Small businesses make up almost half of all companies in the country. In addition to revenue from sales of products and services, it can be wise to pursue a revenue stream from grants.
Small business grants are the closest thing to free money you’ll find: you get a check to grow your business, and you don’t have to pay the funds back. Unlike venture capital, the grant-giving organization does not take a percentage of ownership in return for the funds.
EnrichHER’s founder, Dr. Roshawnna Novellus, has raised over $3 million in grants during her career and helped companies fundraise over $14 million. We’d like to share some tips and best practices for making winning a habit rather than the exception.
Make sure your business aligns with the grant-giving organization’s mission and values.
It sounds obvious, but many applicants blindly apply to every opportunity that comes up. Make sure you carefully read the description of the grant, and the funding organization’s “About Us” page, to ensure your business aligns with their vision and eligibility requirements.
If the grant is for businesses in the beauty industry and you have a landscaping company, you probably won’t have a high chance of winning. Conversely, don’t disqualify yourself from opportunities just because you’re on the cusp of one of the requirements or don’t reflect the exact phrasing in the description.
Women particularly tend to self-eliminate, missing out on opportunities they would have had a good chance of winning. On average, women will apply to a job when they meet 80% of the qualifications while men will apply if they meet just one requirement.
It’s important to strike a balance. Make sure you meet the eligibility criteria and align with the funding organization’s mission, but also don’t take yourself out of the race just because you aren’t a perfect match.
This also sounds obvious, but it is vital to follow directions. Many competitive applicants are disqualified simply for failing to follow application instructions. Always make sure you follow word count guidelines, page number limits, attachment limits, and the like.
Additionally, make sure you submit requested supporting documents with the file type requested. For example, if a grant opportunity requests files to be submitted as a PDF, do not submit a Word Document instead. Providing different file formats than requested may cause delays in processing your application, or cause it to be discarded altogether.
Attend Information Sessions
If the grant-giving organization offers information sessions, always attend one. The facilitators often share insider tips on practices that made past applications successful and how you can keep these principles in mind for your application.
A recording of the information sessions may be available, but it is more beneficial to attend live. Attending a session yourself provides an opportunity to ask questions specific to your situation or business.
Learn from Past Winners
Grant-giving organizations often highlight past winners on their website or social media. Some even have a page dedicated to profiles of past winners. Take some time to study them and understand how their businesses align with the funder’s mission and the grant’s goals.
Occasionally, grant-giving organizations will share excerpts of past winners’ proposals. (This is most common for government-sponsored grants, such as NEA grants.) Read through them and make note of what parts stood out to you– what was effective, which story elements were most compelling, etc. — and emulate their style in your own proposal.
Depending on how local the grant-giving organization is, sometimes you can ask past grant winners to coffee and ask for their advice. In today’s virtual world, people are much more accessible than before and open to video calls.
Address the Things You Wish People Wouldn’t Ask About
If there’s something you wish the reviewers wouldn’t ask you about– a seeming weakness in your business model, an expense that seems too high or low, etc– don’t shy away from explaining it. Use the proposal to lay to rest any concerns they have.
Review committees typically do not reach out to applicants if they don’t understand something about your application or have a question about an aspect of your business. It’s important to anticipate things that might make them raise an eyebrow.
Bonus Tip: Keep a Record of Your Proposals and Applications.
Grant proposals tend to ask the same questions, so why reinvent the wheel for each new application? Keep a copy of every response you submit.
Over time, instead of writing a new response for each grant, you’ll be able to pull from a library of pre-written responses that only require a little tweaking to customize them for new grant applications.
The Entrepreneur’s Journey
The path of an entrepreneur isn’t easy, but we hope these tips will make your journey to funding a little easier. By using these strategies in your grant applications, you can put your best foot forward and ensure the review committee understands why you’re the perfect match for their grant.
Looking for $5,000? Apply for EnrichHER’s Grant
Need money for your business? Apply for Small Business Grant funding from EnrichHER.
EnrichHER is a financial technology platform that matches revenue-generating companies led by women and founders of color to individual and institutional sources of funding. Since 2017, EnrichHER has deployed upwards of $4 million through its platform and matched business-owners to $13 million in working capital through its Accelerator. By providing capital, coaching, and connections, we are fueling the fastest-growing demographic of business owners. Our network has engaged with over 23,000 advocates through its digital community and in-person activations.