Everything you need to know about government funding to help your business recover from the pandemic

Man using a telephone headset looking towards a computer
The story of Blueberry

It goes without saying that the past year has thrown unparalleled challenges at all of us – relentlessly, and in every aspect of our lives.

We’ve all contended with everything from the smallest of domestic matters – like shortages of everyday groceries – to the biggest of all concerns: the health and wellbeing of our loved ones.

At the same time, businesses across many sectors have faced the most arduous of tests. We’ve seen this as a technology specialist, but we know that all business functions have been affected. And some industries – like the hospitality sector – are hanging on for dear life.

Throughout it all, the unavoidable narrative has been one of doom and gloom. Of course, much of this is an understandable reflection of what is really happening. But sometimes – and perhaps now more than ever – we need glimmers of light to get us through the darkness.

So as 2020 comes to an end, we’d like to offer one such glimmer of light. It’s about the funding that can help your company recover from the pandemic.

It centres on Blueberry – a telemarketing company – and one of its directors, Faresh Maisuria, whose knowledge of grants, and whose tenacity and optimism is the medicine we all need right now.

For those of you who read our blogs for technology insights, there is a technology theme in Faresh’s experience. But this blog goes beyond technology – so we hope you find it useful irrespective of your role or the nature of your business.

Growth from day one

“We’re a telemarketing company based in Leeds, specialising in helping businesses grow,” explained Faresh. “And what’s interesting, is that it isn’t just our unique selling proposition – it’s in our DNA too, because our early years were spent working in the business incubator in Leeds Beckett University.

“So from day one, we were not only geared towards helping businesses grow, but we ourselves were immersed in an entrepreneurial spirit, too. And being so closely tied to the public sector, we learned a lot about government funding available to new businesses.”

The more Faresh and his team investigated these grants on behalf of clients, the more they realised the true purpose of such schemes: they exist as a springboard and enabler of ideas and innovation – and not to paper over the cracks.

“By 2017, we were working in a fairly old, small building,” he added. “The floor literally cracked beneath our feet and felt like it would give way any minute.

“At the same time, we’d expanded and really wanted to upgrade our phone system – but we didn’t want to do so in the old building with the cracking floor and the shortage of space. So the process of switching our analogue system to VoIP made relocation all the more compelling, becoming a real driver for change.

“We did our homework, and with AdEPT’s help, found that a VoIP system would reduce costs, and increase our resilience. And so, we bit the bullet and applied for a government grant to cover the cost of the new system. We were successful, and we moved into our new city centre home, where we’ve been to this day.

2020: the grant pays off

As with all government grants that Faresh has applied for over the years, he found the process to be a lot more straightforward than one would imagine. By focusing on the growth the grant would enable, Blueberry’s application was successful – and it wasn’t long before the business was using the new phone system.

Of course, this led to immediate benefits – such as more flexibility and richer features, as Faresh had identified in his application. But it was in 2020 that the VoIP telephony – an Avaya IP Office system – came to the fore. And being an Avaya Diamond Partner, AdEPT helped Blueberry make the most of the new system.

“As a telemarketing company, a phone system is at the heart of what we do,” said Faresh.

“Our business relies on our people being on the phone – so the pandemic and lockdown could have seriously threatened our very existence.

“But with VoIP, we were able to continue business as usual – or as close to it as possible. With it, our telemarketing staff could continue their normal roles from home, and the tools and analytics we use to manage our work continued as usual.

“For example, we record our calls for training purposes – and with the Avaya system, we could still do this even though our staff were working from home.”

For Faresh, the experience of applying for the grant, rolling out the new telephony, then using it through the pandemic offers a lesson that goes far beyond technology.

“It’s about growth and resilience,” he said. “Undoubtedly, the VoIP system allowed us to grow when we first adopted it. But it also set us up for a more resilient future.

“I honestly don’t think we’d have got through the last six months without the Avaya system in place – and the grant that helped us get that system.”

Beyond VoIP

Throughout its lifetime, with Faresh at the helm, Blueberry has applied for other government grants, advising other businesses on such funding. And when the pandemic took hold, their attention turned to funding that would help businesses survive the crisis and beyond it – to recovery, and future growth.

“In autumn 2020, we applied for a Covid-19 recovery grant,” said Faresh. “Due to the volume of applications and more pressing needs of other businesses, our submission was not approved on this occasion.

“But, that won’t stop us from trying again. Our view is these schemes are there to not only help businesses, but to help the local economy, employment and the community, too. And since those things are important to us at Blueberry, we have high hopes for future applications.

“The grants are available for lots of areas in business – not just for technology. For example, the Business Support Service here in Leeds offers funding for equipment and machinery, employing apprentices, for trading overseas and help with energy bills. Many of these things could be very useful to businesses looking to bounce back from the pandemic.”

Practical tips

Applying for government grants sounds easier said than done – and Faresh is the first to admit that the process to a newcomer can feel overwhelming and demanding. But he says this impression couldn’t be further from the truth – and has some valuable advice to all businesses.

“The first thing I’d do is look into your Local Enterprise Partnership, or LEP. You can Google this term, and find the LEP Network website, which lists all the local schemes by region.

“Once you get to your region’s website, it’s worth spending some time reading to see what’s available to you. I know this sounds obvious, but it’s really worth understanding what’s on offer and how the process works.

“What you’ll probably see is different names for different schemes – which can be confusing – but they largely work in the same way. Funding is made available, and you have to register your interest, and then later formally apply.”

To help him in this process, Faresh closely follows the developments of the local LEP in Leeds.

“I’ve signed up to all the newsletters that are sent out by Leeds City Region Enterprise Partnership,” said Faresh. “This seems like such a small thing – especially as we all get so many emails every day – but it makes all the difference.

“For example, towards the end of September, I got an email from a business manager at our LEP advising that there was new funding for small businesses to help them recover from the pandemic.

“And in the email, there was a clear instruction that businesses should register their interest by the end of the day, or risk missing out.”

Such an email highlights another valuable aspect of LEPs – they are staffed by business development managers who can advise on all the grants available, and how to make a successful application.

“Registering your interest is often a matter of three clicks,” explained Faresh. “It’s that simple. And then the process of formally applying is similarly straightforward.

“So long as you can demonstrate that the funding will be used in a way that will grow and strengthen your business – and not just help keep it ticking over – then you’re well on the way to a successful application.”

Final words

If your business is one of many that is picking up the pieces of the pandemic, it may come as welcome relief that applying for grants needn’t be as onerous as it sounds. In fact, technology does appear to have made the process much more straightforward – gone are the days, it seems, of reading long, complicated documents and filling in lengthy forms.

With this in mind, Faresh and Blueberry will continue to look to build on their entrepreneurial spirit as they too look to recover from the pandemic. And his advice to those of you looking to do the same can be summarised in a few simple points:

1. Visit https://www.lepnetwork.net/ and find your local LEP.

2. Study the information on your local LEP website.

3. Don’t be bamboozled by the different names of the schemes. The principle behind all of them is largely the same.

4. Sign up for all the newsletters available. And make sure those emailed newsletters don’t disappear into your junk box.

5. Register your interest for funding schemes as soon as they are announced.

6. When it comes to making your application, make sure you emphasise how the funding could help your business grow and benefit the local economy.

7. If you are unsure about any of this, then get in touch with the LEP business managers – or indeed Faresh himself.

Written by Sami Malik

Marketing Campaigns Manager