Business services, increasingly important for the competitiveness of rural economies, can be developed through considered and focused actions by development agencies and governments. The distinctive features of the rural context mean that business services here can be different, with more emphasis on embedded services in subsectors, on collective delivery and consumption of services and on public–private collaboration. However, the role they play in the economy is essentially the same as in urban environments; providing knowledge and information to help businesses solve problems and realize opportunities (e.g. reduce costs, gain market access and improve efficiency).Drawing on a wider review and a variety of case material this paper demonstrates the nature of rural business services and highlights key steps that can be taken to promote their development. These build on the logic of the market development approach and, while posing challenges, argues that these are within the grasp of agencies to implement.