How to Increase Your Chances of Winning a Government Grant

by Suzanne Kearns on November 22, 2011
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Ever wonder whether you might qualify for a government grant to help grow and expand your business? If you run a nonprofit, operate in the technology or energy industries, or maintain an organization that helps small businesses find loans, increase profitability, or hire more employees, then the answer to that question could be yes. Artists, researchers, and educators are often eligible for financial support, too.

The competition for funding is fierce, so understanding the application process is crucial — and will increase your chances of winning a grant. The Intuit Small Business Blog recently talked with veteran grant writer Betsy Baker, president of YourGrantAuthority.com, and two-time recipient Randy Velker, co-owner of Simple Energy Works, about what small-business owners can do to make their proposals stand out.

Be realistic. There’s a lot of hype online about “free government money” and “endless grants” for small businesses, but, unfortunately, a lot of the information out there isn’t true. “There are programs for government money, but these are very specific and don’t fund general business expenses,” Baker says. This Small Business Administration tool will help you determine whether you’re eligible for any government funding. For a complete list of government grants, check out the Catalog of Federal Domestic Assistance. For a list of open individual grants, visit the subscription-based site Foundation Grants to Individuals.

Stay focused. “First and foremost, the organization should stay true to its mission and never try to create a program just for grant dollars,” Baker advises. “That being said, as long as the project remains within the organization’s focus, it doesn’t hurt to tweak a project so you may have a better fit within the grant funder’s requirements.” Foundation Center offers a free online tutorial to give people an idea of what the grant application process is like.

Think of your needs like a puzzle. According to Baker, there isn’t a “magic” grant that will give your business everything it needs, but you can fund different pieces of the puzzle by applying for several grants. For example, Velker adds, his company received two grants from the Tennessee Solar Institute for business development. One was for general marketing, a business plan, and website work; the other was for training key personnel.

Be thorough. Baker says you want to approach writing a grant proposal as you would planning a wedding, meaning make sure everything is perfect. Velker agrees and adds that “most grants are administered by paper pushers who want you to follow their instructions exactly — almost as if the grant application is a test to see if you can follow instructions.” These factors can certainly affect the success of your application, because, as Baker notes, “the best proposal wins.”

Be prepared. Sure, the thought of getting free money to grow your business sounds enticing, but Velker warns that receiving grant money can be a mixed blessing. The funder will impose a whole set of guidelines to ensure that you’re spending the money wisely. “Those guidelines can take significant time and manpower to accomplish,” he says. Baker adds that that’s why it’s important to ask yourself before you start the process whether you have the infrastructure in place to execute what you propose in your grant application.

Suzanne has been a full-time freelance writer for 20 years. She’s written for numerous business and financial publications such as Entrepreneur, Reason Magazine, Home Business Magazine, and Money Crashers.

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