It’s a common obstacle facing every company that sells to schools — they simply do not have enough discretionary funds to purchase software, computers, and the other technology they need. Perhaps this situation is constraining your company’s growth. But there are millions of dollars in grant funding available right now, funds that your prospects could tap into so they could purchase your products. It’s an opportunity for incremental business if you have the “right stuff.”
Savvy school sales and education marketing executives are placing more emphasis on strategic partnerships as part of their channel strategy. Why? Because leverage through successful alliances and partnerships with other organizations can deliver superior value to your customers and ultimately lower your cost of sales.
Professional grant-writing firms, especially those that understand the education market, are well positioned to partner with suppliers of educational technology to aid their valued teacher and student customers in writing and evaluating grant-funded projects.
Grants provide opportunities for school improvement because schools can acquire new curriculum materials, software, technology, professional development, and equipment. These are obvious sales opportunities for your company. However, it often takes the skills and experience of a professional grant writing firm to make the right connections.
Discretionary technology dollars available to schools have been drying up due to legislative decisions in Congress and continuing state budget shortfalls. Administrators are struggling to meet NCLB standards and to incorporate beneficial IT instructional design practices into their classrooms. Given these pressures and considering your desire to boost your own sales, now could be the time to consider how your company could increase revenue by becoming a product or service vendor to grant-supported school initiatives.
There continue to be a host of grants available to an ever-increasing segment of public schools, universities, charters, educational nonprofits, “faith-based” schools, and their consortiums. Some of these are discretionary, but most are now competitive and a few others are entitlement. Professional grant-writing firms that have successful vendor service programs provide you with a competitive edge but also can help you create a strategy for going after the right grants to begin with.
You may have already considered grants as a way to increase revenues. But grants have the added benefit as a framework for your company to collect data that validates your products. Grants can often be a cost-effective method and provide incentives to test products and gather efficacy data that could cost much more if contracted separately to a third-party firm for verification.
Here’s how a grant program could work for your company. Typically, you would begin by identifying customers or prospects who have expressed serious interest in your products and services. They may not have funds available to purchase, but they do have an agenda to improve learning and could benefit from your product or service. You contact these prospective clients to explain the grant-writing services available to them.
Your company pays a portion of the grant-writing fee, a very appealing offer to most schools and districts. Once payment is received, a representative from the educational institution is connected with a grant writer for an analysis of their funding needs and grant award history. Based on this information, the grant-writing firm will begin to research available funding sources and recommend grants that are a fit for both the prospective buyer and your company.
A proposal is developed with constant input and communication from school administrators. It typically takes three to six months from the grant proposal due date until the grant award date.
The grant cycle is ever changing. There are announcements of grants coming at different times. There are changes to funding. That’s why it is usually more effective and efficient for a supplier of educational technology to partner with a professional grant-writing firm with education as their primary focus.
It is also crucial to have a clear understanding of how your products will be used within the design of the project, often formalized with a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) or contract.
Make sure the grant-writing firm understands as much as possible about your company’s products and services and has a proven success rate in winning Department of Education funding.
Map out a plan that fits with your expectations of your “ceiling and floor” returns related to the upfront costs of the grant-writing services.
Check references and verify award rates.
Be sure that the firm is able to provide a three-way contract or reciprocal agreement (between the firm, the customer, and your company) to help ensure that grant money is spent on your products as promised.
Be patient and willing to invest in a strategy of multiple grants. Expect to see some awards within the first year, but create a two-year or multiple-year plans to maximize your returns. Use a professional grant-writing firm that will help guide your company over an extended period of time.
Do not use “boilerplate” proposals. Proposals need to be tailored to the specific requests outlined in each RFP (Request for Proposal) or RFA (Request for Application).
There is a wide range of investment you could earmark for grant-writing programs, from as little as $5,000 to over $50,000 per year. It is based on the number of grants that your company is willing to sponsor. The average award ranges from $100,000 to $150,000 per grant.
The ROI (return on investment) expectations for your company should be discussed with the grant-writing firm. Smaller companies should exercise extra care in selecting the best grant opportunities and in planning for the return from the award.
The ROI measured by incremental sales can be substantial depending on how you sell and service your products. But a qualified strategy in attaining money through awards could also help your company develop a new product through programs like SBIR (Small Business Innovation and Research) funding.
Like other channel marketing programs, building an effective and efficient grant-writing alliance takes time to pay off. This is not a “quick hit” promotion; rather, it should be considered a long-term education marketing strategy, an investment that can open up incremental school sales opportunities and will also strengthen your company’s position as a solution partner with schools.
No matter how you measure, the added value to your customers will go a long way toward building customer loyalty, repeat business, and referrals. This is the essence of strategic partnerships and alliances and a key reason to consider establishing a relationship with a professional grant-writing firm. A careful strategy will undoubtedly lead to success, but remember: it is important to work with a grant-writing firm with the right experience to lead you to the best opportunities.