Google’s Digital Garage: Turning Small Businesses Into Online Giants


Google Digital Garage

Since 2015, Google’s UK team has delivered digital training to more than 5,000 small businesses across the market via Digital Garage, a free digital skills academy that was launched by Google UK and Ireland MD (and Time Inc. alum) Eileen Naughton.

The public affairs program is a model of a brand sharing its skills—and creating a generation of small businesses who are well-versked in its products and services and grow their own people’s skills and offerings.

“Our vision is simple: businesses of all sizes stand to benefit from the transformative power of the digital era. It is Google’s responsibility, as both a catalyst and an engine for growth, to help individual businesses prosper, and the UK economy grow,” Naughton wrote in a blog post.

The current Digital Garage in Sheffield is open seven days a week through next month, with 12 staffers on-hand to walk participants through the offering, with topics ranging from launching a website to search engine marketing, social media, video and more.

People can drop in for a chat, or sign up in advance for a particular course and offer free advice on leveraging the web for businesses, individuals and community groups or charities. Partners in the education program include the British Library’s Business and IP Centre.

As Google Europe puts it, “The Digital Garage Academy provides users with a bespoke training path, based on their needs and interests and delivers digital knowledge in a rich and interesting way through bite-sized videos, with the help of everyday experts: real-life business owners.”

Sheffield, like so many smaller towns in the UK, has a digital skills gap, making Digital Garage a welcome resource. Online training is also available.

At the recent launch Louise Haigh, shadow digital economy minister and Labour’s candidate for Sheffield Heeley, commented that it was a ‘major coup’ for the city.

“With investment in the city centre and major businesses choosing to make Sheffield home, now could not be a better time for the leading digital business on the planet to come,” Haigh told the Sheffield Star.

“Too many small businesses lack the digital skills needed to unlock growth because the training isn’t available. Bringing Google’s experts to Sheffield will change that and thousands of businesses will benefit during their stay.”

Google Digital Garage

While the initiative is geared to start-ups and creating new jobs, established businesses are also welcome.

Case in point: Plastic Tokens, which has been based in Attercliffe for more than three decades. A market leader and the UK’s largest token manufacturer, the brand makes tokens to fit any requirement, supplying schools, gamers, auto makers, amusement arcades, supermarkets and more.

Wanting to expand their expertise and reach, Amy Coghlan, in charge of sales and marketing explained why they sought help from the Digital Garage.

“We want the website to be fully functional,” she told the Yorkshire Post. “We want it to be selling, but also for customers to know what they want when they log on. We want them to be able to make three clicks to a purchase.”

“We have been wanting to rebrand for a long time. The Digital Garage is helpful for me to understand as well as to implement. I know things about SEO and analytics, but that’s a job in itself. I can oversee it but it’s for someone to do the day-to-day.”

Digital Garage launched in Leeds in June 2015, and has popped up in Mirfield, West Yorkshire, Newcastle, Birmingham, Manchester, Glasgow and South Yorkshire, each market getting its own local invitation.

Google Digital Garage Manchester

As agency Blue State Digital notes, the online course is designed to encourage and reward users, and has been rolling out across Europe:

They motivate, congratulate, guide, and mentor—all in plain language and a friendly tone. The result: more than 30% of users who started the Digital Garage went on to earn at least three topic badges. The Digital Garage keeps users informed throughout their learning journey. The platform has been rolled out across Europe to more than 20 markets—each with a custom email journey so as many people as possible can make the most of the web.

Ushiwear co-founder Neil Kapusi told the Yorkshire Post why it was worth his time to participate: “Before we attended the very first pop-up in Leeds in June 2015, we had quite a low web presence and our online sales were definitely taking a hit as a result. Within two weeks, we noticed a dramatic increase in sales – not just nationally, but internationally and from March to November, we experienced a 50 per cent increase in turnover due to our greater digital exposure.”

At that time, Naughton noted that less than 30 percent of small businesses had an effective online presence, and Google’s mission was to “jump start” the other 70 percent.

“We understand (small businesses) don’t have the benefit of large IT tech infrastructure and development, and they need our assistance in this area disproportionately more than a large business would,” she told Reuters. “We’ve never set up an outpost in a city—in a garage—as we have here in Leeds, and offered these services openly. For us, it’s an exciting experiment.”

The experiment is working. An iteration of the original “Garage bands” that flourished in the mid 1960’s, the Digital Garage offers access to a creative digital space without any walls, and would be welcome in many other parts of the world too. Find out more in the videos below.