After a really (really!) tough year, BC small businesses are getting a bit of a boost, thanks to a new ‘Launch Online’ grant program from the British Columbia government, designed to help small and medium-sized businesses pivot to, or expand online sales.
There was always going to come a time when moving some, most, or even all of your business online, was a good idea. However, the pandemic has fast-tracked that timeline somewhat, as reported by the World Economic Forum:
“As the COVID-19 pandemic reshapes our world, more consumers have begun shopping online in greater numbers and frequency, (and) according to new data from IBM’s U.S. Retail Index, the pandemic has accelerated the shift away from physical stores to digital shopping by roughly five years.”
What does this mean for you and your small business? Well, the time to move some, most, or even all of your business online (where possible and logical) is now. And it’s more than just a good idea. It may just be absolutely essential for survival.
What’s more, don’t be fooled into thinking once the pandemic is over that things will ever go back to the way they were. The world has gotten used to online everything, and the world likes it. As per a report by Beeketing,
“Studies (project) that worldwide retail eCommerce sales will reach a new high by 2021. Ecommerce businesses should anticipate a 265% growth rate, from $1.3 trillion in 2014 to $4.9 trillion in 2021. This shows a future of steady upward trend with no signs of decline.”
Indeed, by 2023, it’s estimated that total retail sales will hit more than $6.5 trillion, with more than one in every five dollars spent (22 percent) done so online. (Statista)
Okay, so now that you know the ‘why’ behind the importance of your business going (or expanding) online, let’s move onto the ‘how’ small and medium businesses in BC can take advantage of this $12 million grant program to support you in your online sales efforts.
What is the Launch Online Grant Program?
Recognizing that small and medium-sized businesses are vital to British Columbia’s economy, the Launch Online Grant program has committed to investing up to $12 million to help eligible businesses throughout BC move their business model online. This forms part of StrongerBC, BC’s Economic Recovery Plan, with Ravi Kahlon, minister of jobs, economic recovery confirming last week that the government is spending $12 million to help about 1,500 businesses launch or upgrade online stores.
“COVID has shifted the way we do business and the way consumers consume,” says Kahlon. “And so, it’s critically important that we, as a province, support our businesses in that shift.”
According to Statistics Canada, retail e-commerce sales across the country reached a record $3.9 billion in May, a nearly 111% increase over May 2019. Meanwhile, from February to May 2020 – as the first wave of COVID-19 took its toll on both health and wealth across Canada – total retail sales fell by around 18%, while total online retail sales nearly doubled.
Taking this significant shift to online into account, the Launch Online grants will provide business owners with up to $7,500 each and come from the $1.5-billion StrongerBC funding announced in September.
NOTE: The Launch Online grant is in addition to, and separate from, the provincial recovery grant, which is available to small and medium-sized businesses that have experienced revenue declines during the pandemic. Provincial recovery grants are worth between $10,000 and $30,000 for eligible businesses, while tourism-related companies can qualify for an additional $5,000 to $15,000. You can learn more about that here.
Is Your Business Eligible for Launch Online Funding?
The Launch Online program has a fairly simple criteria list to determine whether your small- to medium-sized business is eligible to apply or not. The short version?
- You must be a BC-owned business (i.e., a BC resident), currently operating, employ fewer than 149 BC residents, pay BC taxes, and be in the business of selling products that would benefit from being sold online.
- And while you can already have a website or online store, to be eligible said website or online store must be fairly, well, basic. (Your site must have no, or barely there, e-commerce elements.)
Or, in their words, your business “Does not currently have an online store or has an online store that has no more than three of the five identified online store features:
- Customer registration and information security features
- Shopping cart and order management capabilities
- Payment processing options including application of appropriate taxes and shipping costs at time of ordering
- Product catalogue, search and inventory status
- Website analytics and reporting capabilities.”
Confused? Here are some hypothetical small business scenarios:
Business 1: BC Clothing Boutique (ELIGIBLE)
A local and lovely clothing boutique run by fun fashionista Claire has a simply stunning website showcasing her carefully curated items that are currently in store. BUT… Claire’s store does not take orders online. Yet. Plus, to keep costs low they have limited hours and staffing, no dedicated parking, and, you know, COVID…. All of which makes shopping in-store limiting. Claire’s store is a prime candidate for e-commerce and would definitely be eligible for the Launch Online grant program.
How The BC Clothing Boutique Would Benefit from an Ecommerce Store:
- Despite having to limit retail store hours, her online store could remain open 24/7/365
- Claire’s parking concerns are eliminated because she can ship products to anyone in the world
Business 2: Picnic & Catering Company (ELIGIBLE)
A local caterer, Sandy, who also produces the most stunning picnic baskets – just perfect for quarantine/stay-at-home date nights – has, until now, only taken orders for her catering packages and picnic baskets over the phone and via email. During COVID, Sandy also pivoted to include make-at-home meal kits and her bespoke jams, dressings and sauces, which she has shown off on Facebook, but again, only takes orders via email or the Messenger app on Facebook. She feels she is missing a beat, and missing out on sales, by not offering online ordering. And she’d be right! Plus, her current website is, frankly, unattractive and the exact opposite of the gorgeous food she creates. Revamping her site completely, and adding an e-commerce online ordering element, would take her business from barely surviving to thriving. Sandy, too, would benefit massively from going online, taking advantage of the Launch Online grant program.
