Google Garage, Richmond and me

26 Jul 2016

Good Things Foundation's Google Digital Garage programme sees community organisations across the country provide digital skills support to small businesses, sole traders and people setting up businesses. Tanya Cook, Chief Executive and Director at A1 Community Works, blogs about how the programme has worked at her UK online centre.

A1 Community Works is - amongst other things - a UK online centre in Richmond. And as a UK online centre our job is to help people in our community get online and make the most of digital opportunities.

Well it turns out that businesses are run by people, and they’re very much part of the community! Working with them on digital business skills has been a natural extension of what we’ve always done, and it’s probably now about 50% of our work.

That’s meant that as well as Learn My Way, we needed something to help us target and engage businesses with digital skills needs, and Google Digital Garage has very much filled that gap.

For those who aren’t familiar with it, Google Digital Garage is a relatively new online platform from Google with courses on anything from Search Engine Marketing to analytics, email marketing to online sales.

We operate in a very rural area. Five years ago, unemployment was at an all time high and our training room was full of jobseekers. Now employment is up we’re seeing more and more small businesses who also have serious digital skills needs - but for things like building their web presence rather than job search and CV building. What’s more, they have employees who lack digital skills too, and we can help them on both fronts.

At A1 we’re now increasingly out and about visiting businesses and networking with local business support groups, and the reaction to Google Digital Garage has been universally popular with organisations ranging from farmers to festival stallholders, and selling anything from crisps to Nepalese souvenirs! Last week I was talking to Scarborough WIRE and have now arranged my first Google Digital Garage workshop for 19th August at the Dawnay Estate at Wykeham near Scarborough.

The great thing about Google Digital Garage is how intuitive it is to use, and how easy it is to build and follow a learning plan. It can be done in bite-sized chunks, in and around everyday work.

For most businesses - of whatever size - it’s when you get busy that you stop the personal and business development stuff and just get your head down and get on with it. That’s a mistake, because successful businesses have to stay one step ahead. These days, that means going digital. Whatever you do, whatever you sell, whoever your customers are, you should be doing it, showing it and talking to them online.

Making space to develop new skills and pathways can be hard, which is where we come in. You could sit down and go through Google Digital Garage by yourself, but you’d need to know it was there, and you’d need to know what you wanted for your business and where to start. Lots of people don’t have time to research or ask themselves those questions, and so it tends to fall off To Do lists. We can help people make time, think about their business goals, build a learning plan, and support them through it at their own pace.

What’s more, the results can be instantaneous. You can literally go on, learn about Adwords, and have your own ad set up and running and making a difference to your business in a matter of hours.

Google Digital Garage has been good for me too. As a UK online centre, we’re also ‘business’ - and we’ve had to diversify what we do and adapt to the changing needs of our audiences. That means getting up to speed on the things we’re training people to do.

I’ve thoroughly enjoyed going through the Google Digital Garage courses and it’s made me think differently about what we do and how - like optimising our website for mobile search. We’re not just targeting ‘offline’ people now - we’re reaching out to professionals. That means we’ve got to get our web presence up to date and in order - just like everyone else.

I’d highly recommend Google Digital Garage to businesses of all shapes and sizes - and to UK online centres looking to support small and medium sized enterprises alongside individual learners. It’s a great compliment to Learn My Way, and a great part of the toolkit to help people in your community make the most of digital technology.