By Andrew Stevens, Head of UK Small & Medium Business at Vodafone
SME. It may only be three letters, but what it represents is the beating heart of the British economy and the hopes and dreams of millions of individuals and families. We recently conducted a piece of research taking a look at how SMEs were faring post pandemic. To our surprise we found that a worrying ‘guidance gap’ is beginning to emerge, with many SMEs not knowing where to turn for help or advice. There are many reasons as to why this is occurring, however our insights also revealed that 71% of sole traders didn’t identify as a SME and therefore were not aware of all the help and support they were entitled to and only 11% of SMEs had sought advice from a large business or mentor in the past year.
With all the help that’s available to SMEs, It’s clear then that more work needs to be done to raise awareness of these throughout the SME community. For instance, if you’re a small business owner are you aware of the range of government supported schemes designed to provide support – whether guidance based or financial – to small businesses?
Looking for support can be a daunting process for many small business owners, but it doesn’t need to feel so arduous. Fortunately, I’ve highlighted a few helpful avenues below to help get you started – (also worth noting that as I am not a financial advisor – any information on financial support provided below is for insight and guidance only):
- Finding the right loan or investment solution for your small business – Start up loans can help give your business a boost especially if you’re at the beginning of your journey or looking to grow. The British Business Bank offer loans from £500 to £25,000 which can be repaid over 1-5 years. Unlike a typical business loan, this loan is unsecured, which does not usually require businesses to secure their commercial or residential properties. You’ll also receive help and guidance to write a business plan and successful applicants can also get up to 12 months free mentoring. The Seed Enterprise Investment Scheme (SEIS) is another route you can take if looking to raise capital. You can get a maximum of £150,000 including state aid awarded in the three years running up to the date of investment. SEIS is designed to help your company raise money when it’s starting to trade. It does this by offering tax reliefs to individual investors who buy new shares in your company.
- Getting Help to Grow – A larger number of SMEs are now eligible for the government’s Help to Grow scheme, widening the number of users that can turn to the scheme for digital support. The scheme which was first announced in the government’s Budget back in March 2021, was initially setup to help 130,000 SMEs gain access to digital and management tools needed to innovate, grow and help drive recovery. Eligible businesses can get a 50% discount on approved software solutions up to a maximum of £5,000.
- Taking your ideas to the next level – Securing grants for your small business can be challenging – however help is available. The Princes Trust Enterprise Programme offers development awards to help younger people kickstart their businesses or access training courses whilst Innovate UK’s Smart Grants Programme helps deliver ambitious R&D innovations, funding rounds are open at various points throughout the year.
- Finding diverse talent – In addition to upskilling internally, sometimes it’s worth looking externally for the skills you need. The trick here is to go beyond your usual network and seek out new skills in new places. Start-up visas and Innovator visas provide a simple process to access international talent, whilst Tech Nation offer a dedicated visa to bring international tech talent to the UK.
- Taking your business to the next level – If you’re looking to upskill your digital capabilities and take your business to new heights then look no further than Vodafone’s connected programme. With hundreds of free online courses available provided by Enterprise Nation, Samsung and Cisco, whether you’re looking to learn more about managing an online business, finding new customers, accounting or keeping your business safe online from cyber threats there’s something for everyone – no matter where you are on your business journey.
- Hire an apprentice – Hiring an apprentice can be a productive and effective way to grow talent and develop a motivated, skilled and qualified workforce. There is also government funding available to help businesses offset some of the costs of training an apprentice.
- Dealing with payment issues – In its recent Poor Payment Practice report, the FSB found that a third of payments to SMEs were late and whilst chasing after debts can be stressful for small business, especially with living costs continually rising – there is help available. If you’re having issues with being paid on time, the Small Business Commissioner provide advice on late and unfair payments and can help you to take action and resolve any disputes.
If you’re a small business looking for additional tips on how to take your business to the next level, head over to V-Hub by Vodafone and check out the resources, best practice guidance and free one-to-one support available from a dedicated team of expert advisers.
Andrew Stevens is Head of UK Small & Medium Business at Vodafone, and leads a team providing insight, expertise, and SME-focused tech solutions for the UK’s SMEs.