The Growth Vouchers programme is a pioneering government research project, and the largest Randomised Controlled Trial of its type, that aims to make it easier for small businesses to access expert advice to help them grow and test which types of business advice are most effective. The Behavioural Insights Team have worked with the department for Business, Innovation and Skills to develop this programme and to design its evaluation.
The Growth Vouchers programme will run until March 2015 to attract around 20,000 small businesses that do not normally use advice. Vouchers worth up to £2,000 each will be given to a majority of the small businesses who take part to help them pay for advice.
This programme will operate as a Randomised Controlled Trial (RCT), which will enable the government to obtain a robust assessment of the impact of different types of advice on participating businesses. RCTs are widely regarded as the gold standard for empirical research and are used extensively in medicine and international development. This is the first time that an RCT has been run on this scale to explore what business advice works best.
The Growth Vouchers programme will produce real and comprehensive evidence, while providing benefits for the businesses who take part. This evidence will be used to inform future policy.
How the Growth Vouchers programme will work
The Growth Vouchers programme is open to any business based in England that has been running for at least one year, has fewer than 50 employees, and has not paid for external strategic advice in the past three years.
As part of the application process, eligible businesses will complete a brief questionnaire that is designed to help assess what type of business advice might benefit them most. They can do this by completing an online assessment or meeting with an adviser. Meetings with an adviser may be carried out over the telephone but most businesses will book an appointment and arrange to meet in person.
Businesses will then receive a recommendation for advice in one of five areas:
- Raising finance and managing cash flow
- Marketing, attracting and keeping customers
- Making the most of digital technology
- Improving leadership and management skills
- Recruiting and developing staff
A majority of businesses that reach this stage will receive a voucher. This allocation will be random. This is to ensure that a wide range of businesses receive a voucher and that the impact of advice can be measured effectively.
Businesses can then redeem their vouchers on an online market place. Every business that participates in the Growth Vouchers programme will be monitored to examine their progress over the next two to three years. By monitoring their growth over this period, we hope to identify what types of advice really make a difference.
In particular, we aim to answer the following key questions:
- Do businesses that are given a Growth Voucher perform better or worse than those not given one?
- Do businesses assessed online perform better or worse than those assessed face-to-face?
- Which of the five themes of subsidised advice creates the greatest return?