Your seven-step guide to applying for business grants

Grants, rebates, incentive schemes: there’s plenty of assistance available to small businesses in Australia. While criteria and requirements vary for each program, there are several characteristics that help successful applicants stand out from the crowd.

Here, we outline key steps to follow when applying for a business grant.

1. Check your eligibility

Before applying for a grant, applicants must ensure it’s the right fit for their business, explains Bruce Patten, Managing Director of grants consultancy, Pattens Group. “Know what the business is doing, where it's going and if there's a grant out there to help you achieve those objectives,” he says. “It’s important to match the grant to the business, rather than try to claim a grant just for the money.”

At this stage, it can also be helpful to read about businesses that have already received the grant you’re applying for. Take into account their industry, size, the project being funded and the benefits they offer the scheme. This can give you an idea of the types of activities the grant provider supports and whether you’re a suitable candidate.


2. Understand what the application is asking for

Once you've identified which grant (or grants) you're going to apply for, you need to find out what the process involves.

“Some grants require that you have an Australian Business Number (ABN) or a certain level of turnover,” Patten explains. “Others require that you offer a particular product or service. You may need to provide financial records or project plans. There could be a range of supporting documentation that’s needed, depending on the grant.”

It’s not always just information about a business that’s requested: most grant providers ask applicants to make some form of contribution to the program they’re funding. This might be dollar-for-dollar matched funds – or, in the case of schemes like the Export Market Development Grants (EMDG) and the Research and Development (R&D) Tax Incentive, businesses must spend their own money before applying for reimbursement.

Patten says business owners need to understand the criteria of each grant and make sure they have all the necessary resources before starting their application.


3. Decide whether you need professional help

Some grant application processes are notoriously complex. For this reason, there are a number of specialist consultants that help businesses prepare their submission.

“You don't try to do your own legal work and businesses generally use an external accountant and financial planner,” says Patten. “And I think grants fall into the same category. In some cases, you’re better off using someone who knows the rules and has the experience.”

That’s not to say that every grant application requires specialist help. “The Business Growth Grant, for example, which is part of the Entrepreneurs’ Programme, wouldn’t need a consultant,” says Patten. “There's a range of grants that clients can do themselves and we always recommend they do that. It comes down to the complexity of the process. A lot of the state government grants wouldn’t need a consultant, whereas the federal government grants can be competitive and require much more understanding and professionalism.”

 


4. Pitch your business in a positive light

According to Patten, applying for a grant is like asking someone to invest in your business. “You need to present the scenario to the grant provider in the best possible light,” he says.

Applicants need to understand the aim of the grant program, he adds, and promote their business accordingly. “For government grants, it's a matter of doing the application from the government’s perspective: what is the benefit to the government and the economy? You've got to look at it like the government's investing in your business.”

This is exactly how applications are assessed for the City of Melbourne Small Business Grants Program, explains Councillor Susan Riley, Chair of the Small Business, Retail and Hospitality portfolio. “The City of Melbourne is no different to any other investor considering putting its money into a business,” she says. “It has to be convinced that the risks associated with providing funding have been minimised; that the business is likely to be able to pay its bills; will be able to fund the growth of the business; and has a reasonable prospect of generating profits.”

When describing a product or service in a grant application, Patten says business owners should be careful not to sell themselves short. If they’re asked to give future income estimates, for example, they should present the best possible outcome. “Grant providers assume all applicants will give the most aggressive financial projection possible,” he says. “If you come in conservatively, it won’t help your case.”


5. Get your paperwork in order

The grant you’re applying for might ask for all kinds of information: receipts, financial records, business plans. Rather than scrambling to put everything together five minutes before the application is due, it pays (literally) to be organised ahead of time.

“Applicants often struggle with financial statements, particularly if they have not had to use or develop them before,” says Councillor Riley. “Often applicants don’t seek help or assistance in this area, leave the preparation of the financials to the last minute and submit either incomplete or inaccurate financial information.”

Providing correct data is essential, not just to help grant providers make an accurate assessment of your application, but also to avoid problems down the track. “Some schemes, such as the EMDG, are highly audited,” Patten explains. “The government has a right to check that you are complying with their requirements.”

 

Funding is available for small businesses to redesign or improve their shopfronts.


6. Pay attention to details

Once you’ve drafted your application, read through the instructions again. Make sure you’ve followed them correctly and have provided everything that is requested.

Also think about how you’ve presented the information. Does it look professional? Are spelling, grammar and punctuation correct? Perform a spell check and read your application several times to ensure it’s up to scratch.

Councillor Riley says business owners should also make sure they haven’t used any industry jargon or acronyms, which could confuse the people assessing their request. “Successful applications are often expressed simply and clearly so the assessors can easily grasp the nature of the business model,” she explains, “Use clear, jargon-free language and address the questions in a succinct and direct way.”


7. Ask someone to review the application

Patten encourages business owners to get another set of eyes on their submission – ideally someone that hasn’t been involved with the application. “Asking someone else to go through it is a very useful and valuable step,” he says. “When you’ve spent time and effort putting the application together, you might miss things that aren't there.”

Asking for input from someone outside the workplace can also be worthwhile. Just like the person who'll assess the application, they won’t have the same level of knowledge as a team member who’s involved with the business. “It is sometimes necessary to explain basic information so the reader fully understands the application,” says Patten.

Success, he continues, all boils down to providing the information asked for in an appropriate way. To achieve this, Patten suggests business owners allow themselves plenty of time to prepare their application, as a rush job will be obvious to assessors. “You only get one chance to make a first impression,” he adds.

Checklist: Applying for a grant

Before submitting your application, ask yourself these key questions:

  • Is this grant suitable for my business at its current stage?
  • Do I meet the eligibility criteria?
  • Am I able to provide matched funds or other resources, if required?
  • Have I understood the grant’s purpose and addressed this?
  • Have I followed instructions correctly?
  • Have I promoted my business in a positive light?
  • Have I provided accurate information?
  • Have I checked grammar, spelling and punctuation?
  • Have I expressed myself clearly and left out any industry jargon?
  • Has someone else reviewed the application?

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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