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Help at hand for firms to use digital technology as gateway to growth

Kirstie McLaughlin
Kirstie McLaughlin

For almost all business owners across Scotland, the pandemic has highlighted the need to improve their digital presence to ensure survival.

In 2020 a staggering 73% of firms north of the border said Covid-19 had encouraged them to adopt new technology to provide their goods and services.

In Aberdeen and the surrounding area the situation was no different – companies have had to embrace digital technology quickly to survive.

This can be seen in the 68% uplift in inquiries to Business Gateway relating to digital transformation from owners of firms across the north-east in 2020.

It has resulted in more than 200 companies accessing DigitalBoost – Scotland’s digital training programme delivered by Business Gateway.

Digital development ‘here to stay’

A study by McKinsey highlighted just how fast the adoption of digital has been.

Such a transformation would normally have taken months if not years to introduce, but – due to the pandemic – many aspects were implemented in days.

Now, as company owners enjoy a sense of normality following repeated lockdowns and restrictions, it remains as important as ever to stay ahead with the latest technology.

In the north-east there remains a high demand for support in digital, with inquiries almost doubling.

After bringing in new ways of working, firms are clear on the benefits and opportunities technology can deliver – and this reinforces signs that continual digital development is here to stay.

As company owners enjoy a sense of normality following repeated lockdowns and restrictions, it remains as important as ever to stay ahead with the latest technology.”

In recognition of this, resources and funding programmes continue to be prioritised and adapted, and this forms a critical part of the package of support available for businesses across Scotland.

For example, more than £3.3 million has been made available since March 2020 through the DigitalBoost development grant.

DigitalBoost, which first launched in 2016, specialises in providing company owners with the ability and knowledge to take advantage of digital technologies.

Throughout the pandemic the programme has positioned itself as a critical tool for firms, adapting to change with its in-person workshops being replaced by free webinars.

It has continued to evolve in response to constant changes within the business environment.

Coaching sessions a success

A successful new offering, DigitalBoost coaching sessions, provides three-hour slots with a digital expert.

During these interactive sessions company owners can go through a particular topic, including optimising Facebook pages or setting up Google Analytics.

More than 60 north-east firms have attended these sessions since they were launched last June.

Business owners have gone on to benefit from direct engagement with an expert and having topics broken down into simple actions.

DigitalBoost surgeries were also launched last June and they have become the most in-demand aspect of our service in the region.

About 170 companies across the north-east are already benefiting from this offering.

It provides business owners with short appointments, giving them a chance to highlight where they are struggling and to quickly receive advice and feedback on a variety of digital aspects such as social media platforms, website optimisation and online presence.

The surgeries have been a resounding success, with users praising the service.

“The surgery targeted what my business needed,” one of them told us.

Although the north-east is typically known for its energy sector, there has always been a strong focus on technology.

Business Gateway works with partners to stay ahead of developments and provide digital solutions.

The network stretches to organisations such as the Net Zero Technology Centre, Opportunity North East, the Data Lab and local universities.

So where next?

Digital still has a vital role when it comes to running a company and now, more than ever, it’s important for owners to identify areas for further improvement.

This will help build on progress to date and set up strong foundations for business growth over the coming weeks and months.

Companies can provide new ways of servicing customers through e-commerce.

They can have an online shop in no time, with the quick and easy adoption of platforms such as Shopify or Squarespace.

Websites can ensure the long-term success of a business, helping build trust with a potential customer, and social-media platforms are undeniable assets – offering firms a low-cost way to communicate with their target customers.

Using digital marketing, businesses large and small can reach wider audiences by gathering a range of data and insights on how customers shop – vital in driving growth.

Digitising processes can also improve business efficiency. Accounting tools such as FreeAgent reduce time spent balancing books, while team-management platforms including Monday or Teamwork help employees work together.

If we were to offer three methods for company owners to improve their online presence, they would be…

  1. Make sure your customers can find you – prioritise your online presence and ensure your firm is easily searchable on Google and social media platforms. Ask your existing customers if you were easy to locate and where they found you online.
  2. Make sure your online presence is working hard and helping to achieve your business goals, rather than hindering. Ensure all information and photography is up to date across all platforms. Content should be clear and compelling and social media posts should be relevant and engaging.
  3. Use statistics to improve – take the time to analyse the data and insights available in Google Analytics and across all social media platforms, and use them to learn about your customers and how well your online presence is performing. This can help drive higher levels of engagement.

Looking to the rest of 2022, the time for radically digitising to survive the pandemic may be over – but opportunities presented by digital technologies are endless when it comes to future growth.

With so much information and a variety of options, it can be overwhelming for company owners to identify where they could use support.

But, with help and advice, it is easy for them to take the necessary steps to future-proof their operations and set themselves up for success.

For more information about how DigitalBoost can help your business, visit

Kirstie McLaughlin is Elevator and Business Gateway operations manager in Aberdeen.

New app a boon for Grampian Escapes and Tours

Jacqueline van den Akker.

By Ian Forsyth

One Aberdeenshire-based businesswoman who has used digital technologies to strengthen her existing skillset and ensure the survival of her venture is Jacqueline van den Akker.

The founder of Grampian Escapes and Tours offers single-day food-related and other tours around the north-east.

When Covid-19 put tourism activities on hold, Ms van den Akker approached Business Gateway for help as she set about providing audio tours as a new way to reach customers.

She said: “When the pandemic hit, I knew it was vital to find ways to raise the profile of Grampian Escapes and Tours for increasing our brand awareness.

“Working with the Business Gateway team and attending online webinars allowed me to do this, and I found the inspiration and confidence for my first app.

“I had to do a bit of research to find out what was already on the market.

“I then asked Business Gateway for support and advice about how to best go about launching my series of audio tours in a way that was more flexible and gave me the scope I needed to develop it into a strong offering for my business.”

The tour guide operator has successfully launched the Grampian Escapes and Tours app and grown its commercial offering by 15%, with support from DigitalBoost.

The north-east’s rich larder is a major attraction for Grampian Escapes and Tours.

The app features stories to enhance the user’s experience and appreciation for areas explored on the tours.

It has helped the business grow by providing a different visitor experience alongside the guided day tours.

Ms van den Akker added: “Thanks to the clear advice and direction given by the DigitalBoost team, I was able to develop a new offering for my customers.

“My goal is to expand the app further by adding more tours and translating them into different languages.”