More support rolls out for SMEs

  • Hon Phil Twyford
  • Hon Stuart Nash
Economic Development Small Business

More support is rolling out for small and medium enterprises (SMEs) from the COVID Response and Recovery Fund, to help them adapt and innovate to deal with the impact of the virus.

The Ministers for Economic Development and Small Business have announced a further $40 million for the Regional Business Partners (RBP) Network, on top of $15 million invested since March.

“The Regional Business Partners scheme has been hugely successful since the first COVID-related cash injection of $15m. The new support will keep up that momentum,” Mr Twyford said.

“More than 6,200 businesses have benefitted from free advice. Another 4,600 have registered to take part. Support for firms with up to 100 staff is delivered via vouchers for professional advisory services worth up to $5,000.

“Regional Business Partners connect firms to expert advice at no cost to the business. Advice covers topics like business strategy, finance and cash flow, continuity planning, HR and employment relations, digital services, marketing, and health and wellness for owners and staff.

“We now have one of the most open economies in the world but we know it remains a challenging time for businesses. We want more of them get professional advice to help grow and innovate as our economy continues to open up.

“The RBP Network has longstanding partnerships with NZTE and Callaghan Innovation. It offers a fast and localised way to get practical support to business, especially the small and medium firms that are the backbone of the economy,” Mr Twyford said.

“The funding enables the RBP Network of 1,300 registered professional service providers to deliver free business advice and training to SMEs to build their capabilities,” said Mr Nash.

“The professional support is in huge demand from our smallest businesses, those with ten or fewer staff. This is the same cohort of SMEs who have been most enthusiastic about other government support like interest-free loans and the wage subsidy.

“Around 60% of businesses who have used the RBP Network for professional support are firms with five or fewer staff. Around 80% have ten or fewer workers. There’s strong interest from manufacturing, tourism, construction, and retail businesses.

“We don’t underestimate the struggle small businesses are facing at the moment, and the pressures they are under, be they financial or mental health. This is the time to leverage personal and business networks and use local contacts to help innovate and grow.

“Our message to small businesses is that we have got your back. The best way to keep up the momentum of economic recovery, retain jobs, and adapt to COVID19 is if we all work together. The RBP Network allows the government and private sector to work in partnership to help our small firms,” Mr Nash said.

The new funding includes $37.25 million to directly fund the professional advisory services and $2.75 million to increase resourcing within the network. Eligibility criteria can be found at

Case Studies:

Two businesses who accessed professional advice through the Regional Business Partners Network. Information courtesy NZ Trade and Enterprise and Tauranga Chamber of Commerce.

  1. PracMed – First Aid Training and Equipment

As a new, small business, we had just started building some good momentum until COVID hit.  We had no income, no leads coming in and had to refund courses - it was pretty grim with a negative value for our revenue. We had no idea how or where to start to keep things rolling.  It could have been a game-ender for us, if not for our work with Phil.  Instead, we have come out of the lockdown in a strong position, we've bounced back, with many of our processes and structures far ahead of where we had planned.

Rather than focusing on the big, impossible tasks, Phil has kept our attention on 'low hanging fruits' which lead to those big tasks, and as such we've achieved a remarkable amount in a short amount of time. He stopped our wheels from spinning and our overthinking brains from getting in the way and given us tools to help us structure our days and goals into manageable tasks. He's had some mind-blowing, left-of-centre ideas which have been huge for us in gaining some key partnerships and to help direct us into avenues we hadn't considered prior.  He's encouraged us to keep expanding and focussed on the wins, so that we don't get overwhelmed with the workload, but rather get to see how far we've come.  Mostly, he is someone we trust implicitly as having our best interests at heart, which allows for fun, open conversations and honest feedback - having his experienced set of eyes externally viewing our business has been immense.

Since the lockdown ended and we've rescheduled our courses, we've sold out 3 of 8 courses, and have a waitlist for each of them - which is a first for us.  We've got strong leads coming in, but more importantly, a strong game plan to keep us on track and smashing our targets.  We've got two additional Trainers ready to go, with a further 2 in training.   We're extremely grateful for the RBP Covid Voucher and the opportunity to have worked with Phil and are extremely excited for our continued growth with him.

  1.  The General – café in Mount Maunganui

How has COVID-19 impacted your business, particularly heading into lockdown?

Going into lockdown we saw a slow decline in trade two to three weeks prior, then there was a significant decline the week prior to lockdown as we went from L2 to L4. Lockdown meant a complete cease of trading for us.

How did you hear about the Chamber’s RBP services?

I first heard about the services prior to opening The General, but like many people starting out in a new business it was head down and working from the get go.

I talked with one of the Chamber’s employees at a Groundswell breakfast last year and told her of some of the trials and tribulations I was having in business. She provided me with information at that point of all the great services the Chamber offers. I then attended an event that Priority One and the Chamber put on the week prior to the lockdown. It was a great community event where you very quickly realised everyone was in the same boat. They made it very clear they were there to assist in any way they could. I was again talking with the same employee and I knew that if there was anytime to join it was going to be now.

What kind of areas are you getting support for?

We are determined to get our business up and running so our planned work with Icehouse is looking at survival and pivoting in the short term, along with growth in long term.

We feel incredibly fortunate to have been granted the funds to have the opportunity to work with Icehouse. They have been encouraging, inspiring and have set us on a very direct course with where we need to be heading.

This coaching is exactly what we needed and will play a big role in us hitting the ground running. With every aspect of the business being thought through and the power of being accountable to someone else who has your businesses best interests at heart will drive us through this.