New Jersey Economic Development Agency to provide marketing assistance to small businesses
The New Jersey Economic Development Authority (NJEDA) is giving away free marketing services to small business owners looking to expand their online presence.
The E-Commerce Small Business Assistance Program was launched this month as part of the state’s Main Street Recovery Finance Program, a $100 million small business assistance program included in the state’s Economic Recovery Act 2020. The pilot program was initially funded with $1 million to help small businesses with website development and optimization, and improving their e-commerce, online ordering and appointment booking platforms.
“We’re trying to really ease the stress of running a small business and alleviate some of the pain points,” said Christina Fuentes, vice president of community and business development at NJEDA.
According to Fuentes, the program aims to offset some of the operating costs a business incurs and help owners attract new customers.
Is your company eligible?
Your business must be physically located in New Jersey and in the restaurant, retail, or personal care industry. You must also meet the US Small Business Administration’s definition of a small business (generally fewer than 500 employees) and be in good standing with the New Jersey Division of Taxation. Provided you meet these and a few other requirements, you can apply here.
If you are accepted into the program, you will work directly with one of NJEDA’s seven select marketing and consulting firms, who will then be reimbursed by the state for up to $11,400 in services. These services may include website design and development; implementation of online ordering and appointment systems; and developing an online marketing plan.
How will business owners work with marketers?
Dania Ceruti, the co-founder and CEO of Camden’s 360 Marketing & PR, one of the seven marketing companies selected under the program, says her firm has created templates for marketing services that are ready once a client is approved.
“Together we agree on a plan that defines the deliverables up front so that the business owner understands exactly what they are going to receive,” she said. “We want to work with someone who is ready, prepared and responsive.”
Phyllis Lacca, founder of Atlantic City’s Masterpiece Advertising, another marketing firm participating in the program, takes a similar approach.
“After determining eligibility, we will schedule a meeting with each client to determine their unique needs in relation to the available digital marketing and e-commerce services that we offer,” said Lacca. “Once we have assessed their needs, we will develop and present a proposal, and once approved, we will begin developing and implementing solutions, gathering customer input and feedback, and keeping lines of communication open throughout the process.”
How long is the program?
Marketing consultants participating in the program each say that a small business can expect a project to take anywhere from two to eight weeks. And while all costs are covered by the state, there may be some ongoing costs after the program ends — such as monthly e-commerce platform fees. In addition, there are the necessary internal investments that must ensure that the marketing plan developed by the consultants continues to be implemented.
“Once we’ve built the website and set up the e-commerce platforms and all the campaigns, we hand everything over to the client,” Ceruti said. “They are trained, but then they have to be ready to continue the work.”
NJEDA’s Fuentes also said that small businesses participating in the program need to be fully invested.
“It’s really important that the small business owner is willing to work with the consultant and has realistic expectations of what the consultant is doing and what they need to do to make the project a success,” she said. “Some of this may require internal changes and more work, and it can be a struggle at first, but good results should be achieved in the long run.”
Who should apply?
The program is only a pilot, but Fuentes says if it achieves its goals of helping the state’s small businesses, there will likely be more funding in the future.
Lacca also encourages businesses in Qualified Opportunity Zones, as well as small businesses and businesses owned by women, minorities, veterans and disabled veterans to enroll.
“Small businesses are the lifeblood of our state’s economy,” she said. “We are very pleased that the state is providing us with funds to support them, help them modernize, improve their digital presence and ultimately grow their businesses.”