This grant blog addresses the following topics:
- Shrinking the grant learning curve
- Addressing the “grant commission” issue
- Maximizing your return
In my experience, most entrepreneurs have very little experience and knowledge of government grants.
They have been so busy building their businesses, the thought of applying for a grant either didn’t occur to them or didn’t seem worth the effort.
Given that governments are making more and more announcements about grants available for businesses, more entrepreneurs are giving grants a look.
Unfortunately not much information exists about the grant world. This blog attempts to address this gap.
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Without a proper plan or information, grants can be an incredibly painful endeavour. To be honest, they can even be painful when you know what you are doing. Starting from scratch can seem overwhelming.
I recently heard one person say that “government grant money can be the most expensive money you can get.”
To help you save money and make smarter grant decisions, here are a few things every entrepreneur should consider before engaging in the grant process:
1. Learning curves.
In my experience, most small and medium businesses do not have an in-house grant writer. As a business owner, here are the questions you need to ask yourself BEFORE you apply:
- If I try to write the grant myself, how much is the learning curve going to cost me?
- How many hours is writing this grant going to take?
- How much will I pay to teach someone to prepare the grant application?
- How much will it cost me to start a grant and eventually NOT submit it?”
Remember there are over 400 grants (and counting) at play out there for Alberta businesses and organizations. If you go looking for the grants yourself, and your grant is number 352, how much has that cost you?
2. The process
Let’s say you have found your grant. What next? Most people don’t even know this step exists, but here is the secret: meet the grant agency. Call, email, or invite them to your office – you need to ensure that you and the grant are a great fit.
That meeting is critical to your success. You need to make sure you win that meeting or your chance of success is deeply diminished.
3. Get grant writing quotes
Now that you have found your grant and met the grant agency, you need to consider doing it yourself or outsourcing.
Since few people write grants for a living, but anyone can pick up a pen and try it, you need to be smart. Get a few quotes before you begin to write and follow the points below.
Be careful of the “do it only for a commission.” Because this topic comes up in nearly every grant discussion, I want to discuss it in five ways.
First, you need to know that nearly every grant guide that I’ve read FORBIDS grant writing as an eligible expense. The money needs to come out of the entrepreneur’s pocket.
Second, watch the law. If the writer is lobbying for your organization (i.e. speaking to bureaucrats), federally the Lobbyist Act states that you “shall not receive any payment that is in whole or in part contingent on the outcome.”
Provincially lobbyists can base their fees contingent on the degree of success in their lobbying, but they must disclose that on their lobbyist registration form, which reads “[i]s the payment to the consultant lobbyist, in whole or in part, contingent on the degree of success in lobbying?”
Third, the other major problem with 100% contingency is that you’ll RARELY get your grant submitted. The length of time and work involved for submitting an excellent grant application can (in some cases) be measured in months not weeks.
Fourth, if you want to win a $50,000 grant, I recommend finding a trusted writer and pay some type of upfront fee. Otherwise your “free” writer will soon need to eat, and will disappear for billable work.
Finally, if you decide to write the grant in-house and lack experience, you should at least get some grant coaching or the cost to your company can be significant (see point 1).
Most people feel comfortable asking for references when they are hiring an employee, and you should also ask for them when hiring a grant writer. You should receive three references from a grant writer before engaging them.
Once you receive the references, you should call the referees and ask about their experience with the grant process. They will have a lot of wisdom and experience to share, and can tell you about the pros and cons of working with various grant writers.
6. Pick up the phone
Speak to people who have gone through the process. Before you engage in any grant endeavour, one of the best things you can do is speak to a company that won a grant. You can find businesses like this at Rotary Club meetings, Chamber of Commerce events, or through your network. You can even visit a grant agency website and look up “success stories.” Pick up the phone and talk to the winner. They will give you an enormous amount of wisdom.
7. Grant traps.
With many applications for limited resources, grant agencies have little patience for companies that are not eligible. They will disqualify or dismiss you quickly if you don’t check all the right boxes. You need to pay attention to the details.
8. Big Returns
If done properly, the ROI for a grant is unmatched. If you qualify for grants, and you spend the appropriate amount of time up front doing your due diligence, you can reap a huge return. Imagine entering a new market at half the cost of your competition? Imagine investing in training at 1/3 the actual cost? Imagine hiring an employee and getting half the wages covered for months? That is what a grant can do for your business.