The government’s Growth Vouchers scheme is part of a pioneering research project to test what works best when giving external advice to firms with fewer than 249 employees.
Launched just over a year ago, it has already given advice to more than 20,000 small firms across England and helped them identify how they can get to the next level.
Evidence gathered from the scheme will also be used to develop better government support programmes for small businesses. The scheme is important; not just for those who use the opportunity to use of a Growth Voucher but for all small firms that will benefit from future support programmes.
A Growth Voucher helps small businesses double investment in strategic advice by offering matched funding up to £2,000.
When it launched in January 2014, the programme was aiming to attract 20,000 businesses. With applications closing on 31 March, the scheme has surpassed this with 30,000 businesses applying so far. Around 20,000 have taken advice on what support they should be seeking. Some £26m worth of Growth Vouchers have been distributed, giving small businesses the opportunity to purchase advice at a subsidised rate. Introducing this many businesses to the concept of using external advice for the first time is seen as a really positive outcome.
Business Minister Matthew Hancock said: “Helping small businesses is a central part of our long term economic plan. More than 30,000 businesses have already been offered advice through this pioneering research project to help them realise their growth potential.
“While businesses are getting the external advice they need, the evidence we’re gathering from the Growth Vouchers programme is helping the government develop more targeted business support programmes in the future.”
The programme is open for applications until Tuesday 31 March. All vouchers have a three-month expiry, with those given out now valid until the end of June.
The advice available through Growth Vouchers covers five broad themes: finance, recruitment, management skills, sales and marketing, and digital technology.
Bath Boutique Stays, a luxury accommodation company based in Bath, is one of the thousands of companies to take advantage of the scheme. The firm has seen a 25 per cent increase in sales and has expanded to add a new property to its portfolio since spending its Growth Voucher.
“We wanted to put in place a sales process that would assist us in current markets as well as identify new potential markets and customers,” said Marcus Whittington, Bath Boutique Stay’s founder.
“Nearly a year later and Growth Vouchers has provided our team with an increased skill set and confidence to understand our client needs. It’s placed us firmly on track to quadruple our enquiries, treble our turnover and double our profits.”
Tina Goldsmith, founder of Norfolk-based comfy sleeping bag firm Snuggle Sacs, said a Growth Voucher has been “invaluable” to her business.
“Without seeking advice in the first place we’d never be where we are now,” she said. “We have increased direct consumer sales three fold, and our profits have increased by over 20 per cent, while our brand awareness is increasing month on month.”
Maureen Askew is a Growth Voucher adviser from Trawden, Lancashire, who advises businesses on marketing, attracting and keeping customers. She said: “I think the great thing about Growth Vouchers is that it gives small businesses the chance to have an ‘outsider’ looking in and that’s really important. As an outsider you can see things business owners can easily miss and help them focus on seeing the bigger picture and getting to where they want to be.”
The pioneering research will continue long after the last vouchers expire and a report will be published on the take up of the scheme and businesses’ perception about the benefits.
Your business must:
- Have 249 employees or fewer (including any employees of companies that own a stake in your business)
- Be registered in England
- Actively sell goods or services
- Be independent (ie no more than 25 per cent is owned by other businesses or organisations)
- Have a turnover of less than €50m
Anyone interested in applying for a Growth Voucher can visit the dedicated website for more information and to apply.