Spring shoots emerging from the soil

Things are starting to look up. The UK's vaccination programme is in full swing and, as per the most recent budget announcement, the government has a comprehensive roadmap in place to kick-start the economy following months of lockdown.

A key part of this roadmap is the Help to Grow programme. But what is it? How does it work? And how can you get the most out of this exciting initiative?

What is the Help to Grow programme?

The Help to Grow programme is a government initiative announced as part of the 2021 budget. With a focus on digital adoption and innovation among the nation’s SMEs, it aims to boost productivity, increase innovation, and drive growth.

The programme is made up of two separate schemes. These are Help to Grow: Management and Help to Grow: Digital.

Help to Grow: Management

Available from June, Help to Grow Management combines a practical curriculum—delivered by leading business schools from across the UK—with one-to-one support and peer-learning sessions. The aim of this 12-week programme is to improve strategic skills among the country’s small business leaders.

It’s partially subsidised (up to 90%) and split into several key modules. These include:

  • Financial management
  • Innovation
  • Digital adoption

The scheme will run for the next three years, but places are limited to just 30,000. If you’re interested, we recommend you register sooner rather than later.

Help to Grow: Digital

The Help to Grow: Digital programme offers impartial advice to UK SMEs from autumn 2021 onwards. Delivered via a free online portal, it teaches you how to use digital technologies to improve business performance, save time, and reduce costs.

Eligible business can also get a 50% discount on approved software purchases (worth up to £5,000) as part of the scheme. These come in the form of vouchers which the government expect to be put towards software that helps you:

  • Build customer relationships and increase sales
  • Optimise your approach to eCommerce
  • Manage accounts and business finances digitally

Who does it help?

UK SMEs are the main target of the Help to Grow programme. If you’ve been in business for at least one year and employ 5-249 people, you’ll be eligible for the Management scheme—regardless of industry. Charities are the only exception.

Similar rules apply to the Digital programme. You can claim a software voucher if you’ve been in business for more than one year, employ 5-249 people, and haven’t purchased software through the scheme before. The free online advice platform is open to everyone.

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How can you make the most of it?

Despite one or two caveats, the Help to Grow programme offers a golden opportunity to adapt your business to the demands of the modern workplace. But not every business knows what to do with this opportunity. If you're one of those people, here's where to start:

Audit your technology infrastructure

When it comes to digital technology, the options are almost infinite. With so much to choose from, how do you know what’s right for your business?

A good place to start is with an internal audit. Work with stakeholders from across your business to build up a clear picture of your digital infrastructure. This helps you identify the biggest opportunities for investment, as well as any key areas where your current technology or processes fall short.

Set clear business goals

Technology is only an enabler, not an end goal.

The technology you invest in should align with your wider business objectives. Think about what you want to achieve with the Help to Grow programme and set goals accordingly. This will help you determine the scope of your project and identify the specific technologies you’ll need to achieve your desired outcomes.

Consider how you’ll integrate new technologies

Technology investment isn’t a one-time thing. New innovations emerge all the time and it’s the businesses that continue to investigate and exploit new digital opportunities that adapt best to the changing technology landscape.

When implementing new technologies, speed is everything. You can’t afford to wait years for any potential return on investment to materialise. If you’re thinking of signing up for the Help to Grow scheme, make sure you have a roadmap in place to implement new technologies in a way that quickly demonstrates value. This gives you time to investigate alternative options if it doesn’t.

Think about scalability

Any technology you purchase through the government’s Help to Grow programme must be futureproof and scalable if it’s to deliver long-term value to your business. Don’t focus on finding temporary solutions to temporary problems. Things change. What seems like a major issue today may be little more than a minor inconvenience tomorrow.

The most scalable technologies are built on the cloud. Whether it’s scaling your resources to respond to changing business needs or adapting your applications to meet new customer demands, the cloud offers a degree of flexibility that on-premises solutions simply can’t match.

Don’t get left behind

The government’s Help to Grow programme arrives at a critical juncture for UK businesses. Long before COVID-19 brought remote working sharply into focus, the last few years have seen a steady cultural shift in the way we work.

Gone are the days of the centralised office. Today’s employees expect a more modern workplace that’s built around flexibility and empowerment.

Technology lies at the heart of this shift. At the height of the pandemic, businesses that invested in technology were most resilient to the changing landscape and reported the fastest growth. If you decided to consolidate instead, in the hopes that things would soon return to normal, now’s the time to make up that lost ground.

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