All businesses, regardless of size or sector, in today’s competitive environment must ensure to build their digital online capability. The agencies of the Department offer a range of supports to assist businesses to trade online.
The Local Enterprise Offices (LEOs) are the first-stop-shop front line service assisting in delivering business growth and jobs for the small & micro-enterprise sector. The LEOs are the first port of call for anyone who wishes to start or expand a business, in terms of advice, training, sign posting to other support providers and, in certain circumstances, grant support. The LEOs undertake a number of activities to encourage businesses to build their online presence and compete in the online market place.
The LEOs nationwide actively promote the Trading Online Voucher Scheme (TOVS) on behalf of the Department of Communications, Climate Action and Environment. The TOVS offers matched financial assistance of up to €2,500, along with training and advice, to micro companies (10 or less employees) who want to establish an online presence for the first time, or who wish to expand a basic existing website to incorporate a more substantive online trading capacity. Since the start of the Scheme in July 2014 to date almost 4,500 micro companies have availed of the TOVS.
The LEOs also offer a wide range of short training programmes to support their clients in building their online presence and to compete in the online marketplace. These programmes are focused on different elements which aim at maximising outputs from investment in online trading such as:
- Marketing, focused mainly on development of an online/mobile marketing strategy;
- Social Media, with the majority of programmes focused on educating the client base on how to use the different social media platforms to support their business;
- eCommerce Sales Strategy, including how to convert website visits into sales; and
- Search Engine Optimisation, including web analytics and video optimization for web.
As Chair of the Retail Consultation Forum, I have prioritised supporting the retail sector to develop their online capability so as to expand their market reach nationally and internationally, and enhance their competitiveness. In 2017, data from the CSO showed that 66% of Irish enterprises in the Wholesale and Retail Sector reported having a website or homepage, with only 28% able to facilitate online ordering.
In support of this, I have introduced a new pilot Online Retail Scheme administered by Enterprise Ireland, the first call of which opened on 24 October 2018 and closed on 5 December 2018. Applications are currently under assessment by Enterprise Ireland. The Online Retail Scheme will support retail businesses of 20 employees or more who are ready to strategically grow their online capability. Eligible expenditure under the Scheme includes activities such as research, strategy development, implementation and training. The Scheme launched with a fund of up to €625,000, which was later doubled to €1.25m as part of the Department’s 2019 Budget. A second call will issue this year (2019).
In recognition of the strong role the retail sector plays in supporting regional development and vibrant communities, at least 50% of the total number of grants awarded under the Scheme will be prioritised for retail SMEs with their headquarters outside of county Dublin, subject to applications meeting the minimum standards required.
Enterprise Ireland (EI) works with 5,000 manufacturing and internationally traded services companies, and building an online presence is part of the range of supports offered to those clients. EI has supported projects focused on developing innovative products on new product platforms for international markets. Working closely with the Irish Internet Association, EI delivers a range of funded and advisory eCommerce supports for its clients to develop their online marketing capabilities. In addition, EI regularly organises events which can connect clients with leading experts and inform them on best practice.
An additional €1.8m has been earmarked for the Design and Crafts Council of Ireland over the next 3 years. The proposed investment, again via EI, is to assist the sector to develop and generate additional export sales and online revenue opportunities, increasing market diversification by client companies and underpinning sustainable growth.