Interviews

Growth Vouchers Advice for small businesses

7 min read

28 November 2014

Emma Jones, founder of Enterprise Nation, looks at the Growth Vouchers scheme and speaks to entrepreneurs who have taken advantage of it.

The UK has been ranked amongst the most entrepreneurial nations in Europe. The latest figures announced by the Global Entrepreneurship Index (GEI) show we’ve climbed five places to reach number four in the world. This year’s ranking is the UK’s highest position in the history of the index.  

That’s great news and what we’ve been working towards at Enterprise Nation and formerly at the national enterprise campaign I co-founded, StartUp Britain.

This league table promotion is corroborated by StartUp Britain’s own tracker which points to the fact that 2014 is set to be yet another record-breaking year in company registrations. Last year this figure hit the half a million mark for the first time in early December – this year it hit this milestone  in early November – and we’re still counting. It also chimes with a report out recently from the ONS which showed that self-employment had hit a 40 year high at 15 per cent. And yet the GEI report also revealed we’re still lagging behind those countries in the up-take of advice stakes.

It showed that the UK actually ranked higher than the US, Australia and Canada in entrepreneurial networking. But that, gaining access to people who can provide mentoring support, financial resources and learning is better in these countries than in the UK. 

Professional advice can be the key to helping ambitious businesses succeed, with 60 per cent of small business founders saying they think they would benefit from some form of professional business advice. Yet when it comes to seeking advice, most small business decision makers – 69 per cent – are more likely to turn to friends and family than to seek out the help of a professional.   

That’s why earlier this year the government launched Growth Vouchers, offering up to £2,000 of matched funding towards professional business advice. Businesses can select an adviser from an online marketplace populated with professionals, many of whom are small business owners themselves. The programme is open to small businesses in England who have fewer than 250 employees and meet other criteria, which can be viewed on the Growth Vouchers website. Business owners can connect with a range of experts who can advise on five areas including sales and marketing, making the most of digital technology, and finance and cash flow. 

Thousands of small businesses around the country have now received strategic advice to help them increase their bottom line including Tina Goldsmith, founder of Norfolk-based comfy sleeping bag firm Snuggle Sacs.

She said: “Growth Vouchers have been immensely helpful in securing the successful re-launch of Snuggle Sacs.  

“Within two weeks of my application I met with a business adviser to establish what kind of advice I really needed. This initial interview proved crucial. Looking back it seems so obvious, but I would never have picked marketing as the area I most needed advice in! I thought marketing was easy and I could continue to do what I had been doing before my re-launch. I certainly would not have known where to look for marketing advice!

“Growth Vouchers allowed me to take a step back from the day-to-day running of the business and think about the business strategically and where I wanted to take it going forward.”

Carla Garvey, founder and owner of Deryshire-based catering firm Saffron Catering, applied for Growth Vouchers shortly after expanding her catering company. Expansion led to a huge jump in sales but Garvey had little experience on how best to develop the potential of this new-found scale.   

“To be perfectly honest I had no idea what to do! I knew I needed external advice but wasn’t sure where to start. I also wanted to write a comprehensive business plan and I didn’t have the skills in my team to do this. That’s where the Growth Vouchers programme came in. I was keen to get coaching in leadership but I also wanted to get something tangible, I wanted to learn more about running a business. So I split the advice I received; I spent some money on developing the vision for the business and some money on writing a new business plan. The completion of my business plan really helped me re-focus and better direct my team. This was the foundation to take the business to the next level.

“The benefits are already flowing through. I’ve 16 venues on the books and I’m adding more corporate clients, including Alliance Boots, Amazon and Ikea, all the time. I now know where we are heading and what clients to aim for. Growth Vouchers have been instrumental in helping me achieve this.”  

The Government wants to make sure that businesses can access the right support at the right time. The Growth Vouchers programme gives business owners the opportunity to get independent help to grow and lets businesses select an adviser best suited to their needs via the Enterprise Nation Marketplace. To find out more about Growth Vouchers please visit the Business is GREAT website