Earlier this year, the Local Enterprise Office announced changes to the Online Trading Voucher Scheme that many businesses have availed of. The closing date for these applications was the end of September – it may well open again in the future so with that in mind – below is some advice to those that may look to avail of it should it be re-opened.
Understand the rules
Lets start off with the ground rules of this scheme. The Trading Online Voucher Scheme is aimed at small business with up to 10 employees to trade more online. Grants of up to €2,500 are available with 10% co-funding from the business. So essentially for €250 input from your business, you can get work completed to a value of €2750.
The grant can be used to develop a new or upgrade an existing e-commerce website, add online payments or booking systems or develop an app. You must be trading for at least 6 months prior to application to avail of this scheme and you must attend an online trading seminar with your Local Enterprise Office. Your yearly turnover must be less that €2 million.
Note: you may only draw down the grant after the work has been completed and the provider has been paid in full. This is very important to understand before applying.
Don’t just apply for the sake of it
We all love the idea of free money but you need to think carefully before applying. If you’re upgrading your website – do you need to sell items online? Do you need to take online bookings? Do you understand what this would mean?
For you to draw down the money – you’ll need to demonstrate to the LEO that this functionality is available so if you don’t need it our advice is not to shoehorn it in just to avail of the grant. Having an online store or taking paid bookings or subscriptions has different challenges that need to be thought through first.
Likewise if you don’t have a website and are looking to use this scheme to set up a website for the first time – take a step back and give it some thought. Do you need a website? Were you thinking about a website before you heard of this scheme? Can it add value? Do your competitors have effective websites?
Respect your web designer(s)
As part of the application process you will need to supply 3 quotes from 3 different providers. During the last application window (April – September), we heard from many applicants that couldn’t get 3 quotes together – and we could see a pattern emerging. Those that were having problems getting traction from other web developers – came to us with vague requirements (and we assume they did the same with the other providers).
It can be easy to tell the difference between a passionate and serious applicant as opposed to those less serious ‘tire kickers’. Of course we give everybody a fair hearing but it seems that some web developers smell a rat sometimes and it’s hard to blame them. Nobody likes their time to be wasted so you need to keep an open mind when collecting these quotes – give all applicants thorough consideration and show them respect by engaging with them in a meaningful way. Sending a mail out of the blue looking for a quote is going to trigger alarms. We’re not saying that you need to be an expert and talk to service providers in technical terms – but engage your web developer, ask for advice, be able to describe what you’re looking for and examples of what you like. Take a look at their portfolio and find work that you like.
I think most web developers would be far more willing to help if they got a sense of real and enthusiastic engagement.
Don’t leave it to last minute
Similar to above – we were overwhelmed with the amount of quote requests we received on the last week of September when this grant window closed. Sadly we couldn’t fulfill some quote requests as it does take a while to understand peoples requirements and projects. While the application process is closed now – it may re-open in the near future so keep your eyes and ears peeled and our advice would be to engage with potential providers early – as there is significant paperwork involved in a successful application so don’t leave it until the last minute if you can avoid it!
The Online Trading Voucher Scheme is a really good initiative that has helped thousands of Irish companies embrace the web. 2020 has been a year like no other where businesses have faced (and continue to face) huge challenges. With restrictions impeding your ability to do business the way you always did it – you might take this opportunity to explore new ways of doing business. Selling your products & services online or taking online bookings might just differentiate you from your competitors and this scheme will help you turn a perceived negative into a long term positive. At ClearSoft we’d love to help you explore these avenues and embrace the change. We’d love to make the web work for you.