How to apply for a business grant: Writing a Grant Application

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When writing a grant application, it is important to know exactly what funding providers are looking for in an application. Follow this guide to ensure you take all the right steps for filling out a grant application form or creating a proposal and the common mistakes to avoid.  Getting your application right and submitting it in good time will maximise your chance of successfully being awarded funding.

1) Preparing a Grant Application

Ensure project scope matches grant provider scope
As part of a feasibility study, you must first check that the project you  seek funding for matches the goals of the funding provider and the grant pot in question. Do not try to shoehorn a project that has a poor fit, otherwise your application will be rejected.

Read the grant application instructions carefully
It is important to follow the how to apply grant documentation carefully, as failure to follow instructions are one of the main reasons for funding rejection. Due to a high volume of applications for most grants, applicants that don’t do everything requested are an easy way for them to filter out poorer quality candidates. Check if the provider wants an application form that they provide or a detailed written grant proposal? Then check all of the information they want included and any additional documentation.

Check the deadline and ensure sufficient time to write grant
Most grants will have a hard deadline on which you must submit your grant application, otherwise it will not be considered. In some cases, you will get around a month to apply, but in other cases a longer window. It is always important to ensure you leave sufficient time to prepare for and write the application, as leaving it to the last-minute means it will be rushed and some important information may be omitted. Ideally careful consideration should be taken on it over a few weeks so there is a chance to check and refine.

Also, it is important to get your application in as soon as possible as the money may run out before the deadline and close early in the case of popular and highly competitive schemes.

Contact grant provider for questions
Grant providers always invite potential applicants to get in touch via email or telephone to discuss a particular grant opportunity and query their eligibility to enter. By asking questions you are unsure of, businesses can make sure they are eligible for a grant before spending time and effort on an application and also clear up any queries they are unsure about in regards to how the grant funding works and rules and procedures on how to apply.

Seek expert advice
For businesses who are inexperienced in applying for grants, there is further help on hand from third party support organisations and grant application experts who can guide a business through a specific application process. A lot of this assistance will be free, especially if you speak to a local business enterprise hub.

Avoid applying for multiple funding providers and select the right funder
For any particular project you are only eligible to accept 1 grant for it, so take care to research all funding providers who offer funding that is a match and select the best one. If you apply for multiple funding providers for the same project and you are accepted for more than one, you will have to turn down funding awards, which is seen as poor form by providers and may harm you receiving future funding from the same provider.

2) Writing your Grant Application

As there are lots of considerations for writing a grant application, there are many things that must be done to ensure the maximum chance of success and many things that must be avoided.

Part 1: Important Things to Do

Provide evidence of need for funding
Public grant funds are scarce and are reserved to encourage activity for businesses that would not normally be able to complete a project through regular financial means, such as using their normal cash reserves or getting a loan. It Is important to explain carefully your specific need to access grants and why other funding avenues have been ruled out.

Sell your project opportunity and benefits
This goes back to proving very carefully how your project goals match that of the funding provider in order to provide mutual benefit on successful execution of your project. This may be to further innovation in an underserved area in the UK or to provide wider economic benefit to your local area, such as creating jobs. Funding providers will be looking for stand-out applicants who are most likely to succeed and can provide the most benefits to the wider community and economy in line with the funding scope.

Provide a technical spec for your solution
The technical specification is a crucial part of your grant proposal as it drills-down into the outline of how your business works, how a particular problem that matches the scope of the grant funding is being met and the resulting innovative solution. Sufficient technical detail should be included to help the funding provider fully understand your business model and the proposal.

Describe your project team
Funding providers are always interested in who the key players are in terms of any proposal so they can have confidence in the expertise available to execute the project. This will either be key staff members who working on the project or in the case of applying in a funding consortium, all collaborating business partners or associates (such as researchers or universities) need to be detailed with their respective roles.

Outline key project risks
All projects come with risks and proposals with the largest amount of transparency are the ones that funding providers will consider with the most confidence. Research carefully any potential risks that a project may face during its lifetime and detail the  impact they may have on delivery and ways to mitigate these risks if they come up.

Carry out a competitor analysis
Your business will always have competitors who may also be competing for the same funding as you, or carrying out similar activities using private funding. By outlining a clear analysis of these competitors, you can then outline how your business has a competitive advantage over them and is most likely to make the project a success.

Create a cost breakdown
You will need to make it explicitly clear how much money you want to request from a grant and the detailed breakdown of the costs you want to spend the money on. It is important to make sure only money for acceptable costs is included in the breakdown. You must also include any details of match funding you plan to put into the project if only partial funding is provided by the grant. This can provide confidence to the funding provider that all costs for the project can be met.

