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From a social worker to a consultant; Six tips for SMEs about business transformation through the economic downturn and subsidy application for business expansion

Since the retail market began to shrink, small and medium enterprises (SMEs) are facing difficulties in their business operation. Miss Dorothy Wong Hin-hau, an enterprise consultant, had been a social worker for 20 years. In the past, she was responsible for looking for financial resources for non-profit organizations. These organizations have to apply for subsidies in order to sustain their own expenditure. One year ago, Dorothy left the social work sector and began to run her own business by utilizing her expertise to assist enterprises in applying for subsidies from the government and commercial funds. She said, since the anti-extradition campaign took place in last June, there are more and more SMEs seeking help from her as their sales volumes have dropped drastically. Even though there are plenty of funds available in the market, the application procedures tend to be complicated, which are driving applicants away. Based on Dorothy’s experience, there are 6 tips which are useful for boosting the successful rate of subsidy and fund application.

Social workers are experts in offering counselling and caring services; however, owing to the government’s one-off grant policies, many non-profit organizations (NGOs) are having tight budgets, and must find ways to sustain their own expenditure. Frontline social workers are then forced to find solutions by applying for funds in order to run different campaigns and offer services. With 20 years of experience, Dorothy is an expert in this area as she is highly experienced in applying for funds and subsidies through various channels. Few years ago, she realized that many friends in the business sectors were asking her for advice. Gradually, she realized that her expertise is of great value and then she began to turn this into a business idea.

Uncertainties triggering the use of a whole new bag of tricks

In recent months of social unrest, the business environment is worsening. Lately, many SMEs are seeking help from Dorothy. The sales industry is the worst hit industry in Hong Kong. The number of enterprises making enquiries has doubled when compared to six months ago. “When I have business luncheons with the bosses of different enterprises, I can feel that they feel helpless. Some bosses suddenly have many thoughts and ideas. As they feel lost in times of financial adversity; hence, they are willing to try anything.” To help these bosses, Dorothy’s duties are to assist them in understanding their own needs and business conditions, and suggest some suitable funds for them to apply for. She is assisting these bosses in drafting fund application proposals, gathering documents and replying emails related to the fund application processes.

At present, there are many funds available to assist SMEs in developing their business. For example, the BUD Fund offered by the Hong Kong Productivity Council is suitable for enterprises which aim at expanding their businesses to mainland China or other ASEAN countries. The Technology Voucher Programme (TVP) offered by the Innovation and Technology Commission can help enterprises digitalize their businesses; meanwhile, the SME Export Marketing Fund provided by the Trade and Industry Department can give a helping hand to enterprises which are doing marketing campaigns to promote their sales. However, owing to the complicated
application procedures, many SMEs prefer spending their time on opening up business opportunities rather than applying for funds. And yet, due to the financial difficulties in recent months, more and more enterprises are willing to give a try in applying for various funds.



Clarifying the regulations; Boosting the rate of successful application

Unfortunately, even if bosses are willing to spend time to apply for funds, there is no guarantee of a successful application. “Many funding schemes have their own unique requirements. Many unsuccessful applications have reflected that the applicants have failed to provide evidence in fulfilling the respective requirements.” She said, the major reason for the failure is due to the lack of understanding about the rules and requirements in the application procedures. “We strongly recommend clients to attend our briefing sessions to understand more about the rules and scopes related to the fund application. They can get inspirations in the question-and-answer sessions. From the questions raised by other bosses, attendees can gain insights of things which they might not have considered in the past.”

Furthermore, applicants can find clues based on the composition of the evaluation committee. “From their backgrounds, famous words said by them, there are clues to understand their personal thoughts and beliefs. Besides, applicants may make reference to the previous successful cases, in order to better understand the stances and preferences held by the evaluation committee, and then they can polish their words in the proposals to boost the successful rate of fund application.” Based on the 6 hints given by Dorothy, her clients have a successful application rate of 85%.

From the social work sector to the business sector, Dorothy has turned over a new leaf in her career. However, she still remembers her original intention to help the people in need. In the past, she thought social workers should be helping people directly, but this thought had restricted her personal development. Now, she realized that running a business can also make contributions to society. At present, her duties do not only include helping SMEs to look for more subsidies, but also assist enterprises in establishing charity funds and social enterprises, bridging the gap between the business sector and the social work sector. She is glad to witness more and more sustainable projects “connecting business success with social progress”.