How a grant helped my small business

Grants can deliver many positive outcomes to small businesses. Here, three recipients share their success stories.

Entering a global market

The co-founders of b.box are no strangers to the world of grants. Monique Filer and Dannielle Michaels launched their baby product business in 2007 and later received an Accelerating Commercialisation grant, as well as the Research and Development (R&D) Tax Incentive and the Export Market Development Grant (EMDG). The latter, in particular, has done wonders for the Melbourne-based business – providing more than $200,000 over five successful applications.

Distributed by the Australian Federal Government through Austrade, the EMDG helps businesses market their product or service overseas – reimbursing them for expenses such as travel, promotional activities and advertising. “It’s been one of the key resources that have enabled us to grow at the rate that we have,” Michaels explains. “It has allowed us to market the brand in our target regions and to reach more markets sooner.”

These markets include Asia, the US, South America and Europe, with b.box products now sold in 22 countries, as well as 750 stores Australia-wide. “Our plan was to be global in year three, but we had our first international deal within six months of launch,” says Michaels. “The grant encourages you to make bolder business decisions. If you’re investing $50,000 to launch your brand in France, you know you’ll get around $15,000 to $20,000 back. It enables you to make that leap, with a little bit of cushioning.”

For Michaels, the benefits of the grant far outweigh the time and effort required to submit the application. The EMDG paperwork is prepared in-house, taking around six weeks each year to complete. “It’s a detailed process,” Michaels explains. “You've got to have all the evidence to back up the application.”

Such evidence includes receipts for all export-related marketing expenses, as well as travel diaries. Businesses also need to prove that they deliver a benefit to the Australian economy.

Having completed applications over the past several years, the b.box team is now familiar with the system – though this wasn’t always the case. “I think we underestimated the enormity of the paper trail required,” says Michaels of their first application. “We're much better at collecting information as we go now, rather than getting to the end of the year and trying to remember what we did 18 months ago. We also understand the process better and what all the terminology means.”

Like anything, Michaels says you have to know the system to make it work to your greatest advantage. “That's why there are companies out there that consult to businesses and handle the application for you,” she says.

For other businesses looking to expand globally, Michaels believes the EMDG application is worth the time and investment. “Be prepared and make sure you have really good records of receipts, travel activities and meeting notes,” she suggests. “A lot of small business owners have the information in their head, but it's good to get it down the moment you do something.”

As for other grants, Michaels recommends small business owners do their research and find out what's available. “There's a whole raft of grants for small businesses,” she says. “It's important to understand which grant is right for your business at the stage you're at.”

 

Hiring expert help

Brisbane Foot Clinic started 2017 on a positive note, successfully applying for an Accelerate Small Business Grant from the Queensland Government.

The podiatry centre was one of nine businesses to receive the grant, which provides up to $10,000 (matched by the applicant) to access one-on-one mentoring or set up an advisory board. The grant’s purpose is to connect businesses with experts so they can grow – and, as a result, create more jobs for Queenslanders.

“It was such a lovely surprise,” says Leonie Robinson, who runs the clinic alongside her husband, Wayne. “We’d set ourselves some stretching growth goals for the year and we really value having some guidance to help us achieve them. The grant now covers part of the cost of our business coach.”

Leonie and Wayne Robinson of Brisbane Foot Clinic

Running a small business with only eight team members, Robinson’s main challenge when applying for the grant was finding the time to get everything done. “I did the application myself,” she explains. “It took me a solid three or four days, not working on anything else.”

Dedicating that amount of time was difficult, Robinson continues. “We don’t carry any extra resources for something like applying for a grant,” she says. “But because it was really important to us, and because of the goals we’d put in place, we felt having a coach was essential. So I made it a priority.”

The decision has paid off, with the clinic on track to achieve its goals – already logging a record income month early in the year. “It has absolutely made a difference,” says Robinson. “Having the right business coach is critical. It’s not just about developing the business, but also developing us as owners so we make better decisions.”

From her own experience applying for the grant, Robinson offers other business owners one essential tip: pay attention to details. “My attention to detail wasn’t as strong as it could have been,” she says, explaining that she had to resubmit some information that was incorrect first time around. “Read the questions and answer them as best you can. And make sure you have the right company name, ABN and other key details.”

As busy as life can be for small business owners, Robinson believes grant applications should be a priority. “When you’re in a small business, there are so many other demands from staff, suppliers, doing your own role, trying to get work-life balance… But grants are worth the time, because they can make your life easier down the track.”

Setting up shop

When Ciccone & Sons Gelateria first opened in Redfern, Sydney, its shopfront consisted of a roller shutter door. “It was literally just a slither, around two metres tall,” says Sean O'Brien, who runs the artisan gelato business alongside co-founder, Mark Megahey. “There was no other door on the property.”

Not only did the roller door diminish the store’s visual appeal, it also had a negative effect on trade, with bad weather proving an occupational hazard.

Yet the team knew what they’d signed up for. When negotiating the lease with the property owner, O'Brien and Megahey had discovered that there was an unused City of Sydney Business Improvement Grant available to refit the shopfront. The program, which provides matched funding of up to $10,000, aims to help businesses or property owners improve their shopfronts or building facades – or to undertake acoustic audits for live music venues.

“The grant meant we could stylise the front of our shop to suit our fit-out,” O'Brien explains. “Part of our lease negotiation was that the owner would pay the 50 per cent of the cost not covered by council.”

Mark Megahey and Sean O'Brien of Ciccone & Sons, their Redfern gelateria

The initial application process, completed by the property owner, was straightforward: the main requirements were a concept design and a costing estimate. Once this stage was approved, O'Brien and Megahey led the redesign project and worked alongside the council, arranging site inspections and the transfer of funds. “Removing the roller door has meant we now have a three-metre-high window as the frontage for the shop,” says O’Brien. “We can see out and people can see in, even when we’re closed. And it’s meant we can trade throughout winter, as we can still be open without exposure to the elements.”

An unexpected benefit of the program has been the relationship that’s developed between the business and local council. “Dealing with the council was really straightforward and everyone has been very supportive,” says O'Brien. “Working with council and being involved with the community is very important to us.”

With so many positive outcomes on offer, O’Brien encourages other operators to seek grants that might benefit their business. “Check them all out and make the most of them,” he suggests. “They’re there for a reason, so try to use them as much as you can.”

Tips for finding – and getting – a grant

Our three grant recipients offer advice for other small business owners:

  • Do your research and know what's on offer.
  • Understand which grant is right for your business at the stage you're at.
  • Prioritise grant applications as a vital part of your business.
  • Be organised with paperwork and record-keeping.
  • Check (and recheck) every detail of your application.

Download the E-book here

Download The business owner's guide to grants to find out about what's available, how to apply and success stories.


This advice is of a general nature. Please speak to a financial advisor or specialist for advice tailored to your individual circumstances.

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