Belleville Uses Digital Main Street to Get Hidden Gems On the Map
In the hotels of Quinte Region around Belleville, kiosks guide visitors to the hidden gems that locals and those in-the-know frequent. Unfortunately, if you’re not on Trip Advisor and Google My Business, you’re apt to stay hidden.
Recognizing tourism as an important part of the economy, the Belleville Downtown Improvement Area is working with local businesses to up their digital presence.
“There are tourists coming in that want to do things, we need to get you up to speed on these two platforms,” that was the pitch Marijo Cuerrier, executive director of the Belleville Downtown Improvement Area brought to business owners on the back of the city’s roll-out of Digital Main Street in May.
The community is growing exponentially, says Cuerrier who joined the BIA in October. “I feel like I'm on the edge of tsunami over here.”
And DMS – a program supported by the Province of Ontario and the Ontario BIA Association, which offers grants to help small main street businesses across Ontario strengthen their digital and online capabilities – is the first of many steps, she says for getting Belleville on the tourism map as a destination of choice. The Digital Squad was deliberate in its approach devoting a week to getting businesses on Google My Business.
— Downtown Belleville (@DTBelleville) April 25, 2019
Since May, the Squad has engaged 80 of the BIA’s 180 businesses. “One of the first things I identified here was that a lot of the owners of businesses weren't up to speed when it came to the digital platforms they had at their disposal, that were, in many instances, free,” says Cuerrier.
For some it was intimidation.
“There were a few champions on the street– really high tech – but for the most part, the majority of business owners and people that worked for them were like I know I'm supposed to be doing more digitally but I don't know how to do it, or I don't have time to do it,” she says.
Of the 80 entrepreneurs they’ve engaged, some have taken a passive approach, doing the digital assessment but declining to apply for the $2,500 Digital Transformation grant. Others did the assessment, recognized their gaps and applied for the grant, enlisting the DMS squad to help them improve their digital presence.
Sandy Musson from Tri & Run Sports has had a positive experience with our Digital Service Squad!
Join Sandy and many others who are on-boarded into the Digital Main Street program!
Book an appointment with our Digital Service Squad today!https://t.co/2FBRSGSo0l #DMSBelleville pic.twitter.com/batYhGrCyu
— Downtown Belleville (@DTBelleville) May 30, 2019
The next phase of Cuerrier’s plan is to focus on specific businesses in the community. “Some have shown great need and are willing to use our services to bring them even further from where they are,” she says adding that most of this will involve working with the businesses to fix their website and educate them on social media and how to develop content for the platforms that fit within their business’ mandate.
She says the targeted approach will allow them to focus and elevate the community on the whole.
“There's already been a residual effect, it's bringing our community together and (people are seeing) that the BIA is invested in helping entrepreneurs succeed – that we have the tools, the skills, the knowledge, and the finances to do that,” says Cuerrier. “It builds confidence in the BIA, it builds a relationship and it takes away the intimidation factor, especially for our older entrepreneurs – (we’re) bridging that gap, it doesn't matter how old or inexperienced you are, we can help you and we're not going to make you feel dumb or intimidated.”
Digital Transformation Headlines
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Digital Main Street was created by the Toronto Association of Business Improvement Areas (TABIA) with direct support from the City of Toronto. DMS is also supported by a group of strategic business partners, including Google, Mastercard, Shopify, Microsoft, Facebook, Intuit QuickBooks, Square, and Yellow Pages.
A $42.5-million investment from FedDev Ontario and an additional $7.45 million from the Government of Ontario brought together the Toronto Association of Business Improvement Areas, Communitech, Invest Ottawa and the Ontario Business Improvement Area Association to expand the Digital Main Street Platform in order to support more businesses going digital as a response to the impacts of COVID-19.