Commercial Currents: Finding efficiency with digital tools

Stephenie MacLagan
Posted 2016-09-01

Businesses tout value of learning online tools

Island and coastal business owners have often told us that they would like to make their businesses more efficient through the use of digital tools like QuickBooks and social media. As a result, we teamed up with Axiom Education and Training Center (AETC) to deliver digital workshops on islands, to support businesses on their own turf. “Digital literacy is anything in electronics or computers that can make life easier or help you find a job,” says Sharon Foss, Education Coordinator for AETC.

The partnership between Island Institute and AETC staff has allowed workshops to be adapted and tailored to islander and coastal business owners, employees, and other community leaders. Classes offered include:

  • All the Microsoft products
  • Marketing tools like Photoshop and Facebook
  • QuickBooks for bookkeeping
  • Website Design
  • Running a business from a mobile device

“We help small businesses stay competitive in the large business world. Being able to do your bookkeeping from your computer, or even your smart phone, saves time so you can spend more time on other important things to build up your business,” said Foss. “We got started in this work with fishermen and farmers, in learning technology to support their businesses. These skills also build up their resumes.”

Jesse Perez, AETC instructor, said business owners and others can take classes from AETC that include topics like “how to run a business on your mobile device, and using M.A.P. Online. MAP is an Axiom program to help fishermen and farmers with tracking activities for regulatory reporting.” These workshops provide resources and expertise, in areas like accounting and online marketing, to island and coastal businesses and workforce.

“It was great to travel to an island! It was actually easier than I thought it would be [to get on-island],” said Perez. While it might be easy to get on-island, getting off-island for a day-long travel to a workshop is a real barrier for business owners. “Being on an island, it’s really hard to find classes,” said Martha Reed, owner of Hedgewick, a specialty cut flower business on Vinalhaven. “Figuring out the timing to get back to the island after a day on the mainland for a workshop is an obstacle.”

If you would like to bring digital education classes to your business community, please reach out to us.

Reed participated in our Facebook for Business workshop in order to better market her business. She’s been working on this for the past three years, including developing her logo and establishing a presence online. “Doing that and advertising has really boosted my business,” Reed said.

“A lot of businesses have come up to me after class to inquire about other topics, to thanks us, or tell us how they have improved their business,” said Perez. “One business owner was excited to tell me that after the class finally got them to set up QuickBooks, it was saving them a lot of time. It’s been really satisfying to those entrepreneurs.”

Reed agrees, “Doing the hands-on stuff, like what [AETC and Island Institute] did on-island, is so important. I wanted to learn how to best use my business’s Facebook page, and I’m more comfortable using it now. The workshop boosted my confidence in how to use Facebook.”

“The networking that I can do during a workshop is really the most important thing about these hands-on opportunities,” said Reed. “Talking with other business owners, and hearing what works for them, is valuable.” Given the unique situation of islanders, we need to learn from each other about how to reach other islanders and markets off-island.”

Perez and Ross have seen first-hand the impact of these workshops. “One agricultural company we supported has chosen to take advantage of every class offered since, and we’ve seen their operations grow,” said Foss. “I have had some businesses share that they learn so much about accounting and depreciation that they previously didn’t understand.”

Focusing on branding and developing an online presence has given Hedgewick’s customers a sense of the business’s permanency, said Reed, “that the owner has invested a lot of time and energy in establishing a web presence, so they think, ‘This is someone I can go to next year, and this is a business I can rely on to be there in the future.’”

Some reactions remind Perez the importance of delivering these workshops, “A few students have said, ‘I’ve never thought about using social media as a sales tool, and it’s actually pretty clever!’ This reinforces how much these classes are needed and that they’re working. Digital literacy is really important for any community trying to invest in its community members. People quickly realize how important digital literacy is to revitalization or economic development efforts.”

Axiom Education & Training Center is a collaborative, innovative and technology-driven organization that advances the life-long educational and professional development of businesses and residents, while strengthening the economic, social, and cultural life of the diverse community.

Resources for employees or business owners

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What We Do

The Island Institute’s Economic Development program supports workforce development in Maine’s remote coastal and island communities. To learn more about our digital education or internet improvement efforts, feel free to contact Stephenie