Government spending $10m to prepare small businesses for digital world

The Government is spending $10 million to prepare small business owners for the digital world.

Many businesses struggled to operate in an online environment during lockdowns. But ignoring digital can be a costly mistake.

Good friends Chris and Jon set up screen-printing business The Print Room seven years ago. They're keen to stay in Dunedin, but have customers throughout the country.

"We had to create a business model that I guess had digital at the heart of it. So using a website, social media and things to engage with our customers, and find those customers," Chris says.

With 90 percent outside Dunedin, the team use social media to create brand awareness and attract orders.

"If we can make it easy for customers in say Auckland or Wellington to do business with us using the internet, then we're kind of all for that," Chris says.

Last year showed small businesses are hit harder and earlier by lockdowns than big businesses.

In response, MBIE has launched a Digital Boost initiative aiming to upskill 50,000 small operators nationwide.

"We found when we were in lockdown that people were 1) struggling to sell and communicate, and 2) use the digital tools that would allow them to actually do some of those activities online," says digital marketer Kale Panoho.

Panoho - who's worked alongside online giants TikTok and Microsoft - is now helping run workshops in more than 80 small towns and cities.

He says it's not as complicated as many people think and an important way of reaching the modern customer.

"If your customer is online, you should be too. And the ability to serve them online, through some relatively easy tools, is just another way for you to generate money in the business and free up a bit of time," he says.

Plumber Matt Maley started his business iPlumb after working for his dad. He believes service businesses which ignore digital are missing out on vital tools.

"Because it is just so incredibly powerful. It's a great way to market your business. A lot of it's free," he says.

He uses social media to promote his brand and projects with more than 70 percent of his business initially coming through Facebook.

"A lot of people are just having a wee scroll through Facebook on their smokos or their lunchbreaks," he says.

"And that was the idea, was to get our branding popping up on those lunchbreaks."

The Digital Boost programme's set to train thousands of other small business owners - helping them operate more effectively in the digital world.