Apply now!

Have you noticed? It’s industry award and grant application season.

First, let me say that if you are thinking “Yes, I should but I just feel like it’s too hard and there’s not enough time”, then you are not alone. But these opportunities are worth the effort.

Effectively, awards are a third-party endorsement of your business, brand and products or services. What’s not to like? I know of a company that went all out simply to gain finalist status, so they could include the award logo and information on sales pitches for a new export market. It worked like a charm. The publicity that comes with an award win (or even just from being short-listed) can be valuable leverage in raising your profile with your customers. So, if you’ve got something good to share, then do it!

As for grant programs, well… never forget the devil is in the detail – and in the agenda (and there’s always an agenda. Fair enough too, this is public money we're talking about here - our taxes at work. So, if the grant program talks about creating jobs, then your project better involve creating some jobs. If the eligibility criteria says capex is out, it’s out. And the deadlines take no prisoners. One minute past the nominated time won’t cut it.

Ah, applications. I’ve seen some good ones, some bad, and some downright ugly. So, as those ‘apply now!’ emails hit your inbox, I am sharing my top tips for writing an application. All yours, free and with my best wishes.

 

1. Line up the ducks

If entry requirements include evidence of a business plan and you don’t have one, it’s time to commit. That plan is one of the most powerful tools your business can have. After all, if you don’t understand in detail where you want to be, how are you going to plan to get there? Forget the War and Peace versions, grab one of the simple templates available online and fill it in. (Extra tip – drag it out every month and make sure you are doing what you said you would. Plans that get written but never get used are only good for collecting dust.)

For award applications, you may also be required to produce financial reports, either to accompany the application or during an interview or judges’ visit. Most grant applications require detailed financial plans as well as project plans.Make sure you’ve got them ready. Get your accountant in on the preparation early to help you prepare, it will be worth it.

 

2. Answer the d@!* question! 

It is astonishing how often the actual question doesn’t get answered in an application, so maybe we should step back a bit here. Read the question. Carefully. All the way to the end. Now put yourself in the judging panel’s shoes and work out why they want to know this. It helps to look at what the specific award is for, or the specific merit criteria for the grant application, because what they are looking for is evidence that you meet those criteria or have achieved what the award is designed to recognise. Then gather all the evidence (real numbers and verifiable claims here please) and work them into your answer. Which brings me to…

 

3. Stick to the word count

Word limits aren't there just to keep the judges amused, people. These days a lot of online application platforms will cut you off mid-sentence and force you to do a rethink, but if you are being left to your own devices with just a word count, then pay attention because no matter how wonderful you think your extra 500 words are, non-compliance may get you chucked out of the running without anyone even reading what you wrote.

If you are applying in hard copy format, double that attention to ensure you comply with guidelines for font size, margins, and other formatting. (Graphic designers, I’m looking at you – don’t go fancy if the rules say the application should be in Times New Roman 12 point with double spacing and no images. Ask yourself – how would I feel if I gave instructions for something and people ignored my instructions? Yep, that’s how the people you are trying to impress will feel if they receive a fancy pants prettied-up piece of design instead of the simple word document they asked for.)

Always check to see if it’s a characters or word limit. They’re not the same thing at all. An empty space between words is still a character, so a 500 character count is much shorter than a 500 word count. Think through the most important messages and facts you need to convey and make every word, and every character, work hard for you.

 

4.  Take advantage of the extras

If you can include additional documents or images, do it. This is a terrific way to expand on a strength or add extra facts that you couldn’t squeeze into the word count. These documents can be designed to be attractive and eye-catching (graphic designers – enjoy, but please keep file size small so you don’t crash people’s systems). And don’t forget to get your logo in there somewhere. Conversely though, if there’s no allowance or invitation to add extra documentation, don’t. As above, that’s just annoying.

 

5. Leave out the sunderbar and weasel words

And finally, a last word on words.

Weasel words were made famous by Don Watson. They are words or statements that are misleading. Huge claims about being the best at something will likely raise red flags with award judges. Where’s your evidence?

Wunderbar words are what I call the space-grabbing, nearly meaningless adjectives thrown in to hype up a statement (marketing departments – this time I’m looking at you). Remember that word count and stay focused.

