You don’t get anything for nothing

At the Food For Thought workshop in February we were lucky enough to have a presentation from Janet Herniman looking at both what grant funding is currently available and also sharing some of her top tips for making funding bids successful.

BREXIT has undoubtedly introduced uncertainty in the grant funding landscape, but the government is expected to continue supporting investment in our business performance one way or another both before and after March 2019, largely because it’s good for our economy.

Janet is in a rare position as she works closely with several of the grant awarding authorities in Devon and so in in an excellent position to give us the most up to date information about what is available in which area.

Also, this experience gives her detailed knowledge on what makes the difference between a fantastic application and one that is turned down.

She had four points to consider when writing an application:

1. Evidence
Work out exactly what the project is; how does it help your business? Does the investment create cost savings, waste reduction or extra employment?

2. Need
Grants are available to support investment that would otherwise not take place – there is no slush fund for “white elephant” projects.

A successful application will illustrate that there is an opportunity to make profits and grow your business. However if you can use hire purchase funding to finance the investment, or if you are lucky enough to already have the cash to pay for it, then you don’t need a grant and are unlikely to be get one.

3. Quantify
When it comes to explaining why the plan you have should be backed by grant funding you’ve got to have more than vague ideas for what the benefits will be. Grant assessors want to see specific proof in terms of: Finance for Food & Drink Businesses Workshop
– what new sales you can generate?
– who will buy your new product or service?
– how much more profit will you make?
– how many jobs will you create as a result?
– what about benefits for your suppliers?
– how do you know all this?

4. Proof
Any successful grant bid is potentially subject to an audit to prove that the grant was spent as described in the application. This means that you need to keep records (or at least notes with your accounts) to be able to provide evidence.

Obviously it is easier to do this while the project is going on, instead of four years later when you’re told about an audit.

In rounding up, Janet stressed that while a successful application took a lot of work and preparation, the benefits of getting 40% (or more) of the cost of your investment back is well worth it.

Where there’s magic there’s margin

At the Food For Thought workshop in February one of the high points was the presentation by Charles Baughan, MD of Westaway Sausages. He gave an energising and inspirational talk which left everyone in the room wanting to hear more.

He began by sharing some of his own survival tips for small business:

As Westaway’s has grown the customer base has become more diverse; now they sell to retail, wholesale, and food service customers both in the UK and abroad. Charles talked us through a comparison of the different channels and markets and discussed the reasons for pursuing this strategy.

It was evident from this that the broad range of customers offered a chance to spread risk and also smooth any short term fluctuations in sales volumes.

However the advice was quite clear: “Sometimes it is better to spend time and effort choosing your customers instead of reacting to every opportunity”, something that supported the business planning discussion from earlier in the day.

Questions that would help work out whether an opportunity was the right one for your business included:

Can they pay their bills?
Do you like them?
Are they high maintenance?
Is their business strategically right for you? (Not just about profit!)
Is the market expanding?
Why are you the best choice for them? Are you cheaper? Better? Faster?

From my point of view this final question is fundamental; success is not just about why “they” are the right customer for you but also why you’re the right supplier for them. That’s where the magic comes in – if you can supply something that fits the customers needs better than the competitors you can make the margin.

The message to take away was clear: make a plan, aspire to great things and then get out there and succeed.

You can find more details of what was discussed at the workshop here