Posted: Mon 16th Feb 2015
As the Government's Growth Voucher initiative enters its final chapter, we examine what it has achieved in its short but eventful life - and how it has helped stir up a growing appetite for advice in the UK.
Launched in January 2014, the programme set out to offer a lifeline to the smallest firms in Britain through delivering subsidised strategic advice.
The idea aimed to reach out to 20,000 British-based firms that had never sought business advice before, link them up with a specific adviser via the marketplace and support them through growth.
With six weeks still to go, 20,200 applications for have been received. This is great news because it shows small firms have woken up to the idea of taking advice. In the US, seeking out and paying for strategic advice is one of the first things start-ups do. They recognise that they don't know it all from the word go. This element of British entrepreneurial culture was always going to be a slow burn. But in 14 months, it's clear important progress has been made.
Another significant figure is that 12,856 diagnostics have been undertaken. This represents the number of firms that have taken time to talk through their business with an expert to assess where its strengths and weaknesses lie. They are then signposted to an adviser that could help with strategic advice, should they want to go down that route. Again, this is a great achievement. It shows there are firms that know what they need to do to build in expansion. That's a lot of potential growth.
A whopping Â£19.2 million has been dispensed in Growth Vouchers. While it hasn't all been taken up - it shows the scheme hit some important targets in awareness.
This is confirmed again with the great progress that had been made on the marketplace itself. With 10,634 strategic advisers already on board, 3,174 of them Growth Voucher accredited, the website has seen 73,070 unique users since it was launched with a growing number of reviews from advice recipients - 660 already to date.
On a regular basis that translates to 10,000 unique users per month. In 2015 alone that figure shot up by 108%. Don't forget, this is for a service that did not exist in any form 14 months ago. To build a buzz and engage with the right target market in that length of time with that level of interest is extraordinary.
It also bodes well for the future when small firms won't need a carrot to take advice. They will have factored it into their planning at the earliest stages and they will have been onto the marketplace to begin the process of identifying which adviser will best suit their needs.
The marketplace, powered by Enterprise Nation, was built with strictly private sector funding and operated to Government guidelines and standards. Once the voucher element is removed, it will continue to provide a single place where small firms can find good advice and be part of an online community where advice is the common currency.
When the scheme was introduced, it was heralded as the largest business research project ever initiated by Government that would gather comprehensive evidence on which to build future policy.
While the evidence is being gathered and monitored over the next few years, critics agree the Random Control Trial (RCT) element of the process did not do it any favours in take-up. Having a certain number of firms turned down for funding for non-specific reasons was always going to be an issue.
From March 31, no more applications for Growth Voucher subsidies will be accepted. But that doesn't mean it's an end to advice. The marketplace will be very much alive and kicking, still recruiting more advisers, still attracting interest from start-ups and small firms and delivering advice.
Its vision is to expand with more categories, helping firms with more areas of expertise to ultimately support more entrepreneurs and offer more growth to the British bottom line.