independent

Saturday 19 April 2014

Problem Solver: What to expect from state schemes and how to qualify

Businessman Feargal Quinn answers your questions

Businessman Fergal Quinn answers your questions

Q The Government has all kinds of schemes for small business yet I can't seem to get any cash from any of them. Am I wasting my time or should I get somebody to apply and fill in the forms? Is it better to be a free agent? Did you ever claim money from the State?

A: Well, I suppose it's down to eligibility. Many schemes have really helped businesses to get over a difficult time in their commercial cycle or perhaps encouraged them to take on more staff or improve their competitiveness.

The reality is that, in some countries, there is much less direct support compared with what is provided here. I'm not sure I agree with your view of "getting any cash" from them. The whole objective is to provide support to the business that helps make a real change to the commercial behaviour and performance.

If the form-filling is your biggest issue then it would make complete sense for you to get help on that front. You have to remember that the person approving the funds can only do so based on the facts you have given them and the way you present these facts. It must be hugely frustrating for someone administrating these funds to be struggling to understand an application due to incomplete or badly presented information.

There is no right or wrong in receiving help that is available. The schemes are designed with a specific aim in mind and with specific criteria. You either qualify or you don't. I met a food producer recently who had improved their efficiency dramatically due to a scheme like you describe. As a result they have won new business. I'm sure during my Superquinn era we availed of some supports that were relevant to us but I can't recall any specific scheme now.

Q I am preparing to meet buyers from potential clients who have the ability to place sizeable orders with us. Can you give any advice on how to showcase my business and increase my chances of success?

A There is only one word that describes what you have to do, and that is preparation. The secret to succeeding with buyer visits is to put significant time into the preparation so that nothing arises in the meeting that you have not prepared for.

First of all, what do you know about this company? Have you been able to visit any of their shops, etc.? Do you know anything about the buyer and specifically what they will be looking for? Have you spoken to any other suppliers who are already dealing with them? Have you looked at their website and read their most recent annual report if they are a public company? Do you understand the commercial expectations they may have?

Once you have gathered that information, then you can set about preparing how to showcase your business. A tour of the production facility is always worthwhile and you need to make sure that your team on the production floor are aware of the buyer they are meeting and the importance of the visit. Remember that the visiting buyer will have strong knowledge of other production facilities in the same sector as you and will be well familiar with the standards and production processes.

With regard to the presentation you make, you need to think this through carefully. Many buyers are exposed to PowerPoint presentations on a daily basis and become fatigued from being bombarded with information. Think through why your business is truly unique and make sure your core presentation focuses on this area while giving supporting background information also. Make your presentation very visual, have lots of product samples in the room, consider using "story boards" to illustrate messages you want to get across and make sure your team have rehearsed well.

If the buyer is arriving the evening before, then also put some thought into how that time could be utilised to interact and break down some barriers. Sometimes it is appropriate to meet the buyer for dinner, and while this might be a social occasion, it is a great way to make the process less formal.

Where many buyer meetings go wrong is not during the meeting, but in the follow-up.

So make sure good notes are kept of what has been agreed at the meeting and ensure these subsequent actions are done promptly.

And it is always a good idea at the end of the visit to summarise for the buyer your interpretation of what you believe are the next steps.

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