SMEs - starting and growing a small business takes courage, commitment and a certain amount of luck. There seems to be so much to think about and organise that things can sometimes get a little daunting for owners of small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs).
What are SMEs?
An SME is any organisation that has fewer than 250 employees and a turnover of less than €50 million or a balance sheet total less than €43 million (see below). In Europe, SMEs make up 99% of the business community.
There were just over 750,000 start-ups in 2021-22. Some SMEs fail in their first year, mostly due to cashflow problems. So how can you ensure that your business is not one of these, and what help is out there to help you grow your fledgling dream?
Support for SMEs
The good news for SMEs is that there is a lot of help available on a variety of general and specific business topics and we’ve listed some ways to help you below. A good business plan is a must so never skip this step.
Funding - What Is Available
Funding business is crucial for start-ups and growing businesses and there is help out there. A good starting point is the “Government Funding for Small Business” webpage at: www.ukstartups.org/uk-government-funding-for-small-business. This page will help you navigate the minefield of information on funding. There are different types of funding available such as:
- National funding for general projects
- National funding for specific projects (e.g. green technology/tech industries)
- Local funding
- Grants for specific areas (e.g. businesses operating close to an airport such as Gatwick can apply to the Gatwick Trust)
- Grants for specific situations (under-represented groups, certain industries)
In addition, you can also look into crowdfunding or venture capital. An internet search for venture capital will yield many sponsored sites but make sure you do your due diligence before taking on any loan and check the interest rates as these have been climbing recently due to the underlying Bank of England interest rate rises.
Help with energy bills
Recently the Energy Bills Discount Scheme (EBDS) was introduced to help not just SMEs but businesses in general with the soaring cost of energy. It was set up under the Energy Prices Act 2022 and came into force on April 26th 2023. Eligible non-domestic customers will receive a per-unit discount to their energy bills between April 2023 and March 2024, subject to a maximum discount. For most non-domestic energy users in Great Britain and Northern Ireland, these threshold prices and maximum discounts have been set at:
- Electricity - £19.61 per megawatt hour (MWh) with a price threshold of £302 per MWh
- Gas - £6.97 per megawatt hour (MWh) with a price threshold of £107 per MWh
Helping SMEs with late payments
If your business needs help with chasing late payments (and one third of SMEs do), then you can contact the Small Business Commissioner (OSBC) on their website or by phone on 0121 695 7770. They offer free information and advice and have recovered over £8 million in late payments for SMEs so far.
It’s best to get an accountant to help you when first setting up your tax returns if you have no experience in tax yourself. They will be able to help ensure you are claiming all the allowances you can, but help and training is available on the HMRC website.
It is worth researching the following:
- Annual investment allowance (AIA)
- Capital allowance
- Employment allowance
- Business asset disposal relief
- Patent box
- R&D tax credits
- Business rates relief
Internet access for rural SMEs
The Gigabit Broadband Voucher Scheme provides up to £4,500 for businesses that are struggling with slow broadband speeds in rural areas.
Beyond SMEs: GENERAL BUSINESS SUPPORT
There are many places to find more general business support. Some are Government schemes but there are other private organisations set up to help SMEs with advice and guidance.
The Business Support Helpline – a government business support provision where you can speak to a business support advisor from Monday to Friday, 9am – 6pm on 0800 998 1098 or email email@example.com. They are also available via Twitter, Facebook and YouTube. Details vary for Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland so check their website.
Local Enterprise Partnerships (LES) – there are 38 across the country, representing different regions and local businesses can get advice and funding support local to them. These are partnerships because they link the public and private sectors to drive job creation and economic growth.
Federation of Small Businesses – a membership organisation set up specially to help SMEs. Think too about local breakfast enterprise clubs and other networking opportunities around you.
Other organisations include:
- Enterprise Nation
- Be The Business
STAFF AND TRAINING
Looking after, and training staff is hugely important in business and no more so than in the early years sector where staff are integral to the business from the outset. Help is available in the form of online training which can range from courses such as the Parenta individual CPD courses (around £10 each), to large training agencies charging hundreds of pounds for a workshop. Apprenticeships are a great way of employing or upskilling new or existing staff and Parenta offer childcare apprenticeships from Level 2 Childcare Practitioner to Level 5 Lead Practitioners. Most of the costs are paid for by the Government so they are a cost-effective way of securing staff.
SPECIFIC EARLY YEARS HELP AND TRAINING
There are many organisations such as Parenta, who offer advice, information, workshops and training specifically in the early years sector. The government also has a webpage aimed at helping early years providers which offers free advice and free training on child development. It also has detailed examples of the 7 areas of learning from EYFS and helps to improve early years practice including:
- Reducing paperwork
- Curriculum planning
- English as an additional language (EAL)
- Working in partnership with parents and carers
- Sensory food education
- Meeting the needs of all children
- Oral health
- Food safety
- Internet safety