How to apply for (and win) a government grant


Since the start of the COVID emergency, both state and federal governments have been offering a large number of grants for small business operators, e.g. $10,000 grants from the Qld, Vic and NSW governments.

Many cafe and restaurant owners have been successful with their applications, and there are likely to be more grants offered over the next 12 months. You can find government grants that may be relevant here: Commonwealth Government, and for all States. Also check what’s available from your local council – there may be grants or fee relief. Subscribe to their newsletter and watch for opportunities.

Applying for grants is a new and valuable skill for many business owners.

Here are some tips and guidelines to make your next one successful:

  • Check your business is eligible, read the guidelines thoroughly and follow them strictly.
  • Check what attachments are required, and make sure you have them or can get them. If you're not sure you're eligible, contact the funding body to ask.
  • Be ready to move quickly - governments usually have a limited amount of money available, and applications are typically treated in the order of receipt. e.g. the recent Qld government COVID-19 Adaption Grant Program opened on Thursday 21st May and was 'sold out' by the following Monday.
  • Write a catchy heading and summary - think of this as the cover letter for a job application. The letter gets you the interview, then the interview gets you the job.
  • Keep your bookwork up-to-date - some grants or concession programmes want evidence that you've had a decline in business since the COVID crisis started. If you're accounts are current, you can produce reports at the click of a button and attach them to justify your eligibility.
  • Have your 'business story' ready - when you started, what you sell and your growth and any significant achievements. Plus how many staff you employ and who the key staff are.
  • Address the grant's intentions - for example, if the information says a grant is 'to support business sustainability and diversification', make sure you talk about how you will specifically meet those two points. This could mean new equipment for producing faster takeaway food, transparent guards for food display, or the setup costs of an online food delivery system.

A good application clearly states:

  • Who will benefit?
  • What is going to happen?
  • When is it going to happen?
  • Why does it need to happen?
  • How is it going to happen, and how much will it cost?

Write for your audience - assume the assessors don't know your industry.

Make it easy for them to understand your project and why it should be funded.

  • Use professionals to supply goods and services - you need quotes from suppliers and realistic prices, as the assessors have a good idea of market prices. E.g. you can obtain a good website for your cafe for less than $2000, so don't ask for $6000. But do add a request for food and venue photography, which takes the site from good to great.
  • Don't apply for retrospective funding - these grants are usually intended for future activities, not ones already completed.
  • Double-check your words and numbers - ask a friend to proofread it, and get someone else to check your numbers and spreadsheets. Don't undermine your credibility.
  • Rinse and repeat - learn from the process if you're not successful, and reuse what you can for the next application.

We asked grant & tender application expert Toni Raso from A Better Bid for her advice on what is likely to be funded in an application like the recent Queensland Government Small Business COVID-19 $10,000 Adaption Grant Program.

Here are some requests you could make, and her feedback:

  • Cost of setting up a new online ordering system? Feedback: yes
  • Menu photography for the new online portal and website? Feedback: yes
  • Technology training for the operators plus associated hardware, e.g. iPads? Feedback: make sure you package the hardware and software, so it doesn't look like you're buying an entertainment device. Don't just ask for a laptop - it won't happen!
  • Adaption of counters and kitchen for safer food handling and service, e.g. refrigerated displays and food shields? Feedback: yes
  • New website or update an old one? Feedback: yes
  • Sort out bookkeeping and bring it up to date? Feedback: if this is the first step to some financial planning or coaching, yes. If it's just attending to overdue administration, no.
  • Marketing plan and social media planning? Feedback: yes
  • 'Business costs including utilities and rent' (mentioned in this grants program) – should we just go for the money? Feedback: have a go, but it's harder to demonstrate value for money and how the grant funding helps you keep in business if it's only used to pay operational costs.
  • Should I request right up to $10,000 exactly, or is a smaller request more likely to get a positive result? Feedback: as long as the application shows good value for money and clear project outcomes, any amount from $2,000 to $10,000 is appropriate. If applicants are unsure that the price for services requested is on-par with the market value, they should ask other providers for quotes so they can compare.

We also called on Chris Green from Restaurant Bookkeepers Australia for suggestions on how to put together a credible and persuasive application. She's had a lot of experience winning grants for her clients.

Here's her advice:

  • Devil is in the detail: take the time to read the small print and instructions. Government departments follow compliance rules and like to tick boxes - make it easy for them to tick those boxes. They don't want to chase missing information and won't put much effort into doing so. Or you will be pushed to the end of the line and may miss out.
  • Act fast: Grants are usually limited, so get in quickly and keep it simple. But do take the time to gather all the information required and be accurate.
  • Numbers matter: you will be asked to provide financials which will likely be matched with a previous tax or BAS returns. Data matching has never been easier for governments, so find a BAS Agent bookkeeper to get your financials compliant and telling a reliable story. The government will check. A BAS Agent bookkeeper registered with the Tax Practitioner's Board can certify your reports to give them greater weight and validity.
  • Make it believable: some forecasting and predicting the future may be asked. They want to know if you have done any business planning and what the future looks like with the grant money. So don't make it up - or they will smell a rat! Spend some time planning realistic outcomes of what the grant money will do for your business and how you will run your business better, so the money isn't wasted.
  • Use professionals: Use registered supplier businesses: Grant money will be used to pay reputable suppliers that have an ABN and appropriate licenses. Governments will check them out too. So your mate's dodgy retired uncle isn't going to cut it as a reliable business supplier. Get detailed tax invoices and quotes for past or future planned products and services applicable to the grant. Ask your supplier to incorporate keywords into the descriptions that tie in the purpose of the grant to demonstrate fit for purpose supply.
  • Use keywords: Use the language of the grant: read about the intent of the grant. Understand why it's being provided. What is the problem the government wants to see fixed? Then pitch the grant application to answer the key question or give the solution. Don't waffle - keep to the point. Make it easy for the government worker to understand your claim by checking spelling and grammar. Put yourself in their shoes - did you write rubbish or facts? Did you answer the question?
  • Pitch it: You are creating a marketing pitch to sell your business as an opportunity for the government. They will give out money to help businesses improve and thrive - this makes a government look good. So expect them to ask for follow up reviews and evidence after you have spent the grant money. They love to spin good political stories of success. It may lead to a good public promotion opportunity for your business.
  • Keep an audit trail: Government money is public money so you will need to keep an audit trail of where every cent is spent. A quality BAS Agent bookkeeper will be able to manage this for you. There are specific ways to code grant funds that are reflected in business financial records.

The grant programs like those run in 2020 won't always be so generous - often they are for part-funding and quite competitive. But by having basic information and good figures ready, it won't take long to apply for, and win, more grants to help you build and improve your cafe or restaurant - good luck!

Connect with people who can help you:

* Toni Raso from A Better Bid

* Chris Green from Restaurant Bookkeepers Australia

* GrantGuru, The Grants Hub and BulletPoint News - grant listing services

* Ben Cusack from BulletPoint

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