Where to start?
Access to grants can be a cumbersome process. Often plenty of paperwork and time. Though if you look at from the other side of the fence, how do you make sure funding goes to viable businesses?
There has to be a certain amount of due diligence and fairness, to what is in effect giving away taxpayers money. With that being said, less red tape and more transparency can only be a good thing for businesses to get a fair chance.
While we await a reform of grant funding in the UK, what can you do now? Firstly, based on your county or city, register for funding alerts. Some counties are better than others for having alerts but some will publish UK wide initiatives as well as local ones. So you can register with another county if you get better information. Never let your location put you off accessing business information.
Below are just a few links as examples:
London is actually a hard place to find grants, but don't rule out East London as that often falls under Essex county and their alerts are for all new Grants in the UK as well as Essex:)
Speak to Government representatives
You may not agree with their politics or have voted for them, but your local MP has a duty to help you, their constituents. So don't be afraid to arrange a meeting with them to discuss funding and supports. The same applies to local council representatives.
Outside of England - Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland have their own devolved enterprise support structures:
Applying for grants
Step 1 - be clear on the terms of the grant
There are two main types of grant structures - Match funding and lump-sum. Match funding can often catch people out. In effect, if you need £10k to invest in new equipment some grants require you to match the funding they will provide. In the example of £10k, you may need to need to raise £5k first and then they will match this amount. Though, some match funding can be on a sliding scale, for example, a 20/80 split.
Also note, not all grant funding is 100% cash, some funding is restricted to being spent on specific consulting services from universities or institutions that may not be the right fit. Or, includes services in kind e.g. office space.
Therefore, make sure you are able to manage with the terms of that grant.
Step 2 - Application form
May sound simplistic but follow the forms. Some questions may seem silly, but work through the answers and don't throw in details not asked for. It can be daunting at first but change your mindset to see the positives. It gives you an opportunity to step back and really think about your business strategy.
Businesses that survive long term, invested the time in their early years with clear and concise planning and structure (and dare I say discipline).
Set aside 30 mins a day to work on the application form. By doing in bite-sized chunks you will feel less overwhelmed. Most open grant calls have several months before closing, so you can fit in with your day to day and use the opportunity to kill two birds with one stone - strategic planning & fundraising. Plus, once you have done one application you will find you can reproduce future forms with similar answers.
For scientific and complexed grants there are professional grant writers who can provide a service for a fee. Do speak to your local Enterprise office for support, in case there are some courses or people they can recommend.
Step 3 dealing with rejection
It can be competitive, especially around the Arts sector, but if you do get refused the first time ask for feedback. You may not have highlighted your unique selling point or demonstrated prudent financial management. Therefore, use that feedback for future applications and help to improve your business.
Step 4 - Spend wisely
You may not get the full amount you applied for or you might get more than expected, either way, resist the temptation to splurge. Stick to your budget and look to set milestones to reward staff and yourself when the investment of the funding returns a profit.
Are no suitable grants available?
There can be a number of influences on grants. Seasonality and the political climate can be problematic. As mentioned above try to register for alerts. Why not follow your local enterprise office over social media etc. While waiting for grants and award opportunities there is no harm doing some preparation.
1. Always have a version of your business plan to hand. Invest 30mins a month on updating. This is often a core requirement for grants or the details used to populate a form. Bullet points are fine.
2. Document basic company processes. Such as a GDPR policy, Staff handbook, IT policies, health & safety guides etc. Again these are often requested as part of the grant process.
3. Research and development - a much-forgotten form of financing. If you have spent and invested a large amount of time on R&D have you documented and applied for your tax credits? For some grants, you can use resent R&D as part of your match funding requirements. If you don't have those details you could be missing out.
There are huge regional variations and that is something you should be raising with your local MP and council. In saying that there is a lot more out there than you think. EU funding will not disappear overnight and there are already plans to reform the grant process. This cannot come soon enough but in the mean-time speak to your local Enterprise office.
Be proactive in having good company documentation in order to be ready to apply when a suitable grant becomes available.
Finally, approach any application with a positive attitude. May seam new-age mumbo jumbo, but if you apply with the mindset it won't be accepted, there is a high chance this will come across in the application. Be proud of your business and highlight your achievements and potential to create more economic value for your area/region.