If you have an idea to start a business or your business is struggling due to lack of funding, one of the best ways to get capital is to apply for business grants. These awards usually offer free money in form of grants as seed capital, in addition to mentorship and training programs. The Tony Elumelu Foundation Entrepreneurship Programme, Africa Netpreneur Prize Initiative are some examples of many other funding organizations out there. You can win from a few thousand dollars to hundreds of thousands of dollars in grant funding from these programs.
Of course like anything free, there are always a large number of people entering for these programs, which makes it highly competitive. So, how can you make your application stand out from the crowd to increase your chances of access this source of funding your business? That is what I want to share with you in this video.
You see, thousands of people win these grants every year to fund their businesses. A business I’m in partnership with has won several of these grants – in thousands of dollars. This, among other reasons, makes me believe that the process of winning is learnable. The winners are not always extraordinary people. They simply presented winning applications – and you too can do that. Before we get to it, be sure to subscribe to After School Africa for more insightful videos like this. Also, visit the link in the description for a list of business funding and grant opportunities you can apply for.
1. Be really interested in your business
I know someone who won a grant for his business, and the next thing he did with the money was to buy a car and get married. The business didn’t see the light of day. With digital media and social media platforms, these awarding organizations are more meticulous with who qualifies to receive a business grant.
If you are more interested in getting the free money than you are with turning your idea into a successful business, you want to stop right here. But if you are determined to keep working on your idea or existing business regardless of whether you win or not, then you are already among the top candidates. Here is one important thing you must note about funding organizations; they are looking to support candidates who have a clear vision of what they want and where they are going. Make sure that your business idea is so clear to you that you can explain it to a five year old. And be more passionate about your brain child than any free money.
2. Have a solid Business Plan
In one of our videos, I talked about why you don’t need a business plan to start a successful business. Many successful entrepreneurs didn’t start their business with a detailed business plan. They just started. But if you want someone to give you money to invest in your business, you have to provide a convincing document that shows you know what you are getting into.
Most business grant applications require a form of business plan from entrants. Usually, the awarding organization provides specific questions they want candidates to answer from an online form. The responses are then judged based on specific criteria. For example, for Tony Elumelu Entrepreneurship program, applications are judged based on feasibility, scalability and potential for growth of the product or service; market opportunity for the idea or business; financial understanding, leadership potential and entrepreneurial skills. In this case, you will need a solid understanding of your business or idea to create a convincing business application. Take the time to think through every aspect of your business as it relates to the questions and judging criteria. Get help from a professional if you have to. Or read up examples of business plans in your industry online.
3. Register and Start the business
Unless, the competition is specifically about ideas, you stand a better chance when you have made the effort towards moving from idea to business. As much as an idea can win you business grants, awarding organizations are more likely to select businesses that have already started. Don’t wait for huge capital before starting the business. Start from somewhere. Register your business officially. If you want to start a food processing plant, you can start with distributing farm produce from local farmers. If you want to start a logistic technology business, you can start with building the app.
This will show that you are not just randomly applying for a grant for the money. You are actually an entrepreneur interested in developing your idea and building a successful business. You also get to gain more experience about your industry while at it.
4. Be accountable
If you have started your business, you may be required to answer questions relating to your turn over, profit margin, revenue and other accounting and financial metrics. You want to be accountable and keep records of all your business activities; records of transactions, invoice, and receipts. Use these numbers generously in your application. Instead of quoting vague estimates use the actual numbers in your books. This will demonstrate financial intelligence and comprehensive knowledge of your business.
5. Optimize your digital presence
Organizations that award free money, time and resources want to maximize their investment. Although the money you receive is a grant, they want to be sure they are offering help to passionate entrepreneurs that can potentially maximize returns. No one wants to give their money to someone behind an irresponsible social media account. And if at any point, the judges are left with the option of choosing between two candidates; one has a visible online presence with a well positioned personal or business brand, while the other is nowhere to be found online; guess who will be selected? It’s an obvious answer right?
If you or your business does not yet have an online presence, get on with it. If you already have an online presence, always remember that you leave your footprint behind. The internet never forgets. You want to leave behind a professional, civil, responsible and respectful presence online.
Again, earlier on I mentioned starting something about your business to show that you are serious. If nothing, at least you can start with creating an online presence for your business. You want to create the impression that you are already working on your business. Create a website and social media accounts for your business. Upload relevant content that positively amplify your brand such as pictures, videos of events and projects, testimonials from clients etc. And when appropriate, link to your website in your application.
6. If possible, consult past winners
If you want to know what lies ahead, you ask those who have been there. Although there is no one-size-fit-all application strategy, you can still learn a thing or two or even more from a past winner of the competition. Search and connect with past winners of the program you are applying to. Ask them specific questions on their experience with the program. What you learn from them may go a long way to afford you competitive advantage.
7. Tell a Compelling story
My friend had almost a terrible experience using a library while studying in Nigeria. He got a scholarship to study in UK and had the opportunity to experience how a functional library system can enhance a student’s performance. On returning back to Nigeria, he decided to start a technology company to improve library usage in Nigerian higher institutions. His business idea has since won several awards and business grants. And his story has always played a huge advantage.
We are all captivated by a well told story. And that includes the person that will be evaluating your entry. If your business idea doesn’t have a story that compelled you start it, you’ll have a hard time convincing anyone about it.
Why did you decide to start this business? What circumstances led to your decision? Who or what inspired you to start the business? Your business idea may get you shortlisted; but it’s your story that will make you a winner.
8. Review your application
The devil is in the details. You may have done a good job to express the passion and experience that qualifies you to get a grant for your business. But a few typographical errors here and there can ruin a good application. Don’t spare any chances. Get a third party to review your application before submitting. Ask a friend with a level of experience in business to constructively criticize your application. And ask someone to proofread it.
Application for business grants open at different times of the year. You have to look out for the application timelines of the grants you qualify to apply for. Then, follow these steps as your fill your application. Once you have done all there is to do, submit your application. Then hope for the best, but prepare for the worst. If you don’t get selected, that’s fine. Don’t lose faith. You will learn a lot from the experience of applying. Continue working on your idea or business, while you wait for another wave of opportunity. See the link in the description below for list of business grant opportunities.
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