Securing funding for your small or medium-sized business (SMB) can be a daunting task. There are countless grant and support programs available from every level of government – each with their own set of criteria, application processes, eligibility, and deadlines. Nestled within this treacherous landscape are Small and Medium Business (SMB) owners who lack the time, experience, and confidence required for coordinated grant development activities.
This quick guide is intended to provide an high-level guide to the funding landscape within Australia and how to best direct your resources to positively impact your funding potential. We will preface by saying that within Australia, grants primarily fund projects with clearly defined goals and that are aligned with some kind of public benefit (e.g., stimulating the economy, creating jobs, community development, etc.). So, if you are going after funding, step one is to make sure you know exactly what you want to do with it.
WHAT TO EXPEC T AND WHERE TO LOOK
This is a common area where grant and funding knowledge falls short. Lots of small businesses don’t know where to look for funding or are ‘put-off’ by the whole process. However, no need to fret, grant awards for SMBs come in an array of sizes. It’s also important to note that funding/award size is usually loosely correlated with the complexity of an application, and the overall competitiveness of the grant (i.e., more money = more complexity). No matter what amount of capital your company may be looking for, it’s important to understand the scale of awarded projects to select the appropriate funding resource:
- Small scale funding – Smaller grants (such as those offered by local governments) for small businesses often have a much more straightforward application process and are simple in their approach. Local governments may also have a dedicated SMB Co-ordinator, so be sure to contact your local council’s grants representative to find out more. Grant registries like www.business.gov.au are an excellent resource for businesses looking for funding; some even come with handy search filtering functions such as the ability to filter by location and funding type.
- Larger scale funding – Larger grants are often provided by Federal and State Government entities like the Department of Industry, Science, and Resources, or the Victorian Government. These programs often come with more complex applications requiring more time and effort to complete. Most Australian state governments also have free grants registries with lists of grants applicable to that state/territory. Resources such as the Victorian Grant Program Portal, can be a good starting point for seeking grants. Check it out at: www.vic.gov.au/grants.
WHAT TO DO NEXT
Now you know a bit about grants that are out there and how to look, but how do you go about reviewing valuable funding opportunities? As you review programs offered by these agencies, consider the following questions:
- Project scale – What is the intended scope of this program? Can you satisfy all project components?
- Collaboration requirements – are partnerships required for this project? If so, can you leverage any existing relationships?
- Total funding available – will the award size be enough to fulfill your project goals, or will you need to find additional funding sources to roll out the project in phases?
- Application burden – how many pages are required for the project description and narrative? Who will write it? Do you have enough time to effectively articulate this project to the funders?
Through this process and answering these questions, it’s likely that you’ll be able to narrow down your funding sources to a few appropriate programs. It’s important to note that there is no template for creating a grant application. Each program will have a unique and different set of questions and attachments, if applicable. Speak directly to the specific needs of your business and the application at-hand. It’s obvious to the reader if a description or a narrative was based off another program.
Almost all grant funding opportunities occur on a predictable annual cycle. This means a grant due in July 2023 will likely come around again at the same time in 2024. Reach out to the program co-ordinator to confirm if another round will be released. If so, use the months leading up to the new deadline to get a head start on your project. Start assembling partners and gathering common proposal elements so you’re ready to roll once the 2024 timing is announced.
Once it’s time to put the pen to paper and get started on your application, here’s some important notes to consider:
- Get to know the program. Read the announcement and objectives to develop a clear understanding of what the funder requires.
- Avoid unique acronyms or industry-specific language when writing your application. Your proposal may introduce grant reviewers to your industry for the first time. As a good rule-of-thumb, pretend you’re explaining your project to an educated lay-person.
- Design a specific budget and justification. A budget will tell a story all on its own. Spend time explaining the need for each expense, and make sure that these expenses are tied to your project’s goals. Be sure to check your math when it comes to budgets, as reviewers may lose confidence in your application and your company’s ability to manage large sums of money.
- Follow directions. Adhere to the submission instructions requested by the funder. If the application requires additional attachments, or even specific font size and type, be sure to not forget these! Failure to follow simple submission instructions is an easy reason for reviewers to deny your application, without even looking at the narrative you spent so long preparing!
And last, but certainly not least, don’t be deterred by grant applications and proposals. You don’t need to be an academic writer to craft a compelling and detailed project description. If you know in detail, the program you want funded, and your business, that’s all you’ll need. Once you have found an appropriate grant and completed the application, be sure to review your writing for mistakes and conciseness. Hopefully you’re able to take away a valuable tool or two to help boost your grant seeking to the next level, and we wish you all the best in your future funding endeavours!