With more than 600 grants available to businesses in Australia, it's well worth considering your options and assessing if a grant is a viable funding strategy for your business.
Here are five things to consider before you apply.
1. Start early
Business advisors suggest it can take more than 40 hours to prepare a grant application. It is suggested starting at least six months ahead of the grant deadline to get your records organised, including having a business plan and adequate financial projections, as well as having your funds organised if required for a matching grant.
Support can be obtained from your accountant and lawyer, while professional grant advisors can provide specific assistance (and often claim higher success rates). The first port of call, however, should be the government agency providing the grant, as well as relevant industry associations.
2. Write to the criteria
As anyone who has applied for a public service job will attest, the selection criteria are all-important. If the grant provides funds for businesses exporting to Asia and you only export to New Zealand, it is time to start doing some research on Asian markets.
Most grant applications require: a description of your business and a business plan; a detailed project description and plan on how you will use the money; and details of your experience and skills, including key staff. Each answer in an application is scored accordingly, so stick to the point and get the facts across concisely. Help establish your credibility by including supporting statements from high-ranking business or government allies, as well as customer endorsements.
3. Location, location, location
A range of business grants provided by local and state governments are only available to businesses registered in their specific jurisdiction, such as the Geelong Advancement Fund for Geelong businesses, or the Innovate NSW grants for technology-based SMEs in the state. Fortunately, the larger grant schemes such as Austrade's Export Market Development Grant (EMDG) or Commercialisation Australia are national schemes that can be accessed by businesses operating anywhere from Darwin to Perth.
4. Size does matter
With some notable exceptions, grants tend to be aimed at small to medium-sized businesses rather than larger corporations. For example, in the case of EMDG grants, applicants must have income below $50 million in the grant year, while AusIndustry's R&D Tax Incentive offers a higher rate of assistance to businesses with annual turnover below $20 million.
5. Dealing with failure
Applications for government grants typically far exceed the available funding, making the quality of your submission vitally important. Help avoid failure by reviewing this checklist beforehand:
Have you met the eligibility criteria?
Have you satisfied the program's objectives?
Have you used the right forms for the application?
Are your statements backed by supporting material?
Is your application easy to understand and well written?
Have you considered the impact of the grant on the broader community or industry?
Have you stressed the importance of the grant to your success?
Is there a clear link between the grant and the desired outcome?
Have you proven you need the funds?
If after satisfying this checklist you are not successful, it is important to seek feedback as you might be able to reapply the following year. For the lucky winners, grant recipients are usually required to provide follow-up reporting on use of the funds and key milestones.
Qualifying for a government business grant may not be easy, but the potential reward of some invaluable training or financial assistance cannot be underrated in your future business success.
This article represents the views of the author only and not those of American Express.
Anthony is a communication consultant at BWH Communication and a freelance writer with 15 years' experience in the stockbroking and media industries of Australia and Asia. He is a regular writer on business and other issues for publications in Australia and Japan. He consults on communication strategy to businesses ranging from private enterprises to professional service firms and publicly listed companies, with a particular interest in entrepreneurship in all its forms.