Grants available for Vanier merchants to embark on ‘digital transformation’

Vanier merchants have a fresh opportunity to reach new customers while strengthening their digital and online capabilities through a provincial grant program.

“Digital Main Street” stems from an initiative created by the Toronto Association of Business Improvement Areas that helps merchants across Ontario achieve “digital transformation.”

That may sound daunting. But, according to Darryl Jullot – the senior manager of Digital Main Street – it’s simply an extension of what has always been at the core of many merchants’ businesses: Connecting with current and potential customers through unique product and service offerings.

“It goes back to the grassroots model,” Jullot says. “We want to help businesses grow.”

Specifically, Digital Main Street participants receive a free assessment and a list of recommended to-dos that identifies technologies and tools that can help merchants achieve their digital goals.

This can include gaining a basic web presence as well as accessing digital tools such as Google My Business, ecommerce shops as well as social media platforms.

Other topics can include website analytics, search engine optimization, customer engagement strategies and Google Reviews.

Many of these have become essential tools for businesses; Jullot points to a quote from bestselling author Erik Qualman: “We don’t have a choice on whether we do social media, the choice is how well we do it.”

Individual businesses can apply for $2,500 through Digital Main Street to help fund the digital tools and technologies needed for businesses to expand in the digital retail world.

DIGITAL SQUAD

But what does this mean for businesses in Ottawa, and Vanier in particular?

The Vanier BIA recently received a $10,000 grant from Digital Main Street and the Ontario government to help the association form so-called “digital service squads” to assist Vanier merchants.

Squads provide training, consulting and advisory services to merchants who are interested in growing in the digital world.

“Vanier will be leading the way in digital main streets,” says Nathalie Carrier, the executive director of the Vanier BIA. “So many businesses aren’t found on Google searches.”

Digital Main Street’s Jullot acknowledges that the process can feel overwhelming for some merchants, which is why the program is designed to provide support at every step.

“We will literally sit at a cash register with a business owner,” he says. “We help them look at new point of sales, everything from email marketing and product photography.”

In addition to the BIA’s grant, Carrier notes that individual businesses can apply for $2,500 in funding to purchase and adopt digital tools and technologies.

Only 2,000 grants are available until March 2020. More information about applying for the grant is available at digitalmainstreet.ca.

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