Dozens of North East business owners and aspiring entrepreneurs turned out at Newcastle Civic Centre on Friday to learn from representatives of one of the biggest names of the internet age how they can grow their companies through embracing digital technology.
Thanks to support from the Go Digital Newcastle project, which aims to bring superfast broadband to 97% of the city by next summer, Google hosted a so-called Juice Bar digital masterclass, offering free, wide-ranging advice and support, and bringing together an inspiring line-up of speakers.
The global company launched the Juice Bar initiative, which is being taken around the country, after commissioning research that showed businesses with an online presence grow four to eight times faster than those that do not. Recent statistics show 36% of SMEs nationally do not have a website and, among those businesses that do, the sites offer no functional purpose beyond conveying basic information in 15% of cases.
Among those speaking at Friday’s event was Lauren Luke, a young entrepreneur from South Shields who knows better than most how embracing digital can lead to an explosive upward trajectory in business.
Selling cosmetic products on eBay, she regularly received questions from buyers and, after finding herself spending a lot of time on email, decided to start making videos for her YouTube channel, offering make-up tutorials.
Since then, her girl-next-door appeal has seen her become a global phenomenon, the videos having been viewed millions of times.
Luke said: “YouTube and social media open up opportunities if you have a particular skill.”
She added that broadband connection vouchers now available to SMEs through Go Digital Newcastle could help many fledging businesses get off the ground and thrive.
“It’s more important than ever to have a digital presence, whether you are offering a service or selling goods because consumers are increasingly shopping online,” she said.
“The companies that are succeeding online both understand their target audience and stay true to their brand. They are the ones getting ahead.”
MP for Newcastle Central, Chi Onwurah, likewise said an online presence was now “vital” for small businesses in the North East.
She added that, with the event coming just before International Women’s Day, it was important to consider that equalising men and women’s economic participation could lead to growing the economy by an estimated 10% by 2030.
“Digital should be an essential part of that,” she said.
Gori Yahaya, who manages Google’s Juice Bar programme, gave a detailed presentation at Friday’s event, offering businesses hints and tips for establishing a digital presence.
Managing director of Google UK Dan Cobley said: “Our goal is to get businesses of all sizes to understand the importance of the internet and how easy it is to get online.”