Starting and running a business is a tough gig in itself, but throw in rocketing energy costs, rising inflation, the impact of COVID-19, skills shortages, and a lack of access to finance and you’re pretty justified in feeling that your business growth is being stunted by events outside of your control.
It’s a frustrating position to be in. But what if there were places you could turn to for financial support and business advice, that could help you weather the current economical storm? And even help your business prepare for any future curve balls? You’d be surprised by how much support is readily available, from initiatives to helplines, grants to software.
Here we round up a selection of options you can turn to for financial support and/or business advice, helping you to ease the squeeze of the current economic climate.
1. Business Finance and Support Finder at Gov.UK
The business finance and support finder at www.Gov.uk is an interactive tool that lets you search for government-backed support and finance. This resource is searchable by the type of support you’re looking for (e.g., grants, loans, advice), business stage, industry, number of employees and region. Make sure to also take a look around the wider Gov.uk website, as it provides a single point of access to all government services and information, including guidance on starting and running a business, employing people, funding and tax.
2. Local Growth Hubs
Access free support, advice and sources of finance through your local ‘Growth Hub’. Growth Hubs support local businesses facing the current cost-of-living challenges, with over 2.3 million businesses helped in the past year. This network of 38 Growth Hubs are local public / private sector partnerships led by Local Enterprise Partnerships (LEPs). They join up national and local business support, making it easier for you to find the support you need. Use this list to locate the Growth Hub that’s nearest to you, then simply select your chosen LEP and you’ll be directed straight to the Growth Hub’s homepage.
3. National Business Support Helpline
The Business Support Helpline offers advice and guidance to new and existing businesses. It has information on national and local schemes, grants and loans to help businesses start and grow.
T: 0800 998 1098 to speak to a business support advisor (9am-6pm Mon-Friday)
4. Recovery Loan Scheme – Coronavirus support
While a range of financial support became available during the pandemic, the only COVID-19 financial support still available is the Recovery Loan Scheme (RLS). This Scheme supports access to finance for small and medium sized UK businesses, so they can grow and invest. It makes available up to £2 million per business group (up to £1 million for business groups in scope of the Northern Ireland Protocol), however the actual amount and terms offered are at the discretion of participating lenders. The government guarantees 70% of the finance to the lender and as the borrower, you are always 100% liable for the debt. Loans are available through a network of accredited lenders, which can be viewed on the British Business Bank’s website. You may be eligible for a loan through the RLS if your business is trading in the UK, has a turnover of £45 million or less. You will also need to show that your business is viable and is not in difficulty.
5. Energy Bill Relief Scheme (EBRS)
This will likely be on your radar already. The EBRS will provide energy bill relief for non-domestic customers in Great Britain. Discounts will be applied to energy usage initially between 1 October 2022 and 31 March 2023. (There is a similar scheme for Northern Ireland, providing a comparable level of support.)
The scheme is available to everyone on a non-domestic contract including:
- voluntary sector organisations, such as charities
- public sector organisations such as schools, hospitals and care homes
- on existing fixed price contracts that were agreed on or after 1 December 2021
- signing new fixed price contracts
- on deemed / out of contract or variable tariffs
- on flexible purchase or similar contracts
6. Time to Pay – HMRC
If you can’t pay your tax bill in full, you can contact HMRC to discuss the support available to you. HMRC may suggest you pay what you owe in instalments, known as a Time to Pay arrangement.
Falling behind with your payments to HMRC, whether PAYE, VAT or Corporation Tax is never a good idea. However, should this happen, HMRC is generally open to a payment plan solution, which means tax ultimately gets paid, but without sacrificing the livelihood of your business. It’s important to ensure clear communication with HMRC when negotiating a time to pay. Provide good information, be consistent and transparent, and have someone at hand who knows how HMRC operates to advise you on the next step forward.
7. Federation of Small Businesses (FSB)
The FSB is a membership organisation, which provides small businesses with support, expertise and vital industry services. The FSB is designed to help SMEs through hard challenges and to help business owners achieve their goals. A vast amount of resources are available, from how to comply with business law, dealing with taxes and finances, finding the right insurance, managing employees, finding new customers, even a video interview with Professor Chris Whitty about the impact of COVID-19 on SMEs.
FSB members are provided with the tools and advice they need to run and protect their business in one place, backed up by a local support network of other passionate entrepreneurs. You can become an FSB member from £147 a year.
