Small Business

BusinessWeek


You've decided to move your business. How do you establish yourself, make connections, and land your first sale?

Have you ever wondered what it would be like to move your business to a new place? Perhaps it's the lure of better weather, a lower cost of living, or being closer to your customers, skilled employees, or loved ones.

Last January, our family moved our home and my business from Houston to Reno. Although I'm a member of the Frequent Mover Club—12 home addresses in the last 21 years—I sold my first two companies during previous moves. This time, I decided to keep my company and move it with us.

I envisioned that moving my company would be a little more work than throwing a few extra boxes in the back of the behemoth moving truck. Boy, did I underestimate the job. I discovered that moving an established business to another state is like starting a business from scratch. Let me explain.

Moving a company takes a tremendous amount of time and money. Assuming your present company is up and running, you've probably forgotten all the administrative minutiae your local government authorities put you through to start up your business. In your new location, you have to go through it all again, but they will require you to jump through different hoops. It's a hassle.

NEW SUPPORT SYSTEM.

Besides the additional startup expenses, you'll probably have a drop in revenue—and that combination can really smack your bottom line. You'll have additional costs like printing and deposits, and you'll have less time to sell because you're getting your home and business unpacked and settled—hence the drop in income.

However long it took you to become profitable when you started your company is about how long it will take you to regain that status after you move it. Sure, you're established and smarter—you probably have a higher run rate after all those years in business, too. Your run rate is how much you have to sell to break even. When you're starting out, your costs are low, so your run rate is low. After a few years, you add to your monthly costs—more advertising, more lunches—and hence, your run rate is higher. People forget that.

Most of your prior local support system will be gone, including vendors who could help you get something done in a pinch, customers who could refer you to new clients, and friends who would listen to your most recent sob story. You can't just replace them one-for-one; you'll have to find new supporters, but they may help you in different ways.

"ELEVATOR SPEECH."

It's tempting to want to hit the ground running, but resist. A silver lining to moving your business is that it's the perfect opportunity to rethink your entire operation. Don't just continue to do the same things in the same way that you did them in your last location. Dissect your business and evaluate which parts are the most profitable, both financially and in terms of personal satisfaction. Scale back or eliminate those activities that don't make the cut.

Once you've updated what your company does, have new business cards printed. Then it's time to hit the local networking scene. Remember to brush up on your "elevator speech" because you're going to be giving it a lot. It might sound something like, "Well, I just moved to town and our company, ABC Industries, works with X organizations so they can save (or have more) Y."

It's natural for people to ask you where you moved from. Tell them briefly but don't get stuck on spouting all the wonders of your prior location. Instead, focus on what you can do for the folks in your new locale.

EASY DOES IT.

Even if your company serves customers all over the country, you still need to be connected to your local community. After all, that's where you'll hear about the best local vendors who can help you continue to provide great products and services. It's also where you'll meet some new friends—and you need those, too. And you may uncover some local opportunities that you hadn't even considered in your last location.

If you are moving between cities that are about the same size, that is one less variable to deal with. Relaunching your business is different if you are moving from a big city to a small one, and vice versa.

If you are moving from a big city to a small one, as I just did, remember to take it s-l-o-w-l-y. I've met folks who came to a smaller town with the attitude of "Lucky you! I'm here," followed by lots of chest beating. The locals turned a deaf ear.

Instead, do a lot of listening and researching. Smaller towns are very interconnected. If you step on one important toe, it will have repercussions you won't even know it. Take the time to find out who the powerful players are and what they care about. Find out which charity groups, churches, schools, universities, business clubs, and other groups have the most clout and offer the most opportunities for business connecting.

BRUSH UP YOUR LOCAL.

If you're moving from a small town to a large one, find a niche to attack. For instance, you can't move to Houston, with a population of 4 million people, and make a splash without spending millions of dollars on advertising. It's wiser to pick a segment that's underserved by what you offer and go after that market. In the future, your business will spill over into other related industries.

Regardless of the size of the city you move your business to, subscribe to the local newspaper and business magazines for a few months before you move there. Clip articles on people you'd like to meet. There are few better ways to make a lasting impression than to meet someone and say, "I read that article about you a few months ago, and I've been looking forward to meeting you." Wow—that will definitely push you onto the fast track to selling in your new town.

Moving your business is not to be taken lightly. However, if it's the right decision, go for it (see BusinessWeek.com, 6/12/06, "The Best Place for Your Business"). You'll never know what could happen until you try it. Make a good plan, be flexible, look for opportunities—and sell, sell, sell. Happy selling!


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