Community Futures Sunrise (CFS), is expanding its reach across Southeast Saskatchewan to empower small businesses in rural areas with essential loans, advice, and digital support to thrive in an increasingly online marketplace. 

Andria Brady, the regional economic development coordinator at CFS, explained that there is only a $100 administrative fee. Once the onboarding process is complete, they aim to teach business owners the fundamentals needed to create a successful business plan. They also assist with branding kits, rebranding efforts, and other similar tasks. 

She noted that their services are open to most businesses; however, they will not work with companies that have already hired someone for similar tasks. They will not edit an existing website or collaborate with other marketing organizations, as their focus is on helping businesses that may need a financial boost. 

Go Digital Sask is an additional service they offer. The initiative was started in 2019 when only 22 per cent of businesses had an online presence, Brady said. She noted that when the pandemic hit, the need for businesses to be online increased significantly, as did the need to reach customers through alternative methods. The program also helps to teach entrepreneurs how to utilize social media platforms such as Facebook and Instagram. 

While digital tools are crucial for running a successful business, Brady noted that many people are fearful of the digital world because they are unsure of what they really need to succeed. 

“When they talk about the online world, they don’t even know where to start, and they’re sometimes embarrassed and ashamed. We try to alleviate that fear and just educate people,” she said. 

Another aspect of creating a strong online presence is that it’s important to claim your Google business profile. “If people are looking for information, they’re going to Google it. If they can’t find you or if what they find doesn’t look correct or legitimate, they’re going to move on,” Brady explained. 

Brady emphasized that by having a web presence, businesses can reach a wider audience. By not taking advantage of these tools, businesses could miss out on potential sales. “You’re missing out on people finding you, looking for your products and services, and potential customers too,” she said. She added that having a website can help generate trust between a business and its customers. 

During times of economic uncertainty, people are more likely to start their own businesses, Brady observed. “Some of that might be due to employment uncertainty and a desire to take control of their own lives. Others might need a second income because of the cost of living. We’re seeing a significant increase in people wanting to start businesses across a variety of sectors.” 

These new businesses could be home-based, retail, or customer-facing, Brady explained. She added that there are also a few cases of business succession. “Existing businesses are being sold to new owners, or someone is retiring. That’s something we can also help with, like succession planning,” she said. 

Brady mentioned that this trend is positive, as it shows a growing interest in Southeast Saskatchewan in starting new businesses. She recommended utilizing tools such as Google Analytics to enhance online presence and better understand the audience. “Maybe there’s an untapped market that you hadn’t thought about for your business that you can reach by looking at your analytics. There’s power in information and numbers,” she said. 

Community Futures works with businesses from all sectors except agriculture, as there are currently companies that specialize in these types of businesses in the province.