Applying for grants can be daunting, but any owner can submit a winning application for their business with the right approach.
Just ask Marsha Stephanson. The entrepreneur started applying for grants during COVID to help keep up with the supply and demand for her postpartum care package company, Cater to Mom. More than a year later, Stephanson has been awarded several small business grants and was recently named a $10,000 recipient of the 2021 Stacy’s Rise Project via Hello Alice.
To help others follow in her path, we spoke to Stephanson to discuss her top tips for submitting a strong grant application and getting the funds to grow your small business.
1) Check the Eligibility Requirements
Before beginning the application process, Stephanson says to always check the requirements to make sure that you’re eligible. The requirements for most grant programs can be found in their terms and conditions or official rules. For the Stacy’s Rise Project, the requirements are found in Section 2 of the terms and conditions.
And if you’re not qualified for a grant, don’t fret — there will be more grant opportunities to come.
“Sometimes, a grant that you may apply for may not be fit for you. It may not be the best fit for your business,” she says. “I would recommend never giving up and continuing to the next grant and apply for it.”
2) Prepare Your Answers
When you’re ready to get started, scan the application to determine what information they’re asking for. This will help get organized and gather any supporting documentation.
“Once I look at the requirements, that’s where I map out potential questions. I put together an outline for myself,” says Stephanson.
This allows you to think through your responses and provide answers that are thorough and thoughtful. For example, the Stacy’s Rise Project application included questions such as your business structure and annual gross revenue, as well narrative questions about your personal motto and how your business supports your community.
3) Explain How You’ll Use the Grant
“Most grants want to know your story, what are your plans for that particular grant, and how would you spend it,” explains Stephanson.
Your proposed use of funds is often a judging criterion that grantors, or the people reviewing your application, will use to score your application. You can find the judging criteria for most grant programs in their terms and conditions. (Stacy’s Rise Project laid out its judging criteria in Section 7 of the terms and conditions.) Use the judging criteria as a guide to inform your responses.
And when writing your proposed use of the grant, Stephanson recommends identifying the specific areas of your business that need support.
“I recommend looking into the overall aspect of your business and see where the actual need is, so when you’re applying for that grant, you know that this funding would help in this area of your business, whether it’s inventory, marketing, or scaling and growing your business,” she says. “Definitely know where it is that you need that funding.”
4) Tell Your Story
Many grant applications will have personal narrative questions where you can share more about your business and why you do what you do.
“I always refer back to my story and my ‘why’ for starting my business,” says Stephanson. “Just put it out there and say, ‘This is why I started my business. This is why I think it’s so important that other people need to know what I’m doing and how I’m able to help people.’”
Review the judging criteria in the grant program’s terms and conditions to help identify the parts of your story to highlight. For example, one of the criteria that the grantors looked for in the Stacy’s Rise Project applications was “thoughtful responses” to questions. So take the opportunity to use the personal narrative questions to share your story.
Also, don’t be afraid to be vulnerable in your application — your passion for your business will shine through to grantors and make your application memorable.
“The way you convey your message is important because for somebody that’s reading it, they don’t see that side like you really care about your business and what you’re doing,” says Stephanson.
[Hello Alice Guide: Embed Purpose Into Your Business]
5) Keep Applying, Even if You Were Rejected in the Past
If you get rejected for one small business grant, it doesn’t mean you’ll get rejected for other opportunities.
“I’ve applied for grants and have been rejected. It was like, ‘Okay, at the end of the day, you know your business, and you know that you’re doing something meaningful.’ So continue to do what you do best, and when the next grant comes up, apply for it,” says Stephanson. “Never give up because you got rejected.”
Filling out grant applications can be costly on your time, energy, and effort, but it’s almost always worth it to apply. Don’t let rejections stop you from seeking funding opportunities — continue looking for grants that are a good fit for your business.
6) Don’t Be Afraid to Hit Submit!
The grant application can be an intimidating process, but Stephanson says not to let fear get in the way of funding opportunities for your business.
“A lot of small businesses are looking at these grants that are out there, and some of them question like, ‘Oh, maybe I’m not qualified for it.’ But you just never know,” she says. “I’ve always told people it doesn’t hurt to apply. It’ll either be a yes or no — just go for it and believe that you know your business is doing something to support and help people. If you believe in your business, other people believe in it as well.”
Have Grants Questions?
Post in the Small Business Grants Forum on Hello Alice today to connect with other small business owners sharing the same experiences and ask any grants-related questions. Our experts will be chiming in with tips, advice, and updates on new opportunities.