How The Picnic & Catering Company Would Benefit from an Ecommerce Store:
- Sandy can elevate her branding with a new website design.
- By building an e-commerce site she can put her company in front of prospective customers searching for terms like “make-at-home meal kits”, rather than relying strictly on social platforms to be discovered.
Business 3: Your Friendly Neighbourhood Hardware Store (ELIGIBLE)
It’s hard enough to compete in the same arena as the Home Depots, Ronas and Home Hardware of the world, without the added disadvantage of having no website at all! Carl and his family have run their friendly neighbourhood hardware store for more than 50 years, and they’ve always thrived on person-to-person contact and the relationships they’ve had with local contractors, DIYers, and panic-mode home renovators. Carl and his crew have always been the guys who know everything, who can, and will, help with anything home-related, to anyone and everyone in the know. Their personal service has always been hands-on, caring, and impeccable. Enter COVID and, well, “hands-on” has become a dirty word. If they want to keep their lovingly nurtured business afloat until they can get back to hands-on help, they need a website. Fast. This way they can still offer wonderful advice with a live, online chat, as well as sell products online which they can deliver directly to their loyal customers’ homes. If ever there was a small business that would benefit from the Launch Online program, it’s Carl’s.
How The Neighbourhood Hardware Store Would Benefit from an Ecommerce Store:
- Carl can tap into a new market of shipping building supplies direct to a worksite. This would be a huge value-add to his existing local contractors and home renovators.
- Customers can view the website to determine if certain items are in stock, this reduces time-wasting phone calls and will be of great value to their existing clientele.
Business 4: Fancy Florist (INELIGIBLE)
Becca has been running Fancy Florist for some time now and has offered online ordering for years already. In spite of this, Becca finds she’s not been getting any more orders online during COVID. In fact, her sales have dropped dramatically with people not wanting to come in store – which is where her flowers and floral arrangements show at their best – and online sales have not picked up the shortfall, in spite of everything is available for free delivery at the click of the button. The problem is: Becca’s site is clunky, not at all user friendly at all, the product photographs are terrible, the pages take forever to load, and the payment process tends to time out frequently. Unfortunately for Becca, she doesn’t meet the eligibility criteria for the Launch Online program because she has all five of the identified online store features listed currently active. They’re terrible but active. Becca does need to up her online game, pronto, but she will have to budget accordingly rather than receive funding.
You can get the full list of eligibility requirements here, as well as learn more about what expenses the funding will cover (Eligible Expenses), and what the expectations are for your online store at the end of the upgrade period given of 12 weeks. (Mandatory Online Shop Features).
How Does the Launch Online Program Work?
It’s really very simple:
- The Launch Online Grant program provides funding to eligible BC-based businesses to create a brand new online shop or improve your existing (but dismal) e-commerce experience to attract new local customers and expand to new markets.
- The grant will pay for up to 75% of eligible expenses, up to a maximum of $7,500 per business.
- If you get funding you must be ready to start and finish your new online shop (or updated online shopping experience) within 12 weeks. (We can do that for you, no problem, by the way!)
- Up to 25% of funds will be reserved for Indigenous businesses and businesses operating outside of the lower mainland and greater Victoria.
- The funds must be used to hire BC-based company(ies) to do your online store development.
Where and How Can You Apply for Launch Online Funding?
Once you’ve established that you meet the eligibility criteria, the application process has three steps:
- Write a grant proposal, showing a cost estimate of how much money you think you’ll need, and how you will use those funds to build your awesome online shop.
- Complete the online application, making sure to demonstrate how you meet the eligibility criteria.
- Wait to hear the outcome of your application – all applicants can expect to hear back within three weeks of submission.
The StrongerBC Launch Online Grant program is active right now and accepting applications until the end of March or until funding is fully allocated.
Find out more about the application process here, including a full list of the documents you will need to submit with your application.
It’s time to get online, and help is at hand to do just that, right here, right now.
- learn more about the program here,
- read the full program guide here, or
- start your application process here.
Need help launching or expanding your small business’s online presence?
Need help figuring out your new online existence (and awesomeness)? We’ve got you! Our 1st on the List team can take you from troglodyte to tech-head, luddite to www-wizard, and your business to online domination in no time! (Or, at the very least, we can manage it all for you, but giving you all the glory.) Call toll-free 1-888-262-6687 or contact us online today.