Personally, words I am particularly allergic to these days include: ‘unique’ (it means the only one of its kind, not one of a few of its kind – as with claiming to be the best, don’t say it if you can’t prove it), and ‘premium’ (this word actually does have a specific meaning, it doesn’t just mean ‘good’ or ‘better than our competitors’). If you are in the food business, be aware that ‘artisan’ goods do not come from factories, and ‘quality’ and  ‘gourmet’ are so over-used these days they barely mean anything at all. 

Try this: imagine you are on the assessment or judging panel and you must read a few dozen of these applications. If they’re all talking unique/premium etc etc., aren’t you going to get just a bit cynical? Not to mention bored. Don’t be boring. Be succinct, real and powerful in how you describe your business.

 

If these tips seem simple, it’s because they are. If you read this through and think ‘doh!’, then congratulations. Your ducks are lined up and you are ready to go, so happy applying!

 

Be yourself. Everyone else is taken.

I love a new word, don’t you? I found one recently: scripturient. If you look that up (go ahead, I had to) you will find it means "having a consuming passion to write". It’s quite a neat way of explaining the seemingly weird and wonderful breadth of work I find myself doing for a crust. One way or another, there will be words in the mix somewhere.

It seems to me that everyone is aiming to extract the exact single sentence that encapsulates what they do these days. It would be easy to hold Twitter to account for this but I think that would be unfair. This idea has been around much longer than the 140 character challenge. It might be why I often find the answer to that pivotal question about the key difference between business A and business B is “we’re all about premium quality”.

Who isn’t, I ask you? Just think how fabulous the world would be if everyone was, in fact, really about ‘premium quality’, ‘making a difference’ or any of those other vision-based, feel good statements coming at us from everywhere (Cue The New Seekers warbling I’d Like To Teach The World To Sing In Perfect Harmony.) It would be lovely, wouldn’t it?

But I digress. What I’m really musing about is that I’m not sure anymore that we should all want to be a catchphrase, especially not one that’s being used by everyone else. Are you unique? Really? Let’s just look that up (once a librarian, always a librarian): “being the only one of its kind, unlike anything else”. If you take the proper definition then, there are very few concepts, products or businesses that can unblushingly make this claim. I can’t make it, much as I’d like to. Other people write stuff too, and that’s a very good thing because otherwise I’d be very tired. Yes, I do it my way, and there are people (other than my Mum, honest) who think I do it rather well. But uniquely? Maybe not.

I feel a bit dumbed down by the whole notion of describing myself in a single sentence. Catchphrases are fine of course, and taglines are de rigueur in marketing. These are just aspects of us or our businesses. But I do more than just write and edit and I’m sure you do more than just one thing too. So why, when most of us feel quite insulted by perceived negatives in our professional stereotypes, should we be actively trying to create such a tiny one-dimensional version of ourselves so we can trumpet that to the world and expect them to simultaneously get that we are also multi-faceted, multi-talented and… human.

I had a little epiphany around all this a few months back. I was talking to someone who was explaining she was not about the ‘what’ of her business but about the ‘why’. Certainly the writing I do for business is about explaining the ‘why’, in order to put some context around the ‘what’. As an editor, I often find myself explaining to potential contributors how writing for one publication can differ so markedly from another, and that’s all about the why. Why, for example, newspapers and magazines generally expect to see all the important information in the first paragraph but an academic essay saves the best bits for the conclusion after making the case to reach that point. It’s because of the different ways we read these things as well as the reasons we read them.

I never have managed to describe all the things I do in a single sentence – unless I cheat with a lot of creative punctuation. I can’t even do it very well when I’m talking about what I’ve studied. Information management + journalism + gastronomy with a side serve of leadership training = ??

But I can get down to why I do it really quickly. I do it because I love the process of creating and connecting, by which I mean sharing information with others who might be inspired or helped by the information I have. When I remember that, I am so much more inspired than by the more prosaic bullet point list of all the ‘whats’.

Since inspiring others to buy in is what this whole business of describing our work in 140 characters is supposed to be about, I think it makes much more sense to dig down to the why. If you can make your own eyes light up with enthusiasm just thinking about it, you know you’re on the right track.

Lee

PS - Just want to say thanks to the folks at EnvyUs Design (www.envyus.com.au) for creating my website.Thanks, guys - you made it all so easy.

PPS -A bit of legal stuff: From time to time this website may contain links to other websties whose content is outside our power and control. Lee Welch and the Write Alternative shall not be liable in any way for the content of any such linked website, nor any loss or damage arising from your use of any such website.