At your service - Digital Service Squad
Students help businesses get online
As Calgary’s oldest main street, Inglewood has seen its share of independent small businesses throughout the decades and is the original “shop local” experience. Shades of Sleep has been a fixture on Ninth Avenue for nearly 15 years offering specialized sleepwear, exclusive bedding, and luxurious bath accessories.
As the integration of digital technology becomes more fundamental to all areas and sizes of business, even established businesses may need assistance creating a presence on digital platforms to stay competitive and on top of how value is delivered to customers.
“This is a totally new world to me. I was learning as I go,” laughs Sheila, a former paralegal turned entrepreneur and owner of Shades of Sleep. “It takes time to learn a new skill, all while running and operating my business. That's the hard part as an entrepreneur is trying to fit all those pieces of the puzzle together. Social media is always evolving, and it is tough to stay on top of it, so I needed a bit of help.”
Enter the Digital Service Squad (DSS). The DSS is a pilot initiative from The City of Calgary made up of a team of post-secondary students who help small businesses get online, digitize, and monetize, all for free. The DSS offers one-on-one assistance to eligible small businesses across Calgary to help adopt new technologies and embrace digital marketing.
“I didn’t have the tools before, and Paul with the Squad helped me get those in place,” explains Sheila. “This was a huge learning curve for me. It’s a pretty phenomenal service The City is providing. I can’t emphasize enough the importance of the support of small business and the shop local movement. I have seen customers make a shift to think about their shopping habits.”
Lisa, founder of Sownsmith, also took advantage of the free services offered through DSS. Sownsmith is a new online business offering ethically made clothing designed by Lisa and manufactured in Canada from sustainable fabrics. Lisa also contributes seven per cent of her sales to fight human trafficking.
“Just after I opened my online store, one of my local Calgary suppliers recommended that I check out the Digital Service Squad after I was sharing my struggles about researching SEO (search engine optimization) and all this technical stuff I found so confusing,” explains Lisa. “I’m just so grateful to have Paul from the Squad. He was so approachable and patient, and really helped me understand. I really appreciate this program; I don't know how else I could have learned it.”
Lisa says she feels set up for success and is excited about the future of her online business.
“I feel so confident now in having the right pieces in the back end of my website, which you need to have if you want to grow,” says Lisa. “Paul explained how Google works, how people find me, how I get indexed and all these pieces that needed to be there. He also recommended tons of resources. How could I have figured that out on my own?”
The DSS isn’t just great for businesses, it’s great for students too. Paul, a newcomer to Canada from the Philippines, is studying Business Administration as an international student at the Southern Alberta Institute of Technology (SAIT) and was one of the first students hired by the program.
“This is my first job in Canada, and I feel so lucky that I found this contract opportunity at The City,” says Paul. “As an international student, I wasn’t able to find jobs at banks, but this offers me the chance to get some Canadian experience and meet so many business owners who may be interested in hiring me after my contract is completed.”
As mature student with experience at JPMorgan Chase & Co. and working in social media management with startups in the Philippines, Paul has a wealth of knowledge to share with local small businesses.
“Part of the challenge is to make sure that your clients will be comfortable with the topic they need you to help them with,” he says. “It's very technical for sure but you can change the verbiage and provide examples to ensure that they completely understand what we’re doing. There is some responsibility for the business owner to book regular appointments, check ins and do a bit of homework. Just because you have a website doesn't mean people are going to know who you are. You have to market it and that's the difference from what you're seeing and from what I'll teach you and what you will see in the future.”
The Digital Service Squad program is open throughout 2022.
Sheila and Paul