Minto and Hanover show main street businesses that less is more
The digital environment offers small businesses a seemingly unending string of places to be – there’s e-commerce and social media, Google’s business listings and review aggregators like Yelp. But there’s something to be said for not getting lost in it all and instead focusing on doing a few channels right.
That’s one of the biggest takeaways, Somer Antonopoulos, from the Minto Chamber of Commerce and April Marshall, economic development manager for the Town of Hanover, feel their respective downtown business communities have taken away from the region’s roll-out of the Digital Main Street Program. The program combines grants and one-to-one support from the Province of Ontario and the Ontario BIA Association to help main street businesses strengthen their online capabilities.
“A lot of our businesses felt that they had to be on every platform and doing well on every platform,” says Antonopoulos. But when their Digital Service Squad lead and digital marketing expert Ethan Schwandt actually sat down with their businesses and explained that the more they took on, the less likely they were to get a good rhythm with those channels, they noticed a change in perspective.
“It was almost like a light bulb went off in their head and that gave them permission to be able to focus on one area where it was attainable… that low hanging fruit for them that they could then pursue and excel at,” says Antonopoulos.
For some, explains Schwandt, that was social media like Twitter, Facebook or Instagram. For others, it was focusing on getting their Google My Business profile up-to-date and their website online.
“I think especially in small communities where you don't necessarily have a full-time employee that's going to be dedicated to your marketing, I think it's important to give them permission to take a lot of this stuff that they felt was on their plates off and just focus on the thing that they could be really good at,” says Schwandt.
In a sense, that’s the same ethos Antonopoulos and Marshall had when Hanover and Minto jointly applied for a $17,500 Digital Service Squad grant. Rather than divvy up the funds amongst a couple of service squad members they wanted one focused specialist who had a good understanding of the communities and what it would take to elevate their digital presence.
Schwandt hit the ground running in late Fall, sitting down with around 60 businesses, a third of which applied for the $2,500 Digital Transformation Grant. “The one-on-one meetings really seemed to spread the word,” he says.
In addition to the sit-down meetings, Minto and Hanover have set up a number of free “101” type workshops for local businesses on things like social media and tools for building a website.
“It's very encouraging with the continued uptake,” says Marshall, and the support from the Digital Service Squad has been vital. “We don't have the capacity to be able to offer this one-on-one support, so when we're able to get grants and to have that help with the resources, it's very good.”
Written by Andrew Seale
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.