Bed and breakfast guest room with a sign on the door that says, "Be our guest."
There is untapped opportunity in and many benefits to running a business in a rural area, where entrepreneurial-minded folks can provide valuable services to their communities. — Getty Images/Kristen Prahl

It’s a misnomer that you have to be in or near an urban area to start and run a successful business. There is a tremendous need for goods and services in rural communities, which tend to be particularly loyal to local businesses. While only 17% of U.S. businesses are located in rural settings, over 97% of the country’s landscape is made up of rural land, indicating that there is untapped opportunity and many benefits to being a business owner in these areas. And for those contemplating the rural marketplace, there are special loans and assistance that can help with financing. These 10 businesses are a good place to start for ideas that are ripe for rural-dwelling entrepreneurs.

Rural ride-share

Ride-sharing impacts communities in many ways. It improves mobility and quality of life for those who are limited by lack of access to transportation and cuts down on car emissions. It can be a great service to provide to those in rural settings where public transportation can be scarce. One main challenge to overcome is unreliable cell service due to less digital infrastructure, which can make it more difficult for riders and drivers to connect on a phone app. As connectivity continues to improve, however, you can become the Uber for your community if you are tech-savvy, people-centered and like being on the move.

You will need a pool of reliable and vetted drivers (people with a valid U.S. driver's license and a vehicle with proof of registration and insurance, etc.) and, depending on your state, a transportation network company permit. You will also want to invest in building an app or subscribing to a ride-share business platform from which drivers and customers can communicate, schedule, and track rides, and receive or make payments.

Mobile gym fitness coach

Rural America struggles the most when it comes to the obesity epidemic. The ability to reach out to those at risk and meet them where they live can present an opportunity to do good and build an in-demand business while doing it. If you are a certified fitness professional with wheels — ideally a truck outfitted with exercise essentials like weight benches, pull-up bars and TRX bands — you can create a successful mobile fitness business.

You can mine clients via local Facebook groups, chat it up at places of worship, set up a booth at highly trafficked farmers markets and advertise in your local paper. Branding your fitness truck with attention-grabbing graphics will help raise awareness as well. The average cost per session for in-home personal training varies geographically, but can typically run anywhere from $40-70 per hour, and it is recommended that you offer slightly discounted multi-session packages as well.

Bed and breakfast owner

If you love hosting guests for brunch or for a weekend visit, have concierge-level skills, and a lay of the local land, the bed and breakfast industry, valued at $3.4 billion, may be your calling card to business ownership. Bed and breakfasts have the ambiance and service of an upscale hotel and the comfort and charm of a cozy home. You will need to invest in a property that can accommodate the typical B&B occupancy of four to 10 guest rooms, and then plan for renovations, which can be estimated to run between $20,000-50,000 per room. Beyond business savvy and cooking chops, the ideal innkeeper likes to chat with and learn about people and will share interesting facts and places of interest with visitors.

Coworking/flexible office space owner

Between 2020 and 2024, the number of coworking spaces is expected to double to 40,000 offices worldwide, with an estimated five million people utilizing them. They present a newer concept in short-term office rental options, particularly for small companies that don’t need a ton of space to operate as well as for freelancers who want a place where they can work and take client meetings. It’s also seen as a social outlet for those who like the energy, buzz and communal resources that they often present. The popularity of co-working spaces has made its way into rural markets.

If you have money to invest in real estate and the savviness to create a professional environment that can cater to the needs of local business people and visitors on “work-cations,” coworking offices are a great service-driven business prospect. The best spaces offer affordable membership options as well as reliable internet connectivity, comfortable and well-designed hot desks and meeting spaces, office supplies and equipment, kitchens (snacks are a must!), and an overall sense of community.

People long for authentic and meaningful travel experiences, which means that if you live in or near a place that’s rich in history and local flavors and know its best-kept secrets, you can become a local “tourpreneur.”

Compost pickup service

Food waste in the U.S. is a major problem, and the majority comes from households and consumer-facing businesses like restaurants. Most residents and business owners have the best of intentions and would rather divert waste from landfills when possible and see their food be put to more sustainable use. Unfortunately, the difficult logistics often involved in composting becomes a barrier.

Enter composting pickup services, which, for a fee of typically $8-20 per pickup, will cart away organic food waste and bring it to collection centers or community gardens to be used as fertilizer or feed soil. Sound up your alley? You can make a profit while doing your part to reduce the greenhouse gas emissions that contribute to climate change. The business of composting involves a lot of knowledge and an investment in land for your composting site as well as in hauling and carting resources; however, it can be a successful venture that allows you to earn money from collecting organic matter as well as selling soil that the compost creates.

Local tour guide

Who better to share the interesting landmarks and fascinating anecdotes of a town than its residents? People long for authentic and meaningful travel experiences, which means that if you live in or near a place that’s rich in history and local flavors and know its best-kept secrets, you can become a local “tourpreneur.” You will need to love people almost as much as your locale and have a way with storytelling that leaves your guests running to write a glowing review on Tripadvisor, Facebook, Google or one of the many review platforms known to create confidence and generate business.

Once you have designed your tour, you can market it on one of many platforms that connect sightseers to tour guides based on interests and preferences. If there is competition in your town, perhaps niche food tours or outings focused on architecture, or even a haunted cemetery tour could attract visitors looking for something out of the ordinary.

Tech support service provider

Internet connectivity and broadband availability are challenges that rural communities face. If you have a background in computer science or information technology (IT) and a deep understanding of hardware, software and networks, you can provide a valuable service to local residents, healthcare providers, schools and businesses.

IT support is a growing field and offers entrepreneurial options from operating as online technical support or even as a mobile support service. If you are a patient and effective diagnostician who provides efficient and quality service, IT support may be for you. For your expert technical knowledge, you will be well-compensated, as IT service calls can command as much as $70-80 per hour.

Thrift shop owner

It is projected that by 2025, the secondhand market will reach $77 billion in sales. Not only is vintage considered cool and thrift shopping a sport for bargain hunters, but it has the potential to make a big impact on the environment in terms of sustainability. More and more people are paying attention to and changing their shopping habits, which presents a great opportunity for the environmentally conscious, fashion-forward, retail-minded entrepreneur.

You will need to build an inventory. To start, try scouring yard and estate sales, helping friends and family clean out closets, and soliciting donations on social media. You may want to test the waters at a local flea market before securing a storefront and use the opportunity to survey local shoppers about what they are looking for.

Organic food delivery service

If you are located in an agricultural area, you can do quite well operating as an organic food delivery service. Organic food sales grew 12.8% in 2020, hitting a record $60 billion in sales. The category's success was spurred by the pandemic when everyone was eating at home and choosing healthier food options.

As people continue to eat in and focus on fresh, better-for-you foods, you can be the convenience factor they’re looking for. You can locally source your inventory to support your community and create an online platform where customers can view your selection, place their orders and schedule delivery.

Academic tutoring

Approximately 20% of all U.S. students (about 9.3 million children) are educated in rural areas. Accessibility to academic support resources is a challenge that students in rural areas face, caused by inequities like the digital divide. Educators in rural communities are needed to help bolster academic success and future outcomes.

If you have a background in teaching and the skills needed to help students in a particular subject area or can guide students and their families through the college application and financial aid process, you can provide a valuable service. Perhaps your tutoring center could be a place for students seeking not only your help, but also access reliable internet connectivity to help them do their work. While some families may lack the resources to pay for this assistance, there are government programs that provide grants or subsidies to help those committed to helping others.

CO— aims to bring you inspiration from leading respected experts. However, before making any business decision, you should consult a professional who can advise you based on your individual situation.

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