We all know that 2020 has been, and continues to be, a challenging year. Goodness knows there have been enough articles about it and we don’t want to add to the multitude articles that seem to dwell on it.

As a result of these challenges, you may be struggling to get started on projects to automate and digitise your business which is now even more important than ever.

We want to try to help you get the best out of the financial support available to get such projects started so we have pulled together this article to explain what help there is in general, how you can access it locally and what the processes are.

To kick off a project, a smaller business would need to invest from £1,500 to £3,000 for a workshop to set the scope of a digital project. The good news is that there are a variety of funding options to contribute or cover this part of the project.

Government advice and information

Finding the right support can be daunting - there are so many loans, grants, and other funding opportunities that the government has made available to help us survive these challenging times and keep our economy alive.

The first thing you should do is check out the Government website (https://www.gov.uk/business-finance-support). It takes just five minutes to go through their database to find what support is available for your business.

You can choose to simply type in a search term or there are a variety of filters that narrow down your search options. These are: Type of support (finance, equity, grants, loan, expertise and advice, recognition awards); Business stage (not yet trading, start-up, established); Industry (a wide range of industries are listed here); Number of employees; and Region.

You could also look for coronovirus-specific support. Various loans are available to businesses, specifically to help those affected by coronavirus (which is likely to be most businesses to if we are being realistic) and you can see which you are eligible for by visiting the Government's Coronavirus Support Finder.

This should help you to get a clear idea of what is available for your business needs at a national level. It might also direct you towards more local support.

Local business support

Check out the local enterprise partnership growth hubs or Chamber of Commerce for the grants and loans they are making available to businesses. These are sometimes in addition to those offered nationally, and different localities don’t all offer the same ones. If they do offer the same ones, the amounts available sometimes differ too. Often the loans and grants available are from funding that has been made available by the government or EU and there are limited amounts available.

Below is a list of the Local Enterprise Partnership Growth Hubs in the Midlands and London area. Visit the website for the one that is local to you and your business for more information.

Some specific funding available

There are some grants available that do not need to be repaid, including the Discretionary Grant Fund and the Small Business Grant Fund. Again, more information is available via the Government and local websites, but here we give you a broad idea of what is available and the process for application.

The Discretionary Grant Fund is aimed at small businesses with ongoing fixed property-related costs and allocation of funding is at the discretion of local authorities. Businesses must be small, under 50 employees, and be able to demonstrate that they have seen a significant drop of income due to Coronavirus restriction measures. There are three levels of grant payments. The maximum will be £25,000. There will also be grants of £10,000. Local authorities have discretion to make payments of any amount under £10,000. Councils must adapt this approach to local circumstances. Applications are made directly with local councils via their websites.

Under the Small Business Grant Fund all businesses in England in receipt of Small Business Rates Relief and Rural Rates Relief in the business rates system, are eligible for a payment of £10,000, in line with certain eligibility criteria. Again, these are applied for via your local authority.

As we said earlier, some grants are specific to certain areas. In Leicestershire for example, there is a business growth grant available until the end of 2020. This is specifically to support businesses wishing to embrace the digital world and you would benefit from funded workshops and seminars, as well as funding. It could be crucial in supporting the development of business management software that will help your business thrive. Various eligibility criteria apply and you will need to register to find out if you can benefit from it. If your registration is successful you will be able to book onto workshops or complete a grant expression of interest form. It is a matchfunded grant so as a business you need to contribute 65%. More information is available at ebusinessclub.biz.

Also in Leicestershire, for SMEs trading over 12 months and looking to scale up, there are business growth grants available. The same type of grant is also available in Buckinghamshire. They are not available across all counties, but check on your local area's site to see if you could get this type of help.

As a business specialising in digital technology, we are obviously interested in tech-specific funding available for you. You could use this funding to grow your business by using technology in smart ways through things like online sales and automation. We're pleased to see the one available in Leicestershire that we mentioned above and it is also worth noting that more tech funding is available in the Birmingham and Solihull and Cambridgeshire and Peterborough areas.

According to the Birmingham and Solihull growth hub website, businesses will have access to grants of between £1,000 - £5,000 (as part of the government's £20 million in new grants to boost recovery of small businesses) to help them access new technology and other equipment as well as professional, legal, financial or other advice to help them get back on track. You can find out more and get latest information by registering your business via the website.

The same funding is being used in Cambridgeshire and Peterborough and will be known as the Recovery tech grant. This opens at the end of September so keep an eye on their website for details.

Non-financial support

Lastly, the Manufacturing Growth Programme helps businesses in the manufacturing industry across the West Midlands, Yorkshire and Humber, parts of the East Midlands and South East. This is not financial aid, but provides fully funded (by the EU and UK Government) support. By joining the programme you will receive insight into the risks, issues, gaps and opportunities for your business, helping you better plan for the future; gain a better understanding of what needs to be done to make improvements; work with experts to bring about real development; and reduce cost of development, helping you make the changes you need sooner. To join the programme you must be able to demonstrate an intention to grow and improve. You can check eligibility by completing a brief form on the website.

Note: The information in this blog is based on information available via various websites as at 10 September 2020 and this might change between the date of publication and when you are reading.