Open your business in the right region – or adapt now to thrive

By Michelle van Schouwen

Many years ago, my now late first husband and I started our first company, an advertising and marketing agency.

Location? Right where we happened to be. We’d recently bought and were renovating a house in Western Massachusetts and were expecting our first child. Hey, what better time and place to start a company?

In fact, that company prospered for over three decades, until I sold it. Its base office(s) over the years remained in or close to Springfield, Massachusetts. However, because Springfield was, during most of that time, either struggling or simply not keeping up with other, more dynamic business regions, we were compelled to expend considerable effort to secure and nurture excellent clients both locally and from other parts of the country. For years, we had a sales office catering to the burgeoning tech cluster of Raleigh/Durham/Charlotte/Greensboro, North Carolina. We did well. But if I had it to do over again, would I instead open our critical “home office” in a thriving, growing city?* Absolutely.

Of course, you can plan better than we did. If you are just now opening a company, look closely and without prejudice at the location you choose. A few considerations:

-If you are establishing a business-to-business company, is your location close to the industries you want to serve? Does it matter?

-If you are serving consumers, is your location well situated to attract people who need/want and can pay for your offerings?

-Is local rent or real estate affordable, appropriate and safe?

-Is your geographic market growing, mature or declining? Is the area prosperous or struggling? Are young people moving in or out?

-Is the market saturated with companies like yours, or will yours be the only company of its type? (And how will this impact your opportunities?)

-Does your location have or attract the types of employees you need, and can you afford to pay the going local wages or salaries?

-How are the business services and expenses in your area? Research business internet offerings, business support services such as accounting and legal services, property and other local taxes, networking opportunities, start-up culture, and other factors that may affect you.

-If your business is somewhat virtual, or in other ways may be location-agnostic, consider the elements that may matter to you anyway, which may include access to a good airport, reliability of WiFi or the area’s cache for signaling success to desirable customers or clients.

-Consider how much, and under what conditions, you and employees will have to drive, take public transportation or otherwise get from place to place. (On a recent trip to a large city that has outgrown its transportation infrastructure, I spent a full 90 minutes traveling five miles.)

-Will the weather frequently or severely impact your ability to do business, for example by limiting the number of days per year that your business is operable or optimally profitable?

-Will the local or regional political or cultural climate impact the success of your business, whether positively or negatively?

If you have already established your business in a less-than-ideal location, and want to continue there, you may need to make a few adjustments:

For example, our marketing company evolved to focus on business-to-business clients, of which we found more (and better able to pay) in our region than we did consumer-facing clients. We created a niche market. We also leveraged our proximity to a major airport to service clients who were a flight – preferably a direct flight – away. You may find that you must:

-Create a new market in your location by making special effort to educate and nurture a growing, loyal clientele.

-Tweak your offerings, pricing or other aspects of your product to suit your location.

-Find customers and clients outside your geographic area.

-Train local employees from the ground up, recruit people from other regions or add remote employees as feasible.

-Sell product and services online.

-Establish additional offices or add sales staff in other regions where needed.

Finally, while choosing the best location possible for your business at the start is ideal, adapting to the reality of business conditions – where you are, how the economy is doing, what’s happening in your industry – is a chief responsibility of nearly all small business owners. What’s an ideal location for a tech start-up one year may appear less so the next. The only vegan restaurant in town may see two more open on the same block as customers develop an interest in the cuisine.

Wishing you success, wherever you are or will be.

*In recent years, Springfield, MA, has made a range of efforts to attract start-ups and innovation, train workers for in-demand jobs and build its overall appeal as a business climate. I applaud these efforts.


Michelle van Schouwen enjoys an “Act 2” career as principal of Q5 Analytics, providing advocacy and communications for climate change mitigation and adaptation. See For 32 years, Michelle was president of van Schouwen Associates, LLC (vSA), a B2B marketing company. In 2017, van Schouwen Associates was acquired by Six-Point Creative Works, Inc. of Springfield, MA. Michelle is available for speaking engagements on topics including her new work on climate change mitigation and Florida coastal water issues. She speaks to business and student groups about marketing launches and entrepreneurship ,and works with start-ups to support their development.

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