Every entrepreneur or creator who’s poured their heart and soul into launching a business knows the importance of having loyal customers. Today, that starts with a great website and online store. If you’re feeling overwhelmed by the thought of developing one on your own, there’s a program that can help right here in the Greater Toronto Area — and (bonus) there’s no cost involved.

Digital Main Street’s ShopHERE powered by Google, which is funded by the federal government, the province of Ontario and corporate sponsors, helps artists and small businesses create unique Shopify stores. ShopHERE is basically a free virtual business coach: It’s ideal for anyone who’s looking to grow their e-commerce and sell their products to both local and global consumers. “Shopify also had all the tools we needed built into our website’s back end to ensure we got off to a good start right out of the gate,” says Kookn co-founder Fenella Petrie.

How to get started

Since ShopHERE launched last year, 25,000 Canadian businesses have signed up for the program and 70% say that it helped their business do better. Here’s how it works: The program can take two to six weeks, depending on how much guidance you need. Once you start, you’ll receive all the training and support you need to launch a new online Shopify store (with a free .ca domain) and keep it operating smoothly. Setting up your store will involve creating customized content including branding, logos and product descriptions. With tons of templates to choose from, there’s a theme to suit every business. You’ll receive hands-on training in creating and configuring a Shopify store and helpful, encouraging support during its launch.

Build a strong foundation for your business

Beyond website design, you also get one-on-one support from an e-commerce coordinator who will help you out with everything you need to know to run your Shopify store once it’s up (think digital marketing, shipping and even inventory management). Plus, you’ll get 24/7 support for your online store along with access to free tools, such as video tutorials from small business owners to help you continue to manage your Shopify store and grow your brand.

David Sevitt, head of public partnerships at Shopify Canada says since its launch the program has been “incredibly well received.”

“Thousands of entrepreneurs were able to take control of their own destiny during the pandemic and continue running their businesses,” says Sevitt. “Even after physical reopenings, merchants are well equipped for the future of commerce.”

Once you complete the program, ShopHERE equips you with discounts and offers from its partners to help your business flourish. From $50 in Facebook advertising credits to a 70% discount on accounting software so you can keep up with bookkeeping, these extras help your small business continue to save money after your site launches.

“Shopify has been great,” says Betti Eskedar, co-founder of Ethio Organics. “Every time I’ve had a question or needed help solving an issue, they’ve been available.”

Moving ahead with confidence — and support

If you still need extra support once you finish the program, you can sign up for an extended 90 days of free access to the platform where you can access training and 24/7 support. You might also be eligible for one-on-one virtual coaching sessions on how to use Google Platforms and tools for small business owners and artists (from Google Ads and Analytics to how to run your business remotely).

To qualify, you just need to be an artist or own a registered business in Ontario with less than 10 full time employees (or less than 25 if you are running a restaurant). Find out more about ShopHERE and how it can work for your business through one of their upcoming webinars.

This article is sponsored by Shopify. Learn more about Digital Main Street’s ShopHERE powered by Google and get the help needed to create a beautiful online store for free.