All businesses, regardless of size or sector, in today’s competitive environment must ensure to build their 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 over 5,000 micro companies have availed of the TOVS including 1,103 LEO client companies.
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
- Search Engine Optimisation, including web analytics and video optimisation for web.
As Chair of the Retail Consultation Forum, I have prioritised supporting the retail sector to develop their online capability in order for them 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 introduced a new pilot Online Retail Scheme administered by Enterprise Ireland, the first call of which opened on 24th October 2018 and closed on 5th December 2018. I announced the eleven successful applicants on 1st March 2019 in Skibbereen, Co. Cork. A second call will issue later this year.
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.
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.
As we move towards 2020, Enterprise Ireland’s focus is to assist client companies build on the strength of their 2018 performance by supporting them to start, innovate, be competitive and to diversify their global footprint. The ability to conduct businesses trade online is vital for business and provides one of the most cost-effective ways to develop an export market. Enterprise Ireland is focused on helping export-focused clients across all sectors to exploit the Internet as a route to market and to assist them in developing a strategy that will shape how they do business online.
To support this, Enterprise Ireland’s Internet Marketing Unit provides grant support and non-financial support such as guidance, workshops and seminars to companies. In addition, under Enterprise Ireland’s Business Process Improvement Grant, client companies can apply for grant support to undertake an e-Marketing Improvement Assignment. This support is designed to assist senior managers in client companies to maximise the opportunities presented by the Internet as a business development channel. Using one-to-one training and action-based learning, consultants/ trainers work with clients to plan and implement an eMarketing strategy.