“From what I could tell, a lot of small local businesses were struggling. Some of them didn’t have websites but a lot of them really wanted that visibility. So, I felt that by offering them a platform meant for conscious consumers, people who are really concerned and committed to support, these businesses could be found more easily.”
Starting a business during a pandemic might seem counter-intuitive – and Ottawa’s Noelle Le Conte-Good would usually agree.
But according to her, the COVID-19 pandemic turned out to be just the right time to launch Good Choice Initiative, as it’s when a little extra visibility for local businesses and their products was needed.
“It’s been a challenge,” Noelle said in an afternoon Zoom interview, “but also it made the most sense. I think this is when people are really reconsidering their purchasing habits, and really starting to ask themselves questions like, ‘Where is this coming from? Who am I supporting?’ and focusing more on supporting local.”
“And I thought that fell in line so nicely with what I’m trying to do,” she added. “When we’re supporting local, we’re minimizing carbon emissions through shipping and transportation, and investing in our community, among other positive impacts.”
Good Choice Initiative’s Story
Good Choice Initiative is an online sustainability hub, connecting consumers to businesses and makers in the Ottawa area who align with their social and environmental values.
To help make shopping locally and ethically easy, the website breaks down businesses and products based on popular criteria such as Handmade, Zero Waste / Plastic Free, Organic, Cruelty-Free / Vegan and more.
“I felt like this directory would be able to provide people with the ability to find businesses they can support that are local businesses in line with what they believe in,” Noelle explains. “It seems to be like a shift in mindset – a change in what’s important to people.”
How it all began
Even though calls Ottawa home, Noelle has always been exploring. Her parents’ work during her childhood brought her to countries like Argentina and India and has given her a connection with the environment and exposed her to a diverse set of global cultures and values.
But as she continued to explore through her studies and her own work supporting conservation efforts abroad in Honduras and Costa Rica, she witnessed environmental degradation everywhere she went and was confronted with a world that needed help.
“I got to see a lot of the negative environmental impacts that we as humans have,” she recalls. “Especially in the ocean – there’s a lot of plastic in the ocean. I’m an avid diver and it made me really sad to see so much of it in the water and along the beaches,” she added.
In 2018, Noelle packed up to leave a life in Toronto for an extended journey of exploration. After her travels through South East Asia, Central America and Europe, it was an experience on the beaches of Bali that provided her with the insight that changed everything.
“I saw a lot of plastic on the beach and I decided to start picking it up,” Noelle remembers, “and the next thing I knew, seven or eight other people joined in and were contributing to my efforts.”
“It was a bit sad,” she continued, “but it also gave me a sense of hope that just by setting some sort of example, by taking the first step, that other people were inspired to join in. So, I wanted to bring that sense of hope and kind of collective action closer to home,” she added. “And I wanted to create this community.”
The Challenge: Providing Visibility for Sustainable Businesses During COVID-19
With a growing movement to support local during the pandemic, Noelle saw an opportunity to provide a little extra visibility to local, sustainable businesses in Ottawa, and to help connect them with consumers looking for products that aligned with their values and ethics.
“From what I could tell, a lot of small local businesses were struggling,” she said. “Some of them didn’t have websites but a lot of them really wanted that visibility. So, I felt that by offering them a platform meant for conscious consumers, people who are really concerned and committed to support, these businesses could be found more easily.”
Although Noelle had built a passion for networking and connecting people in a variety of professional roles, trying to build a network while not being able to meet shopkeepers in person caused her to adapt.
“I’m very social, and that’s where the challenges of the pandemic come in,” she said. “Not being able to meet people in person as much or at all, and really having to be online fully. How do you create that network in a community where you haven’t met these people? That’s definitely been a challenge.”
While taking part in a youth entrepreneurship program provided by Rise Asset Development and Incubator 13 in 2019, Noelle took advantage of free online resources and virtual events offered by Invest Ottawa.
And when the Digital Main Street Future Proof program and the help of the Transformation Teams became available, it was something she knew would help her get her network started.
“With my job in Toronto, I did a lot of networking but that’s different from creating an online community,” she explained. “So, I definitely needed that help with the digital marketing.”
“I was quite familiar with Invest Ottawa and all the great work they do and the free services they provide to local business owners,” she added, “And then when I saw Digital Main Street, I saw it as the program that could help specifically with the marketing aspect.”
Digital Transformation Teams at work:
According to Noelle, it didn’t take long for the Digital Transformation Teams to get to work.
“They’re very thorough,” she said enthusiastically. “They did an audit of the site that I already had and my social media. I told them what I wanted to work on and then they provided suggestions of what they thought would make sense for me.”
The Transformation Teams made edits to the website and added more features including a carousel to showcase featured businesses on the homepage. They also helped to repair website features that were integral to Noelle’s vision of breaking down information by criteria.
For her own social media needs, they provided her with a 12-month strategy and social media newsletter design templates that saved her time in terms of not having to create content from scratch. To make managing her newsletter, social media and email marketing activities even easier, they also introduced her to automated tools such as Hootsuite and MailChimp.
According to Noelle, being prepared with templates and automation tools has taken a bit of weight off her shoulders and she can’t wait to dive even deeper into some of the helpful tools provided.
“I feel a lot less stressed, she said. “Before I had to focus on the content and the design, so they’ve helped with that a lot and it gives me more time to plan and be a bit more consistent, and not feel overwhelmed with all the details at once.”
“In terms of providing a bit more structure and consistent image in my messaging, that’s really what I would say has been one of the most helpful parts of the DMS contribution,” she said.
Good Choice Initiative is just getting started, but Noelle can already see positive changes in her business.
“It was only a few weeks ago, but I’ve definitely seen some increase in followers,” she said. “I’ve definitely seen an increase in page views through my Google Analytics. I think with my business it’s hard to track progress, she added. “But it’s the kind of community you build over time. And I care more about the quality of people I’m connecting with.”
Good Choice Initiative was recently invited to be one of the exhibitors at the Virtual SMARTNet Sustainability Showcase on Saturday, January 30th. They’ll be showcasing their brand in a Live Interactive Exhibitor Hall alongside various talks, seminars and workshops that you can check out from the comfort of your own home. Drop by and visit them at this free virtual event.
Should I apply to Future Proof?
So – what advice would Noelle have for anyone debating applying to work with a Digital Transformation Team through the Digital Main Street Future Proof program?
“It’s a free service and it’s so helpful I can’t even think of why you wouldn’t try it,” she said.
“From what I can tell, DMS works with businesses at every stage and allows them to build on whatever they’re trying to work on, wherever they are. In terms of getting it set up, it was really fast, and they worked around my schedule and they were super flexible. I have nothing but positive things to say about the experience.”
“I really can’t fathom a reason why not to apply.”
To learn more about the Digital Main Street program and how businesses can apply, visit our webpage.
A special thank you to the Government of Canada and specifically FedDev Ontario for making this program possible and enabling the team at Invest Ottawa to provide critical support to main street businesses when it is needed most.