How to apply for government grants

Obtaining a government grant or assistance can help your business expand and innovate, but applying for one can be time consuming and complicated, particularly when you want to concentrate on day-to-day operations. Here is a step by step guide on how you can apply for a grant and what to watch out for.

Determine the best grant for your business

The first and probably most obvious step is to research grants that are appropriate for your business, and then narrow them down to a handful that you can consider applying for. Dun & Bradstreet's government grants newsletter brings you the latest in government funding and assistance each quarter, and is a good place for many business owners to start.

Another excellent resource is government websites, in particular, which has a Grants & Assistance Finder containing links to 604 grants in various industries and states. You can filter your search by those that are currently open for applications, popular grants, or newly-added grants. You can also select a topic, which ranges from business development grants that are open to most businesses, to more specific manufacturing, environmental or indigenous grants.

State government websites provide more location-specific information that can also be of use; while local councils, industry associations or lobby groups will be able to provide you with sector-specific grants. Beware of scam websites pretending to be a government agency - you can usually tell if it's a fake website if there isn't any ".gov" in the URL or if the tone of the website sounds too advertorial.

A quick tip to save yourself time and stress is to look out for the opening and closing dates of the grants you're researching - there's nothing more frustrating than narrowing your selection to four or five and finding out that applications aren't open yet or that the deadline has passed!

If you find you don't have time to spare at all but don't mind spending some money, a grant consultancy service may be the way to go. However, you should be aware that some scammers pose as convincing grant consultants in order to gain personal and financial details, and you should read up on suspicious signs from the ScamWatch  website to avoid falling into their trap. If you decide to apply for grants on your own without external assistance, keep on reading.

Analyse your eligibility

Once you have narrowed down the available grants to four or five, the next step is to determine your eligibility. You can do this at the same time you are researching grants, or save the information to review later, depending on your preference.
Ensure you read the eligibility section of each government grant in detail as this can contain multiple application restrictions.

For example, if you wish to apply for the Exceptional Circumstances Relief Payment for small businesses, don't assume that you're eligible even though you are a small business. In this case, you also need to have experienced a significant downturn as a result of a drought and must source 70 per cent or more of your income from farming activities in Exceptional Circumstances declared areas, which are listed on the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry website. Your business must also be located in a town "substantially reliant" on farm income and has a population of 10,000 or less, according to Centrelink.

Ensure you have sufficient funding

You may qualify for the grant but if you are applying for project subsidies, ensure that you can fund the remaining cost of the project not covered by the grant as they usually only cover up to 50 per cent of project costs.

To prevent a cash flow crisis later on, scope all potential expenses related to the project or new initiative and see if your business can afford to pay. If not, you may have to look for alternative sources of funding, which may be a deciding factor in whether you end up applying for the grant or not.

You should also make sure you have a good system of record-keeping, as certain grants such as the Export Market Development Grant (EMDG), require proof of expenses.

Consult others

Once you locate a grant that you qualify for, you should begin preparing your application. To increase your chances of success, talk to other business owners that have applied for similar grants - you can find them via your industry association or through a quick Google search. Ask them what difficulties they encountered and if they have any tips for a successful application.

If you don't feel comfortable discussing your grant application with others, you can also check out case studies on government websites - they will give you a general idea of their application experience. For example, the Austrade website provides those interested in the EMDG with case studies, one of which is about construction training company Silver Trowel.

The company currently delivers industry-specific training to around 1,200 local students annually, and has won multiple awards for excellence in vocational training delivery. However, it wanted to provide courses for international students and was a successful two-time applicant of the EMDG. This information can provide your business with real-life examples that may come in handy during your application.

Apply by the closing date

Many businesses assume that a grant application can be knocked over in a day, but it usually takes a lot longer than that to complete - this can range from three to four weeks if only one person is working on the application. Consider allocating a longer time so you can make your deadline or get two to three people to work on the application. This may be challenging given that small businesses have a limited number of staff, but with good time management skills this can be achieved.

In your application, consider using graphs and relevant images to illustrate certain points as they are not usually included in the word count, according to grant consultancy firm Bulletpoint. You should also highlight instances where your firm has demonstrated skills the grant is looking for, which can include commercialisation or R&D experience. The reason for this is not only compatibility - assessors want to pick a low-risk project so you need to demonstrate that you have a proven track record of successfully implementing similar projects, states Bulletpoint.

The final word...

Grants are challenging to apply for, but they can be very worthwhile - the most important thing to keep in mind is that you should only apply if it is relevant to your business. If you apply merely for the sake of it, this may affect the quality of your application.

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