The Genie is out of the bottle. Speaking to many hardware sector businesses it’s clear that Covid has pushed, shoved or dragged many into offering an online service. And, in my view, there’s no going back. No matter what happens in the near future people’s buying habits have changed, probably forever, in that they want and expect an online service.
Of course, when it comes to specialist tools or consumables, customers will probably want to have a ‘hands-on’ experience. But if it’s replacing a light bulb, buying a hundred blocks or adding to that paint order, the vendors will have to be able to do it online.
As accountants we do our own specific kind of shopping. We love finding clients little known, or in this case little used, bargains, and I think this one is a cracker. The expanded Trading Online Voucher Scheme (www.localenterprise.ie) is designed to assist small businesses with up to 10 employees to trade more online, boost sales and reach new markets. But, speaking to some of those involved with the scheme, the take up has not been massive. This is a real mystery to me for two reasons; one, online is the future and two, there’s €2,500 available from the government to pay to help get your business online.
Now, depending on the level of sophistication you’re expecting in this new e-commerce section of your business, that amount of money may not be enough. But a couple of things come to mind. Firstly, it’s better to have some presence, albeit a bit clunky, than no presence at all. Also, when you buy a new car you may covet a convertible, all bells and whistles, but when you look at your bank balance allied with your practical needs, the family people carrier is probably going to win the day. Thirdly, it’s about visibility. If you’re not online, you can’t be seen. Think of your own shopping habits and how you use Google to find out if a shop is open or shut, or if they stock whatever you may be looking for. Now, simply apply that to your own business. I’m sorry to say, but it is kind of obvious,
The Trading Online Voucher Scheme offers a grant (that’s the magic word – no need to pay back a grant), of up to €2,500 – the business does have to ‘co-fund’ 10% of that amount, but it’s still a bargain. Also, every day I learn about new or upgraded software that is making trading online simpler and simpler, so what might have cost €20,000 just a couple of years ago is now available for an absolute fraction of that amount.
Security, is a fundamental essential – the newest online trading software is state-of-the-art (Irish led Stripe is a world leader in this payments area).
Now, just when I have you excited about the idea of going online (I hope!) the scheme does have a few limitations. Your business has to have a turnover of less than €2 million and have fewer than ten employees. I’m of the opinion if your business is much bigger than this that you probably already have a full online presence, so if that’s you, sorry but nothing for you to see here. Finally, you have to be in business for longer than six months (if you’ve survived the last six months, it probably feels like six years).
The application process is straightforward. Go to your own Local Enterprise Office (LEO) normally, but not always, based in or near your local authority (e.g. County Hall etc). In my experience they are helpful and so approachable. You’re not asking for something that isn’t yours. The Government is very, very keen that all businesses go online (the less I say about Internet access in some areas though, the better). Your LEO will put the process in train and I’m sure will probably point you in the direction of someone qualified in giving you that online presence. You can even discuss a second voucher with them, which is available when you want to upgrade payment systems and the like.
But first steps first. Give your business the Christmas present it deserves. Give it an online presence. There, 2021 is looking
This Business Support article featured in the November/December issue of The Hardware Journal