You're ready to start growing your small business by improving your online presence, either by creating a new website or by enhancing your current website (for example, by adding an ecommerce functionality). Great news, your Local Enterprise Office is here to support you during this extremely challenging period with a grant (called the Trading Online Voucher) of up to €2,500 for you to invest in your business' online presence.
In this comprehensive guide about the Trading Online Voucher Scheme, I'll walk you through everything you need to know about the application process for your small business. I'll outline the terms and conditions for the scheme, who can apply, the approval process, and what you can do to grow your business with your grant money.
I've also included a copy of the application form for you to review and links to all upcoming webinars for your Local Enterprise Office, wherever you may be in Ireland.
What's covered in this guide:
Trading Online Voucher Scheme: General Questions
Before I get in to explaining the ins-and-outs of the Trading Online Voucher Scheme (TOV), I'd like to answer some important questions about the TOV.
What is the Trading Online Voucher Scheme?
The TOV is a funding initiative by the Local Enterprise Office under the Government’s National Digital Strategy. This government strategy is focused on getting more small businesses to sell their products and services online because online sales account for an ever-increasing percentage of sales across all industries. You can use the grant to improve your online sales and reach new markets
The Trading Online Voucher Scheme provides funding for up to €2,500 (90% of the investment, whichever is less) of your business' investment in improving your online presence. Your business must fund 10% of the investment to be eligible. So, for example, if you are hiring an ecommerce agency to develop a new ecommerce website for your business and their quote is €4,000, your business would pay €1,500 and the Local Enterprise Office would pay €2,500. If you are starting a smaller project at €500, then your business would pay €50 and the Local Enterprise Office would pay €450.
Who Can Apply for the Trading Online Voucher Scheme?
All small businesses in the Republic of Ireland that have been trading for at least six months, with 10 or fewer employees, and who generate up to €2 million in annual turnover can apply for the Trading Online Voucher Scheme.
Why Apply for the Trading Online Voucher Scheme?
Irish consumers spend almost €850,000 every hour online. Furthermore, the ecommerce industry in Ireland is worth a staggering €2.8 billion and is growing year-over-year at 25%. If your business does not already have a strong online presence, you are missing out on a huge additional revenue stream, that is only going to increase as time goes on. The IE Domain Registry (IEDR) saw a 30% increase in .ie domain registrations in Q2 of 2020 when compared to the same period in 2019. If your business doesn’t have a strong online presence, your competitors could be taking your customers.
You should apply for the Trading Online Voucher Scheme to invest in your online presence and grow your online sales while saving money in the investment process. 1,250 applications have already been approved as of May 2020 so you'll be joining many other small businesses in doubling down on your online presence. The average grant is €2,300 which can go a long way in your business’ investment to getting started and growing your sales online.
According to the Wicklow Local Enterprise Office of the 800 local businesses surveyed that received the Trading Online Voucher, it was found that:
- 60% of businesses started growing internationally, with customers outside of Ireland placing online orders.
- Total sales grew by an average of over 20%.
- Almost 9 in 10 businesses received an increased number of customer enquiries.
- 3 in 4 businesses said that the new sales generated were additional and had no disruptive effect on existing sales.
- Businesses were looking to hire new employees to keep up with the growing demand, with businesses looking to recruit on average 1.4 more employees.
- Almost 90% of businesses believe that their online sales will account for an increased percentage of their revenue in the next six months.
Trading Online Voucher Scheme: Terms and Conditions
What are the Terms and Conditions of the Trading Online Voucher Scheme?
The Trading Online Voucher Scheme has terms and conditions that you should be aware of. Most importantly, the maximum value for the voucher is €2,500 or 90% of the eligible expense (exclusive of VAT). And you must get your TOV application approved before you pay any developer or agency.
The full terms and conditions of the Trading Online Voucher Scheme are:
- Vouchers will have a maximum value of €2,500 or 90% of eligible expenditure (exclusive of VAT), whichever is the lesser
- Voucher approval must be gained before incurring any expense
- Own (internal) labour is not considered an eligible expense
- Only third-party costs will be considered
- All third-party/supplier invoices must contain proper business details (e.g. tax and business registration details)
Who is Eligible for the Trading Online Voucher Scheme?
