Government offers $18 million in grants in digital overhaul of Small Business Advisory Service

Michael McCormack

Small Business Minister Michael McCormack. Source: AAP Image/Andrew Taylor

The federal government is changing up a national small business advisory grants program to help get more Australian companies up to scratch on digital strategies, with $18 million on offer over the next three years for advisers to help SMEs boost their knowledge about online sales, cybersecurity and digital marketing.

Small Business Minister Michael McCormack announced an overhaul of the Australian Small Business Advisory Service (ASBAS) program on Wednesday, committing the grant funding to operators in the business advisory space that run programs to help small businesses in their community get up to date on the digital skills that are now considered key to succeeding in a global trading environment.

The previous round of ASBAS funding was available to advisory service firms to deliver general services to small businesses, such as courses in management capabilities or the process of building a business. The next three years of funding will focus solely on projects that will increase the digital skills of local companies.

“Repositioning ASBAS will give small businesses the confidence and advice they need to seize the opportunities arising from the evolving digital environment, benefiting the economy and employment opportunities,” McCormack said in a statement.

The repositioning of the program, which has been a key part of the Coalition’s small business strategy and runs in three-year grant blocks, comes in the same year that Australia fell in the World Economic Forum’s digital rankings, with research from Ernst & Young indicating that consumer preferences for digital-first services are not matching up with the offering from local businesses.

The ASBAS program will also focus on providing low-cost digital training to regional businesses, with McCormack promising to “ensure regional small businesses have the same opportunities as their city cousins”.

The low-cost focus is a priority in an age where small businesses understand the importance of tools like a social media strategy, but rarely have big resources to put behind it. The 2017 Social Media report from Sensis revealed in June that social media spends are dropping across Australia, with one quarter of small businesses allocating no budget at all to social media training or execution.

Cash on offer for guidance to SMEs

The funding over the next three years will be split across three Australian “regions”.

There will be $6.09 million in funding available across New South Wales and the Australian Capital Territory; $5.56 million for projects in Queensland, the Northern Territory and Western Australia; and $6.25 million in South Australia, Victoria and Tasmania.

Eligible advisory providers must be incorporated entities trading in Australia and be able to prove their ideas and offering will tangibly increase the digital skills of small businesses in the relevant area.

For these providers, the aim is to provide smaller operators in their area with low-cost education services across four main categories: websites and selling online; social media and digital marketing; using small business software; and online and data security.

The application guidelines inform applicants they must also meet three key criterion when applying, including demonstrating how small businesses will find out about your services; showing a track record of completing similar projects and training initiatives; and providing a detailed outline of running costs.

The grant amount will be communicated to successful applicants when a grant offer is given, according to the government’s guidelines.

Applications for the overhauled program will open in late January 2018. Read the full guidelines here.

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