Developing-Country Entrepreneurs: Seven Tips for Great Grants
By Donna Rosa
Developing-country entrepreneurs often tap into grant money to fund their businesses, either for startup or growth stages. Grants can be a wonderful source of funding. However, they are competitive, and it takes work to make an application stand out. I see a lot of deserving businesses get passed over because of completely avoidable mistakes. Here are some tips to get an edge.
1. Make sure you qualify This seems obvious, but entrepreneurs will often apply for grants when they meet only some of the criteria. Or they bend the guidelines in their minds to fit their business. It’s tempting to cast a wide net and apply for anything and everything that promises some cash. Don’t do that; it’s a waste of your time and the organization’s.
Carefully review each criterion and make sure you meet all of them, or you’ll get screened out. The better the alignment with the grant qualifications, the stronger your application and the better your chances. Be discerning and honest about how strong your application would be.
2. Ask yourself if you should apply You may meet the selection criteria, but that doesn’t always mean the grant is right for you and/or your business. There are other factors to consider.
For example, there may be too many strings attached. The application might be too time or resource intensive. The organization may want too much control over how the funds are spent. The reporting or screening requirements may be onerous. Make sure the time you invest in the application will be worth the funds you receive.
3. If you proceed, give it everything you’ve got Once you decide to apply for the grant, you need to go all in with your very best effort. Be sure to answer every question directly, succinctly, and thoroughly. If the form needs information in a specific format, follow the directions exactly. Don’t go off topic. The evaluation criteria are tied to the questions asked, so focus on getting them right. Excess information may or may not be considered.
4. Get help if you need it Many times grants are poorly written; they ramble, are unclear, or don’t properly answer the questions. I’ve seen some with terrible grammar and poor sentence structure, making them incomprehensible. Applications that are difficult to read or unqualified will get tossed. Try to find someone to help if you need it, or at least do some online research on writing successful grants.
5. Ditto for the pitch In many grant programs finalists are asked to do a live or video pitch or interview. The same advice goes: make it clear, succinct, answer questions directly and confidently, and keep to the time allowed. Rehearse, rehearse, and rehearse again, out loud. Make your slides attractive, professional, and easy to read. Show passion and be persuasive without being “salesy”.
6. Get feedback If you don’t win, ask if the organization will provide feedback so you can improve next time. Be genuine with your request and use the valuable information in future applications.
7. Keep at it Don’t get discouraged if you don’t get funded at first. Try different types of organizations and find the right fit. Refine your selling skills both on paper and in person. Use each grant as a learning experience and soon you’ll get good at it. Business grants are a great way to obtain vital capital because you don’t have to pay them back (like a loan) and in most cases you’re not giving away equity in your business. Put the time and effort into preparing outstanding grants and you may be well on your way to a successful enterprise.
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