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5 Insider Tips for a Successful Subsidy Application

So, you’ve found a grant or subsidy program to apply to, and you want to prepare the best possible application. Here are some key actions that will help you stand out and achieve success:

1. Get Support

A lot of subsidy programs will specifically ask whether you have the support of the local community. Back when my job involved reviewing subsidy applications, I often saw applicants respond to that question with a simple “Yes”. Let me tell you : That’s not the answer you want to give! You won’t get any points for that. None! Instead, you need to SHOW that you have community support. But, how?
    • Get support letters written to you by local politicians, business owners and municipal or county economic development offices. Pro tip: prepare a draft letter for them, that they can edit and sign. This will save them a lot of time and vastly increase your chances of getting a signed letter back.
    • An alternative to a letter is getting a resolution of support from your municipal council and/or county-level council. Again, you can provide them with a resolution template they can use. They will vote on this during their monthly council meeting and a copy will become publicly available. You can use that to show community support.
    • 3 to 5 written examples of support are sufficient. You don’t need to go overboard. 
    • Lastly and importantly: Keep it general, so you can re-use the letters/resolutions over and over! Don’t mention the specific subsidy program or the exact project you’re about to complete in your template letters or resolutions. Instead, the text should focus more broadly on how your business will have positive impacts for the community.
The goal here is just to show that the community is favourable to your project. And, even if you don’t specifically need to show community support as part of your application, it’s nice to find a way to slide that in. Often, you’ll be asked an open question like “Are there any other aspects of your project you’d like to highlight?”. That is a great place to talk about the positive downstream effects of your business and mention the community support you have (and, attach your letters, of course!).

2. Human Contact

Yes, actual human contact! Before you start pulling together your application, you’ll gain a lot by setting up a call with the person handling the subsidy program to ask questions. Why, you ask? 
    • You’ll get better insight on what elements they want to see in your application. Then, you can prepare your application based on that.
    • This person will most likely have some influence on whether your application is ultimately accepted, so this is a great opportunity to make a good impression and ensure they properly understand your project. People don’t like reading business plans, so taking the time to walk them through your project will help ensure they don’t miss any key details.
    • Pro tip: During your call, you should mention how much money you plan to request, and ask for advice on whether that amount fits into their budget. In one case, I explained that I planned to ask for $50k and was told flat out that they wouldn’t approve that amount for the type of work I described. So, instead of applying for $50k and getting rejected, I applied for $35k and got approved. That single phone call helped me earn $35k instead of zero. 
In sum: Even if you’re phone-phobic like I am, bite the bullet and make the call.

3. Know the Answers to the Test 

Guess what: It’s usually possible to figure out the answers to the test before you write the test. Here’s how:
    • Check out the subsidy program. Read through the intro very carefully. It will usually tell you exactly what government policy it is trying to achieve. Then, look up that government policy and read through its objectives.
    • Once you figure out the objectives of the policy, then you know what elements you’ll be scored against. So, you’ll want to tailor your application and business plan to highlight those things.
    • Example: Say the government policy wants to increase overnight stays in your area by promoting more winter tourism (a common objective in Canada!). Well, if you’re a year-round business, then you have a winter option to highlight. In this scenario, you should mention your winter offerings and how many overnight guests you expect at that time of year. Talk about how your business is complementary to other nearby winter businesses (i.e. dog sledding, skiing, snow-mobiling). Incorporate this both into your business plan and your subsidy application. This doesn’t require you to fundamentally change how you operate your business – but it does require you to shine a light on how you meet the objective.

4. Stick to Script and Make it Easy

The first time I ever applied to a subsidy program, I incorporated every positive thing about my business. I waxed poetic over pages and pages. This is a mistake. It’s overkill. Here’s how to determine what stays in:
    • Firstly, while you definitely want to highlight all of your business’ salient points in your business plan, your subsidy application form doesn’t need all that. Your application will likely be evaluated against a scoresheet based on government objectives for the subsidy program. And, as mentioned above, you can find the answers to the test. So, don’t go too far off-track. The person scoring your application will be checking boxes and assigning points.
    • Put yourself in the shoes of the person looking at hundreds of subsidy applications and scoring them. Can you imagine how tiring it would be to read long flowery paragraphs about how great each business is? You’d lose your mind after a while, right? So, make it easy for them to check off their scoresheet boxes by writing your answers in bullet form. This really helps to quickly see how you meet each objective.

From personal experience, I can confirm that your efficient approach will be appreciated!

5. Informal Review

This is a good one! If you’re extra organized and can get your subsidy application ready a week or so before the deadline, you can ask the subsidy coordinator whether they would do an informal review and provide feedback on how you could make your application better before you officially submit it. This is an awesome way to get the exact info you need to level up and ensure your application makes the cut. It’s also a great way to sensitize the coordinator to your project and to answer any questions they may have before they get bombarded with the slew of applications that will arrive on the very last day. 
That’s it for today! Good luck!
Let me know how these strategies work for you.
Liked this article? Read the rest of my Subsidy Series.

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