Written by Lyndsey Morgan
Your may ooze with enthusiasm for the business venture of your dreams but you'll probably need some outside financial help to turn that dream into a reality. No worries. Most successful businesses started out on "found" money. Sometimes that found money comes in the form of a business loan from family, friends, or a lending institution; it comes in handy but has to be repaid. Sometimes a grant is the better way to get started; it's yours to use with no repayment required. Once the research is begun in earnest, many new business owners are amazed at how much grant money is available to start or expand a business. The first step to getting this money, though, is a little intimidating for many people and they never take advantage of the opportunity. What's that first scary step? It's preparing a business plan for writing grants that will get your needs noticed and your business financed.
The Business Plan
Writing the business plan itself can be a daunting mission but it's a necessary one. A well-written business plan is a document that describes your business in detail and in a way that a stranger who doesn't know you or your business can assess the feasibility of helping you. During the grant review process, the evaluation team will determine if they think your business has a chance for long-term survival and if it's a business they want to support.
Three Elements of a Business Plan
A winning business plan addresses three concerns common to all businesses: marketing, management, and financial. Writing a business plan is a perfect opportunity to break one big, overwhelming mission into smaller, more manageable tasks and focus on one at the time. As the research progresses and working with the data becomes more comfortable, the plan will begin to write itself.
You're absolutely wild about your idea and may even think it's a game changer. Your friends agree. Your mom thinks it's genius (but she's always thought that about you, hasn't she?) You could all be right about all that but will a stranger with money to give away agree? The stranger will want to know if the product or service can be sold to other strangers. If so, for how much, for how long, when, where, how? The marketing part of your business plan will address all these questions so the grant provider will become as enthusiastic as you are.
Enthusiasm is a great catalyst but do the people you expect to help run your business know what they're doing? Do they have experience with your product or service? Experience running a business of any kind? Your business plan will need to convince a grantor that the people behind your product are as committed as you are and that they are as bankable as your product.
Good news! You've got a good product. You've got a convincing management team. Now the person assessing your grant application is going to want to see the details - all of them - about where the money is right now, where it's expected to come from in the future, how it will be used, will the bills get paid, and will there be any money left over. Money talk is where most would-be business owners get cold feet. Don't go there. No matter what your service or product, one hundred pennies makes a dollar. Now's the time to examine all those dollars, one penny at a time. You can do this.
Research Grant Opportunities
The creative part of your business is in place and you're anxious to get started. The business plan is written and ready to be put to work. It's time now to sell your business to business grant providers who are actively looking to support businesses just like yours. The trick now is to research grant opportunities most compatible with your product, your vision, your business goals. Focus on the closest matches possible and don't give up. Apply to as many as necessary to fund your dream. Make it a routine part of your business week or month to apply to a new source of grant funding and keep the dream alive, even after your business is in operation. Just remember to keep your business plan up to date as time goes by.
Writing the Grant Proposal
Enthusiasm is contagious; spread it liberally! Once a few promising business grant opportunities are identified, it's time to get to the business of writing the grant proposal. Each grant is different and each one has some very exacting qualifications, data requests, procedures, and deadlines that must be met or satisfied to the letter. If you don't feel confident of your own writing abilities, hire or borrow someone else to do this for you. It's easy to be too close to the business so the objective view of an outsider can be a valuable tool. Remember that first impressions matter always and, when submitting a grant proposal, the first impression you'll make is on paper. Sloppy work reflects a lackadaisical attitude and can eliminate the possibility of success. The value of a professional presentation cannot be stressed enough.
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