A campaign has been launched to get businesses in North East Wales switched on to the power of social media.
The Digital Clwyd pilot project was aimed at helping members of business groups and community organisations compete more effectively in the digital marketplace.
After attending the courses, one businessman in Llangollen says his Welsh gifts website has just enjoyed its busiest ever week.
Chris Smith was able to access the training as a member of the Llangollen Chamber of Trade and Tourism.
The courses were put on by the rural development agency, Cadwyn Clwyd, whose contribution came via the Rural Development Plan for Wales 2007-2013, which is funded by the European Agricultural Fund for Rural Development (EAFRD) and the Welsh Government.
According to Chris, whose company, Gifts from Wales Limited which encompasses Cottage Cards and Crafts, Cottage Tea Rooms and Cottage Cream and Candy, the internet was particularly useful for drumming up business outside the main tourist season.
He said: “Llangollen is very much a seasonal town, mainly from Easter through to September.
“We’ve got our own website which is giftsfromwales.com but we wanted to promote that even more and also through the use of social media, Facebook and twitter.
“We’re selling to a world-wide marketplace so, especially during the winter period when it’s quieter in Llangollen, we want to try to increase the traffic for sales in the gift shop and promote our products.
“Social media has revolutionised retail. As a result we sell all over the world as far afield as Canada, Australia, Singapore and China.
“In the last few weeks we’ve found that orders online have increased quite significantly and we’ve just had our busiest week for online sales.
“The courses were extremely useful in helping me to understand social media a lot better.
“They gave us a lot of hints regarding different sites that produce advertising material for the businesses, such as business cards, flyers, posters and also help if you want to do your own web design, how to use Facebook efficiently and productively and also a lot of other sites that I hadn’t even heard of.
“By being a member of the Llangollen Chamber of Trade and Tourism it opens up these opportunities for these courses which have been brilliant for us and the others who attended.”
Organiser Sue Haygarth, who coordinated the courses on behalf of Cadwyn Clwyd, was delighted with the excellent take up for the courses which covered things like Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, building websites, email marketing along with search engine optimisation and online security.
She said: “We had a six-week window to deliver the 19 courses and we had over 180 attendances at those courses.
“Cadwyn Clwyd were aware that a lot of small businesses, micro enterprises who employ nine or less, really struggle to access training sometimes, either because they’re small, so there’s only a couple of people in the company, or because of their location.
“We know how important social media is becoming to business and growing business, interacting with other businesses and contacting customers, so Cadwyn put forward a project in rural Denbighshire that would assist these businesses to access the training they need.
“The best way to deliver to these very small businesses was deemed to be through networks and groups that were already there, like business groups, chambers of trade, tourism groups along with social enterprises, community businesses and community shops.
“Collectively, all these businesses are really very important to the local economy, so anything we can do to help those businesses and boost them to bring in more customers and more income for them, is really important.
“Cadwyn Clwyd has seen the benefit already and they’re talking to the Welsh Government about the doing more in future to help these very small micro enterprises which are isolated or working together because they are so important to the local economy.”
The tutor was IT expert Dr Les Pritchard, who runs a company called Neterix and is a lecturer at Bangor University’s School of Computer Science.
He said: “The aim was really to deliver some really attractive courses to local communities and businesses and to really fill that gap in what we thought was missing in the area.
“Lots of small business were coming along and saying they’d heard of these things but they didn’t know want to do with them and in some cases they were a little bit scared of using social media.
“It’s vitally important these days that businesses embrace these new possibilities. The first place people look now, if they’re looking for a business, is online. It’s a virtual shop window that brings people in.”
It was a sentiment echoed by David Davies, the Chair of Llangollen Chamber of Trade and Tourism, who said: “Any business that’s going to be successful has got to market themselves in every possible way.
“These courses helped business people move with the times and offered them on a plate how to engage with audiences across a range of media platforms.
“The members who have used the course have been very enthusiastic.”