Remember Raymond Tusk from House of Cards?
The Koch-inspired billionaire who headquartered his company in Missouri (of all places), lived in a modest house with his wife, and spent his free time roaming the Ozarks bird watching? Despite living thousands of miles away from politic power houses and industry hubs, Tusk’s enterprises extended their reach into international markets from the Show Me State, all the way to China.
While I’m not much like Gerald McCraney’s House of Cards character (we exist in totally different tax brackets), we do have one similarity – running a business from the middle of nowhere.
Throughout business school, I carefully researched up and coming metro areas and startup communities, trying to identify the “perfect” place to headquarter my consulting firm.
Following graduation, my plans to move to SoCal, and then Washington, D.C., were shaken up by series of events that can best be summarized by war, company acquisition, the bureaucratic nightmare called the VA system, and an incredible real estate investment opportunity.
Where did I end up? Kansas (yes, you read that right) – I bought a farm and moved to the Sunflower State, where there are literally more cattle than people.
I was really afraid moving to Midwest would totally kill my professional jive, but being rurally headquartered actually resulted in a lot of business growth (go figure).
Want to know how I make a living from the middle of nowhere? Here are three strategies I’ve utilized to grow my business from the farm:
I’m currently located about an hour and a half (one-way) from Kansas City, Missouri (KCMO) – the largest metro area in our region. Once a week, I go into the city for board meetings, club events, and networking luncheons. There’s a lot of industry headquartered in KCMO, so establishing connections with key players in agriculture, defense, healthcare, and the non-profit sectors has been really influential in the adaptability of my location-independent business model.
My “city days” are jam packed – I typically leave the farm around 5 AM, schedule back-to-back coffees and meeting through lunch, drop in on some business pals during the afternoon, and attend organizational functions as scheduled. I get to enjoy the benefits of the city – like French cuisine – without living in its less-than-desirable realities – like bumper to bumper traffic jams.
Prioritize Digital Presence
When in DC and SoCal, I was regularly rubbing shoulders with the Who’s Who of many big organizations; we went to the same gym, were members of the same clubs, and even lived in the same neighborhoods. I took this effortless access for granted, ignored the importance of aggressive digital visibility, and failed to capitalize on my shoulder bumping encounters. There were a lot of missed opportunities, many of which I can only see now that I have to put so much effort into gaining similar access.
Living “in the sticks” forced me to get real serious real quick about all things digital – especially LinkedIn and my online portfolio – and expand my professional network beyond my neighborhood. In my line of work, access does not equal accounts. My new focused online networking strategy led me to invest in some serious market research, revamp my consulting services in a way that met organizational needs, and convert professional acquaintances into clients (think: bring in the Closer).
Attend Industry Conferences
Continuing education is always important, but even more so if your world consists of cow patties and spotty Wi-Fi. My first year as a rural entrepreneur, I set a goal of attending four industry conference per year. Due to my farming schedule, most of these conferences ended up happening during the winter months, before calving season started. I stayed relatively close (Colorado, Missouri, Chicago), packed stacks of business cards, and made the most of every networking and learning opportunity each conference provided.
Today, I shoot for six to eight conference a year. If you’d like some suggestions on conferences for millennial entrepreneurs, check out my previous blog post, 7 Conferences Millennials Should Attend. My conference lineup is split between two types: marketing education and prospective client events. The marketing ones I attend to learn (I rarely sell my marketing services to other marketers), and the prospective client events, such as agriculture and government conferences, I’ll often buy a booth, shake a lot of hands, and organize some sort of giveaway.
In case you’re interested in following the footsteps of the rural entrepreneur, consider how your business model can be structured in a way that lets you enjoy the great outdoors without cutting into your revenue. Thanks to technology, many modern businesses can be run from almost anywhere in the world.
While I miss running along the Chesapeake Bay and brunching on the Pacific, I don’t miss the smog/traffic/noise/insanely high cost of living. Every day that I wake up to a brilliant sunrise, go for a long run around my farm and have breakfast with my horses in the backyard, I’m pretty thrilled to have found a way to have the best of both worlds – big business and a relaxing life.