8. Business Debtline
If you’re self-employed and struggling with debts, don’t struggle alone. You can contact the free and impartial Business Debtline for advice and guidance on how to deal with your debts. Its website also provides debt advice fact sheets, as well as a cost of living hub, which helps you to find out if you can pay less for your cost of living and find out about any extra help that might be available. You can also speak directly with an advisor via its online chat feature.
There are a number of UK small business grants you can apply to for additional funding, which are available either within a specified local authority, defined as having fewer than 250 employees or with a turnover of less that £45,000 and a balance sheet totalling less than £39,000. A number of funding opportunities are also often based on a specific location or sector, or designed for a certain area of business such as job creation or making eco-friendly changes. Grants don’t require selling shares to investors, therefore allowing you to keep your company shares while funding your activities.
Here are a few examples:
9. Gigabit Broadband Voucher Scheme
Vouchers can be used by SMEs to go towards the cost of installing gigabit-capable broadband connections. SMEs can claim £3,500 against the cost of connection. Find out if you’re eligible by using the postcode checker on the website.
10. The Prince’s Trust Enterprise Programme
The Prince’s Trust offers grants to help young people into education, training and employment, while also providing funding and support if they’d like to set up their own business. The Prince’s Trust Enterprise Programme supports young people aged 18-30 living in the UK to kickstart their business and access training courses, which has helped over 90,000 young people start their own business. Its website also offers a wealth of free business tools, from finance advice to marketing tips. As well as the usual contact channels, the website also offers an easily accessible live chat feature, making it even easier to get in touch.
11. Innovate UK Smart Grants programme
UK registered organisations can apply for a share of up to £25 million for game-changing and commercially viable research and development innovation that can significantly impact the UK economy. This grant focuses on world leading ideas, designed for swift, successful commercialisation. Ideas need to be genuinely new and novel, not just disruptive within their sector.
This funding is from Innovate UK, part of UK Research and Innovation. 2022’s competition opened on 28th July, closing at 11am on 26th October 2022.
12. UK Trade Show Programme
The UK Tradeshow Programme offers government support to help UK businesses attend or exhibit at overseas trade shows effectively. UK businesses that are currently exporting can apply for support to:
- Exhibit at or attend approved overseas trade shows and conferences
- Potentially receive grants to cover some costs
- Apply for support if you’re thinking about exporting but are not currently doing so.
Attending or exhibiting at overseas trade shows can help you gain essential market knowledge and increase your company’s brand awareness amongst overseas buyers, as well as business sales by securing new customers.
13. Plug-in Grant
Some types of low-emission vehicles are eligible for a grant from the government, allowing you to buy them more cheaply. These include:
You don’t need to apply for the grant, as the seller includes it as a discount in the purchase price. Only vehicles approved by the government are eligible.
14, Research and Development (R&D) Tax Reliefs
R&D Tax Reliefs are for innovative projects in science and technology. They can be claimed by firms who want to research or develop an advance in their field. You can even claim it on unsuccessful projects. You may be able to claim Corporation Tax relief if your project meets the government’s definition of R&D.
15. Help to Grow: Digital
This platform offers support and discounts to help small and medium-sized UK businesses find, buy and adopt digital technologies to improve productivity. It provides free, impartial information and advice to help you adopt the right technology to grow your business.
Simply answer a few questions and you’ll be directed to tailored information for your business. You’ll then access relevant guides to identify the best digital software to achieve your business goals. The website also offers a software comparison tool, checklists to help you see whether you’re ready and how to integrate new software, as well as case studies about similar businesses who have adopted new software.
Eligible businesses can get a 50% discount on approved software solutions up to a maximum of £5,000. Discounts will cover up to 50% of the software cost and are available to help you purchase customer relationship management software and accountancy software.
A mentor can really help you generate new ideas and grow your business. But finding one can be tricky, which is why Mentorsme.co.uk is such a great portal. The free site offers businesses access to a list of quality-assured business mentoring organisations across the UK. An easy-to-use search engine allows businesses to refine their searches according to the life stage of their business and their location in Britain. Sometimes you can’t beat one-to-one advice with someone who’s been there and got the t-shirt.
Venture Capital Schemes
There are four schemes designed to help small or medium sized companies and social enterprises grow by attracting investment. They offer tax reliefs to individuals who buy and hold new shares, bonds or assets for a specific period of time. The company, investor and proposed investment must meet the conditions of the scheme you opt for. As a startup, the Seed Investment Enterprise Scheme is worth particular attention, however we’ve included all four schemes below for comparison purposes.
17. The Seed Enterprise Investment Scheme (SEIS)
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. You can receive a maximum of £150,000 through SEIS investments. If you’ve been trading for less than two years and have less than £200,000 of assets, you can use SEIS to incentivise potential investors to fund your growth.
