By Kristin Sainsbury, Economic Development Officer, City of Waterloo
As businesses across Canada settle into the new reality of COVID-19 restrictions, it can seem a bit daunting. From managing cash flow to determining if there is any component that can be conducted with social distancing, through remote work or online – it can seem overwhelming. For many, the future of business is now upon us, accelerating the need to adapt and change to the “new normal.”
As we hear from businesses facing challenges and help them to wade through information that seems to be changing daily, a glimmer of hope is the fact that our digital tools are more accessible than ever – with many companies stepping up to offer extended free trial periods for businesses.
While there are many digital companies in the space of online retailing and e-commerce, electronic meetings and team collaboration, this article will highlight local companies who can provide the tools for business and who have free trial periods to help out during COVID-19.
Online Collaboration and Team Management
For businesses who are moving to managing remote teams, having access to safe, secure collaboration platforms can make a difference in sharing documents, ideas and for effective communications. Waterloo Region is home to a number of local companies whose products and services may be of help.
ZEBU offers secure smart platform for team collaboration, with group discussions, direct chats and even cross company conversations. Add to that secure, encrypted messaging and file storage. Offering free demonstration and trial version.
Vidyard has stepped up and is offering a three-month free trial for several of their video messaging and conferencing platforms. In addition to live video conferencing, Vidyard features on-demand videos and video messages (also known as video emails or video voicemails). As the security of team video conferencing increases, Vidyard’s video messaging tools could be an effective way to send personalized messages from Company leadership to remote teams, letting them know you’re with them. As a customer support tool, you could use these functions to reach out to your clients and customers to let them know what services you are continuing to offer, in a more personalized way, that might make you stand out from your competition.
BlackBerry is offering many of its security products free for 60 days, including support for secure collaboration, remote working, messaging and phone calls. Critical solutions that are available include Blackberry Desktop, which provides a secure way to onboard and offboard employees as work policies shift. Blackberry Dynamics integrates with Zoom or Cisco Webex to ensure security of web meetings. Blackberry AtHoc enables companies to offer an enterprise package for Employee safety including rapid alerts. More information is available online or by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org
Powernoodle provides the dedicated cloud platform and know-how required to facilitate corporate decision-making. Their decision model templates allows facilitators to create an easy decision process for making important decisions around risk management, strategy, to manage change or for prioritization of actions. Powernoodle has created a number of webinars to help companies make decisions when working remotely.
If you’re a retailer, the impact of COVID has been immediate and significant. We’ve watched recent weeks while many small retailers have pivoted their business toward developing an online presence. For some this may seem a momentous task, but tackling it in bite-sized increments may be easier. Consider featuring any spring arrivals or things you can discount to move product and gain revenue.
Waterloo-based Shopify stepped up early offering their product for free for retailers to help them get an online store. They are currently offering a free three-month trial to begin to convert your business to an online retail business. Here is a link where you can download a How to guide for curbside business. There are also a number of resources to help you get up and running.
Even following recovery post-COVID, thinking about an online presence will help you compete in the long term by offering a mixed model of access for your clients and help to provide access to segments of the population that may have mobility limitations or prefer to shop online. According to Google Insights “By 2023, Canadian digital commerce will grow by 30%. That’s a $60-billion market in Canada, so the opportunity is there, and there’s room for all of our retailers to thrive whether they’re traditional, pure play or brand.” Using this time to build out an online strategy for your retail business may pay dividends in the long run.
If getting an e-commerce site up feels like too much, many local retailers have been driving sales through social media by actively engaging their followers on Facebook or Instagram. From online auctions where people bid by chatting in a Facebook Live to posts featuring new or featured products – we’ve seen many retailers using purely social and phone-in credit card to secure sales during this time.
Another Waterloo Region company – Faire established to connect retailers to makers to improve the wholesale process. They have also developed resources for retailers on their COVID-19 page to help you stay informed.
Whatever your business, know there are resources here to help. The Uptown Waterloo BIA has staff support, up-to-date COVID-19 information and business resources for Uptown businesses. The City of Waterloo is maintaining a COVID Response page, and staff from the City’s Economic Development team are here to assist with making connections or referrals. In addition, the Waterloo Small Business Centre is hosting a series of webinars and have services to consult and support entrepreneurs. We encourage you to reach out during this time. We’re in this together and together we will be stronger in the future.