by Jessica Cruse, Digital Welcome Project Manager

The Digital Welcome pilot project has now finished and Jessica, our Project Manager was amazed at how fast the time has gone.

Across 7 weeks, 21 Digital Mentors worked with 26 small local businesses across the West Midlands, and delivered over 102 guided learning sessions.

The SMEs were predominantly arts organisations (46%), with the remainder split between food and beverage services, bespoke jewellery, online fitness, artisan leather, dance companies and more.

Digital Welcome - An SME Owner in their artisan craft workshop

Our Digital Mentors came from the Midlands area and Bristol, with the common theme being an overwhelming desire to help: 58% of applicants joined the programme ‘to help businesses survive and thrive’, while others joined to ‘give back to others’ or ‘help businesses with their digital capacity’.

When COVID-19 hit, everyone suffered in different ways. As many key services began to return to normal, many small business owners didn’t share the same opportunities to re-open. I remember one business owner Sarah, who runs dance, yoga and Pilates classes across Birmingham and Worcester. Sarah noted, “Just like that overnight, my income stopped; that was three months ago.”

The Digital Welcome project was run entirely online. Using video platforms like Zoom and Trello, a network of mentors and SMEs were engaged across two months this summer. Each small business was partnered with a skilled mentor and received training tailored to their industry and digital need.

What was truly special about this project was the ability to equip business owners with the confidence, knowledge and tools to join in digitally as we enter a new dawn and re-open their businesses, adapting to new realities.

Sarah now has a fresh new website and developed brand, able to implement her new digital marketing strategy and acquire new customers online: something that three months ago seemed alien for many business owners on the programme.

Project outcomes

The outcomes of the project include:

  • new ways of engaging with audiences and potential clients
  • enhanced social media strategies, from business owners with very limited digital knowledge
  • improved online presence for many small to medium business across the West Midlands.

Whether it’s been supporting business owners to market online, use digital tools to help with back office tasks or drive sales online and switch to e-commerce; the project has provided all business owners with the chance to focus on surviving, adapting and thriving post COVID-19.

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