There are various rules you must follow so your investors can claim and keep SEIS tax reliefs relating to their shares. Tax reliefs will be withheld, or withdrawn, from your investors if you do not follow the rules for at least 3 years after the investment is made. Before you apply, check the guidance carefully.
You will not qualify if you’ve already had investment through EIS or a VCT.
18. The Enterprise Investment Scheme (EIS)
This scheme enables businesses to raise up to £5 million each year, and a maximum of £12 million in your company’s lifetime.
Your company may qualify if at the time of investment, it has:
- no more than £15 million in gross assets
- less than 250 employees
- been no more than 7 years since its first commercial sale
- There may be higher limits if your company carries out research, development or innovation and meets certain conditions.
Similar to SEIS, this venture capital scheme is designed to help companies raise money by offering tax reliefs to individual investors who buy new shares in your company. EIS, however, is designed towards more established businesses.
Again, check the guidance carefully as there are various rules to follow in order to ensure your investors can claim and keep EIS tax reliefs relating to their shares.
19. Social Investment Tax Relief (SITR)
Your social enterprise must be either a:
Your social enterprise may qualify if you have:
- no more than £15 million in gross assets
- fewer than 250 employees
20. Venture Capital Trust (VCT)
A VCT is a company that has been approved by HMRC and invests in, or lends money to, unlisted companies.
A VCT may invest in your company if it has:
- no more than £15 million in gross assets
- less than 250 employees
- not been more than 7 years since its first commercial sale
There may be higher limits if your company carries out research, development or innovation and meets certain conditions.
21. Enterprise Zones
Established in 2012, Enterprise Zones are at the heart of the Government’s long-term economic plan, supporting businesses to grow. They are designated areas across England, which provide tax breaks and Government support to new and expanding businesses.
Businesses located within an Enterprise Zone can access benefits such as 100% business rate discounts up to £275,000 over a five-year period or 100% enhanced capital allowances (tax relief) to help firms make large investments. Businesses can also access simplified local authority planning – Local Development Orders grant automatic planning permission for certain development (such as new industrial buildings or changing how existing buildings are used) within specified areas.
Check whether your local enterprise zone offers business rates relief, and how and when to apply, by locating your local zone here.
22. An Accountant
As a small business owner, you are not obliged to hire an accountant as long as you fulfil your statutory requirements with HMRC and Companies House. However, an accountant can add value to your business from day one, providing time saving services and professional advice to support your long term goals. From financial analysis to accounting software integration, compliance to revenue advice and how to improve it – working with an accountant is worth strong consideration if you’re looking for business advice based on your numbers.
We couldn’t let a list like this go by without flagging the benefits of Informi itself! As an online information hub powered by AAT, Informi provides free, impartial business advice, covering everything you need to know – from startup to scale-up. Join over 30,000 like-minded business professionals and access exclusive resources including business plans, templates and tax calculators. You’ll also receive the latest business advice and insights, spanning across key areas including finance and marketing.
24. Your Bank
If you think your bank is just a place to open a business account and take out the occasional business loan, think again. Banks can be helpful partners in a variety of ways as you grow your small business.
For example, HSBC launched its SME fund in 2014, committing more than £90bn to UK SMEs to help British business innovate, evolve and grow. NatWest offers a number of resources, including the Entrepreneur Accelerator, which supports and empowers UK entrepreneurs to scale their business to the next level. Its free Accelerator programme specialises in wrap-around support including one-to-one coaching, a programme of thought leadership and events, access to a network of like-minded peers, access to experts from across your specialism and use of NatWest’s modern co-working spaces in one of its nationwide hubs.
25. Software Services
Don’t forget to check the support facilities available to you as part of any software subscriptions you have. Guides, events, video tutorials, webinars, e-books… you’d be amazed by the amount of support and advice that many of these services offer their customers. For example, accounting and financial management software, Sage, provides its users with a number of resources including Sage University – a set of training courses designed to help you get a head start with its software, while improving your productivity and minimising compliance risks.
These are just a few examples of the different types of support available. There are also a number of more industry-specific options available to you, which can easily be located via a quick Google. Don’t forget the power of a phone call – having the chance to discuss your business set up, your concerns around the economic situation and your options moving forward, one-to-one, ensures the advice you’re receiving is tailored to your specific situation and requirements. Working with an accountant or financial advisor on an ongoing basis is worth considering, as they will be able to offer professional, well-informed business and financial advice.