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Connecting women and opportunity

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Connecting women and opportunity

Womanthology is a digital magazine and professional community powered by female energy and ingenuity.

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Bringing digital skills to SMEs so they can grow their businesses internationally – Holly Stephens, Partnerships and Marketing Programs Manager for Google’s The Digital Garage


Holly Stephens is Partnerships and Marketing Programs Manager for Google’s The Digital Garage, a UK programme that aims to support the company’s belief that Google is a growth engine for the UK. Google is a supporter of the UKTI’s Exporting is GREAT campaign, having partnered on bus tours, webinars and other events.

Holly Stephens
Holly Stephens

“…Research from YouGov and Google has shown that SMEs across the UK believe digital technology has an important role to play in the future of their business, however … nearly one in three (29%) businesses find that high training costs mean they can’t boost their skills…”

Discovering my passion to be an entrepreneur and my love for the technology sector

I started my career in the technology industry when I was on my placement year as part of my Business and Marketing degree and continued my career within technology on a graduate scheme and into a marketing role. I then discovered my passion to be an entrepreneur and worked on building start-up businesses in my spare time. I began working at Google on the Digital Garage when it was still in development stages at the start of 2015.

When I was in university I didn’t know which industry or job I wanted to do. I’ve always taken each job in its stride and put my all into them but also crafted out time to network within a company as best I can. As my career developed I found a love for being in the technology sector. You’re at the heart of innovation and it is an exciting world to be part of.

What my role at Google involves on a day to day basis

In a typical day I work with small business and entrepreneur organisations, large corporations and universities who are helping us to develop the nation’s digital skills and reach more individuals. That could be through events, webinars or providing individuals with resources.

Our partnerships are extremely valuable to the success of our project as they know what individuals want and need. This helps us to tailor our programme and build awareness of the programme so individuals can get the skills they need to grow their business or confidence online.

Background to The Digital Garage

Digital Garage logoThe Digital Garage is the place where anyone can come and give themselves or their business a digital tune-up – pick up the digital know-how needed to make the most of the web, gain new customers and grow.

We are running this initiative to bring more of the value of the web to people across the UK – be it for the benefit of their business and / or for their personal growth. Working with a range of local and national partners, by 2016, we aim to improve the digital business skills of 200K people up and down the country.

Bringing The Digital Garage to Leeds, Birmingham and Manchester, and beyond…

We started in Leeds, with The Leeds Garage[1], followed by the opening of The Birmingham Garage[2], and The Manchester Garage, with more cities to come in 2016. In September, we launched our Digital Garage Academy – an online version that allows anyone to get their personalised digital tune-up online from anywhere at any time. Everything is provided completely free of charge.

Personally tailored training on over 20 topics

Visitors to our Digital Garage Academy can benefit from personally tailored training on over 20 topics. The short, digestible lessons are action-oriented and plainly spoken. Visitors to our physical Garages are able to have personal face-to-face mentoring sessions focusing on their unique digital needs and / or attend focused training seminars.

Our core training proposition focuses on two main themes: “Telling Your Story Online” (improving digital presence) and “Reaching New Customers” (improving customer visibility). We also take the Digital Garage “on tour” to locations across the country.

The Digital Garage team
Members of The Digital Garage team

In the case of all physical garages, we aim to have a space where visitors can benefit not only from Google’s training sessions and one-to-one mentoring, but also from a welcoming working space and from “community programmes” – one example of which is coding classes for teachers delivered by partners such as Code Club Pro. Thus, we hope to have vibrant local garages that are offering a range of activities for the benefit of the local community.

We are working with IPPR North [IPPR’s dedicated think tank for the North of England] to ensure that the training we provide delivers real business improvements and we’ll use the learning to improve our curriculum and share this with other digital skills initiatives. As such, we plan to develop and iterate our training proposition.

SME Data

Research from YouGov and Google has shown that SMEs across the UK believe digital technology has an important role to play in the future of their business, however it is hard for them to find the right skills as the majority (51%) say young people are simply not learning enough digital skills. Moreover, nearly one in three (29%) businesses find that high training costs mean they can’t boost their skills.

Our partners

We aim to work with relevant local and national partners to deliver this programme. National partners include the UK Government’s Department for Business, Innovation and Skills, along with UKTI [UK Trade & Investment] and charitable organisations like Code Club, MediaTrust, Raspberry Pi and Technology Trust, with whom we partner on our training programmes. Local partners include regional government such as Leeds City Council and the Library of Birmingham, as well as public, private and third sector business and community support groups and networks.

Helping SMEs to market themselves overseas

As part of the Exporting is GREAT campaign, Google is working with UKTI to help SMEs improve their overseas marketing. A few years ago, the European Commission described SMEs as “the lifeblood of Europe’s economy”, and with over 5 million small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) in the UK their role here is ever growing.

Generally the rise of the Internet has made international commerce quicker and cheaper than ever before – and importantly, it’s simpler than you think to test out overseas markets before you grow there. According to a recent report, the e-commerce market is set to be worth £645 billion by 2018 – and with the right tools, everyone from established businesses to kitchen-table startups can join the party.

Through Digital Garage activity, in conjunction with UKTI, we have provided support for SMEs on researching target markets using free online tools like our Global Business Map to explore potential new markets. We have also shown them how to use tools like Google Translate to localise their messages for their new clientele. Tools like Google Adwords, for example, allow SMEs to adapt their business by identifying which keywords are popular in new markets so they can carefully target their advertising.

Results of Digital Garage training

In Leeds and Birmingham, home to the first two Digital Garage sites, IPPR North interviewed participants after their first training session, and then re-interviewed them at six and twenty weeks after their initial visit. The results were impressive:

  • 88% of participants had made changes to the way they run their businesses online
  • 27% had seen more sales or bookings
  • 32% had seen an increase in customer numbers
  • 49% had seen an increase in website visitor numbers
  • 9% had hired additional staff to manage their digital work

Coming up next

For me, I want to continue helping more businesses and entrepreneurs in both my career and spare time. It is extremely exciting and rewarding working with entrepreneurs and I think people are still afraid to take a leap. I want people to feel empowered to start a passion of theirs whether it be a business, change their career or just build confidence with new skills.


[1] The Leeds Garage was open from March to the end of October 2015.

[2] The Birmingham Garage was open from July to the end of December 2015.

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