My flight to London had barely lifted off when my seatmate and I began to chat. I soon learned that the handsome man seated next to me was a former art teacher who reinvented his life and now is a fulltime painter. Since English landscapes are his specialty, he was a frequent flyer to England. “Do you live in the city?” I asked.

“I lived all over the Twin Cities when I was teaching,” he said, “but now I live in a small town south of there and I just love it. It’s so quiet. I go to my studio and paint to my heart’s content.”

Not long after, I found myself seated next to another small town enthusiast on a flight to Dallas. This man was a former pilot who had left flying when he was diagnosed with a serious illness. He had just become a flight training instructor, but he was most excited about the little bed and breakfast inn he and his wife owned in a small town in northeastern Pennsylvania. It was their second such venture and he regaled me with stories about his life as an innkeeper.

While small town living isn’t for everyone, relocating to smaller places is becoming increasingly popular. The entrepreneurial revolution is partially responsible for this new wave of emigration. Computers, modems and fax machines make it possible to do all sorts of work in the most remote locations.

If you’re dreaming about becoming an entrepreneurial villager yourself, you need to decide if you want to create a local business that only serves your community or if you want to serve a clientele unlimited by geography. Either kind of business is possible in the new world of cottage industries. Since today’s cottage is apt to be an electronic one, small towns are home to an endless array of enterprises that would have been unthinkable even a decade ago. Here are a few ideas for profit centers that are especially suited to village life:

At your service. My old favorite, the service business, gets high points for small town enterprise. Even the tiniest communities can support a wide range of services.

On a recent visit to my old hometown, I noticed how shabby the houses and offices had become. This would be a great place to be a housepainter or to rehab buildings, I thought. Many small towns have a down-at-the-heels look following years of neglect as people moved away. Now that small towns are becoming fashionable again, renovation will become a popular pastime as residents spruce things up and make them charming places to live.

Even somewhat exotic services can be located in small towns if they attract a clientele from beyond their immediate area. Antique restorers and other repair specialists, for instance, often develop a reputation that attracts business from all over.

Put your computer to work. Although computers are becoming commonplace in rural areas (and the popular Gateway computers are even manufactured in a small town), many businesses in these areas use them to handle things like accounting and inventory control. If you have good desktop publishing skills, you could find an eager market for your services producing business materials, reports and the like.

Since most writers can live wherever they want, freelancers, as well as novelists, often live in small communities. With the Internet putting research sources within reach of everyone, freelancing from the boonies has gotten even easier.

And, of course, marketing online is open to anyone, anywhere. Whether you fancy selling used merchandise on auction sites or launching your own product line globally, computers make it possible to run your marketing empire from the tiniest of places.

Create a destination business. When a new highway threatened to close Betty’s Pies on the North Shore of Lake Superior, customers rallied to save this popular tourist stop. The effort paid off and Betty’s will continue to make pie eaters happy during the coming summer season.

Although many small towns have seen the demise of local businesses such as hardware stores and clothing shops, creative shopkeepers are bringing commercial spaces to life again with art galleries, antique shops, inns and unique restaurants that bring in out-of-town customers. On a road trip a couple of years ago, we stopped in winsome Goshen, Indiana, and visited a quilt shop that had collectors coming from all over the world to buy their stunning creations.

Charming villages in New England have long been home to wonderful local businesses that draw city dwellers to their shops on the weekends; this trend is gathering speed in other parts of the country, too, with artistic and innovative shops springing up in off-the-beaten-path locales. Archer City, Texas, might be just a quiet ranch town if it weren’t for bestselling author and local resident Larry McMurtry, who has turned this hamlet into a haven for bibliophiles, drawing booklovers from all over the country who love to search for used books. If it’s special, people will come.

Market products to the world. You don’t have to look very far to see that mail order has long flourished in tiny towns. Thousands of people will never set foot in Dodgeville, Wisconsin (pop. 3,458), but they’ll buy something from Land’s End catalog, which is based there. A quick survey of smaller mail order operations shows that geography is not a consideration for marketing products through the mail. You can order maple syrup directly from Vermont, Christmas trees from Michigan, and software from New Hampshire. Direct mail marketing has enormous profit potential and it’s fun, besides.

And it’s not just big catalog companies that succeed via the mail. All sorts of small specialty businesses sell their products to people all over the globe. Often a mail order business makes a great addition to other things that you’re doing. Mail order has long been popular with people wanting to live in smaller towns and still build a sizable business. It might make sense for you, too.

If small town living appeals to you, make your own opportunities in a place that you love. As Jack Lessinger says, “Build something, help something, save something. The possibilities are endless.” Small towns are still great places for entrepreneurs who also want to create a nice quality of life without the stresses of modern city living.

There’s more where this came from.
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