Help to Grow Digital: How the government scheme can help your business

Simon Brooke

Simon is an award-winning journalist who writes about business and personal finance for The Times and a wide variety of other publications.  He covers small business and self-employment.

As businesses get back to some form of normality, Help to Grow Digital is one of a number of government initiatives, along with Help to Grow Management, aimed at enabling small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) to become more resilient and to take more advantage of digital technology.

The programme launches in autumn 2021 and Chancellor Rishi Sunak is already calling on leaders of small and medium businesses from across the country to sign up to the new programmes.

Help to Grow Digital will offer you as a business leader free and impartial advice on how technology can help your company. Firms will also be able to take advantage of a discount of up to 50% on the costs of approved software, worth up to £5,000.

Help to Grow Digital is a new initiative that helps SMEs identify their digital technology needs, assess technology purchasing options and then implement new technologies in their operations.

In what’s known as ‘Wave 1’, there are three technology types:

  • Accounting
  • Customer relationship management (CRM)
  • E-commerce.

The new service will be delivered via an online platform.

To encourage businesses to take up the latest software, those that meet the criteria can use vouchers to get up to 50% off the price of technology packages.

The discount vouchers are initially expected to be available for software that helps businesses to build customer relationships and increase sales, boost their online sales and manage their accounts and finances.

The accounting software will be compatible with Making Tax Digital, the HMRC’s online portal and tax management system.

You’ll be eligible for vouchers if your company employs between five and 249 people and is registered at Companies House. Your business also needs to have been trading for more than 12 months and be purchasing the discounted software for the first time.

In addition to the financial packages, all businesses are expected to be able to benefit from free online advice via the platform.

Both Help to Grow Digital and Help to Grow Management are part of the government’s £520m Help to Grow scheme.

The two are complementary and both are aimed at teaching you and your staff new skills that will help to increase sales and boost your company’s profits. While, as the name suggests, the initiative focuses on technology and digital skills, Help to Grow Management has a wider remit.

An executive development programme, it’s accredited by the Small Business Charter and offers you support with the help of a one-to-one business mentor.

The 12-week practical curriculum consists of modules that teach financial management, explore strategies for growth and innovation, and offer practical approaches to digital adoption. The programme’s Expert Advisory Council include high-profile business leaders from the CBI, NatWest and Goldman Sachs.

Help to Grow Management is provided through businesses schools around the country, and you can book your space with one near you via the Small Business Charter website.

Julian David, CEO of techUK, the trade association that brings together people, companies and organisations to realise the potential of digital technology, described the initiative as “an extremely welcome intervention by the government to help British businesses build back better”.

He added: “We are particularly encouraged by the support to help SMEs with digital adoption.

“During the pandemic, companies able to take advantage of the latest digital technologies to adapt to social distancing restrictions were not just able to survive, but to thrive, growing up to eight times faster than those who did not use digital tools.”

The kind of digital technology that the scheme offers can speed business processes ranging from automatically ordering raw materials to monitoring stock levels and from raising and chasing invoices to managing staff rosters and holidays.

recent survey, commissioned by Sage and based on modelling by economic research consultancy Capital Economics, found that 400,000 jobs would be supported, £50bn revenue and £21bn in economic output would come as a result of improved productivity if government introduced incentives for SMEs to adopt technology.

Over two-thirds of SMEs said investing further in technology would benefit their business, while nearly three quarters (71%) reported that technology would increase their profitability.

The relevance of the government’s new digital initiative is clear as the survey also found that although most small businesses want to expand their digital capability, many have been left, following months of disruption caused by the pandemic, without the financial capacity to adopt technology to the level they would like.

Now this new technology is more affordable and easily accessible than ever.

Applying for the Help to Grow Digital scheme is relatively quick and easy. Just head over to the Help to Grow portal.

You’ll need your Companies House registration number to start with. You’ll find this on your certificate of incorporation or via the Companies House data base.

Once you’ve registered, you’ll receive an email confirmation. Simply click on the link in the email and you’ll be sent more information in due course.

Managing your finances digitally, using cloud accounting software, rather than manually (think paper and spreadsheets) speeds up processes and frees up employees to do more creative work, such as talking to customers and thinking about (and implementing) the company’s overall strategy.

You’ll find that mistakes are reduced when your employees are no longer required to do simple, repetitive tasks.

With all your financial information in front of you on a dashboard, updated in real time, you’ll also be in a better position to make better decisions – and to do so more quickly.

Cloud solutions allow you and your teams to manage your finances remotely too.

The growing number of apps now available mean you can perform tasks such as raising invoices, making payments, and submitting and approving expenses whether you’re in the office, on a train or in a business lounge.

More advanced technology, such as artificial intelligence (AI) and big data, can help you to offer your customers a more bespoke, tailored service and it can anticipate stock shortages and other events.

The expansion of Making Tax Digital is also driving the need for the use of technology in financial management and accounting.

Currently it’s used for submitting and paying VAT if your annual turnover is more than £85,000 whereas from April 2022 that will be the case if your turnover less than £85,000 but you’re VAT registered.

Making Tax Digital will be used for Income Tax from April 2023.

Final thoughts

The pandemic has accelerated a number of trends with the increased use of digital technology particularly noticeable. Meanwhile, cloud computing continues to reduce costs and increase flexibility and agility here.

Help to Grow Digital offers SMEs the opportunity to move ahead in this new digital world quickly and cost effectively with the reassurance that its curriculum and validity is backed by the government.

It will require a small investment of time and money but the return on this investment can be considerable.

And remember, even if you don’t sign up for it, there’s a strong chance that your competitors will.

Find out how Sage 200 ERP can help you and your business, call your local Sage Partner, Paradise Computing, on 01604 655900 or request more information on our online contact form.