By Ian Ross
Educating fledgling entrepreneurs and the business community on how to take full advantage of integrating electronic technology into their company is behind a newly created e-commerce specialist position with the City of Greater Sudbury.
The city intends to have an e-commerce specialist in place this month to work with the walk-in client traffic that comes into the Regional Business Centre (RBC) at Tom Davies Square seeking advice on how to start up a small business.
As a free added service, RBC staff are going to be steering clients to their new resident specialist to pose the question "Have you considered integrating the Internet into your business?"
FedNor is making a contribution towards the city's three-year, $306,000 program. Half the funding will be spent on salary, with the remainder earmarked for marketing and promotions, workshops and re-instatement of a bi-monthly technology breakfast series.
Drawing from the findings of an Oracle Research study commissioned by the city, about 40 per cent of Sudbury businesses do not use the Internet in their daily dealings. While a good portion of the ones that do, do not make skillful use of the technology they have.
"There are a number of businesses that don't even have an e-mail address," says Jody Cameron, the City of Greater Sudbury's economic development technology officer.
"There's a huge learning curve when it comes to Internet marketing and mixing it with conventional marketing to ensure that you're driving people to your site."
Just designing a company Web site, putting it online and then neglecting to update it for two years can actually drive away potential customers should they stumble across your product or service through a search engine.
The initial forecast is for the city's specialist to target about 15 new and existing businesses a month, either through walk-in clients or by going out into the community and visiting existing companies.
"I think it's going to grow," says Cameron. "I think 15 is quite (conservative). It will probably end up as two or three clients a day based on current traffic that comes in (to the RBC) and the current interest we've received."
They will also be prospecting for small- to medium-sized companies to use as case studies for clients that best fit the profile of successful e-business ventures, says Cameron, mentioning Muirheads Basics office supplies an example of a great e-success story.
However, Cameron says the e-specialist's efforts will stop short of doing any high-end consulting work, referring clients instead to private businesses.
"This will be low- to medium-level consulting," simply making entrepreneurs aware of what can be accomplished and showing examples of computer solutions that work, says Cameron.
One of the stated goals is to make the business community aware of what can be done with the Internet, from demonstrating how to make skillful use of e-mail to business-to-business and business-to-customers applications such as Web site shopping carts.
"It covers the whole spectrum of using technology in your business."
The specialist's role is solely in an advisory capacity, he says, "providing clients with the steps needed to do it and how to best position a company to embark on using e-business, e-commerce, building a Web site or even buying a computer to use e-mail to communicate with their supply chain."