The Top 5 Tips For Writing A Winning Business Grant Application
In the world of small business, grants are fantastic ways to look for quick cash infusions to help you with specific goals/projects. Grant money can come from private companies or the government — federal and state agencies both have grant programs — and, unlike a loan, the money does not need to be paid back. That’s right, FREE money!
Grant writing is a year-long endeavor that can take up a lot of your time and resources, including the emotional labor of hoping and grieving as announcements are made and the cycle continues. It can often feel like the odds are against you, and you will want to quit. We say: Don’t.
There is a lot of grant money out there for small businesses, and knowing how to look for it and the best way to present your business for consideration can be difficult. While the grant world can be highly competitive, and you never know exactly what a selection team is looking for, there are a few things you can do to help your chances.
Want to know Merchant Maverick’s five tips on how to present a dynamite grant application? Keep on reading!
Table of Contents
1) Follow The Directions
It might seem simple and easy, but following the directions can be a quick way to make sure you are seen, heard, and moved on to the next round. Many times, grant money comes with some requirements on the behalf of the awardee, and the grant funder wants reassurance that the grant winner can manage the gift. If someone is missing a few key steps in the application, they may come off as flustered, rushed, or not detail-oriented — all of which can impact their chances for success.
Read all of the directions and instructions carefully. Whenever possible, have someone you know and trust read through the application, double-check the list of the required documents, and provide a quick proofread. Have that second person also check your application against the instructions. Maybe they will see something you missed!
If any instructions are unclear, it is okay to reach out and ask for clarification. In fact, it is vital to do so before you submit anything. In most cases, you will not be given the benefit of the doubt if you’ve failed to include a required element of the application. Competition for grant money is fierce; incomplete applications will simply be discarded.
2) Make Yourself Stand Out
Grants are always highly competitive. It’s free money, after all. But particularly when a grant program is targeting a key demographic of entrepreneurs, the applications can become highly repetitive for the readers. If your application is same-y, you probably won’t survive the first round of cuts.
Standing out in an application pool is about knowing how to pitch yourself and your business in a way that speaks to the grant’s purpose and gives the person(s) reading your application a way to set your business apart from the others like it. Focus on what you are doing differently as a business, on the parts of your business model that make you unique to your community. Draw attention to anything about you or your business that isn’t typical or run-of-the-mill.
Some grants want nuts and bolts and some want a more story-centered application, but all the information you provide needs to send the same message: Why is your small business the best choice to receive the money. Remember, grants are investments in a business but they are also an investment in you, the business owner. With that in mind, what differentiates you from most everyone else in the field?
Do a lot of initial research about the organization, business, or government that is funding the grant to become aware of their brand and desires. Know your audience and speak to them directly. If the organization has offered the grant in the past, is there something the winners had in common? What was different about them from the other businesses like them?
Most importantly, resist the urge to use the same copy from your small business website or copy/paste responses from other applications. Standing out is sometimes as simple as avoiding clichés and presenting your authentic self to the readers. No spin, no sales, just 100% pure business acumen and drive that shows you are ready for that money.
Here a few things you don’t want to stand out for:
- Submitting a photo with a Snapchat filter. Authenticity reigns! Those puppy ears are cute with your kid, but a fast and furious selfie should never substitute for a quality headshot. With most cell phones today, a simple picture against a plain background will do nicely; nothing fancy is needed.
- Opting out of answering the questions. It is a common tactic among high school students taking a test to skip over an essay question. It shouldn’t be considered an option when filling out grant applications. Attempt to answer every question, even if you think it doesn’t apply to you.
- Making big proofreading errors. I can tell you, even as an editor whose job it is to proofread, things slip through. An extra set of eyes always helps. A mistake here and there is common (expected, even) and not worth losing sleep over, but sending something through that hasn’t been edited is a dangerous game.
3) Be Extremely Specific About Planned Use Of Funds
If the grant issuer wants to know how you will use the funds, be as granular as possible. The more detailed your answer, the better. Hard data and numbers help. As ruthless as it may seem, even an amazing small business dream can’t succeed without an ultimate goal for profitability — good hopes and intentions are not enough. The more specific you are about your business, the better the picture you can paint for what you need and how you will use the money.
This might involve some serious thought and homework. But if a grant application asks a question, it’s better to err on the side of being overly specific versus vague. When answering a question about how the business will use the grant money, saying simply, “I plan to purchase inventory” is better than nothing, but it is lacking compared to an answer that explains a more detailed breakdown of funds.
For example, instead of saying “I will use $3,140 for inventory” you could say:
- I plan to use $45/month for 12 months for an inventory software upgrade
- $1200 will go toward the purchase of a new line of t-shirts from X supplier
- $1400 will go toward the purchase of backup stock of popular items, including X, Y, and Z.
Having a highly specific project plan is a good idea, and the project breakdown should be as accurate as possible.
4) Make Sure Your Website & Social Media Accounts Are Functional & Available
If supplemental links are asked for, it’s absolutely critical to make sure that all those links are functional, working, and available during the consideration process. If your business is a startup and doesn’t have an online presence yet, it is okay to explain where you are at with your online journey, but we suggest sending in other supplemental materials, if possible. It’s always better to have your business and yourself out there for people to see. A win or a loss may come down to a snap judgment made by the grant committee, but they can’t make a judgment if they can’t see your business and understand what it looks like/what it does.
Pictures and social media sites often provide an element of humanity to the application that essays and budget-writing cannot fully express. Make sure your social media profiles are active and attractive, and include them whenever possible.
And remember: If you provide a link to your business website and it is broken, or the page is unpublished or under construction, that’s a red flag. Sometimes it is bad timing, and sometimes it is just a typo, but grant application readers won’t go hunting for the right addresses/links — even if you did simply make a typing error.
There is no formula for grant applications because no grant committee is looking for the same thing. Rejection is hard and ubiquitous in the grant-funding world, and it’s simply not enough to say be yourself and tell your story, and everything will work out okay. No, like everything in the small business world, grant writing is a whole different aspect of business and might require a different set of skills than you employ day-to-day. That’s okay. While you may not win, you can’t go wrong if you are authentic, specific, attentive to details, and have the know-how to differentiate your business from other businesses like yours.
Good luck — and may the odds be ever in your favor.
Check out our business grant resources for more information on applying for grants, or to find specific grant programs for your demographic.