To be eligible for the Trading Online Voucher Scheme, your business must meet all of the following criteria:
- Limited online trading presence (e.g. a website with no ecommerce functionality or no website whatsoever)
- Less than 10 employees
- Annual turnover of less than €2 million
- Must be trading for at least 6 months
- Must be located in the catchment area of a LEO that is participating in this scheme - see a list of all LEO locations
Who is Ineligible for the Trading Online Voucher Scheme?
The following is a list of projects or types of businesses that are not eligible for the Trading Online Voucher Scheme:
- Charities, commercial semi-state companies, trade associations, or company representative bodies (e.g. Chambers of Commerce)
- Not-for-profit or social entrepreneurship applicants operating under a commercial domain
- IT companies or agencies
- Conferences and seminars
- Projects that are not compliant with public policy
- Duplication of support for projects which would be eligible for assistance from other State Agencies of EU-funded operational programmes
- Companies with more than 10 employees
- Projects deemed to be capable of proceeding in any event without scheme assistance (i.e. deadweight)
- Projects essentially comprising importation and distribution
What Can I Use the Trading Online Voucher for?
You can use the Trading Online Voucher for one or more of the following:
- IT, digital marketing, or digital strategy consultation
- Development or upgrade of an ecommerce website
- Implementation of online payment facilities or booking systems
- Purchasing Internet-related software e.g. subscriptions to low-cost online retail platform solutions
- Purchasing online advertising (for up to 30% of the approved voucher amount and it can only be drawn down in one payment phase)
- Development of an app (or multi-platform webpages)
- Development of a digital marketing strategy
- Implementing a digital marketing strategy
- Training/skills development specifically to establish and manage an online trading activity
What Can I Not Use the Trading Online Voucher for?
You cannot use the Trading Online Voucher for:
- Developing a brochure website
- Purchasing a service that is not internet-related (i.e. anything other than online trading)
When does the Trading Online Voucher expire?
There is currently no expiry date for applications for the Trading Online Voucher Scheme, according to the Local Enterprise Office (LEO). However, LEO reserves the right to stop the scheme at any point and we recommend that you apply as soon as possible to make sure your application is accepted before the scheme is stopped.
Trading Online Voucher Scheme: How to Apply
To apply for the Trading Online Voucher Scheme, you will need to:
- Attend the Trading Online Voucher Scheme Webinar
- Submit the Trading Online Voucher Scheme Application Form
We'll cover each in more detail in the sections that follow.
Trading Online Voucher Scheme Information Webinar
Your Local Enterprise Office regularly hosts information webinars that provide information about the scheme and recommendations on how to get the best out of the funding available. The webinar typically lasts 2-3 hours, varying by county. During the information webinar, you will receive information about developing a website, how to reach new customers and markets through digital marketing, social media, and search engine optimisation (SEO), among other topics.
An independent, non-LEO employee typically presents the webinar, meaning it is impartial and will arm you with the knowledge you need to make the right decision for investment in your business' online presence.
How do I Sign Up for the TOV Information Webinar?
You can sign up for the webinar by visiting the website of your Local Enterprise Office. See the list below for a direct link to your LEO. Once on the LEO website, follow these three steps to register for the webinar:
- Click on 'Training and Events'
- Click on the webinar you want to attend (Trading Online Voucher Webinar)
- Click ‘Book Now’
After you complete the online registration, you will receive an email with instructions on how to attend the webinar.
Where do I Register for the TOV Webinar?
Click the area where your business is based and you will be brought to the website for that Local Enterprise Office. The webpage will provide the option for you to register for the webinar.
- Cork (Cork City)
- Cork (Cork North and West)
- Cork (South Cork)
- Dublin (Dublin City)
- Dublin (Dún Laoghaire)
- Dublin (Fingal)
- Dublin (South Dublin)
Trading Online Voucher Scheme: Application Form
Where Can I Download the Application Form?
