Small business grants are out there, but doubt, intimidation, and busy schedules can make it difficult to move forward with the application process.
That’s why Hello Alice Director of Grants Administration Jenee Fortier and Manager of Engagement and Social Media Danielle Telleria hosted a recent workshop with small business owners. In conversation with nearly 1,000 entrepreneurs, we shared tips on telling your story, what reviewers are looking for, and other strategies to help you put together a successful grant application.
Below, we’ve included the full recording of the session and go over the biggest takeaways of the presentation.
Step One: Believe in Yourself
To kick off the workshop, Jenee recognized that the funding process can be intimidating. But with the right tools and the right mindset, anyone can submit a successful grant application.
“Writing a grant application can be absolutely overwhelming, but so is starting a business,” Jenee said.
As proof of what’s possible, she pointed to the more than 3,000 small business owners who’ve received Hello Alice grants to date. Thousands and thousands of other owners have been funded by other organizations.
If you’re interested in securing a grant for your business, Jenee said that success boils down to preparing yourself and getting your application organized.
Questions to Prepare Yourself
One of the most common things we hear from small business owners is that the grant process is too complicated. But there are some simple, concrete steps you can take to easily evaluate whether a grant application is a good fit.
First, you need to set aside 15 or 20 minutes to read the grant brief in full. This is an overview that tells you about the grant program, who is eligible, and any criteria the judges are looking for in applicants. If you don’t meet the eligibility criteria, that’s OK! You only spent a few minutes reading the brief, and you can save your energy for the next opportunity.
But if you do qualify, it’s time to go a level deeper. Is there mission alignment? Remember, just because you are eligible does not mean it’s always a good idea to apply. Do you believe in what the granting organization stands for, and do they believe in what you stand for?
Next, you need to verify that the payment model works with your business plan. For example, many government grants work on a reimbursement model where you provide a service or product and get paid after the fact. If you don’t have the cash flow to support that, the opportunity is probably not a good fit. Other organizations might portion out the grant over a series of payments, meaning that you only get a small amount at a time. And of course, some grants are one-time payments where you get the whole amount at once (this is how Hello Alice operates). Each model has its place — but before you spend time on an application, verify the payment schedule can support your goals!
Finally, what are the reporting requirements? While Hello Alice grants do not typically carry this requirement, other organizations ask for monthly or quarterly reports on your finances or other data. This can be a hidden cost, and you’ll need to budget for the time and effort required to monitor and report this information.
If you get to this point and still feel like the grant is a promising opportunity, you should definitely move forward with the application.
Let’s Get Organized
Every grant application is unique, but there are some common elements that you’ll see again and again. Jenee recommended that you keep a folder of common documents that will come in handy as you craft your application.
First, gather documents that flesh out your narrative. Mission, vision, and value statements are key elements to store here. These help you craft your elevator pitch, evaluate mission alignment, and save time as you apply.
You should also gather any data that demonstrates your knowledge of your business and/or customers. Quite simply, numbers wow people. If you’re able to provide data on your company’s impact or the need for your product, that will be a powerful asset for your grant application.
A lot of grants will also ask you to submit a budget along with your proposal. You may or may not have this document ready, but there’s no need to reinvent the wheel. If you need a budget template, Jenee recommends using SF-424A — a standard budget form developed by the federal government. This document is a useful and intuitive template that works for a variety of funding applications. You can download SF-424A from grants.gov.
Staff members are a huge part of how you will achieve your goals. It’s helpful to keep a folder of resumes and/or bios of key staff to help funders understand the experience of your team and how they will help you achieve your goals.
Put It All Together
With the information from these documents, you should be able to craft a clear narrative for why you need the grant and how the funding will help you achieve that goal.
You can use reverse logic to figure out the main idea of your proposal. What are your business goals? What specific activities do you need to accomplish to reach those goals? And what resources do you need to accomplish those activities? Your answers to those questions will be the heart of your grant application!
Here’s a short example: You need $10,000 to purchase a machine to ramp up production of your most popular product by a certain date to reach your holiday sales goal.
This statement provides a clear understanding of why you need this money to accomplish your business goal, which is exactly what funders are looking for!
Yes, it takes time and effort to apply for grant funding, but anyone can craft a successful application if they are organized and prepared. Jenee pointed out that even if you’re not selected, it’s probably worth your time to apply — the reflection and hard work you put into this process can pay off in your company’s marketing, sales, and strategic planning efforts.
Finally, Jenee dispelled the myth that you don’t have a chance at receiving the grant. As she pointed out, “You have a better chance than the thousands of people who didn’t apply!”
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.