It seems fitting that I should begin by sharing a bit about myself. One of the main things about me is that I live and work in a rural area in Washington State, the Olympic Peninsula. It's a great place to do those two things, and I am living proof. But the challenges are a bit different than in the city. Read on:
Urban Refugee Syndrome (URS)
I identified this common affliction shortly after establishing my design practice. It shows that if you want a first-hand lesson in karma, move to a sparsely populated area. Although I didn't contract URS myself, it didn't take long to notice symptoms in others.
It begins when a business or professional person moves from the city to the country for the first time. If he or she has URS, this person will unconsciously assume two things: that he or she is one of the first people ever to have had the brilliant foresight to flee urban blight, and that it will be impossible to get support services of the same quality he/she used to enjoy in the city.
This patronizing attitude, even though unconscious, will be very apparent to the locals, and it will not create goodwill.
It will also keep URS sufferers from finding business services locally because they won't look. This unfortunate situation will continue until the newcomer has been in the country long enough to be on the receiving end of URS. At that point (hopefully), the dots will connect and the former new person will evolve into a valued member of the local business community.
My first experience of URS was with a guy who needed a logo for his salmon wholesaling business. As I was reviewing my portfolio with him, he pointed to one of my pieces and said, “I couldn’t possibly get work like that here. I would have to go to Seattle.” I was dumbfounded. Whose portfolio did he think I was showing? I had just left a design position in Seattle, but apparently when you move from Seattle to the Peninsula, all your abilities fall off the ferry into Puget Sound as you leave the city behind.
URS can be forestalled fairly easily
Rural professionals have to be hyper-aware of how they present right from the get-go. How you dress, what your web site and office look like, your business materials, how you answer the phone - everything has to be top-notch because everything sends a message. My tag line is "Perception is everything," and when it comes to establishing credibility with a URS person, perception is absolutely crucial.
By managing how you present, you tell clients how to perceive you. You torpedo those unconscious assumptions before they even gain a toehold. And you are also telling them to expect to pay you what you're worth.
One of the worst URS assumptions is that since services in the country must be of less value than those in the city, they should be cheaper. Do not reinforce this stereotype by assuming that because you live in a small town, you can show up in a sweatshirt and jeans. If you look like you only need $10/hour to live on, that's all you'll get.
The take-away: Do not assume that people will automatically know how great you and your business are -- you have to tell them by showcasing your worth in every possible way.