Covid grants and loans: Phil Oakley on options for UK firms

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We caught up with digital solutions provider Philip Oakley of Outserveweb about some of the grants and loans available to UK businesses navigating Covid business conditions.

Hi Phil. So straight into it: What are the main funding sources you’ve been talking to your UK clients about? And what are they typically doing with the money?

The main grant I want to talk about here is the Growth Hub funding that was announced on July 30. 

Now that still isn’t available to apply for today. But really you’d have to think it’s going to become available next few weeks. This is money for Covid that was announced months ago. Covid’s been going on for seven months in now. We’re coming into Q4 – the money has to be spent by March 2021 – where is it? Really, people are going to get upset soon if this money isn’t flowing.

So our advice is to contact your local enterprise partnership (LEP) and register your interest.

What are the details of that funding?

The Government has set aside £20 million for SMEs to get new equipment, technology and specialist advice. And that comes in the form of grants between £1,000 and £5,000.

Now, it’s being distributed by the LEPs, which interestingly are generally saying on their websites that it’s £1,000-£3,000, so they seem to have watered it down.

And it’s a grant that fully covers the cost of any technology, equipment or specialist IT advice. So for example if you came to us and you wanted say a more complicated integration that would cost more then we’d simply issue you an invoice for that amount so that it could come off the total. They’re being quite flexible.

How do you apply and what are the criteria?

So firstly, find your local LEP – there’s a map on this site here. And you’ll want to register your interest. Because with it not available yet you want them to get in touch as soon as applications open. At the very least sign up to their email newsletter. Also it’s likely that it will only be available to businesses that have been trading for 12 months.

Next, you want to have a clear message for how you’ve been affected by Covid. And that could be because your business is not worse or better but that’s it shifted.

So perhaps you’ve been affected greatly by Covid because you used to do a lot of wholesale orders but now you do a lot of consumer orders?

Or is it because you have to deliver your products and services more remotely and need more couriers because you closed your retail and you now sell direct?

Is it that you just got fewer staff?

Or maybe it’s just that you’ve had to work from home. I’ve had to invest in laptops and hardware because I’ve got more people working from home. We’re fine as a business, but we’ve had to invest by buying more mobile phones because we’re more remote.

So be thinking how has my business been affected by Covid.

And should you say what you want to do with the money?

Absolutely. Prepare a clear plan for what you’ll do with the money – and what the benefits are. 

So: “I’m going to spend £3,000 on consultancy – specialist advice – on improving the efficiency of our sales process. Because I can see now that because we’ve got more orders going to more places, we’ve got an inefficient sales order process. I need someone to come in and help me make that a more lean and agile process.” 

And that’s where we would come in and work with the client. It might be that you’ve got Sage 50 at the moment and that doesn’t have a good workflow for order entry, or pick-pack-wrap, or warehouse management – let’s look at how to make that more efficient. Or equally you might have an eCommerce site and we’d say, oh well you need to get that integrated so the orders just flow in to your finance and inventory management systems automatically.

Or, you don’t have an eCommerce site and you need to get one. Maybe you need to get a Shopify site, and need us to show you how to  do it – and so on.

So I think when the LEPs can see that you’re clear about where you want to be, and that you know how it will be a benefit, it will smooth that application process out.

Because we find that a lot of businesses know what their problems are. They know they’re inefficient – especially at the moment. They don’t know exactly how to get there. But they know what they want, and I think it’s important to get that down on the application form.

Will you be applying for the grant yourself?

I will definitely apply. I’m with theStaffordshire LEP and I’m waiting for them to come back and say ‘we’re ready for you to apply’ and I’ll be ready to say, 1. How Covid has affected me, 2. What I want the money for, and 3. How it will benefit me.

For me, for instance, I’ll be investing in hardware. We don’t have a software problem, but I can still apply for a loan and I can spend that money on laptops that will make me more efficient, make us more mobile – that’s a no-brainer for me.

What other funding options are there available?

I did have some significant funding for Covid. Some more European Union funding, which was 60% towards equipment capital costs. So I spent significantly on hardware. We bought a lot of laptops, iPads to run it, the scanners. So when new clients come in to the office I can show them a full end-to-end demo of a Vend till on an iPad, where the order goes straight into Unleashed. We’ve got a demo of Shopify to show sales coming into Unleashed and Xero. So us being able to demo that stuff is important. We bought some nice kit.

Are businesses still applying for the Bounceback Loan?

Certainly. When we’re talking to clients generally about accessing money during Covid, we’re still talking about the Bounceback Loan. The Bounceback Loan is an interest free loan which you can still apply for today, and some people have decided to take that and invest it in their systems. So if people were struggling to raise finance, Bounceback Loans are a brilliant way to raise money. 

It’s not a grant, you are going to have to pay it back. But there’s a period where it’s interest free and they’re easy to apply for and get if you’re in the right situation. And it’s quite low repayments. I’m not saying everyone should rush out and get a Bounceback Loan and spend it on Unleashed, but there’s definitely worse things to spend it on. 

If you’ve not actually applied for it today I’d still recommend that you did. Because, worst case scenario, you get the loan, put it in a special account and then do the application for all these other special grants. And if you do get them and don’t need the loan, then just give it back – there’s no penalty. It’s interest free for 12 months. It’s anything from £2,000 to £50,000. So you could apply for £50,000, not need it and then give it back. Or you could get the full £50,000 and just use £10,000 on a new eCommerce integration, and pay the rest back after a year. It’s a six year loan. So you could spend the next six years paying that £10,000 back. 

For some businesses this will be a lifeline that allows them to invest in new systems. Basically there’s never been a better time to invest in an eCommerce system, if you want to be here in six years.

And what the Customs Brexit Readiness Loans?

That’s another bit of funding that’s very, very relevant to anyone looking to get a digital integration up and running. That’s some serious funding. 

It’s for anything that helps businesses complete customs declarations. That grant is for a maximum €200,000 – £180,000 – and it covers 100% of costs.

Now as you know Unleashed put commodity codes in just recently. And that will help you do customs declarations.  

So just for argument’s sake imagine that you were a distillery and you had an eCommerce store, we might need to do the whole of Unleashed – integrate your eCommerce store – to see what you’re exporting, to fill in your customs declarations. So I would say, let’s put in an application for this grant funding, and that could turn into a full-scale digitisation project if you wanted it. Because the grant is pretty much for anything you need to do to get the information you need to get the custom’s declarations, and that’s quite wide. And if you’re an importer and exporter then integrating Unleashed will certainly help you do that.

That grant now runs until January 2021 and has at least £7.5 million left to claim from HMRC, who have been actively encouraging businesses to apply. And really the only way you know if you’ll qualify is if you make an application. That application is open today, so if you do customs declarations, I’d be looking at that grant.

The Managing Director of Outserve Ltd, Philip Oakley trained as an accountant initially but moved into the world of IT / systems and has spent the last 20 years helping businesses to drive efficiencies with their accounting systems and system integrations.

Trading for 12 years Outserve Ltd are specialists in Unleashed and Xero and a Shopify partner who help growing businesses with fantastic products make money and save time. In our complex world businesses need to be able to be flexible and scalable. Talk to Philip Oakley and his team at Outserve about how they could help you.

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Greg Roughan - Unleashed Software
Greg Roughan

Article by Greg Roughan in collaboration with our team of inventory management and business specialists. Greg has been writing, publishing and working with content for more than 20 years. His writing motto is 'don't be boring'. His outdoors motto is ''I wish I hadn't brought my headtorch', said nobody, ever'. He lives in Auckland, New Zealand, with his family.

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