Governments at all levels design their business grant schemes to be quite generic – they rely on businesses and their consultants to weave their way through complex language to define why they should win a grant and how to spend the grant money in a way that aligns with the objectives of the grant scheme.
That’s not as easy as it sounds.
When you are applying for a dollar for dollar grant, it’s all too easy to think of grant money as a windfall and spend more on certain services than you would otherwise. But grants, while rewarding, can be hard work. It’s important to treat any grant money as just as hard-won as any sales-based revenue you have – and apply the same value tests when you’re spending it.
We’ve been involved in one particular program, the Federal Government’s Entrepreneurs’ Infrastructure Scheme (EIS – formerly Enterprise Connect), which provides dollar for dollar funding to eligible businesses for access to expert advice.
It’s an ideal way to benchmark your business, shed some light on your top four or five challenges and bring in external expertise to help design solutions.
Typically businesses applying for these grants have meetings of senior staff and boards to decide how to spend the funds. They’ve thumped the table a few times, come up with a bunch of ideas and strategies and now it’s time to make things happen. Let’s see, what’s on your list (for example):
- Improve internal efficiencies
- Workforce mobility
- Improve supply chain integration
- Seek new markets and new opportunities
It soon becomes clear that technology will have a significant role to play in the successful implementation of your business improvement strategies.
You’re an experienced business owner, surely you know what to do (“don’t backchat me, I know boats” – remember that King Gee ad from about 30 years ago)?
Yes, you know your business, inside and out. You are well versed in business strategy, finance, governance and HR. But IT? Information technology has moved at such a pace, how could any business owner not involved directly in IT understand all the elements that lead to a successful IT project?
All right, so we agree that you’re not an IT guru, but what’s the next step? In our experience there’s a number of options:
- You can ask Bruce (one of your mates from the pub) what he thinks you should do.
- You can get the youngest person in the office who “knows about IT” to look after it all.
- You can take the “decide in haste, repent at leisure” approach and make a quick decision based on a bit of investigation and a few flashy presentations.
- You can look outside your business for professional, proven expertise.
I’m a big fan of option 4 myself but whichever option you choose, there will be a cost involved; you’ve heard the saying “if you think employing a professional is expensive, try hiring an amateur”.
To look at this conversely, Axios’ own experience with the Entrepreneurs’ Infrastructure Scheme indicated that we had strengths in business management and technical deployment, but we needed help in the areas of marketing and sales. This was confirmed when we went through our first EIS business review which pretty much said that, like a lot of tech firms, we’re good at what we do but not very good at reaching out to the market, selling ourselves, or creating brand awareness.
Fast forward a few years and we’ve been through a second round of business reviews and business growth grants. We’ve engaged companies to help us out with branding, digital presence and sales strategy, to name a few. Not only have we received excellent advice, which has helped us make the right decisions, we’ve also experienced a significant skills uplift. While we have not become overnight marketing experts, we are far better equipped to make the right decisions ourselves and to successfully employ external consultants when needed.
The process of applying.
The EIS process is pretty straightforward and it goes like this:
- Once you have been deemed eligible in a 5-minute questionnaire and applied for the program, you’re matched up with an EIS Business Advisor who has specific domain experience and general business knowledge.
- The advisor carries out a detailed business review, benchmarks you and helps you find the line in the sand where your business is at right now.
- He or she delivers key recommendations that will help you improve your business and therefore your bottom line.
- You are also helped to identify appropriate consultants, depending on the recommendations.
From this point, you have 12 months to apply for funding and engage consultants.
One important thing to remember is that EIS Business Growth Grants don’t pay for you to buy items such as software, plant and equipment, but they can do something far more important: they can help you make better, informed decisions.
The program forces you to conduct a rigorous review and analysis of your business and at the very least you will gain fresh insights into the areas that are ripe for improvement.
By reaching out to the right consultants to establish a plan and implement your strategies, you will save yourself a lot of heartache, wasted time and effort. You will, in short, spend your grant funds in a way that aligns with the objectives of the grant scheme.
Please feel free to contact us to find out more about making the most of business growth grants. If your business needs professional advice on using IT as an enabler for business improvement projects, Axios is an ideal company to talk to.