the Grainfield businesses we’ve brought online, some joining Love Small Town America and linking to external webpages, and others coming online for the very first time. This town has supported us and given us a great place to call home. Some day, we think we’ll be calling Grainfield by another name: national headquarters of Love Small Town America. 

 

Welcome to the Love Small Town America Blog!

Love Small Town America has been helping people form coast to coast find a map to the "good life".

Hello everyone!

You might be an old friend of Love Small Town America or this might be the first time you’ve heard those words.

To all our old friends – thank you for stopping by, and we hope you’ll say hello in the comments! We’ve got big plans to keep this blog updated with fun, fresh content we think you’ll like. If you’re here, we know you love small towns – or are willing to be enticed! –so we’ve got all sorts of projects in the works, from travel segments to recipes to photo contests that we hope are going to make this a fun destination that you’ll check every day. So, settle in, say “hello”, and let us know what you’d like to see! If you’ve got favorite blogs about small town life, rural issues, or anything, let us know that, too! We’re new to this blogging thing and would love to jump in and make some friends.

To all our new visitors, allow me to introduce Love Small Town America. Love Small Town America isn’t really just a business or a website, although we take what we do pretty seriously – it’s more than that.

Love Small Town America is the only website offering a comprehensive listing of small towns and their assets from community organizations to businesses to real-estate

By joining Love Small Town America, people are getting a professional website at an affordable cost and joining a network that we are growing from the ground up of people who live in small towns, shop in small towns, run businesses in small towns – or would like to move to a small town.

In the coming days, weeks, and months we’ll share lots more with you about what Love Small Town America is, why we love small towns so much, and all sorts of goodies that we think you’ll like – from events to tips on growing your small town business.

For now, we’d just like to say, “howdy” and encourage you to join the conversation. We can’t wait to see where this road takes us and we sure hope you’ll ride along.

Share a comment with us! We can’t wait to meet you!