Success Story: Skills development funding teaches operators to fish

“Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day; teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime.” – Maimonides

When you launch something as important as a small business, you want to do it right. This is what Courtney Sinclair decided when she launched her business, Court Outdoors, offering stand-up paddleboarding lessons, meaningful outdoor experiences, retreats, and other opportunities for people to connect with nature.

Court Outdoors was initially a side business for Courtney, but in 2021 she jumped into entrepreneurship with both feet and committed to Court Outdoors as a more serious endeavour. Unfortunately, as she quickly found out, securing grants as a new business is not as easy as one might think. This is where the Ontario’s Highlands Tourism Organization’s (OHTO) Tourism Recovery and Innovation Program (TRIP) – Skills Development Stream came in.

“It’s really tricky to get grants until you have time under your belt and a certain amount of financials,” explained Courtney. 

Courtney was checking all the right boxes; she had a website and social media presence and was doing what she could to promote her business. Still, she found tackling the learning curve for all the many moving parts of digital marketing overwhelming. 

To help her tackle these critical components of her business, Courtney applied for the TRIP funding to hire an online business management company, Peak Flow Online Business Management to teach her how to maximize her digital presence and online marketing. In essence, instead of looking for funding that would allow her to hire someone to do the work for her, she looked for funding to teach her the skills she needs to become sustainable. She needed someone to teach her how to fish.

“I felt like I was scrounging to get okay results and this funding allowed me to hire someone to teach me how to use keywords, to show me how to use website and social media analytics, to develop content pieces that help me find and capture my audience,” Courtney said. “It gave me the support to hire the people who can help me take the next steps forward.”

Now, Courtney meets weekly with her marketing specialists to discuss SEO, keyword implementation, Google analytics, email marketing, and more. Training will wrap up in February, but Courtney is keen to carry on implementing some of the pieces they have worked on together.

“We create training procedures that I can carry forward, they walk me through everything and then give me homework week to week,” Courtney said. “It gives me direction for sure.”

One of the first pieces they worked on was a website audit, which helped Courtney understand how to make changes to the website to rank higher on Google. This information will help Courtney be able to analyze data and learn what’s generating leads, who her audience is, and understand how people are finding her business, what social media efforts are working and what efforts are converting to sales, and what isn’t so Courtney can better direct her marketing dollars.

“It’s almost like coming out of the weeds, to step out and see the full picture and the scope of my business and marketing instead of getting caught up in the details without a bigger strategy,” Courtney explained.

When Courtney looked at the TRIP funding she wasn’t initially sure if she would qualify. A quick phone call later, and she learned she was in fact eligible and got started on the application process which she called “pretty quick.”

“They offered questions in the application process to help me clearly define my training project, and I heard back very quickly. I was pretty impressed by that,” Courtney said. 

Overall, the funding and training has made a big difference for Courtney and her business. For Courtney, the TRIP program not only helped drive her business forward, but it also gave her the time to really dive in and prepare for the next season. Money that wasn’t spent this year on the website and training can be redirected back into new equipment, the creation of new services, subscriptions for business tools and processes, and video and photography assets for her business.

“I feel like it has given me a leap forward in the business to be able to give that focused time towards elevating things to the next level.”

About OHTO’s Tourism Recovery & Innovation Program – Skills Development Stream

The TRIP-Skills Development stream is designed for projects that directly support tourism businesses and their employees to enhance their knowledge and skills in tourism and business development. This program provides up to $2,500 per applicant to support workforce and skills training projects that are to be completed by March 31, 2022. To apply to one of the TRIP funding streams, please visit comewander.ca/trip.

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