It was announced in the national media earlier this week that the NDS trading Online Voucher Scheme, or Online Trading Voucher Scheme (there doesn't seem to be consistent terminology yet), which was launched in October 2013, and piloted by Dublin City Enterprise Board, is to be rolled out nationally.
Apparently, the aim of the Trading Online Voucher Scheme is to enable up to 2,000 SMEs throughout Ireland to avail of vouchers, worth up to €2,500 to “start trading online to grow sales and reduce costs.”
The pilot project run by Dublin City Enterprise Board gave some insight into the types of businesses eligible for assistance (following information taken from the DECB website):
- Employ fewer than 10 people
- Turnover of less than €2 million
- Sole traders, partnerships or limited companies (does not include not-for-profit organisations or Chamber groups).
- The scheme isn’t aimed at companies which have professional IT services in-house and are already capable of trading online.
In DECB's pilot scheme, the following services were eligible:
- IT consultation
- Development or upgrade of an e-commerce website
- Implementing Online payments or booking systems
- Purchase of Internet related software
- Purchase of online advertising
- Developing an app
- Implementing a digital marketing strategy i.e. Social media marketing
- Consultation with ICT experts for early stage adopters of online strategy
- Training/ skills development specifically to establish and manage an online trading activity
What the Online Trading Vouchers could not be used for:
- Businesses that are not already trading
- Development of brochure websites
- Purchase of non-internet related software
- Anything other than online trading related activity
So, assuming the same eligibility criteria will apply when the scheme is rolled out nationally, it appears that businesses not already trading will not qualify. Quite why this is the case is anybody's guess and seems at odds with the strategy's main objective which is to make it easier for Irish SMEs to do business online. But, when has common sense and joined up thinking ever been a part of recent political strategy?
One question I was keen to find an answer to was whether SMEs would be forced to choose from a preferred service supplier list or would they be free to choose their own vendors? To try and get clarification, I emailed the Clare, Tipperary and Limerick Enterprise Boards this week to find out for myself. Unfortunately, not one of them could give me a coherent reply. In fact, it seems Pat rabbitte's announcement of a national rollout of the scheme caught them a little “off guard”. Here are two of the replies I received:
This scheme is being piloted in Dublin City CEB at present and has not been extended to other CEB’s. When that happens it is likely that, either Nationally or Regionally approved vendor lists will be formed. At present we have no further information on when that might happen.
I am awaiting the details myself William…..the announcement to the paper preceded the briefing to the CEB’s – if one is planned?
So, if you're involved in an Irish SME that's looking to enhance its digital presence and start selling online, and you meet the above eligibility criteria, this may be an opportunity to get a bit of financial support. Just one bit of advice…experience has taught us that when funding like this comes along, all sorts of cowboys (and Indians!!) start appearing out of the digital woodwork. There's a huge difference in the quality and value of service you ‘ll get from SEO consultants, ecommerce vendors and digital marketers throughout the country so be prepared to ask the right questions and probe thoroughly.
If you don't know where to turn and would like some advice about maximising the benefit for your small business from the Online Trading Voucher Scheme, feel free to drop me a line and I'll do my best to help out.