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The term “first-time entrepreneur” describes someone who has never owned or operated a business. This can be an individual, a couple or a group working together outside the usual corporate framework.
First-time entrepreneurs are often driven to start their own businesses by an idea they strongly believe in. They may have worked in another field and now want the freedom to create something entirely new. Or they may have researched other successful products or services and decided that there is room for improvement in the market.
Entrepreneurs have many routes to fund their startups, including pursuing private equity (e.g., venture capital), seeking business loans, crowdfunding, contests and appealing to accredited personal connections. However, securing grants is one of the most overlooked ways of getting a commercial company up and running. This is an excellent way to get started because you won’t have to pay back anyone, provide reward collateral or give away ownership. There is only an upside when applying for grants. The worst that can happen is your grant will be rejected. But rest assured, there are grants out there for everyone.
Here’s the process for getting started:
1. Review and research small business grants
If you’re interested in applying for a small business grant, it’s a good idea to learn more about the requirements and how the grant process works. The first step is to do some research. At this point, you should:
- Check out the deadline for applying. Some grants have short submission periods, so if there isn’t enough time left before your application window closes, consider waiting until next year or applying for a different funding source.
- Research your potential partners carefully and ensure they are legitimate organizations that can help fund your business. This will also give you an idea of what kinds of projects they usually support — ideally similar to yours.
2. Take a hard look at your business plan
A business plan is the cornerstone of your business, and it should be updated regularly. A good business plan will help you set goals and define your startup’s vision and direction. It should also establish a timeline for achieving those goals and metrics to track progress.
The best way to start writing your business plan is by talking it through with someone who has been there before — especially if they’ve achieved some level of success in their industry. The person you select should be able to provide constructive criticism, from its lack of organization or clarity to any sections that are too wordy or confusing. They can also help guide you through crucial elements like financial projections, marketing strategies, staffing needs — anything that might affect how quickly (or slowly) your company grows over time once it has launched into operation mode.
It’s important not only because other people may read this document later down the road when deciding whether or not to invest in your startup venture; but most importantly because you’ll want them to see how well thought out your plans were before moving forward with anything else.
3. Ensure you qualify for grant requirements
The government offers grants for small businesses, but they are only available to certain types of organizations and individuals. Some programs have age requirements, while others have geographic limitations and require that you be a minority-owned business or disabled veteran. You must understand the criteria for any grant program before applying for it so that you don’t waste time filling out an application that your organization cannot use.
4. Ensure you meet application requirements
After determining which federal grants might be appropriate for your company, ensure that your project plan meets all of its specific program guidelines. For example, one program may require that applicants submit detailed budget plans with cost estimates; another may want proof of prior experience with similar projects; another might request copies of articles written by those involved with the proposed work.
There will usually be some formality required beyond just submitting an essay describing how much money should go into each category listed within one’s overall budget. Depending on who reviews applications, other documents, like resumes or letters from third parties, may be requested throughout this process.
5. Practice the application process and apply for multiple grants
The final step in preparing for a grant application is to get in the habit of creating and applying for one. Start small for your first time — a $1,000 grant might be a good place to start practicing with an application that doesn’t require much work or time investment. You can expand as you get more comfortable with the process and start applying to multiple grantors, but it helps to start small and build up from there—both in volume and in dollar amount. Grantwriting is a valuable skill to master, and once you’ve got a handle on your application narratives, you’ll be raking in the money. Just make sure you do what you say you’ll do. Integrity is everything when applying for grants.