Becky McCray is a small town business owner; she and her husband Joe own a retail liquor store and a cattle ranch in the United States. She shares insights from this real-world experience at her highly-ranked website, Small Biz Survival, and in her award-winning book, Small Town Rules.
As always when Becky and I have a good old chat, we both find ourselves surprised and delighted at how much the concerns of small communities are not dissimilar, even thousands of miles apart across the wide Pacific.
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An Emerging Style of Collaborative Leadership
There has been a sea change in how leadership works in small towns.
The time when a group of just a few people could sit in a room and run your town are over. The center of power has shifted.
More collaborative now, more project-focused.
Becky illustrated with the story of a playground in her town that was in serious need of restoration and upgrading of equipment.
The entire project was driven by people getting involved and not by a few people telling everyone what to do.
Coffee and Calendars – Getting Groups to Work Together
The Coffee and Calendars process – simple and effective.
There are still small towns where various groups operate independently of one another – a kind of silo effect.
Becky shows them how to deal with this by encouraging them to just start by getting together, a couple of people at a time. Two people, each from a different group or organization, bring their group’s calendar, meet for coffee and compare calendars. Then they meet others and repeat the process. People gradually find ways to collaborate.
We also talked about the importance of being proactive if you want to engage groups who are not usually involved and may actually feel uncomfortable at events, even where the existing group wants them involved. Ask about their concerns, about ways the existing group might be able to support them.
Engaging Young People
A big problem in trying to get young people involved in volunteer activity is the old committee structures.
If the community is interested in bringing young people in, the first thing is to abolish your existing formal structures and leadership roles. Make it much more informal, much more project-based, with shorter timeframes.
And then listen to them.
Social Media Key to Information Sharing
Social media is extremely important in small communities. It’s the new informal center of information dissemination and actually faster than the old town gossip was at getting the information out.
It’s crucial for people to use the social media tools to get good stories about their community shared.
Do not wait until the most negative, hateful person in town decides to start using online tools, such as a blog, to run your community into the ground, … Start by setting up ways to share positive information about your community.
Knowing that Becky is a fund of information and ideas about how to develop and promote tourism for local communities and knowing how important that is for some communities’ very survival, I asked her for some thoughts on this.
- If people think it’s a nice place to visit, they’ll think it’s a nice place to live
- There is a trend for travellers to seek out sites off the beaten track, with local cultural experiences – think local artists and artisans
- Regional and quirky are in
I shared an experience of visiting a very poor village in Java years ago and the way they had been helped to use the resources they had to create objects for tourists – my clay elephant story.
What keeps local leaders in this new world awake at night? Resistance to new ideas. Through their SaveYour.town initiative, Becky and her colleague Deb Brown have developed the “Idea Friendly” concept to help people deal with that resistance.
Becky’s practical perspective is often featured in a wide range of media, from The New York Times to The High Plains Journal. She makes her home base in Hopeton, Oklahoma, a community of 30 people. Her goal is to deliver practical steps you can put into action right away to shape the future of your town.
Contact details for Becky
On Twitter at @BeckyMcCray
Project with Deb Brown for small towns – SaveYour.town
Lots of good reading in Becky’s articles at SmallBizSurvival.com