Digital and Tech Stories of Economic Growth on Vancouver Island
Benjamin Miltner – Galiano Island, BC – Tourism
~DER3 Program: Businesses Benefit from Getting Digital on Vancouver Island ~
Find out how Innovation Island, as the region’s technology accelerator, with decades of experience in the tech sector on Vancouver Island, and a deep understanding of tech, innovation and digital ecosystems, embraced the call to help the mounting challenges that faced small-medium sized businesses due to the COVID crisis. Supporting over 500 businesses and moving the economic dial and future economic growth on Vancouver Island.
Since the DER3 Program launched in April 2020, with support from Island Coastal Economic Trust (ICET) and additional support from Western Economic Development Canada, the program has now engaged with over 500 businesses. From web and IT/tech support, to digital marketing, tech and business model innovation, or overall strategy and pivots, we are thrilled to help businesses move the economic dial on Vancouver Island. We would love to share some amazing stories of clients who have benefited from this no cost program.
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DER3 Client: Business Summary
Ben has owned and operated Gulf Island Kayaking for 35 years, making his business the earliest established sea kayaking operation in the Southern Gulf Islands. Gulf Island Kayaking offers half-day, full-day, and multi-day guided kayak excursions, as well as kayak, canoe, paddleboard and bike rentals to their customers. In the Spring, they have historically welcomed a number of school groups, which has provided a welcome revenue infusion before their busy season begins. In the off season, Ben also runs a sea kayaking business in Costa Rica, where he does not have a storefront, but offers kayaking tours around Costa Rica’s Osa Peninsula, as well as natural history & birding tours to especially remote and biodiverse areas of Costa Rica’s interior.
Prior to Covid-19, in the off season, Ben also runs a sea kayaking business in Costa Rica. He does not have a storefront, but offers kayaking tours around Costa Rica’s Osa Peninsula, as well as natural history & birding tours to especially remote and biodiverse areas of Costa Rica’s interior.
Due to Covid, since Spring 2020 most of his bookings were cancelled and group bookings have not been possible. In 2020 he pivoted his business model to shorter (and less profitable) hourly/daily rentals, and in 2021 they pivoted to add self-guided multi-day tour itineraries for groups, which has been quite successful and more profitable than guided tours.
Although his business is well established there has been some brand confusion and lack of brand clarity over the years as they used an alternate business name for a time, and their website URL is different from their business name. In addition, there are now competitors using similar names further adding to brand confusion.
Ben’s existing website was very basic and did not allow for online bookings. The website has been updated to enable booking inquiries and now also offers branded merchandise and (eventually) old kayak stock. Ben has an extensive customer email list, however, he has not taken advantage of email marketing or customer reach outs much in the past.
Over the years, a few different social media presences have been established but haven’t been utilized to their full capacity.
FUN FACT: Ben’s partner – Jeanne Erickson, was also in the DER3 Program a prominent artist on Galiano Island.
Getting Digital: Needs Expressed
Ben’s main objectives in joining the DER3 Program were to obtain information about funding sources and support to obtain this funding, develop an overall digital marketing strategy and create a new eCommerce enabled website.
How DER3 helped the Business
The DER3 Team worked with Ben frequently throughout the duration of the program.
- Completed an Online Presence Assessment in 2020 and in 2021 where we provided actionable feedback on aligning social media handles with their business and domain names, increasing post consistency, engagement (e.g. using more video and customer stories and photos) and tagging on Facebook & Instagram, business name and domain name alignment, Search Engine Optimization (SEO), website page analytics. We also provided instructions for getting started on LinkedIn,
- Provided Email Marketing resources to begin to leverage their extensive email list,
- Provided information on funding resources, tailored to their needs,
- Provided guidance around selecting a new accounting software,
- Provided support and guidance to apply for the Launch Online Grant Program and BC Small Business Recovery Grant Program,
- Performed an overall website and brand assessment including budget discussions and recommendations to Digital Service Providers to perform the work,
- Referred to our DER3 Business Advisor to discuss their need to pivot their business to reach new target markets for hourly/daily rentals as group tours are not possible at this time,
- Provided resources for social media content creation, Search Engine Optimization and email marketing, graphics design programs.
In March 2001, with additional funding through Innovate BC, Ben was able to receive extra Digital Service Provider (DSP) hours to provide him with hands-on marketing and website planning support. Ben re-engaged with the program in August 2021 looking for additional support on funding, reviewing their current business model, advice on how they can continue to improve their online presences (particularly social media) and develop other marketing channels (e.g. email newsletters).
DER3 Impact, Results, Outcome
Given Gulf Island Kayaking had a budget to work with a Digital Service Provider DER3 provided a list of three recommendations that they could work to conduct a rebrand, including an updated and refreshed website with eCommerce and to support in their social media efforts. Out of the list of recommendations, they choose Bravenet Marketing in Parksville. As this was occurring additional funding from Innovate BC allowed the DER3 Program to match him with complementary hours with a DSP. The decision was made to continue with this DSP on the rebrand, website and social efforts. In parallel, Gulf Island Kayaking met a DER3 Business Advisor and laid out a plan for financing their needs to pivot their business model.
Ben and team also submitted funding for two grant programs and were approved for the BC Business Recovery Grant and the Launch Online Grant Program. In 2021 the company pivoted to offering self-camping tours. They reported that they had “a really good [summer] season” and profit margins have improved. They are now looking ahead to marketing off-season travel for regional visitors and locals for the Fall/Winter of 2021/2.
Spring 2021: Thank you so much for your help, we would have never gotten this far without your support and would be in dire straits right now. Instead we are excited about the possibilities ahead and have something to do while most of our bookings have cancelled due to the travel restrictions. Thank you, again, for being a trusted source of critical information in these desperate times.
Fall 2021: “Your program has really been the thing that’s gotten us through the last year”Ben
Innovation Island has been supporting technology companies to “build, grow and stay” and has fostered local digital ecosystems (and on Vancouver Island for over 20 years. We love to connect with businesses and tech entrepreneurs who are interested in starting a technology business on Vancouver Island, or connecting to other tech and innovative companies with industry resources and expert advice. If you are looking for Startup assistance, support on commercializing your product, or if you have an innovation or invention you would like to launch or looking for general information on technology on Vancouver Island. Connect with us and we would love to hear from you.
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