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article imageDigital Main Street carves a digital footprint for businesses

By Jack Derricourt     May 3, 2017 in Business
Businesses have a lot to gain from the variety of new and developing innovations in digital technologies. Innovations like online stores and data analysis offer business owners tangible advantages in a world full of digitally-savvy customers.
Yet some business owners still lag behind when it comes to bringing their workplace into the digitally-minded space of the 21st century.
Digital transformation should be the ultimate goal of business owners wanting to compete in a world that is ever more digitally focused.
“It’s no longer ‘if’ we should do it,” says Digital Main Street (DMS) Program Manager Darryl Julott, “you can’t think that way anymore.”
DMS is a program designed to help aspiring businesses go digital. Led in partnership by the City of Toronto and the Toronto Association of Business Improvement Areas, DMS is supported by Canada Post, Google, Mastercard, Microsoft, Rogers, Shopify and Yellow Pages. The platform works to connect businesses with vendors like Say Yeah, a consultancy company that helps businesses take the big digital leap. By working alongside Toronto’s Business Improvement Areas to reach out to individual business owners, DMS is helping to push companies and small operations in the right direction. And the data shows that this kind of effort is just what businesses need right now.
According to a Canadian Federation of Independent Businesses survey, business owners understand how necessary the shift to digital is — 85 percent of respondents replied that going digital was either very or somewhat important to their business. But those best intentions haven’t translated to a lot of innovation yet: the number of businesses surveyed that are using mobile applications sits at just 32.9 percent; while the number of business owners using online listings with other digital marketplaces or an online shop for their products hovers around just 13 percent.
Discussing the resistance some owners have to making the move to digital, Julott admitted that with some more established businesses, “It’s hard to gain their trust.”
In order to bridge the gap between main street and digital vendors with valuable, innovative technologies, DMS places a high emphasis on outreach and personal interactions with Toronto’s 82 Business Improvement Areas — organizations authorized to improve businesses and community in their area — and the local business owners.
DMS will deploy a Digital Service Squad, a core staff of students and recent graduates who help local businesses find new digital solutions. Providing door-to-door outreach and personable, dedicated service for those looking to transform their operations allows DMS to tailor its services to the needs of main street.
DMS Program Manager Darryl Julott wants SMBs to reap the rewards of going digital.
DMS Program Manager Darryl Julott wants SMBs to reap the rewards of going digital.
Digital Main Street
“There’s no one solution fits all,” admits Julott. “That’s why it’s so important that DMS and the squad are able to listen to local businesses and give them what they want.”
The biggest investment when it comes to going digital, according to CFIB’s study, is the time it takes to adopt the new technologies.
DMS looks to make the process of digital transformation less time consuming by offering businesses a simple assessment tool that asks the user questions in order to provide a digital audit and a digital transformation roadmap. The roadmap starts with the simplest task to offer the business owner the most immediate results. If basic tasks are tackled, then there’s the option to go ahead with larger projects offered by DMS vendors.
The DMS site also shares case studies and profiles of local businesses that have had success through the platform in order to provide business owners with a collective pool of practical experience.
Of course, things are constantly changing — and that is especially true for digital innovations in business.
In order to promote ongoing education, DMS launched DMS Academy, a series of talks featuring thought leaders eager to share their knowledge with the business community.
The next DMS Academy event will focus on setting up an online store with DMS partner Shopify, and will take place at the Shopify headquarters in Toronto on Tuesday, May 9th, from 5:30-8:30 p.m.
The future of DMS is about perfecting the platform and showing other municipalities how helpful organized interaction between digital vendors, business associations and businesses can be. With more businesses looking to make the shift towards digital, but not entirely sure of the lay of the land or which tools could best help them, Digital Main Street fills a pressing need for cities and their business owners.
More about digital transformation, Business, Small business, smbs, digital main street
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