Running a business can be overwhelming, especially as commerce becomes increasingly digitized. Medicine Hat’s Community Futures Entre-Corp hopes to alleviate local business owner concern by providing free one-on-one digital development support through the Digital Economy Program.
The Digital Economy Program is a two-part, provincially and federally funded initiative, which aims to assist small and medium-sized business owners as they develop a website, digital strategy and online marketing presence.
The first step of the program is to connect business owners with e-commerce co-ordinators, provided by Business Link and Digital Main Street, who assist in building e-comm websites. Once the website is built, owners are directed to a local Digital Service Squad, such as the one offered through Community Future Entre-Corp. Squad members work with owners to do a digital assessment and create a strategic plan to meet the objectives of the business.
The program was first announced in the fall of 2021, but has only been in operation in Medicine Hat and area since early this year. Currently, there are two Digital Service Squad team members in the southeast region, servicing in Medicine Hat and area, as well as Taber to Brooks.
“Entrepreneurs pour so much pride and joy into their business, I think, a lot of times online or social media presence gets put on the back burner,” Grace Evans, Digital Service Squad member for Taber/Brooks, told the News. “It’s always, ‘I know I need to be online, but how do I find the time? How do I find the resources to help me do this?'”
Evans says many business owners are grateful for the help and leave the program feeling more secure in their understanding of and role in e-commerce.
“It’s not so much, even just being online; it’s helping someone present themselves as more than just a product or service,” Evans said. “It’s helping someone’s story come alive.”
Since the program’s implementation, 12 Medicine Hat-based businesses have taken part, as well as 16 in the Taber to Brooks region.
Taylor Hardekopf, Digital Service Squad for Medicine Hat, has heard similar sentiments from his clients.
“Overall, the feedback has been really positive. A lot of people don’t realize like a program like this exists. They’ve just really enjoyed there’s people there who are able to help them set up their online presence – an area where they might have struggled. It’s essentially free training, because we show them how to do it.”
With nearly 75 per cent of Canadians engaging in e-commerce in 2021 – a number the International Trade Administration expects to increase in 2022 – digital presence plays an important role in modern business operations.
“Digital presence is a tool, especially today,” Darren Hall, project co-ordinator with Community Futures Entre-Corp, said. “Just being able to be found online (is important). We talk about Google My Business and how, just that small thing, can be huge. Because if you look up a business, and you see the little square profile on the right hand-side of your screen, it just gives (customers) a sense of credibility.”
As the program becomes more established regionally, Hall hopes more businesses will take part. He and his team are especially interested in sharing their message as Economic Development Week – happening May 9-13 – approaches.
“We are looking to support the small businesses in our area. We’re just excited to help people out as best we can.”
The program is being offered on a limited-time basis as funding ends March 31, 2023, with a possibility of renewal.
Medicine Hat-based businesses interested in taking part are asked to call 403-528-2824 or email firstname.lastname@example.org. Businesses located anywhere from Taber to Brooks can call 403-223-2984 or email email@example.com.
KENDALL KING, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Medicine Hat News