Business Grants for UK Companies - a Beginner's Guide

Joe Griffin
Joe Griffin

Entrepreneurs are heroes - taking on risks and following dreams so that they will create jobs for themselves and others. It’s always a scary and challenging time to set up a business, especially during unpredictable times. But the good news is that there is help available.

Grants are especially useful - providing finance and advice, without the weight of debt.

Here’s a guide to UK grants for small businesses, whether you’re based in England, Scotland, Wales or Northern Ireland.

Grants Defined

A grant is a sum of money given to your business, usually by the government, that doesn’t have to be repaid (unlike a loan). They exist as an investment on the government’s part - encouraging people and businesses to become self-sufficient and to generate money and jobs.

Grants - unfortunately - don’t tend to be bags of cash with no strings attached. There are hoops to jump through and they vary throughout the UK (even county to county). They might also be only available for very specific uses - intended for specific renovations, green energy or broadband, to use just three examples.

Still, they are frequently worth applying for, especially in a business’s unpredictable early years.

How to Apply for a Small Business Grant

We hope you like paperwork! Applying for a small business grant is an opportunity to evaluate your company - looking at projected costs, income and the mechanics of your business. These are exactly the kinds of things you’ll be asked upon application.

A good place to start is either in your local constituency or on the finance section of the UK government’s own website. There, you’ll be sent to the paperwork to get you started.

It’s worth looking into specific grants for your circumstances or even the particular time you’re applying. Covid-related grants are a good place to start.

Covid-Related Grants

There are several grants for businesses affected by Coronavirus in the UK. And the Covid-Related Grants homepage hosts many of them.

Small Business Grant Fund

If your small business is eligible, it may be entitled to a one-off payment of £10,000 in the  Small Business Grant Fund.

Like many UK grants, criteria varies depending on where you’re based.

Retail, Hospitality and Leisure Grant Fund

Few industries are as unpredictable as retail, hospitality and leisure, especially in recent times. So the Retail, Hospitality and Leisure Grant Fund is a much-needed lifeline for countless business owners.

This fund can be up to £25,000 and, again, criteria and amounts vary according to the region or country you’re based.

For each of the grants mentioned above, you might have been contacted by your local authority if you’re eligible. In fact, it’s worth contacting them or checking their website if you think you’re eligible and haven’t heard from them.

Local Authority Discretionary Grants Fund

This grant can be up to £25,000 and is available for some businesses that don’t qualify for the above grants. The Local Authority Discretionary Grant is intended for small and micro businesses.

Its primary purpose is to help with fixed costs, so you’d need to be operating from a premises to qualify.

Grants and loans for SMEs focused on research and development

If you’re a small or medium sized business involved in R&D (research and development), you might be entitled to some of the £1.25billion fund the UK government has recently announced.

Funds are allocated by Innovate UK’s grant and loan scheme.

Regional Funding Grants

As you might expect, the UK has a huge variety of different grants and resources within its jurisdictions, countries and local governments. These grants can also be given by academic institutions and local councils, among other bodies.

Go to the UK Government website where you can find these grants at the business support finder section. There, you will find some drop down menus; choose ‘types of support’ and then ‘grants’. After that you’ll be asked some questions that are standard for these kinds of grants, relating to the size of your business, region, nature of your business and so on.

Take your time browsing: rural SMEs in the UK are often entitled to a broadband grant of up to £3,500, for instance. And you can usually apply for multiple grants at a time.    

Innovation funding grants

The value of innovation is acknowledged by governments as a way to solve new problems or as creative ways to address existing ones. This acknowledgement often takes the form of grants.

Innovative companies typically are in the spheres of engineering, science, technology. And they can apply for loans or grants from Innovate UK.  

Research and development might also make your company eligible for those sweet tax reliefs and tax credits. These can take the form of a smaller tax bill, or a refund on taxes already paid.

How to apply for government grants

Government grants are wonderful - the fuel you need to maintain your company’s momentum, without the repayments (and interest!) that comes with loans. Unsurprisingly, you have to prove you deserve this free money before it’s handed over.

You will likely need...

A business plan

You will almost certainly need a business plan. If you haven’t created one already, a business plan requires:

  • Goals for your business
  • Your audience, market and relevant research
  • Products/service, pricing and margins
  • Staff and management
  • Financials - including projected costs and profits

A business plan is a living document, meaning that it can and should change over time. Format-wise, you can create what works for you: if you’re a graph person, fill it with graphs; if you’re a wordsmith, explain the business verbally. The key is that all relevant information is there and that it’s accessible and clear.

Proof of performing a conditional task

A grant might be conditional on something your business hasn’t done yet, like taking on a new hire, for example. In the new hire example, you’d have to show that you’d have the money to hire that person, tasks that they’d carry out and where you’d advertise that job.

Read those documents!

Applying for grants can be competitive, and there are fraudulent applications too. So expect paperwork and rules. Everything you need to know will be on pdfs, online lists and/or FAQs. It can be time-consuming and onerous, but it’s worth combing through every relevant piece of literature to get your successful grant application over the line.

In conclusion

Everyone knows that business can be unpredictable, especially in the early years or if yours is an SME. So a grant at the right time can bring security, time and peace of mind. It’s worth taking the time to apply.

Reach out to local councilors, friends or family members for advice. It’s especially useful to talk to people from other SMEs who have been successful in their applications. If you don’t know where to start, try your local chamber of commerce.

It can be daunting, but the whole process can start by picking up the phone and calling one of the above people or your local council. The government created grants so they can help - so they’re often happy to guide you through the process.

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