Grants are notoriously competitive and bureaucratic. So how do you go about getting your hands on one?
How to apply for a grant
Read the criteria very carefully. Too many business owners have wasted time applying for schemes they're not actually eligible for.
You normally have an application form to fill out. Get it from the provider. You may be able to download it online or get one from your local Business Link advisor.
The form is your one shot at proving your project is in line with the grant provider's aims.
You need to give a detailed project description. Make sure it proves you meet every single one of the objectives they're looking for.
Think outside the box when describing how you meet objectives. The grant might allow you to take on two new members of staff, thus fulfilling an objective of securing jobs, but remember to mention the five existing members of your staff that it'll help you keep. That way you've secured seven jobs, not just two.
At least one objective will be focussed on your project providing an environmental, social or economic benefit. It's essential that you can prove you'll create this.
Research the awarding body to understand its aims. If you're applying to the Carbon Trust, you'll obviously want to focus much more on the environmental benefits of your project than if you were applying to the Department of Business, Innovation and Skills.
Describe the relevant experience of you and your team. Provide an in-depth work-plan, with full costings. Again, make sure these meet the scheme's criteria (and that you can manage them without overstretching your business).
You may need to hand over your business plan. Tailor it to make it most in-line with what the scheme is looking for.
Knowing how much to write and what kind of detail they're looking for is a challenge. You'd be very wise to talk to the provider about how much detail to put in and what additional documents they might like to see supporting your application (such as sales forecasts, business plan, evidence of why you need the money and so on.)
Read through everything and have a list of questions ready when you call the provider, rather than contacting the provider every time another issue comes up, so you look more organised. Keeping in touch with the provider will also get your name known and prove you really want it.
It's imperative that you're able to fulfil the targets you say you can. The grant can be withdrawn and you may have to pay it back if you don't produce the promised results.
Submitting your grant application
Go through your application with any relevant advisor you can get your hands on before submitting it. Try your local Business Link and local enterprise hub.
Send the application in early if you can. Some schemes work on a first come first served basis.
Never miss a deadline. You won't be considered.
Send the application in a way that invites feedback rather than as a completed document. Send a covering letter saying you want to apply but suspect there's some bits you've missed, or that you'd like guidance on a certain section. Providing you're polite and demonstrate how much you want it they'll help you out.
Don't expect immediate results once got the final draft of your application in. The provider could anything from a few weeks to a year to go through all the applications (make sure you ask how long this process will take before applying to ensure your project can withstand the delay). Local applications are usually processed most quickly.
You may well be asked for clarification on a couple of points or additional information before receiving a final answer.
How your application is assessed
Awarding bodies look at how significantly a project meets the criteria, particularly the need for some economic, social or environmental benefit.
All statements must be grounded in fact and reason. Pie-in-the-sky promises will be frowned on.
All information must be up-to-date.
They like to see innovation.
They bear in mind how much a business needs the grant.
Team expertise is important.
Remember most grants are highly competitive.
Ask for feedback if you get rejected.
Using a grant consultant
Using a grant consultant saves you loads of time and can help better secure your chance of winning.
They can identify schemes you're eligible for or recommend further schemes you don't know about.
Most consultants won't get involved unless the grant is at least £20,000.
They usually work on a commission basis of 10% or more, which takes a pretty significant chunk out of the money you win. Make sure you have enough in the bank to supplement this if you use one.
They will also typically only go for grants that have been around for some time, so they're familiar with the scheme.
They're best for very large grants, or when you're very pushed for time, or for very competitive schemes.
If you want to use a consultant, make sure they have significant experience working with small businesses in your sector and have had success applying for the type of scheme you're going for. Look at testimonials and track record. There are more than a few 'consultants' out there who are not far off being scam artists.
Have a consultation with them before committing to ensure you get along.
Check out the free help on offer at your local enterprise hub, from the grant provider and your local Business Link advisor before committing to using a consultant, to assess whether or not you need one.
Make sure your application:
Is for work that hasn't been started yet (this is almost always a condition of a grant) and that your project can wait until you get a 'yes' from the provider.
Is submitted within deadline.
Meets all the necessary criteria and explains how fully.
Contains up-to-date and fact-based information, not pie-in-the-sky promises.