Free money available!
Free money always sounds like a good deal in principle but maybe it is too good and is there a catch? Whatever your political views and allegiances for the past 20 years or more the Government (whatever the hue) has recognised to potential for the SME businesses to drive economic and employment growth and has backed up this recognition with an undertaking for financial support to SMEs who show a commitment to growth. There have been many different programmes aimed at both startups and established businesses that have come and gone.
Most funding is targeted at strategic development for SMEs
There have been business support programmes aimed at specific sectors and specific objectives such as product development and innovation but by far the most common goal is to drive strategic planning and development. These programmes have had different names and eligibility criteria over the years but there have been some core recurring features:
- A goal of significant Growth Value Added (GVA)
- An expectation of jobs created (or at least protected)
- Funding is to support strategic development
Typically grants can cover up to 50% of project costs though they are normally subject to a maximum figure.
Is it worth it?
Short answer: If you are committed to growth then Yes! Slightly longer answer: it depends…. Over the past few years there has been an explosion in the number of business consultants out there and most of them rely to a greater or lesser extent on these funding programmes to be able to offer reduced cost services to their clients. Most consultants are very good and can bring real insight into your business but there are a few who simply trade on the ‘access to grants’ which can become their raison d’etre rather than delivering real benefit to their clients. The bottom line is I don’t believe that going for a grant is a sensible route if it has been ‘sold’ to you. If you are only considering working with a consultant because there is a grant available.
There needs to be a good fit between you and your consultant
It is important that you are committed to moving your business forward (whatever that means?) and that there is a good fit between you and your consultant, not just in terms of their expertise and credentials but also individually. If you don’t feel comfortable with a particular consultant then maybe you should look elsewhere. If you can find the right consultant they can be immensely valuable as a sounding board and a source of ideas and creativity. If you can access funding to support your work with them , why not?
Application process is not too daunting
Applying for funding does take some time but the process is not normally too daunting, and remember, the advisers from the funding body have targets to make sure the funding programme works and your preferred consultant should have considerable experience in working through the application process for particular programmes so they can both be a great help in making the application straightforward. You will be expected to provide some key numbers from your accounts and payroll but nothing too sensitive. These are to demonstrate that your forecast growth is realistic (no problem for it to be ambitious!) The application process should normally take no longer than an hour or so. Like I said, if you are committed to growth, a couple of hours effort with the potential to release £2-3000 into your business probably makes sense! It’s also worth remembering that although the focus is on GVA and jobs, the forecast growth is an objective rather than a requirement. Grants do not have to be repaid if the projected growth isn’t realised.
It can be painful but it can deliver REAL benefit
Working with a consultant gets you out of your day to day work and encourages you to spend time working on your business rather than in your business. It may be a cliché but developing your business is the only way to really move your business forward. Simply taking time away from the coalface can be hard but working with the right consultant, you will be (and should be!) challenged. Your business is the way it is because that is how you (and your team) have made it. If you want to move forward, something will need to change. It is not uncommon that strategic planning can result is a seismic shift in your business and, if you are ready for it, it can take you and your company to the next level. If you are committed to moving your business forward and your growth is going to contribute to the UK economy. Why not get the UK to help you?