How Belle River Plans to Get All It’s Businesses On The Map
It was Janel Gagnier, coordinator of the Belle River On The Lake BIA, that first convinced the board to take up the Digital Main Street initiative. “Right away I knew it was a good thing and I knew it would benefit the businesses in our community,” says Gagnier. She admits she came down hard, telling her board: “We don't want to think about it, we don’t want to talk about it, we want to do it now… they all agreed and we applied.”
Nestled at the foot of Lake St. Clair, Belle River is a truly main street community. Its lakeside lifestyle means a steady influx of visitors. It also means local businesses need to have some sort of online presence to make them easy for tourists to know where to look.
The Belle River on the Lake BIA launched it’s Digital Main Street initiative with a lofty benchmark: get every business on Google.
“Our goal starting out was for every business in Belle River to have control over their Google My Business listing,”
explains Sienna Ducharme, a member of the BIA’s Digital Squad. A month into the program – which leverages grants and support from the Province of Ontario and the Ontario BIA Association to help small main street businesses across Ontario strengthen their digital and online capabilities – the Digital Squad has already visited 110 businesses in Belle River and engaged with 20.
“I think a lot of them were overwhelmed, they didn't know what their starting point should be,” says Ducharme. “Giving them a nudge in the right direction has been really helpful for a lot of them.”
It was Janel Gagnier, coordinator of the Belle River On The Lake BIA, that first convinced the board to take up the Digital Main Street initiative. “Right away I knew it was a good thing and I knew it would benefit the businesses in our community,” says Gagnier. She admits she came down hard, telling her board:
“We don't want to think about it, we don’t want to talk about it, we want to do it now… they all agreed and we applied.”
For the Digital Squad, she hired Ducharme, a graduate of the University of Windsor’s business administration program with a concentration on marketing and Dominique Nickels, a third-year communications and media student at the University of Windsor. The aim was to create a team that could bounce ideas off one another.
The pair have proven complementary, says Gagnier. In just a few weeks since launching, they’ve started to elevate the business communities digital literacy.
“The digital assessment is a big first step not only for the business but we see where they're at,” says Nickels. “And from there we can talk about what we think is a good next step for them (and) bounce ideas off of them to see what direction they want to go.”
They’ve since expanded beyond the workshops surrounding Digital Main Street’s online training videos to developing their own seminar on website building for small business owners. Nearly half of the businesses they’ve engaged with attended their seminar.
But it’s not without challenges for the time-starved entrepreneurs.
“Helping them through these steps, even just getting a business email addresses (has) been a huge step for them,” says Nickels. Once they have that they’re set to claim their Google My Business which allows them to get a better insight into the reviews people are leaving, and perhaps more importantly, respond to those reviews. They can ensure all the information is accurate and up-to-date and includes their own 360 photos of their business.
There is no question businesses can’t afford to not be in control of that digital personality. But the Digital Squad in Belle River has taken it upon themselves to get them there. “The digital assessment sparks a great conversation,” says Ducharme.
“It gives them ideas they've never had and what they still want to achieve,” adds Nickels.
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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, Yellow Pages and Lightspeed.
This case study was completed during a prior expansion of DMS in partnership with the Province of Ontario and Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs.
In June 2020, 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.