By Lisa Rossi

Potentially thousands of Iowans will learn updated digital skills through interactions with digital coaches and navigators, individuals skilled in everything from safe internet use to operating a business online and financial security.

Lindsey Newland

Lindsey Newland has been the Google coach for Iowa since November of last year; she started offering workshops in March. Since then, she’s reached 202 people all over Iowa with a goal of reaching 1,000 businesses by the end of the year.

Her job is a partnership between Main Street America and Grow With Google, so she stays within the Main Street Iowa network to reach businesses, she said.

The biggest need, she said, is simple — it’s just getting businesses online.

“There’s a lot of people, they reject needing to be online. But the sustainability of their business long term, it necessitates being online, and so there’s a little bit of convincing there,” she said.

Newland’s workshops are free, and they teach topics such as customer-focused marketing, websites and the nuts and bolts of the Google Business Profile, which helps customers find them online, Newland said.

Newland said she uses data to reach people about the importance of getting their small businesses online.

“If you have a Google Business Profile, you are 2.7 times more likely to get a sale online,” she said. “All you have to do is present that information and let that rest with the person.”

Sometimes there is resistance to Google in small towns, she said.

“One of the things that people say about Google, especially in small towns, is that Google is Big Data, and they have all these opinions about Google,” she said. “Google might be collecting data, but they are offering that data to you for free through analytics, and a search console. There is a whole list of free products they offer. You really don’t have to be paying anything. … They make all that data available to you, so it can help grow your business.”

One person who did not need a lot of convincing about the power of the internet for small business is Melia Chapman, who works at Mustard Seed, a home inspiration store with locations in Albia and Ottumwa.

“It lit a fire under me,” she said of Newland’s workshop. “I’ve been able to implement multiple things in the next few months.”

She said during the workshop, she knew there were areas of the store’s website that were “hurting.” They fixed some issues and she continues to be a believer in having a strong online presence.

“I think it’s huge to be online,” she said. “We have people who have ordered from us — I’ve shipped to California, Texas, the coast. It’s cool to be a small brick-and-mortar store seeing people from all over shopping your website.”

Brianna Dillavou

Brianna Dillavou is a digital navigator as part of the Community Broadband Action Network (CBAN), which provides a collaborative educational network for everyone seeking to create or improve locally operated broadband access.

Dillavou said she handles three main areas to make sure people get fully connected: Make sure they have access to the internet, meaning they are hard-wired or wireless; make sure they have a device, whether that’s a phone, Chromebook, tablet or desktop; and then give them the skills they need – that’s referred to as digital coaching.

She said the greatest need she encounters is a mix.

“Where I’m at, it’s very rural. It’s a mix of access and the skills,” she said. “Once they have the device, they don’t know fully what it’s capable of.”

She serves as a resource and an educator in three Iowa counties south of Des Moines for free as part of a grant program funded by National Digital Inclusion Alliance.

That is part of a $10 million investment from to establish a national Digital Navigator Corps, according to CBAN’s website. A total of 18 digital navigators across the country will work for three years through August 2025.

“We teach social media, Netflix, but [also] banking, financial security, password keeping — how do I know my information is secure? — everything from the basics of how to use a computer, Microsoft Word software, PowerPoints. It’s a little bit of everything, really,” she said.

She said the biggest two demographics she works with are seniors and low-income Iowans.

CBAN’s goal is to help 1,000 Iowans over three years through the digital navigator program, said Jon Willow, co-founder and president of CBAN.

“I think as a nation we understand that it’s critically important that everyone has access to the internet,” Willow said. “There are 30 million people who still don’t have reliable internet access. They are sadly concentrated in rural areas, which is the vast majority of Iowa.”

Lisa Rossi is a freelance contributing writer for the Business Record.