by Mike Mead of DigitMe, and head judge of Cartridgesave.co.uk’s 3D Print Cup
The great news is – there’s lots of help out there. You just need to invest time in finding it.
Whether you’re looking for help with research, training or mentoring, there are numerous organisations like us, funded by the Government or European bodies, which have been set up purely to increase your profitability and safeguard jobs in the region. Their ultimate aim is to generate economic growth. In the North West alone names include Regenerate Pennine Lancashire, Preston College and Business Growth Hub in Manchester.
Free support is so easy to access – once you know how – that it would be the first thing I’d look for if I were to set up on my own. Here are my top insider tips.
1. Get over the feeling that there must be a catch.
The first thing you need to do is to accept that organisations like ours have been established purely to help. Some things do come for free.
2. First point of call.
Try your local council first. Ring, don’t email, as you are likely to find your request caught in an administrative backlog. Instead put your tenacity to the test – it might take three or four calls before you can track down the right person. But once you do, you’ll untap a database of local non-for-profits in a position to provide the support you need for free.
3. Second point of call.
Attend events for your specific industry. We specialise in manufacturing and I can guarantee that at every conference or exhibition we attend, there are more stalls offering support that stalls manned by the clients we’re reaching out to.
4. Are you eligible?
Before approaching, check their websites to make sure you’re eligible. Often support organisations are industry-specific and for SMEs, which means you have to have less than 250 employees.
As a rule of thumb though there are three industries that are exempt: ‘local services’ like hairdressers, solicitors and grocers as unfortunately awarding bodies don’t feel support will generate economic growth for the region – if you help one prosper, the competition usually declines in reverse proportion; the military; and agriculture and tourism, as they have got specific funding bodies set up to help them.
5. Pick up the phone.
Once you’ve identified organisations that can help, skip the online form and call them. They are usually manned by small teams so you’re more than likely to get through to the right person almost immediately. Which in turn means you’re fast tracked through the preliminary process – all the questions about what you need and how they might be able to support – and a meeting can be set up within a week.
The problem I have with any requests submitted via our online form, is that they don’t come direct to me. Which means days and weeks could have passed before I have a chance to review them and start the initial barrage of necessary questions.
6. Understand their agenda.
At DigitMe we are driven by targets in order to secure continued funding, and therefore our jobs. So it’s our responsibility to make sure we enable you to improve your profitability – otherwise we can’t justify our existence.
We consider our service ‘honest broker advice’. We simply want to help you find a solution that delivers results. The companies that benefit the most are those that buy into the idea – they are transparent, open with what they want to achieve and provide the right brief. It needs to be a two way process and while we would never walk away from a client, a project is less likely to work if the client is scared of sharing or simply expects us to just get on with it.
The additional benefit of this means we – and all other organisations like us – will help as much as possible until a project is done. We are restricted by the hours we’re allowed to allocate but won’t leave you high and dry. Which brings me onto my next point…
Once your project is done, the agency that has helped will be able to refer you onto other organisations who can help further. We have lots of partners we work with and will assist you in buddying up with teams going forward.
Mike Mead is from DigitMe, a European Regional Development Funded organization offering free support for Northwest-based manufacturing companies. He is head judge of Cartridgesave.co.uk’s 3D Print Cup where he shares his insight on how to secure funding, grants and mentor-support for SMEs.