*This blog was updated on March 25, 2021.
The COVID-19 crisis has highlighted the need for small businesses to have online stores. Many small businesses have survived the past year by switching to e-commerce.
The transition, however, is not without its own challenges and expenses. You’ll have to design a website for your online store. You'll hire a copywriter to create content for your product and service pages. You'll need a professional photographer to take pictures of your products. You’ll need to put in place an online e-commerce set up. You must also know how to use digital tools. If you are serious about reaching out to potential clients online, you must have a digital marketing strategy as well.
It does sound like a lot of work if you don't have anyone to guide you. But professional help is available for Ontario small businesses through the Digital Main Street Program.
What is the Digital Main Street Program?
The Digital Main Street is a digital guide and program for small businesses. It trains them on how to grow and run their business by adopting digital tools and technology.
The Toronto Association of Business Improvement Areas (TABIA) and the City of Toronto launched Digital Main Street in 2016. It is also supported by corporate sponsors, including Google, Shopify, Microsoft.
Digital Main Street recently received a $57 million investment under a partnership between the Government of Canada and the Province of Ontario. After this tie-up, the Digital Main Street announced three new programs to support Ontario businesses.
In the 2021 Budget, the Ontario government announced an investment of an additional $10 million in the Digital Main Street program in 2021–22.
Digital transformation grants, an online learning platform, training programs, and Digital Service Squads — offering technical support to small businesses — will continue to be available under the program.
What new programs are available for small businesses?
ShopHERE powered by Google
This is the right program for you if you’ve been wanting to launch your online store but lack the technical know-how. ShopHERE helps small business owners set up online stores, besides teaching them how to manage the store. It is run by trained students who help you make your online store live and provide support marketing the store.
To be eligible for ShopHERE, you must have under 10 full-time employees (25 if a restaurant). You must be a registered Ontario business or artist. Home based or commercial businesses can also apply to this program.
ShopHERE is free. The program provides one-on-one support with building an online store. It also gives you ad credits, including $100 for Facebook and Google. The .CA domain registration is also free along with other benefits.
The purpose of this program is to help small businesses learn the tools of digital marketing. There are two grants available under this program:
Digital Transformation Grant program
This $2,500 grant is administered by the Ontario BIA Association to help small businesses pick up new technologies.
Digital Service Squad Grant Program
This program provides one-on-one support to small businesses across Ontario. It includes advisory support, training, and a grant to maintain the Digital Service Squads.
Please note that applications are currently closed to both these programs.
As the name suggests, this program seeks to ‘future proof’ small businesses against any sort of economic challenges. Future Proof helps businesses create online business models, identify new markets, and create digital marketing strategies. The program is run by digital marketing professionals and students.
What other resources are available to small businesses?
Digital Main Street courses
Digital Main Street also provides courses, crafted for the specific needs of small business owners. These courses cover important topics, such as advanced technology for business needs, social media, Google analytics, business PR strategies, cash flow management, and so on. All these courses are free.
The Recovery Activation Program
The federal and provincial governments have teamed up to offer the Recovery Activation Program across Ontario.
The program is free of cost. It is administered through the Toronto Region Board of Trade. The Recovery Activation Program will help businesses digitize their operations with custom consulting, online resource sharing, learning webcasts and business planning.
Need support navigating business issues related to COVID-19?
To get advice on how to maintain your business during the pandemic, call an expert today: 1 (833) 247-3652.