In April 2017 I announced the launch of a scheme I called my entrepreneurship grants. It was pretty simple. Every three months I would take applications from budding entrepreneurs and choose three to award a $1,000 grant to. Totalling $12,000 in grants over the year.
To be honest, I thought I was being clever. I had dreams of the grants being picked up by some major news sites and going viral. Thousands of people linking to my website and talking about what an awesome scheme it was. Not only was I getting to support new entrepreneurs, I was also going to get a lot of publicity. Win-win.
Except it didn’t quite work out like that… In fact, the grants did me as much harm as good.
People Are Sceptical Of Free Internet Money
The first reaction I got to the grants was a lot of people calling me a scammer.
Rather than going viral I just managed to generate a lot of hate mail. I talk about the initial reactions in this post but the consensus seemed to be that I was just out to steal other people’s business ideas. My old readers were supportive and understood, but anyone just arriving at my site was sceptical.
Someone is giving away $12,000? Rubbish. There must be some catch.
I get where they are coming from and would probably be sceptical myself. If something sounds too good to be true it probably is. Except in this case, it was true!
Reading Grants Is A LOT of work
But it turns out I was pretty lucky my grants didn’t go viral because there is no way I could have handled any more applications. I had 178 applications in the first round, all of which were either 1,500 words long or a short video. It took me a longgg time to go through all of them and choose the top three. I reckon I spent about 50 hours just to get through the first round.
I didn’t really predict how much work it would be. I had originally asked my virtual assistant to choose a shortlist of 15 finalists for me to choose the top 3, but it quickly became clear we had a very different idea of what makes a good one. So I ended up doing it all myself.
I’m short of time as it is and this didn’t help.
People Don’t Like Not Winning
But even worse than the initial reactions and the time sink was the response from those who didn’t win. Of those 178 applications, I chose three winners (here are the winners of that first round).
That means I had three happy people and 175 unhappy people. And plenty of those people made their displeasure known.
I sympathised with them. Writing a grant application is a lot of work and it must be frustrating to see a business you believe is worse than yours win. So I started to write feedback to each application. Another huge time-sync and ultimately a waste of time. It quickly became clear that most people didn’t want feedback. I would say something like
“I don’t think you should spend the full grant on Facebook advertising. You have no way of earning money from that traffic and you will see the full grant disappear very quickly”
Only to get a reply angrily telling me I was wrong and know nothing about their business and that I shouldn’t have given the money to x. Some of those people were long-time readers who I had just alienated.
I eventually stopped giving feedback.
And Finally, The Traffic Never Came
For the next three rounds, I tried to change things up a bit to reduce the above problems.
I introduced public voting so it wasn’t me choosing the final three (and rejecting the rest). And I made it clear that I saw the grants as a win-win – traffic for me, money for you. But it didn’t really help and I didn’t get many long-term readers out of it.
By the fourth round, I had pretty much given up and didn’t do any marketing to try and get applications.
Here is my blog traffic over the last year:
- Around the first grant there was almost no change in traffic.
- Around the other three grants I got quite a bit of traffic, but only on the voting pages, and that disappeared as soon as the grants were over.
- During the grant periods, I got a lot of referrals from social media. It looks like they didn’t give me any long-term SEO value.
Rather than increasing my traffic, my long-term trend is actually going down! I am averaging less readers a day in April 2018 than in April 2017. That might be unrealted to the grants, but I can be pretty certain I didn’t get $12,000 worth of traffic out of them.
In short. I gave away $12,000 and just managed to give myself a lot of work and make a bunch of people dislike me.
At Least The Money Went To Good Causes
But It’s not all bad. I may not have earned any karma but that money did go to supporting some entrepreneurs who really needed it.
Here are the 12 winners of the entrepreneurship grants. And here is a guest post from one of the first winners, showing how he took the money and turned his idea into a fully fledged confectionary brand: How To Start A Confectionary Brand From Scratch.
I am very much looking forward to seeing how they get on.