When it comes to running your own company, there is always a new challenge on the horizon but what if you could get advice from an industry expert on the best way to grow your business?
The Local Enterprise Office’s (LEO) Productivity Challenge Voucher offers Irish SMEs with 50 employees or less a voucher for a consultancy up to the value of €2500. The new voucher initiative is designed to help successful applicants improve their business productivity, prepare for the future and develop more efficient ways to do business. They can do this by applying lean principles to the way they run their company.
Applications are now open and domestically-focused SMEs have until November 22 to make an online application. To find out more about the new initiative, we talked to Oisin Geoghegan, Chair of the network of Local Enterprise Offices, which are funded through Enterprise Ireland in local authorities.
A total of 200 successful applicants from across the country will receive one of the coveted vouchers as part of the Productivity Challenge Voucher initiative. The programme was announced earlier this year by Minister for Business, Enterprise and Innovation, Heather Humphreys.
“You can apply for it online and you could get a voucher to the value of up to €2,500 towards a consultancy service that will be provided to enable the business to become more productive,” explains Oisin.
“The consultancy service consists of three full days and the important thing about this is that the consultants who are providing the service are following tried and trusted techniques in terms of the benefits to the business. There are ways that businesses can improve processes, can improve procedures, can improve the way they are doing business and ultimately become more competitive and more productive.”
A recent study by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) found that Irish SMEs needed to improve their productivity and innovation.
“This new programme is showing businesses that if they have issues with productivity and competitiveness, that's what the LEO, and this initiative in particular, is here to address.”
The advantage of bringing in an outside consultant is that they can offer an independent perspective on existing inefficiencies, offer a root and branch review of your operation, and use their expertise to identify potential areas for improvement.
“Nearly all businesses out there start off small and the thing that a lot of them have in common is that they develop their own way of doing business,” adds Oisin. “They develop their own procedures and processes that are probably adequate when they are starting off. As things move on, they tend to grow organically and very often the kind of processes, procedures and ways of conducting their business can always be improved.”
With Brexit looming on the horizon, many Irish SMEs have already had to examine their potential exposure to a hard Brexit and review their existing operations.
However, Oisin says that the Productivity Challenge Voucher is a chance to get expert advice that can make a profound difference to your business.
“If you feel that you have the potential to grow and develop your business, that your business is under pressure, that the market is becoming more competitive, that there are ways that you could improve how you conduct your business and your internal processes, and you think that you could improve your profit margin, then the voucher is absolutely the way to go.
“The impact that it can have on the mindset of the entrepreneur can be quite monumental. It can really open up your eyes to what can be achieved and how you can change.”
One SME that has benefited from having their business assessed by a business-specific consultant is Advanced Coatings, a specialist paint supplier based in Carlow.
“We’re a paint company in Carlow and we have two divisions to the company,” explains Managing Director, Kate Gaynor, who took over the running of the family business in her twenties when her father retired.
“One is industrial, commercial paint so mainly paint for the engineering sector. We have a team of technical paint people, paint chemists and paint inspectors, and we opened up a retail shop in February of this year just to bring that expertise to the homeowner.
“So if you came in and you wanted to paint your enamel bath or your radiator or just your wall, we’ll tell you why that paint is cheap and how long it will actually last, and why that paint is slightly dearer or very expensive. So you have paint experts telling you exactly what’s what.”
Having previously benefited from LEO advice on everything from finances to Brexit, Advanced Coatings took up the opportunity to have a specialist consultant come in to improve its productivity. Although the business is still in the middle of the consultancy process, Kate has already noticed significant improvements.
“There was definitely a financial gain along with the productivity, workflow and morale gains. A lot of it was very straightforward but it was just about having a fresh set of eyes looking at the business.”
The consultant was able to point out simple efficiencies that could improve their day-to-day operations, organise their storeroom, manage their space and maximise their sales in the company’s retail section.
“Some things were basic enough but I suppose it was about having an outside professional coming in and saying ‘What is that and why is that there?’ In general, the storage facilities have all been decluttered, shelving is all in the process of being labelled and we’re only halfway through the course.”
Kate points out that many SMEs can’t afford to have someone employed to manage workflows or improve operational efficiencies on a full-time basis. She believes that any business can benefit from bringing in someone who is trained to identify potential improvements in organisation structures, productivity, processes, efficiencies and more.
“Whether you’re a hairdresser or an owner of a massive manufacturing facility, I think both would gain an equal advantage from something like this,” she says.
The Productivity Challenge Voucher is open to applications from all businesses with between one and 50 employees, who can highlight a specific issue that is affecting their productivity. To find out more or to apply online, check out the Productivity Challenge Voucher website.