Tips for Business Start Ups: every question asks a story.

You’re starting up a new business and as much as you’d like to be able to start selling straight away and drawing down the king of all business start up requisites – cash – the reality is that cash isn’t going to start flowing out of that tap for some months to come.  Not only do you need some liquidity in your system (it’s Christmas after all and there’s all those office parties to go to and dance around like you’re the next David Brent from The Office), but you’ve spotted an ideal scheme which is offering countless thousands of pounds of grant to enhance your business growth prospects.  The deadline is just a week away – so what do you do?  You give it your best shot, even though you may never have filled in this kind of application form before.

Before long, you’ll find yourself sweating over the criteria, the funding guidelines and the translation of what the funder wants, what you want and whether or not the two sets of desires are mutually compatible.  If they’re not compatible, then now is the time to consign the application to the WPB and get out to your Christmas networking activities, safe in the knowledge you haven’t just wasted a precious week of your business time on something that was going nowhere quickly.

However, if you sense that that money in the funding pot has your name written all over it, then the first thing you’ll be faced with is the application questions.

The ones which ask you to identify yourself should be pretty straightforward if you’ve got this far in life.  Name, address, email, phone number – if you don’t know these by now (especially your name) then it’s time to pack up the business idea immediately and join your colleagues on the networking dance floor (all assuming you know who they are of course).

The questions which follow tend to be more open ended and ask you to do some original thinking.  Not original copy and pasting from Wikipedia, previous applications or last week’s shopping list, but some honest to goodness new thinking straight out of your brain which will need to be expressed in a written form.  Yes, I know it’s difficult, and yes, I know it discriminates against people who would prefer to express their application in the form of expressive dance, but the sad fact is that these questions need answers and they need them to be communicated in a way that the person reading the form will be able to understand.  So, writing it is, writing it has to be and preferably in a language that the form is written in.

Once you’re into form filling mode and are getting the hang of having to answer questions, a useful approach is to use the questions to tell the story you want to tell about your business or project.  Not an act of fiction, or  a work or art necessarily, but an account  which describes your intention with clarity, purpose and logic.  Sometimes people use bullet points to tell their story and this is understandable if you working to a word limit.  But have you ever read a compelling short story made out of bullet points?  I suspect not and the same principle holds for writing application forms for cash.  A good story will seduce, fascinate and wow your readers.  Bullet points merely make readers they’re being fired at.

So, when faced with those questions, face up to them, figure out the story they want to hear and make sure you tell it in a form which most people could follow.  You don’t have to be Quentin Tarantino when it comes to the stories needed to help the growth of your business: although it might help of course if you want to sell  a slate of post modern classic films (if that’s not a contradiction in terms) and your name happens to be Quentin Tarantino.

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