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Grant Funding for Small Businesses – How I Got Free Money!

Who would like some free money?

Everyone right?! Well, did you know that you might be eligible for grant funding for your small business?

Whenever I need to make a large purchase for my business, I always look to see if I can get any help with buying it. This attitude stems from when I was studying for my PhD in Archaeological Science, and I needed to make a field trip to Scandinavia to collect samples for my research. I didn’t have the money for the trip, so I applied for a number of grants – and I was successful nearly every time. I pooled together enough money for a three-week tour of Denmark and Sweden. Not to mention attending a conference in the States, and another one in Budapest…

I continued with this fundraising mindset when I was the chairman of my kids’ pre-school. I found them money to build a new playground, decorate the building, buy craft equipment – even pay the staff.

Then, in my pre-voiceover job at a local college I applied for funding for drama productions, and educational trips abroad for staff and students. I’ve also successfully applied for grants for my local theatre group to buy sound and lighting equipment.

I reckon that if you add up all the money I’ve successfully applied for over the years, it comes to over £35k. And I may well have forgotten some.

So, I hear you ask, what can my business get money for?

Well, in the last couple of years I’ve had money towards buying a mobile studio for recording on the road (from the Business Lincolnshire Growth Hub); money to enable me to attend VOAtlanta (the largest voiceover conference in the world); and half the cost of having a new website built (including the photography and SEO-optimised copywriting). 

The most recent grant I’ve had was £500 from Smart Energy Greater Lincolnshire – a programme that was part-funded by the European Regional Development Fund. This was used to purchase a new boiler that will make my office more energy efficient and reduce my carbon footprint.

In total I’ve had over £3.5k for my business.

How do I find these pots of gold Liz?

Good question! If you want grants for a community group or project then I highly recommend www.fundingcentral.org.uk which lists many, many grants for all sorts of organisations. You won’t find funding for your business here though. For that, I’ve found the best way to find out what’s available in your local area, is networking.

Local business networking and support organisations such as The Business Hive in North and North East Lincolnshire, are good sources of information. To find out if there is something similar where you live I would contact the Economic Development team at your local council. You could also try your local Chamber of Commerce and nearest branch of the Federation of Small Businesses. These organisations usually have their ears to the ground when it comes to funding for business. Both of these are membership organisations, but you can often go along to one event for free to try it out.

You could also try attending Business Expos, as any organisation with money to give away to businesses are likely to be there. In recent years I’ve seen a couple of local universities/colleges exhibiting at these events, as they had been given grants to work with small businesses. That’s how I found money for my mobile studio.

If you’re really not sure where to find business networking events or expos near you, have a look on Eventbrite – there are lots of events listed on there, and many are free. I’ve been to a number of educational workshops – particularly on using social media for business, and by going to those, I’ve heard about grant funding. That’s how I found the grant for my website.

If you want to attend a conference in another country, find out who your local Department for International Trade representative is. My local rep helped me apply for the grant that took me to VOAtlanta.

Bear in mind that there are often minimum spends for these grants. The three I’ve had recently paid 50% of my costs which had to be a minimum of £1,000 (i.e. I had to spend £2,000 to get £1,000 back). Another thing to note is that grants won’t cover the VAT on anything you buy.

The larger the amount of money you apply for, the bigger the ‘output’ your funder will want in return. For small grants they generally want to see that your turnover will increase, or that you’ve developed a new product or service. For larger amounts of money, they’re looking for job creation (which isn’t really possible for me, though I did once show that I’d gone from part time to full time and therefore created half a job….).

One final thing – all the money I’ve had recently has come from European grants, and post-Brexit the grant funding landscape will probably look very different. Having said that, in many cases funding streams are protected for the next year, BUT if you have a project in mind I think it will be best to apply sooner rather than later.

Good luck!