There’s no question that businesses today need an online presence, especially given how dramatically COVID-19 has altered the landscape.
It’s a matter of survival.
Yet it can be hard to know where to begin. Marketing your business online can seem like an expensive, time-consuming and intimidating undertaking—one that comes with a steep learning curve.
Thankfully, there’s a free resource available from the province through Digital Main Street Ontario. Their Digital Service Squad specialists will walk you through the process and before you know it, you’ll be promoting your business and selling successfully online.
This remarkable program helps small businesses across Ontario enhance their operations to include an online business model, regain lost revenue, and become more resilient and competitive as the economy recovers.
The best part? The service is completely free.
“We have connected almost 500 businesses to digital marketing support, training, services, and grant funding and I am so proud of the work our team has done and continues to do for businesses in Simcoe, South Georgian Bay. We can't wait to help more business owners every day,” says Ben Frisch Team lead of the Digital Service Squad.
Frisch is passionate about helping businesses enhance their digital footprint, especially now when the need is so great.
The work Frisch and his talented team do is made possible thanks to a generous grant from Digital Main Street Ontario, which is funded by FedDev Ontario. The money helps small businesses use digital technologies to adapt to a rapidly changing environment.
A continuous Digital Service Squad, led by Frisch, has recently been established to service businesses in areas, including Collingwood, Town of the Blue Mountains, Meaford, Clearview, Wasaga Beach, Adjala-Tosorontio, Penetanguishene, Tiny and New Tecumseth. The program originally launched in June 2019 and was recently awarded a second round of funding.
What can businesses expect?
To start, you’ll receive a free 30-minute initial consultation. In this discussion, a specialist will assess your business goals and identify which programs you qualify for and best match your needs.
You will be able to attend webinars, where experts speak about digital transformation topics, and participate in weekly Tuesday morning virtual café chats, which give small business leaders a chance to pick up tips and tricks and learn about what the Digital Service Squad’s next enlightening webinar will be covering.
Eligible businesses can also receive an audit of their digital footprint, including an extensive review of their online properties. Squad specialists recommend how to enhance your website, Google My Business listing, search ranking and social media presence.
Other innovative offerings include the ShopHere program, which provides independent small businesses and artists with a quick and easy, no-cost way to start selling online right away. FutureProof helps you identify new markets, pivot your business model, and develop and implement a deeper digital transformation plan.
Qualified small businesses can also apply for a $2,500 Digital Transformation Grant. This includes an online assessment and online training modules, as well as the development of a customized Digital Transformation Plan.
Luke Anderson, co-owner of Gibson and Co. (cafe and bar), recently took advantage of the Digital Service Squad and Digital Transformation Grant.
“For me, it’s great to see something we can actually use to better our business,” said Anderson. “It’s a clear direction on how it’s going to help small businesses. This was something I might have rolled my eyes at before, but I found it worthwhile once I’d gone through the process.”
Digital Service Squads are the cornerstone of Digital Main Street’s design and success. It is a labour of love for the specialists involved, who do everything they can to help business owners succeed.
“My favourite part of being a Digital Service Squad team member is the moment when a business owner realizes that I'm not trying to sell them anything and that the program is completely free and there is no catch. The look I get when it finally clicks is priceless,” says Frisch.
“Ontario’s small businesses are the backbone of our economy, and the keystone of our economic recovery. That is why we have invested in Digital Main Street to help these enterprises adapt to doing business in a digital world, and take advantage of the record number of people shopping online,” said The Honourable Mélanie Joly, Minister of Economic Development and Official Languages and Minister responsible for the Federal Economic Development Agency for Southern Ontario. The goal, she said, is to keep our main streets vibrant, support good local jobs, and help the economy come back strong.
“The COVID-19 pandemic hit Ontario’s main streets hard, so Digital Main Street is needed more than ever,” said Kay Matthews, Executive Director of OBIAA. “We know that businesses that participated in Digital Main Street last year were better able to cope when the pandemic hit.”
If you’re a small business owner and want to build your online presence, connect with the Digital Service Squad via email or by calling 705-479-0139.
This program is managed locally by the South Georgian Bay Small Business Enterprise Centre.