By Ben Cusack, Government Grant Specialist, Bulletpoint
Many companies will often lament the lack of funding in their sector, or the impossibly-strict development window they are supposed to slot into. The truth is, when an ideal grant becomes available, many applicants often make simple, crucial mistakes that prevent them from accessing funding or being invited to make a formal application.
You might be passionate, keen and have the ability to produce an avalanche of content, but this is rarely what swings the grant. Funding from the government is a business decision on their part and your project does not deserve funding, it must be earned.
Sometimes you will get unlucky with an oversupplied funding round, and sometimes you just won’t fit into the grant parameters. Either way, grants are often a large time sink, so if you’re completing one, do it well.
Here are my six key tips to writing a successful grant application:
- Lead with your technology
Almost every application that is successful has something that makes it stand out; often, an unsuccessful application will overlook or underplay some core components of the project or company the fund is explicitly looking for.
The government wants to be able to cut the ribbon and do a media release on a trailblazing company doing something different.
Start by drafting a one-page summary of your project, technology and company; then, make sure your technology and innovation are clearly outlined before diving into the detail. If you don’t highlight this in your application, you will be overshadowed by the ones that understand the fundamental importance of clearly delivering this.
Determine what the outstanding factor of your application is, then put it front and centre and base your application around it.
2 – Illustrate how strong an investment you are
The government wants to dish out funds to companies that look like they probably would have completed the work anyway. You need to set yourself up to look like a business with a track record of success, and with defined market viability that is generating tangible growth.
Your application should detail:
- The number of jobs being created the project;
- Provable forecasts of domestic sales figures;
- Estimated export sales figures;
- Innovative technology harnessed and applied in the project; and
- Relevant consortiums actively involved in the project.
The simplest gauge of this is to look at other recipients of similar grants like the Advanced Manufacturing Growth Fund and determine what aspects highlighted them as ideal investments.
3 – Draft your skeleton around the merit criteria
Many applications stray into waffling and long-winded territory; however, your application will almost definitely have a word limit and therefore a compromising word economy.
Focus on responding directly to the questions themselves. This involves:
- Separating the merit criteria and drafting dot points to each;
- Breaking questions down into fragments;
- Making liberal use of subheadings; and
- Reducing your language until it is sharp and direct.
This means using direct language—avoid nominalisations, e.g. using “facilitate” instead of “help”—and intend to hit direct targets rather than a scattershot approach that should hit most.
The merit criteria are the juggernaut of the claim, if you don’t nail them there is no appeal and little likelihood of a follow-up.
5 – Have your cash and shovel ready
Funding your own project is the surest way to swing interest in your viability as a recipient. Obviously, this is not possible for everyone; however, complex fund contributions and detailed debt repayment programs are red flags for the government. If you are expected to match funding—a 50/50 split, which is common among grants—make your contribution without caveat.
Which leads into your next greatest asset: be ready to go. You want to illustrate in your application that you have identified the staff, that you have sought permits, that you are in talks to acquire the land. List these in your application. Remember: your key focus is to de-risk this investment. Don’t wait for a response that points out the potential for development issues, bring them up in the application and evidence your forethought.
6 – Be accessible and informative
Your core purpose in this application is to inform an otherwise ignorant party. Don’t start the application by launching into your most technical and detailed inner workings, overwhelming the reader with low-level content. It is for this reason you should avoid having a Technical Manager or Operations Manager belt the entire application out themselves. You need a broader take on the project.
This is why you should have an external, non-technical person review the application. This can come in the form of someone unrelated to the project in the office, a friend, or even a parent or child. The easiest way to confirm if you have written something coherent is to have an outsider read it. Find someone who is not familiar with your business or product and have them make sense of the content.
Ben Cusack is the managing director of Bulletpoint. Bulletpoint is a consulting company that specialises in accessing government grants and the R&D tax incentive.
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