Taranaki small businesses have overwhelmingly embraced a government programme helping them to grow online.

Digital Boost Facilitation Scheme is a Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment (MBIE) initiative created to provide additional support and encouragement to small businesses to adopt and practically use the Digital Boost Platforms to digitally transform their businesses.

As the regional partner for the scheme, Te Puna Umanga Venture Taranaki facilitates the programme in Taranaki by funding a total of seven selected intermediaries to run facilitated workshops for cohorts of small businesses to help them adopt digital tools within their own business models.

A staggering 165 Taranaki businesses have taken part since late 2022 across 11 cohorts. Participants attend group workshops and have peer to peer learning opportunities throughout the programme, covering things like social media, digital marketing, branding, small business accounting and e-commerce.

“The success of this programme in Taranaki comes down to the strength of networks and connections in the region right from the start, alongside the hard work and dedication from the intermediaries to keep their cohorts of businesses engaged and connected,” says Te Puna Umanga Venture Taranaki Enterprise Programme Lead Natacha Dunn.

“It enables increased networking opportunities and sharing of ideas, challenges and solutions between Taranaki SMEs, and collectively builds knowledge, skills, confidence, and trust in digital business tools.”

“This has been one of the most beneficial courses I’ve run for Taranaki business,” says Casie Smith, owner of New Plymouth agency Design Garage. “New businesses often don’t have the budget to spend lots of money on digital marketing, but this was an amazing opportunity to take on 15 businesses and teach them everything they needed to know about being online.”

Under the programme, intermediaries like Smith schedule regular workshops with participants. The course makes use of the wide range of video tutorials on the Digital Boost platform, which participants watch and actively apply to their own businesses.

“It is not just watching the videos and guides, but taking an active part in sharing what works with others during these sessions,” says Rosalina Pang, another intermediary from Revive Me Marketing. “They get to ask questions and take actions to grow their online business skills and competencies.”

More than 30,000 businesses nationwide have participated in the programme since 2021. For Lucy Kingsley-Jones of Moratti Agri, the course has given her a vital understanding of how to use social media to grow her business.

“At the beginning of the course our social media presence was little to none, but nine months later I’m constantly asked who does our social media – people say it looks great,” she says.

“The course helped to set up the structure for what and how I post. I’ve also learnt about insights, the statistics around social media, and this has allowed me to tailor my content to suit, appeal and promote our business on social media.”

Teina Malone of Still Milly was in the very early stages of establishing and growing her business when she signed up for the Digital Boost course. She makes natural, sustainable skincare and hair care products, but says the idea of setting up an e-commerce website on her own was overwhelming.

“Technology is not my thing,” she laughs. “When you make a product, if you can’t get it out there for people to purchase online, that’s a pretty big issue. There’s also being able to put your story out there on your website to let people know what you’re about – that was really important too.”

Malone believes having her website and social media set up properly from the beginning gives her a considerable head start. As she points out, startup owners typically have a lot on their plate, so spending a lot of time figuring out how to make a website and grow an effective social media account isn’t always possible.

Then there’s the cost of investing in digitisation, which can also be a roadblock. Both of these inhibit business growth early on.

Revive Me Marketing Digital Boost workshop.

“You really have to pick and choose what you spend money on, so to have the opportunity and the funding to learn these skills and set up these foundations is massive,” she says. “For me, my priorities were around getting quality ingredients and sustainable packaging, so the digital marketing stuff does get deprioritised.”

Overwhelmingly, participants talk about being able to overcome perceived barriers to the digital space. Business owners may be experts in their particular field, but many aren’t confident running and growing a business online. Digital Boost gives them that critical foundational knowledge.

“I was encouraged to investigate topics that, had I been left on my own to review, I probably wouldn’t have,” says Tracy Abel of Plus Coaching. “Because we learned as a group, we were able to see growth and development in ourselves and our co-participants.”

There are also considerable benefits available for the intermediaries that deliver the Digital Boost courses. People like Casie Smith and Rosalina Pang are business owners in their own right, and being able to demonstrate their technical expertise and grow relationships with startup businesses is a big plus for them.

But it is primarily about those small business owners learning and growing online. Perhaps most significantly, they come away with the skills and confidence to do it themselves.

“It’s not done for you – you’re shown how to do it,” says Teina Malone. “I can now take a photo of my product, upload it to my website and put it on my social media with a strategy behind it. Those are the skills I wouldn’t otherwise have had, and I’d be continually paying other people to do it for me if I couldn’t do it.

“Honestly, it’s been a real game changer.”

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