Businesses get digital boost

·3 min read

THUNDER BAY, ONT. — A $296,000 grant awarded to the Thunder Bay Community Economic Development Commission through their Thunder Bay & District Entrepreneur Centre has provided opportunities for small businesses to improve their online presence.

Ryan Moore, the commission’s development officer, says the grant money, which was provided by the Digital Main Street program, has enabled them to develop the two-year Digital Service Squad program that will provide small business owners with resources and support to digitally transform their business. It will also provide opportunities for $2,500 grants for those who are eligible.

The squad is comprised of industry professionals who will help provide training and resources to qualifying businesses that will propel them to compete in the online space. The squad will also help them with the development of their digital transformation plan and then with the application process for a $2,500 Digital Transformation Grant.

“One of the first requirements that you have to have is an actual brick and mortar business in a commercially taxed location,” Moore said.

“You could get up to a $2,500 grant to improve your online presence by maybe purchasing a better camera so that you can take better pictures, you can buy Facebook marketing or hire somebody to do your website for you. In addition to that, the funding we received helped us put in place a team of experts who in any business, whether they are home-based or not, will provide a free appointment to help (the entrepreneur) understand how to make the most out of their Facebook page or how to connect their Mail Chimp to the e-commerce platform.”

The tutoring is available to help people receive the skills they need to make the most of being online.

Moore said during the pandemic, people became comfortable ordering online and doing their shopping online.

“And that’s not going away,” he said.

“People are still going to buy things online, but now with the waning of the pandemic hopefully, people are returning to in-store shopping. It’s still important to have an online presence so that people can get pre-shopping and research done so that they can go to the store and know what they are looking for.”

Having a good online presence will help the business compete against online giants as well by showcasing their products and services right alongside them.

“So when they look online for camping tents, they know they can buy it here in town versus ordering it from Amazon,” Moore added.

Last year, the Thunder Bay Community Economic Development Commission assisted almost 200 individual businesses with the squad services. The new two-year program allows them to assist up to 500 businesses in the district.

The Thunder Bay squad service team has four members which include Bridget Postuma, from the Northwestern Ontario Innovation Centre; Brian Abraham, from Firedog Communications; Brook Dallaire, from Sociable Thunder Bay and Dylan Uurainen, from Digital Mammoth.

Digital Service Squads, such as this one, are the cornerstone of the Digital Main Street program.

They work with small businesses, at no cost, to complete an online assessment and guide them to online training modules designed to build their digital knowledge and skills. The one-on-one assistance will support the main aspects of online appearance from basic website setup or Google Business Profiles to 360-degree photos, social media presence, and more.

Entrepreneurs can go online at www.digitaltbay.caSquad to book a free consultation to start improving their online presence.

Sandi Krasowski, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Chronicle-Journal

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