Create a project plan and timescales
The project plan is an important part of your proposal as it goes into detail about the feasibility, planning, design, implementation and maintenance phases of your project. It also outlines the timelines for each phase and the required deliverables at from each stage. In many cases grant providers have a deadline on which projects should be completed and all project money spent, your project plan should factor this in.

Part 2: Important Things not to do

Avoid claiming funding is required to continue to operate
Most grant funding is provided for specific project costs and is not treated as survival funding where if you do not get the money then your business activities will cease. The exception to this will be crisis grants relating to major issues that halt business activities, such as Covid-19. By suggesting your business is at risk of insolvency, it is red flag to grant providers that you will actually be able to achieve the project goals at all.

Avoid focusing your proposal on your organisational needs only
By failing to address the wider goals that the funding provider wants to achieve and only focussing on what the money can do for your business, you risk alienating the provider and being rejected. Successful projects must be for mutual benefit of both the funding provider and the business awarded the funds.

Make sure proposal is realistic and achievable
Don’t be overambitious, as if the proposal seems unrealistic to be completed within the funding remit and the time available and using your business resources, then it is highly likely the project will be rejected.

Write using the correct language
Avoid overtechnical jargon, such as highly niche industry terms or acronyms. Whilst a certain amount of technical information needs including in the specification, the whole proposal needs to provide a clear narrative in plain English to a funding provider, making is easy to understand by anyone from outside of your organisation or industry bubble.

Make no assumptions that funding provider knows anything about your business
Explain your business model and proposal with the assumption that the funding provider will have no idea who you are or what it is you do within your sector. Even if you have some success in your field, it doesn’t mean that others will be familiar with your work. Missing out key information can lead to rejection.

Avoid having non-essential team members or partners
Don’t include any team members or business partners in a project who really don’t do much and are just there on ceremony, such as a senior business member who might want their name attached for the prestige or a business associate you are doing a favour for. Funding providers are only interested in highly functional members of a team who can take a project from start to success with clearly defined roles.

Request the right amount of grant money
Avoid asking for too much money or too little money for your project. If you underestimate costs then there is a chance you will run out of money before project completion. If you overestimate costs then this can be viewed as wasteful from funding providers and would be money that could be allocated to another applicant.

Outline a clear use of funds
Avoid generic unspecified funding pots in your project costings – e.g. expenses or running costs. All of your budget proposal should be earmarked carefully to allowable costs within a project scope. Generic costs raise concerns that grant funding may be allocated to ineligible costs.

3) Checking and submitting your Grant Application

Check all key documentation included
Ensure that any requested evidence of your business activities (accounts, proof of business) and key supplementary documentation, such as permission forms or legal forms are included. Missing documentation can lead to a delay in a decision or even rejection.

Check all key points included and sufficient length
Make sure that you have filled out all of the key areas in your grant proposal or application form that they have requested and in sufficient detail. Anything that is missing may decrease your chance of receiving funding.

Proof read your application and check for errors
Make sure you check carefully over the application to make sure that there are no errors, this includes spelling, punctuation and grammar and ensuring that there are no calculation errors in any of your maths, either in the technical spec, your budget or on timings in the project plan.

Get someone else to check over the application
Whilst you might think that the application is correct and complete, it is worth getting someone you trust with sufficient expertise to also carefully check over your application and give you a second opinion, so you can remove any missed errors and make tweaks based on feedback.

Make sure there are no surprises during due diligence check
It is important to explain any potential snags or queries that a funding provider might have when they carry out a due diligence check on your business and your project. By addressing any issues up front, it shows transparency of your business and also integrity. Businesses that uphold high standards are the ones that receive the most public funding, as awarding bodies do not want to risk money going to less reputable applicants.

Make sure your application is submitted on time
Do not be late. In most cases, due to the high number of applicants, anything received after a hard deadline will not be considered.

Ensure a plan to continue a project after grant funding ends
Most funding providers hope to use grant funding to kick-start a business activity and therefore expect businesses to determine a way to continue a project after grant funding has ended. Explore options to find additional funding to continue a project or allow the project to become self-sufficient and generate its own revenue.

Ask for feedback after submission
Once you have submitted a grant application, make sure to get in touch with the main director or someone senior within the funding provider and let them know you have submitted an application and that you look forward to hearing any follow-up or feedback on your proposal. If your proposal is rejected then this added engagement and feedback will help you work out where you went wrong and make refinements for future grant applications.

Do you want help writing your grant application? Click here to get the full range of expert support you need.

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