How To Apply For Small Business Grants

We compiled our top tips for success from our team who have worked on dozens of small business grant applications.

Business grants can be a double-edged sword. On the one hand it's cash in the bank to build your company but the application process can feel like you're trying to nail jelly to a tree. Can you increase your chances of success, get support from your team but only distract them a minimum amount?

Our take is that it's possible to do all three things if you write a business case comparison, a questions map, and an application plan. And if there is a suitable competition that your project fits into then you should definitely apply for what is essentially free money.

We've worked on dozens of applications so here's the plan that we've refined over the last two years. There are four parts to it:

Search ๐Ÿ”

Plan ๐Ÿ—บ๏ธ

Support ๐Ÿ’ช

Finances ๐Ÿงฎ

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1. Search ๐Ÿ”

What new business grants are available? Set reminders in your calendar to periodically search for competitions. When you find them, add the details (including link) to a Notion page or your calendar with a reminder to register interest as soon as possible.

Set reminders in your calendar or Notion to periodically search for competitions.

Capture submission deadlines as well as timezone and time of day you need to submit by. Next, let anyone know that you're going to need to involve and block out time in their calendar so they're aware of when they'll be needed.

Plan to submit in good time, no one wants that last-minute panic attack.

๐ŸŒŸ Top tip - Business grants and research grants come in various formats - academic, government, sector-specific, project-specific (such as to develop a vaccine), or private company grants to further research in fields such as blockchain. Keep in mind all these examples when searching for opportunities.

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2. Plan ๐Ÿ—บ๏ธ

When you find a business grant competition that you think you can apply for, see if you can research previously awarded companies to get an idea of the type of language used as well as the tone of the application (corporate vs. story-driven).

Your plan can be broken down into the different questions you have to answer and/or the deliverables. Planning ahead means you can work around important work deadlines and avoid a (very common) last minute rush. In addition to a grant application plan, you'll want to prepare two documents, a business case comparison and a questions map.

Business case comparison

The work involved in a business grant typically requires months or years of hard work, and diving straight into an application isn't a good approach. Consider the following exercise:

Write out a one-pager of your current business plans (roadmap or business case - however you like to do it in your organisation). This is your baseline. Now repeat the exercise but with the grant focus in mind. This typically means creating a similar roadmap but with more experimental technology or getting to market more quickly. This is your incremental innovation.

Add some basic forecasting and compare the two. How does it read? Is the impact of the incremental innovation obvious? Are costs reasonable given this impact? Stay at this level of abstraction until you're comfortable with the innovation you're proposing.

Creating a questions map

Another useful exercise, especially if you're writing as a group is to go through each question together and map out how it connects with other questions. Once you have this it makes delegation easier, and helps avoid any sudden changes in writing style.

Finally, questions can get very specific and are sometimes repeated in different ways. This happens because the application is read by multiple people so it's usually okay to repeat your answers.

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3. Support ๐Ÿ’ช

Now it's time to divide and conquer. It's great to keep one voice across similar questions e.g. technical, financial. But most applications will be too onerous for one person to tackle alone so use your plan to assign sections across the team. Create a daily check-in in and review each other's work, so you are all driving at the same point and mentioning something important in one area but then ignoring it.

Be upfront about the risks. Ignore them and the reviewer will think you're glossing over an important part of the application.

When it comes to risks be upfront. Ignore them and the reviewer will think you're glossing over an important part of the application so identify, score and list out your mitigating plans. Even if you don't have a plan to minimise that risk, at least be honest so the reviewer treats this as a well put together and considered plan.

Find out more about the reviewers too. Where you can contact ex-employees to get a feel for reviewer styles. There are specific bodies who can help with this, sometimes for free, such as the Knowledge Transfer Network in the UK. Other organisations can help with the review and can be worthwhile if you this is your first application.

Lastly, get feedback from anyone and everyone. Ask your friends, family and colleagues to all review for comprehension (remember your reviewer may not be industry experts), and basic things like grammar and spelling.

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4. Finances ๐Ÿงฎ

Get granular with your finances. Dedicate the time to calculate spend at the most granular level possible and take a bottom-up approach to your forecasts

Dedicate the time to calculate spend at the most granular level possible and take a bottom-up approach

If your project is accepted, making changes will require reviews and approvals so it's important that you plan your finances carefully. Think through all suppliers, review your monthly spend and categories to check you didn't miss anything.

Our preferred way is to start with what you spend today, check out all the spend areas and then start thinking what needs to change to achieve each milestone. Do you need new lab equipment? More team members, and therefore, more taxes?

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Conclusion

Writing good grant applications requires practice so don't be put off if you apply and get rejected or if writing feels like a dark art: you will improve with feedback. Create a lessons learned document if you don't make it, preferably right after your result. You can review this before starting your next grant application.

Be prepared for when you do succeed as that ambitious hiring plan will come around sooner than you think. Good luck!

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