Is the TSB website up to scratch?


Those who left it to the last minute today to file their TSB applications will have been in for a bad surprise: for a couple of hours, the site gave errors about 95% of the time, if not more. Every click on “Next” had to be repeated 20 times before it finally displayed the next page.

However, TSB themselves do advise that you should not leave submissions to the last minute. So, really, although this is definitely not desired behaviour (and I’m sure the good folks at TSB don’t like it anymore than you do), you can’t say you weren’t warned. If the errors drove you nuts, the officially GrantTree-approved brand of tranquillisers to calm down after this experience is Tranxene (we’re not getting commissions… yet!).

As for us, we had all our clients’ applications loaded up into the website for some time, so this morning, the only formality was to finalise a couple of details and submit – that can be achieved even when 95% of your clicks give an error (“Sorry, there has been an error in the website.”).

But is the website up to scratch in general?

I think it is, but at the same time there are a few weird or bothersome issues with it that, perhaps, should be corrected some time in the future. These are not major, critical issues, but they are the kind of things that can really stress people out when submitting at the last minute, particularly people who have not been through the process before (which I guess includes most applicants).

1. Field size

The character length for the answers is often a tight, snug fit, once an application has been worked on for a solid week or more. The most common length for one of our answers is between 2997 and 3000 characters, and by the time we’re ready to submit, each answer is packed with information and written extremely concisely. So it’s usually a pretty bad surprise to discover that the TSB website somehow counts characters differently.

We haven’t yet been able to figure out why this happens (there are no special characters that I can see, and the newlines are not counting as double), but it appears that a 3000 character text in, say, Google Docs, will often add up to some 3020 characters on the TSB site. 20 characters may not seem like much, but when the text is tight and ready, it can take a good 5-10 minutes to figure out where to get rid of a few words to get the text to fit.

2. XLS? Not here!

Perhaps it’s something to do with the fact that GrantTree uses the Mac version of Excel, but despite saving in the original Excel 1997-2004 format that the TSB website uses, we have yet to successfully upload the GRD finance form back into the TSB website.

Luckily, Excel can print, and Macs can print to PDF – so the solution, so far, has been uploading a PDF rendering of the spreadsheet instead. However, at the last minute, this is a pretty bad surprise. Even on a Mac, rendering that spreadsheet to PDFs takes several precious minutes.

3. Order, shmorder

If you’re serious about filing a grant application, chances are you’ll work on it outside the TSB website before pasting it in. We started by using Word for this, but in the end settled on Google Docs, because of its powerful collaboration features.

Now, if you’re going to prepare a document to work on, you want it to look exactly like what the assessors will be reading – with sections in the same order, etc. For some bizarre reason, this is not the order that the TSB site presents to the applicant.

First, the project summary (presented first on the website) is lost somewhere in the middle of the actual application as seen by assessors. This actually makes sense, since the summary is not meant to be rated, so this puts it back in a less prominent place (and, simultaneously, makes the first paragraph of the business opportunity section the single most important bit of writing in your whole application). But it’s a bit confusing the first time you go through it.

More perversely, the risks and innovation sections are swapped. So if you prepare your application “in the order in which it will be read”, and then quickly copy and paste this into the website form, there’s a good chance you might swap the two sections if you’re a bit distracted. I wonder what the thinking was behind that.

4. Undisclosed disclosure

At the end of the application, after you’ve validated it, you are presented with three more questions. Those are just formalities, but depending on the company structure they could require complicated answers. For example, any medium firm will probably have directors who own shares in other companies, and getting a full list of all their external involvement could take a day or two. If you only find out about the disclosures at the last minute (because you never clicked past “validate”, for fear of submitting the application early), this can be a very bad surprise.

It seems to us that these questions should be before the “validate” function, to reduce the surprise to people going through the application for the first time.


On the whole, though, as I said earlier, the website works. You can submit applications, with a bit of patience. So far, we have not failed to submit any application. But, for now, the website is not quite as user-friendly as one might like, so be sure to follow TSB’s advice and aim to submit a few days before the deadline, rather than in the last hour.

In any case, good luck to all the applicants in the round that just closed! And if you didn’t manage to make it in time, there’s always Tranxene!

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