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Can Growth Vouchers help you improve your IT?

Can Growth Vouchers help you improve your IT?
Posted on January 13th

Have you heard about the Government’s Growth Voucher Programme?

It came to my attention several months ago, and now that it is in my mind, I seem to see it everywhere! And, happily, Brash has succeeded in gaining accreditation as a small business adviser in the Digital Technology – IT and Web category.

So what is it all about? And could it help you?

Gain expert advice that can help you grow

Currently 3.7 million firms in the UK employ less than 50 people, and the Government sees helping these small businesses to grow as critically important to the future of the economy. The programme is the largest business research programme that the Government has ever initiated – testing how best to help small businesses grow through the use of subsidised advice.

The government has identified that small businesses in the UK do not seem to value advice in the same way our counterparts and competitors do – for example in the USA it is commonplace to the point where it is expected for a small business to actively seek advice, build the advice into its plans, act on it, and even be prepared to pay for it! In the UK most small business owners’ preference is to grab a quick chat at a networking event or over a pint and rush onto the next thing!

“Businesses that seek external advice and information are 14% more ambitious and 50% more successful than those who don’t” (BIS, 2010)

So if those that take external advice are 50% more successful then why do small business owners in the UK shy away from it? One crucial reason is that many are nervous of paying for advice – fearing that we will be ripped off in some way. Another problem could be that the role of an advisor in small business and their value i.e. positive effect on the bottom line, is not sufficiently well communicated.

There are alternative sources of advice, some of which may be free; however it is worth mentioning that businesses leaders that pay for advice are demonstrably more likely to take action as a result – presumably because we don’t like to waste our money!

How does the Growth Voucher programme work?

The Government is aiming to distribute 20,000 growth vouchers of up to £2,000 each to businesses in England randomly chosen from the online applicants. 4 out of every 5 are successful in their application.

The vouchers must be used as 50% payment for strategic advice that will lead to growth. This is not about something for nothing – it’s important that you consider your share of the investment and value the advice enough to take action.

What’s strategic advice? This may prove hard to define exactly, but generally strategic means that you are looking at how to achieve long-term aims. The general objective is to get you to do something that you haven’t done before by giving you the additional expert advice and support and the confidence to act.

It’s not all about IT of course, there are 5 different areas that small businesses can get expert advice on:

• finance and cash flow • recruiting and developing staff

• improving leadership and management skills

• marketing, attracting and keeping customers

• making the most of digital technology

And because it is a research study, businesses will be asked to take part in surveys to find out how the programme has helped you.

Expert advice in Digital Technologies – IT and Web

If help in IT is the area that you identify for your strategic and expert advice, what might you look to spend it on?

Advice in this area aims to help businesses maximise the potential of digital tools and technologies. It may focus on using them for product development and market testing, customer service and marketing, or building online sales. The advice could be used for addressing the risks of cyber-attacks, or exploring how digital technologies can be used to reduce costs, improve productivity or quality control.

Most businesses use technology simply because we live in the 21st century and because it’s available. But few actually ask smart questions about how their use of technology can support them in reaching their goals and grow their business.

How do you find an adviser?

It is clear that the Government is aware of the fears of business leaders in finding someone you can trust, and so has devised an accreditation scheme to ensure quality control for advisors who can work for Growth Vouchers. They must:

• Have 3 years experience of advising small businesses

• Be a member of a recognised professional body

• Have professional indemnity insurance

There is also the opportunity for clients to rate advisors on the website so that others can read the reviews and use the information to make their own choices. The reviews are limited as yet, because the scheme is so young, but this should in time provide good guidance and reassurance for purchasers.

Are you eligible for Growth Vouchers?

To be considered for a Growth Voucher your business must:

• have 49 employees or less (including any employees of companies that own a stake in your business)

• be registered in England

• have been trading for at least one year

• not have paid for business advice in the last 3 years

• be independent (i.e. no more than 25% is owned by other businesses or organisations) That must include the majority of the small businesses in England!

Should you go for it?

If you meet the criteria above then why not give it a go? It only takes a few minutes to complete the application so it will not have cost you too much time if you are unlucky in the lottery.

Sometimes it does take a fresh point of view on our businesses to wake us up to doing something differently!

I believe the fears that are preventing business leaders taking on external advisors can easily be overcome and in the UK it will become commonplace for small businesses to actively seek advice to facilitate growth. As business owners we all know that running a business takes an enormous amount of commitment and hard work, so being given a bit of assistance from the Government to kick-start growth in 2015 is surely worth a few moments of your time.