The Irish government have made €5 million available to small businesses who want to start or expand their online trading activities. The scheme is called 'Online Trading Vouchers' and it allows small businesses to receive up to €2,500 in 'matched funds'. In other words the government will match whatever you put in, up to a maximum of €2,500. What's more, the scheme has just been extended to cover Dublin, Cork, Kerry, Louth, Sligo and Waterford so if you are in one of these areas, now is the time to act.
The voucher can be spent on a wide variety of activities, these include:
- Creating a new eCommerce site
- Improving an existing eCommerce site
- Search Engine Optimisation for an eCommerce site
- Social networking for an eCommerce business
- Creating a mobile app with eCommerce in mind
- Developing a digital strategy
- Up to 30% of it can even be spent on advertising through Google, Facebook, Twitter etc...
I’ve been following this scheme, and talking to our clients about it, since it was first announced in July 2013, and I recently attended the information session run by Cork City and Cork South LEOs. Here’s what I've discovered:
What Sort Of Online Selling Activities Qualify?
Who Can Apply?
Who Administers The Scheme?
Will Everyone Who Applies Get A Voucher?
How Do They Decide Who Gets A Voucher?
What’s The Process?
Can I Use The Voucher For Work I Am Doing At The Moment / Have Already Done?
Who Can I Work With?
Can I Get An Employee To Do The Work?
How Bad Is The Application Form?
What's The Hurry
When Will It Open Up To The Rest Of The Country?
PLEASE NOTE: I have no official connection with any LEO. This is just a collection of the information that I’ve picked up and am putting online for the benefit of our clients, potential clients and business owners in general...
The definition of an eCommerce site would usually be one that allows a customer to complete a transaction online. My understanding from Cork South LEO is that they will also consider sites that allow online bookings, but I’d suggest checking with your own LEO if in doubt.
There’s been no specific mention of online trading through Facebook, but there are a number of businesses that seem to be doing very well using Facebook online store apps. The same goes for people selling through Ebay and Amazon, and I can’t see why these channels wouldn’t be considered.
The main point is the voucher cannot be used to develop or promote a ‘brochure’ website that has no transactional capability.
There are a few limitations to the scheme as well. The largest ones are:
- this is only available to small businesses with under 10 people employed and under €2m turnover
- you have to have been trading for over 12 months.
- we are in phase 2 of the scheme. In phase 1 it was piloted in Dublin and now, in phase 2, it is open to counties Dublin, Cork, Kerry, Waterford, Louth and Sligo.
- it is not open to charities or business organisations
- the company must have been trading for at least 12 months
Your Local Enterprise Office (which used to be the city or county enterprise boards up until a few months ago).
Probably not. In effect this is a competition. Each county has a certain number of vouchers to distribute, and I strongly expect that the number of applicants will exceed the number of vouchers.
Cork (city and county) have 100 vouchers to distribute in this phase.
You’ll be judged on the information you provide in the application form. In particular you’ll be judged according to the following:
- Eligibility (see Who Can Apply above)
- Value-added potential - how much extra will the work give to your online efforts
- Export potential - will the project allow you to start or increase your exporting
- Job Creation potential- will the project, sooner or later, lead to you creating another job
- Financial stability
I doubt many projects will meet all 5 criteria – some businesses are simply not looking to export. 1) is a must, and I expect 5) to be important too. For the others, I expect making a strong case in one or two categories would be enough.
It should run something like this:
Attend an information session (see links at the bottom of this post). This is mandatory.
- Receive application form
- Decide on the work you want to do and get one or more quotes (note that if your web agency is in any way useful they should help you to plan out the work needed)
- Complete and send off the application form with the details of the work you want carried out
- Wait to receive an acceptance letter, with a voucher. Cork South LEO are talking about handing out the first vouchers in July 2014.
- Get the work carried out. You’ll have to pay for the work from your own pocket.
- Once the work is complete, send a report off to the LEO on what was done along with the voucher, the invoice and proof of payment. You’ll also need to include your own tax clearance cert.
- Receive the money – it might take a few weeks for the payment to be processed
- At a later date you might be asked to tell the LEO what difference the work done made to your business
Nope, they say not. The work has to be done after you receive your voucher and before you submit the voucher back to them to receive the money.
You can choose almost any supplier for the work you like. However bear in mind that, when you fill in the voucher, you’ll need to provide the supplier company’s CRO (Companies Registration Office) and Tax details, and their tax clearance cert.
No. The LEOs were quite clear about that. The work has to be done by an external agency.
OK, lets face it, nobody looks forward to filling out an application form, but to be fair, this one isn't tooooooo bad. The entire form is about 11 pages, BUT 7 of those pages are an outline of the scheme and the Terms and Conditions. In the main section of the form you have to fill in your basic details, give some high-level forecasts of turnover for the next couple of years and provide quotes for the work you want to carry out.
There are also about 8 questions that require some text to be written. Each one asks for a maximum of 150 words – so no essays allowed! They ask for info on your online business objectives, the scope of the work you want to carry out, your target market and so on.
Normally the form is emailed to you after you’ve attended the information session. However, Waterford LEO have a copy of the online trading application form on their website https://www.localenterprise.ie/Waterford/Downloads/Digital-Voucher-Application-Form.docx
All LEOs have been given a certain allocation of vouchers to hand out. Once they are gone the current round of funding will close and you'll have to wait for the next round to open. This might not be until 2015.
Unofficially, I’ve heard it might be rolled out in September. But deadlines like these do have a way of slipping. Back in July 2013, I was told the phase II rollout would be in January 2014, and it actually started in May. So let’s hope for the best, but don’t count on it!
Get yourself along to one of the information sessions.
Cork City - Trading Vouchers Information
Cork South - Trading Vouchers Press Release
Cork North and West - Trading Vouchers Information Sessions
Louth - Links To Useful Pages
Sligo - Trading Vouchers Information
Dublin City - Trading Vouchers Information
Dublin South - Trading Vouchers Information
Dublin Fingal - Trading Vouchers Information
Dublin Dun Laoghaire - Trading Vouchers Information
Kerry - Trading Vouchers Information
Waterford - Trading Vouchers Information
Any other questions, opinions or other info to add? Did you find this blog useful? Please put it all into the comments section below.
If you are thinking about applying, do give it a go. It’s a great scheme. And if you are a StudioForty9 client, we’d be more than happy to help you work out the activities that will have the greatest impact on your business.