Small businesses in London, ON trying to quickly move sales online during the COVID-19 closures are in luck as several local tech businesses have partnered to offer free support.
rTraction, Yuser, Last Draft, RH Accelerator, and Northern Commerce, with support from the London Small Business Centre and Shopify’s Local Community Manager for London, ON, are providing free virtual tutorials, drop-in office hours, and one-on-one consultations to help local business owners move sales online.
It Started with a Website
In mid-March, as the government asked more people to stay home and businesses were asked to close, the website supportlondonbusinesses.com was born.
Launched by local tech agency, rTraction, with help from Benjamin Glauss, a local IT Consultant and Project manager, the website started as a list of places where Londoners could purchase gift cards or buy from online. In less than a week, Londoners had added over 180 small local businesses to the list.
The site, which also includes an opportunity for Londoners to pledge to “do one activity a day to help a local London business,” is now growing to a hands-on service that supports business owners in setting up online stores.
Friends Helping Friends
After seeing the impact closures and restrictions on so many of his friends, Jacob Sandler, Founder and CEO of local marketing agency Last Draft, knew he needed to help.
“I thought what can I do for my friends who many of them work in the service industry or in the arts and have been really disrupted by this? A lot of people I’m close to lost their jobs in the last few weeks and a lot of businesses and business owners I know have had to shut their doors.”
Sandler reached out to Ward 13 Councillor Arielle Kayabaga to ask where he could help. She told him she was getting lots of calls from small businesses looking for help and support. Sandler drew on his network to look for partnerships and brainstorm on how to provide his skillset to those who have provided him with a sense of community.
“These small local businesses are community hubs. The reason I’m friends with some of these people is because I went to these places so much. These neighbourhood spots attract a community around them.”
A Challenging Transition
Shifting from a brick-and-mortar storefront or restaurant to an online store isn’t easy in the best of times. With in-person services and workshops no longer available and the need to move online rapidly, small business owners are scrambling to catch up while also losing revenue and staff.
In the announcement of the initiative, Eunika Sot, Co-Founder and COO of Yuser, a London-based media-sharing platform, expressed the urgency many are facing. “I’ve noticed so many of my favourite local businesses trying to manage online orders through Instagram. This is a resource-intensive and inefficient process, but it proves that the demand from customers is there. All those businesses need online stores, and they need them now.”
Prioritizing London product-based businesses, this project aims to reduce the barriers to moving to an online platform. However, organizers recognize that this won’t equate to sales from pre-social distancing efforts, but feel it is a start.
“There’s a recognition that shifting some sales online is not going to necessarily be able to take a brick-and-mortar store and make it what it was when we were allowed to go out and eat or drink in a restaurant. It’s not going to fully compensate for revenue lost.” Sandler asserts it’s about “driving enough revenue that they’re able to pay the bills and keep paying their rent to get through this. To be able to reopen when the time comes, and be able to keep on some staff or bring back staff that they might not otherwise be able to have working.”
The Local Approach
While many do-it-yourself tutorials exist, this service will provide London business owners with a community of experts with knowledge and experience of the local climate as well as online tools.
Wednesday’s webinar will introduce popular eCommerce platforms and content strategies. An instructional tutorial that business owners can use to set up their own online shops will be made available following the webinar.
In addition, participating organizations are offering drop-in office-hours – virtually, of course – on Friday afternoons. Business owners will have the opportunity to connect with experts for free to ask questions and get customized advice.
And be sure to check out Fuser Nicki Borland’s recommendations on How and Where to Support Local in these Uncertain Times.
Cover Photo by Laura Thorne