Broadband Basics for Business
An e-Vermont advisor with the Vermont Small Business Development Center (VtSBDC) focused on online tools and businesses in e-Vermont towns. By June 2012, this advisor had presented 45 business workshops in communities (plus more at regional workshops and conferences) and directly advised 143 businesses. Many of the workshop materials appear in the business basics toolkit.
The Vermont Department of Labor provided additional funding for new workshops that include cloud computing and mobile applications, open to an audience beyond e-Vermont towns. These funds allowed VtSBDC to continue work on broadband through the end of 2012.
e-Vermont found that there is a shortage of programs targeting basic skills in using online tools to meet small business goals. These skills are beyond basic digital literacy, but remain at the introductory level. The most common skills taught in e-Vermont are linked here.
e-Vermont found that the best strategy to help small business owners grow their businesses online has four key components:
- Starting with basic business planning and core business goals; matching particular tools to those goals comes second. Starting small, with a few targeted steps, allows business owners to become accustomed to using online tools without being overwhelmed by the time commitment. Starting with clarity in basic goals ensures that businesses can measure the impacts of online tools.
- Combining workshops, written, and/ or online basic information with 1:1 advising.
- Providing funding so that businesses can get professional assistance as they improve their online presence. While there are many free tools available, a poorly executed online presence or one that requires too much time from a business owner is self defeating.
- Providing instruction and advice from a neutral source, not a company or individual selling a service or platform.
Recommendations from the conference on Vermont’s Digital Future echoed this recognition that business owners need more training in foundational skills for using online tools. Recommendations included offering baseline digital literacy alongside training tailored for business owners, an “Internet 101” training for businesses, and a framework for understanding technology and online tools as investments, not only expenses. See report here.
Our Community Stories section highlights some of the businesses that participated in e-Vermont:
- Vermont Business Owners Adapt to Rapid Change
- Websites Help Farm Family Find Niche Markets
- Social Media Means Business for Accounting Start-Up
- Small Business Center Filling Fast in Poultney
Although VtSBDC targeted businesses specifically, other e-Vermont projects incorporated business-community collaborations. For example:
- Front Porch Forum Boosts Middlesex Business – You can read additional commentary from Front Porch Forum on their blog, check out the economic development section.
- 5th Grader Helps Mom Sharpen Tech Skills – A family business story from Digital Wish.
- Fairfield's New Library Partners with Online Farmers' Market – Fairfield selected assistance with improving their use of YourFarmstand.com as one of the community projects.