The Trading Online Voucher Application Form will be emailed to you after you attend the webinar (assuming you are eligible for the scheme). You can also download the application form here.
Project Elements Details
When filling out the application form, you will be asked to select the project element(s) that best describe the nature of your online project. Here's the list (as per the LEO) application form:
- IT consultation
- Project management
- New ecommerce website (from scratch)
- Upgrade to existing ecommerce website
- Content management system
- App development
- Digital marketing strategy
- Online advertising (for up to 30% of the approved voucher cost)
- Copywriting for the web
- Search engine optimisation (SEO)
- Web analytics
What Additional Documents Must I Send With My Application?
In addition to the completed application form, you will also need to submit:
- Copy of a quotation from three different suppliers
- Evidence of duration of trading
If you can’t provide the three quotes, for example, if there are multiple project components and getting three quotes is ‘overly burdensome’, this requirement might be waived. The application will then be evaluated based on the quotes available. If this is your case, it is recommended that you consult with LEO before applying.
Can I Apply for a Second Voucher?
Yes, you can apply for a second Trading Online Voucher, under the premise of a "required upgrade" for your existing online presence.
Trading Online Voucher Scheme: Approval Process
Recommendations by Evaluation Committee
An internal LEO committee will review your application form and make their recommendation on whether or not it should be approved. Their decision will be based on the following five factors:
- Eligibility for the scheme: does your business meet the eligibility criteria for the TOV?
- Value-added potential: how much additional value will your investment in your online presence add to your customers and your business?
- Export potential: can your products be exported? If so, to what extent will the TOV help with your exporting potential?
- Job creation potential: is your business likely to create new jobs through receiving the TOV?
- Financial sustainability: is your business financially sustainable at the moment and how will the TOV affect your financial sustainability?
How long will it take to get approved?
The approval process is typically speedy and you can expect a decision from LEO in 1-4 weeks after submitting your application. If your application is approved, you will receive a letter of offer. You can then forward this letter to your supplier of choice.
How will I receive payment of the voucher?
You will have to submit the following documents to your LEO to receive payment of your TOV:
- A signed declaration from both yourself and the supplier of choice
- Your Company Registration Number (CRO)
- Tax Clearance Certificate
- Invoice from the supplier (with CRO, Tax Registration, or VAT details)
- Bank statement showing evidence of payment for the invoice
- Declaration of project completion by the supplier
How long will I have to spend my voucher?
You will have three months, from receipt of the letter of offer, to complete the work you specified in your application form for the Trading Online Voucher. If you require longer than three months, we recommend you speak to your LEO who may grant an additional one-month extension.
Trading Online Voucher Scheme: Case Studies
The Trading Online Voucher Scheme has been a hugely successful scheme by the Local Enterprise Office in helping Irish small businesses improve their online presence to reach new customers and markets. 800 local businesses in Wicklow who receive the Trading Online Voucher grew internationally, increasing their sales by an average of 21%.
Bernadine Burke of Maysonbrook in Galway recently availed of the Trading Online Voucher support from the Local Enterprise Office in Galway.
Learn how a Trading Online Voucher Grant from the Local Enterprise Office in Donegal assisted Huku Balance to go global with their website sales.
It's Time to Grow Your Business Online with the TOV
In conclusion, the Trading Online Voucher Scheme is an excellent grant offered by the Local Enterprise Office across Ireland to help small businesses grow their online presence and increase their sales. If you have been deliberating over whether now is the time to double down on your business' online presence, the TOV can help you cut the cost by up to 90%. There has never been a better time to invest in your business' online presence, ecommerce sales in Ireland and overseas are growing year-over-year and will continue to do so for the future.
I hope you enjoyed this guide and found it useful in your decision-making for the Trading Online Voucher Scheme. If you have any questions about the process or would like a quote for your online project, please contact us - we love helping Irish small businesses and have been doing so for over nine years.