If you’ve researched grants for startup or existing businesses, you know how hard they are to find. Sure, you can find incubators, accelerators, loan programs, angel investors and venture capitalists, but the vast majority of those funding options require that you give up at least some equity in your business in exchange for some financial support.
Grants don’t. They’re a no cost way to build your business in that they provide free money to invest in the people, materials, equipment or promotional tools you need to jumpstart your success.
You might think that qualifying for a grant would require a lot of work but, in fact, most grant applications are fairly simple. You typically have to answer a series of questions about your business idea, your plans for the future, who you are and how the grant is going to make a difference in the success of your venture. Take your time in telling the grant committee why yours is the best business to receive the money being offered.
Here are some specific recommendations for crafting a grant application the award committee will pay serious attention to:
Study winning grant applications
The best way to approach your grant application is to look at past winners and model your responses after theirs. That doesn’t mean copy them, but study how much space they devote to describing the business, how specific the response is with respect to customers and products and services, and how forward-looking the description is. That is, do the winners talk more about what they’ve already achieved or what they hope to in the future?
See what has worked in the past.
Many grant programs provide links to prior winners so you can do just that. Here’s one from the FedEx Small Business Grant Contest, for example. Eileen Fisher’s business grant program provides links to recent past winners, too.
Provide numbers whenever possible
Your first challenge is communicating clearly what your business does and who it serves, but your second challenge is proving that there is sufficient market demand for what you’re selling. Organizations offering grant money want to support a viable business, so do your best to show yours is thriving.
If you’re already up-and-running, you can do that by reporting things like sales figures, growth percentages or average traffic figures to your store or website. It’s easy to claim that there’s interest in your products or services, but quantifiable evidence makes your case much stronger.
And if you’re a startup, although you may not have a sales history to report, you can still cite the size of your market, the growth rate of the industry as a whole, and demographic details that support the market opportunity.
You could even do your own research by creating a survey using a tool like SurveyMonkey or run a poll in your business’s Facebook group and report the results to the grant committee.
Balancing written statements with numerical proof will make your grant application a much stronger contender for the money.
Don’t be modest
Now is the time to speak up about your personal and business accomplishments. Include mentions of any honors and awards you’ve earned, any media attention you’ve received, or other achievements that reassure the grant committee that your company is already on the path to success.
No, you don’t need to mention your high school GPA (unless you’re still in high school) or accomplishments totally unrelated to your business (like your record-breaking time running the 200-meter dash). But, assuming you have space, do include the fact that you have patents pending or are being mentored by a leader in your industry, for example.
Be clear about how you’ll use the money
After you’ve convinced the grant committee that your business is deserving of their financial support, tell them exactly how you plan to spend the money. WomensNet’s Amber Grant application has only two questions, the second one being, “Tell us what you would do with the money if awarded a grant ($2,000 and $25,000).”
Be specific. What would you invest in?
Then explain why those purchases will do the most good for your company. How is buying more raw materials the key to increasing profits? What will adding a part-time employee mean for sales? Or why is hiring an attorney the key next step for your business?
Whenever possible, emphasize how pivotal this grant will be to your company’s ultimate success. Indicate that your business has hit a plateau, or is just getting started, and that the grant money will make it possible for your enterprise to increase sales or profits exponentially.
In the excitement of filling out a grant application for your company, you may lose sight of some of the specific requirements. That’s dangerous.
Before you even start to type up your answers, read the instructions and guidelines several times. Know the rules so that you don’t break them. That means knowing:
- The deadline for submission, most importantly. Miss that and you won’t be considered.
- The maximum word count. If you’re only allowed 500 words, don’t try to reduce the font size to squeeze in 600. Your application will likely be disqualified and you’ll be out of the running.
- Do you need recommendations? If you do, you’ll want to start lining those up immediately, so you’re not scrambling last minute to find someone who will provide one.
- Do you have to submit a video? Some applications require a video statement, which can take a little time to plan out and record, when done well. That means you’ll want to think through what you’re going to say, what backdrop you want to use, and who else should be in it with you, if anyone.
- Is voting involved? Public voting is sometimes a component of some grant programs. If that’s the case, you may want to strategize how to rally your customers to vote regularly. The number of votes you receive may end up being the determining factor.
The only thing you really have control over in this process is the quality of your application. So do the best job you can, then move on to something else that will benefit your business, whether that’s exploring how to hire interns, or negotiating with suppliers about securing better payment terms, for example.
There’s so much else you can do to move your business forward, so don’t think that a grant is the single answer to your startup’s success or failure. It’s not. Nor is one grant application going to make or break you. In fact, there are several business grant programs out there for you to apply to.