This may sound ridiculously obvious but if you don’t have the confidence and self-belief in why your idea should receive funding, then why should anyone else? Funding is about asking people to invest in YOU. Whether it’s money, time or effort, no-one invests in something they don’t believe in (and if they do, they only do it once – it’s no fun being the cringeworthy line on someone’s learning curve).
Self-published children’s author James Sykes knows that most of the work is in presenting the idea, rather than the idea itself. “I have always found that being entirely transparent with your goals is of the utmost importance,” he says, adding “This includes self-belief and recognising the value of your own efforts, whilst simultaneously allowing those that may be able to support you to make a genuine and honest connection with your development. For that, preparation is absolutely key.”
“Vagueness and uncertainty on your part will be noted and can prevent the fruition of some extremely good ideas.”
It’s all in the presentation. But herein lies a cautionary tale. James shares a particular example of how preparation, confidence and professionalism needs to be more than skin deep… “Following the printing and independent release of the book, many ideas spawned as to where I could take the project including making a performance for schools and theatres. A friend and I were afforded an opportunity to meet with two professionals at a local theatre in order to discuss how they might be able to help us advance in this area, and I turned up both overdressed and under-prepared. To punctuate their extremely busy afternoon of meetings with driven, organised creatives, I provided some light entertainment as I turned a fascinating beetroot colour and proceeded to stumble over my words until tongue tied, squirming on my seat like a worm in a suit. I learned a valuable lesson from those incredibly uncomfortable decades (minutes) spent in that meeting – If you approach someone in order to seek their support, make sure to spend far more time preparing your pitch than preparing your hair.” However sharp the suit (or hairstyle), it will never distract professionals from the fact that you haven’t thought further than the presentation of your idea.
But don’t let that put you off making every effort you can to get others on board – collaboration often strengthens a funding application, making your project a much more enticing offer for a potential investor. Sallie Varnam – who works with organisations as diverse as Phoenix Arts, Leicester City Council, Leicestershire Police, Coventry University, Turned on its Head, Pedestrian and the Public Health service – advises:
“Think about collaborating with other artists or organisations to develop more impactful work which might be more attractive to funders.”
Inzar Haq of Insight Consultancy, who specialises in small business funding, agrees with this, suggesting that it never hurts to ask those you are already working with to support your application with some words of endorsement. “The best way to do this is to identify a supplier of your required service and ask them to support your application. You may be pleasantly surprised how helpful they can be,” he says.
Making a funding application a more collaborative process also helps to develop and strengthen the proposal so that what you are submitting isn’t the nub of an idea – it’s a fully-fledged idea developed to its full potential and examined from all angles. Performance poet Lydia Towsey developed The Venus Papers after a funding bid rejection, working with people she trusted and admired to enable the project to evolve way beyond its original ambition:
“There’s strength in numbers – reach out to relevant organisations, and key individuals to help you build and hone your proposal”
she urges. “I joined with Jean Binta Breeze – the first female dub poet in the world and a huge influence on my work. Together we undertook two stand alone and funded UK tours; Three the Hard Way – One (also featuring Alison Dunne) and Three the Hard Way – Two (with Shruti Chauhan replacing Alison). When I finally submitted my Venus Papers manuscript – to Burning Eye books in 2014 – it featured all manner of new work I could only have arrived at via this alternative process of development.”