Business grants are an enormous opportunity for any business, but they come with long application processes and fierce competition. Standing out from the crowd is difficult, but can be absolutely life changing.
Whether you’re well into your first years of trading or still at the concept stage, a good understanding of how grants work and how to get them will pay dividends.
How can you improve your odds of getting a business grant?
Much like job-hunting, the grant process varies but there are some key traits that will always serve you well.
- Be prepared. Before you even apply, you should be ready to answer anything that might be thrown at you. How sustainable is your business? What’s been your biggest downfall? Exactly who have you worked with, and why?
- Be honest. Though it’s tempting to pretend you’re more successful than you are, that could actually completely backfire – the funding body might think you’re doing too well to need help. Even worse, what if they find out you’re lying?
- Be human. It’s important to be professional, but friendliness and the ability to acknowledge your flaws are valuable, too. Most people would rather fund entrepreneurs that they connect with, even if their ideas aren’t quite as watertight.
Is your business right for the grant?
As obvious as it sounds, are you absolutely the intended audience? If you and your startup don’t completely align with the eligibility criteria, don’t waste your time by applying. It’s frustrating, but going through the entire process and then finding that you aren’t eligible is even more frustrating.
If you find that you’re twisting facts to fill out an application, it’s probably not in your best interests to pursue it.
What can the awarding body gain from funding your business?
Grants are often positioned as philanthropy, but make no mistake: they’re not charity. Think critically: what might the source be looking for in exchange for their cash?
For government bodies, it’s usually to encourage entrepreneurship and boost the economy; for companies, it might be to source a brand new idea before their competitors. When it comes to French jeweller Cartier, funding female entrepreneurs seems unusual but makes for excellent PR.
Co-working spaces and members’ clubs offer awards because they want hot new talent to be seen in their venues – and applicants who don’t win are likely to consider buying a membership.
Put simply, it’s good business sense to encourage ingenuity. If you can identify what is being sought, it will put you in a better position to show that your business is the best option.
Five ingredients for a great business grant application
Before you even begin the application process, make sure you have your ducks in a row. Five important things to consider:
A solid business plan
You’re likely sick of hearing it, but a good business plan is absolutely essential to any startup. It ensures that everyone – founders, team, investors, collaborators – is on the same page. Even more importantly, putting together a detailed business plan means that you know your business inside out and won’t be caught out in an interview.
Learn how to write a business plan here.
An exact breakdown of how you intend to use the money
There are a few reasons for this. For one, budgeting it out pound for pound shows that you are really serious about the business. Many entrepreneurs go into the process with only a vague idea of how they’d like to use the money, but in an investor’s place you would want to know exactly how your cash is being spent!
Secondly, the funding body might not be familiar with your industry or product, so giving a broad overview of specific costs is very helpful. It shows how far funding will go, so they can get the most bang for their buck.
Thirdly, it helps to show which costs might be negotiable – this is especially helpful if the money awarded varies, or if there’s an angel investor aboard. It’s not unheard of for an investor to personally fund runner-up businesses because they liked what they saw.
Your business’s history, including existing clients and press
When asked, you should be able to reel off customers, relationships with others in the sector, any media coverage – essentially, to show that you’re actively on the scene and making money. If you haven’t started making money, highlight other ways you’ve started to establish yourself.
A breakdown of the money and resources you currently have
This is another way of gauging how committed you are to your business. You might be desperate for funding, but awarding bodies want to see stability. Know how much time and money you’ve put into your business, and highlight valuable resources like equipment or expertise. It all counts.
A return on investment
Last, but by no means least, have a solid idea of how you’ll make it worth their while. Really tailor your offering to the situation; for example, if you’re a clothing label, you could list them as an official sponsor for Fashion Week. If the funding body is a venue, you could offer to run exclusive events. If the funding is a loan, rather than an investment, show that you can repay in a timely manner.
More tips for applying for business grants
- Apply early. While funding bodies will look at every timely application, it’s always good to get ahead – especially if it’s a funding pot, as it means you have a greater chance of being allocated some cash.
- Use your network – as irritating as it is, it really is who you know. Knowing somebody at the organisation or having a common link can be extremely helpful.
- Apply while your business is still new. Many grants are weighted heavily towards new companies that need a hand up, so as counterintuitive as it is, apply while you haven’t made enormous strides.
- Be persistent. The funding process can be extremely discouraging, but the truth of the matter is that there are tonnes of promising businesses and not enough grants. Don’t take rejection personally, and keep applying until you succeed!