There are still a few days left to apply for the 2023 Lord Mayor’s Women in Business Grant, a huge opportunity for women in business to win their share of $250,000 to purchase vital equipment, education, training and procurement of professional services.
We know going after grant funding is competitive. For those new to the process it can feel both daunting and overwhelming, especially if you aren’t successful.
Last week, we brought together a panel of previous recipients, including Deb Bauer of Urban Metal, Vicki Saunders of Brand Builder, past judge Amanda Cole of Growth Education Institute, and lead Grant administrators, to guide applicants through the makings of a successful grant submission.
This session had a high-level focus on the Lord Mayor’s Women in Business Grant, but the techniques and practical information they shared can be applied to sharpening your overall application writing skills.
Here are the key takeaways from the session.
1. Don’t take shortcuts
Amanda, a Lord Mayor’s Business Awards and Women in Business Grant judge in 2021 and 2022, has read more than a few grant applications in her time and from her experience a clear pattern has emerged.
“Lots of people start the applications really strongly but as they tick down the list of questions you can get the general sense that they’ve run out of steam,” she said.
“I suggest you approach these awards as an opportunity to reassess your business and have a think about what you’ve achieved so far.
“Look at it as an opportunity for you to stop and look at the bigger picture, which will not only assist when it comes to answering the questions at the right level of detail, but will benefit your business regardless of the grant outcome.
“When you’re reading through a cohort of applications, you can really see the difference between someone who has put the thought in, versus someone who has just done it on the fly.”
Deb agreed, saying that the groundwork you do before you apply is just as important as anything you submit. It’s great advice from someone who was a grant winner in the inaugural Women in Business Awards.
“If you don’t already have a brand guideline, create one before you start responding to any of the application questions,” she said. “This way you know very clearly who your business is and you’ll be able to more clearly and consciously communicate what you’re asking for.
“Write from the perspective that the people reading your application know nothing about your business or industry, including avoiding the use of industry jargon and acronyms.”
Top tip: The grant only provides funds up to $5,000, however if your project goes above this limit, you can specify this in your application and provide evidence on how the remaining funds will be acquired.
2. Use the whole word limit
An unused word limit can indicate a lack of specifics, whereas trying to cut down information you deem to be incredibly important is also stifling.
From a judge’s perspective, the worst thing you can do is not include enough information.
“It is really difficult to get a clear grasp of a business if you don’t tell us the full picture,” Amanda said.
“We don’t want to read between the lines. We want you to actually tell us what you want and why your business is important in order to stand out.
“They give you a word limit for a reason. Use every single word you possibly can.”
For 2021 Women in Business Grant winner Vicki, not going over the word count was her challenge.
“I was really methodical about it and approached it in layers,” she said. “First I answered the question, then added in evidence, stories, facts and statistics, pieced it all together to tell the story and had it reviewed. Then I went back and brought it down in line with the word limit.
“This approach gave me both the freedom to include what I wanted to and the structure I needed to answer the questions, before reducing words.”
Top tip: Each question will have a text box next to it, which will give you further information about what the judges are looking for in your answer.
3. Respond to the question cues
While it may sound obvious it is vital you simply answer the question posed to you.
“I’ve seen first-hand how often people just include the information they want to put down, rather than what the question actually asks for,” Amanda said. “It doesn’t matter how amazing your answer is, it is only being judged in relation to what the question is asking for.”
Remember in school when part of answering the questions included underlining or highlighting the key words? A grant application question shouldn’t be treated any differently.
“Answer every question in detail,” she added, “Don’t assume just because you’ve written one or two sentences that you’ve answered most of the questions and that’s enough.
“This is a really competitive process, there are lots and lots of people applying and if you don’t put in the time and effort, it will show.”
Top tip: If some of the criteria for the answer aren’t applicable to your business, that is fine, just address it within your response.
4. Tell a story but also provide supporting evidence
There is a fine balance between crafting a compelling story that can be backed up by specifics.
“We want to see the data, facts and numbers, don’t leave that stuff out,” Amanda said, “It may sound good to use sweeping statements that make for a good story, but we want to know your business, your numbers and how you’re actually going to build a sustainable business using the grant money.
“If you’re talking about your strategic plan and you don’t have one, that’s fine, acknowledge it and still use some language to show you understand the influence the money will have on your company.”
For Deb, it wasn’t just about telling the story of her business, but also the story of Brisbane.
“Yes, you need to specifically say what you’re going to use the money for and how it is going to benefit you as a business, but from a broader perspective, how does it benefit the city of Brisbane as well?” she said.
“I can guarantee that there is a ripple effect through your customers to have a positive economic impact in the city. More than just helping your community, employing people and building a sustainable business.
“Go that little bit further. Find industry data and say this is the current statistic and with the grant money funding my project, the impact on this statistic will be ‘xyz’.”
You also need to make sure that the story aligns with the project you want to fund.
“A few people last year put quotes in their application that had no relevance to the story they told in their grant submission,” Amanda said.
“You can read this great presentation and then you get to the documents attached and they are asking for something radically different.
“You need to be consistent across your entire application, including all supporting documentation.”
Top tip: Have all the required attachments. If you don’t, you’re ineligible and will be immediately ruled out.
5. Phone a friend
No one is closer to your business than you are, but that also means you’re likely to be wearing rose-coloured glasses. And all presenters agreed that an outside opinion is incredibly valuable.
“Get somebody outside of your business to proofread your application before you send it in,” Vicki said. “You need to ensure that it makes sense to a third party because if it doesn’t, then it probably won’t make sense to the judges either.”
Amanda agreed and extended on Vicki’s point by encouraging this process to happen more than an hour out from the deadline.
“If you can, it is important to give yourself some space between completing your application and submitting it,” she said. “When you’re in the throes of the writing process, it can be easy to miss things.
“Don’t underestimate the power that some time can give you to clear your head, refine your work and take on board feedback from others, when you’re not so close to it.”
Top tip: Ask for feedback if you aren’t successful, but also if you are successful.
6. Don’t forget to inject personality
Boring doesn’t stand out.
“For many women in business, $5,000 gives us the chance to dream,” Vicki said. “It lets you really explore your opportunities and think about creating something that you’ve not been able to.
“Keep this aspirational energy to use in your writing. It should be a guiding light for everything.”
Amanda added: “There is nothing worse than reading through an application that sounds like it’s been written using ChatGPT.
“That’s not to say that you can’t use ChatGPT to help you start with a draft, but make sure you don’t forget to represent your brand voice in your answers before you submit.”
Top tip: Rather than looking at it from a perspective of what you would like to spend the money on, look at it from the perspective of where are my weaknesses?