I am writing today from the vulnerable place of working on funding applications: fellowships, grants, regional support – you name it. I had set this type of work aside for a while, short of the smaller grant requests for our apprenticeship work because I am conflicted about the time it takes. Quite frankly – when our time is limited, we would rather be doing the work than spending weeks at a time applying for funding to do the work. A recent short answer application took about 8-10 hours of time from start to finish. That is 10 digital patterns, or cutting out 4 garments, or 1 full time Monday of all the other items we are able to accomplish. And I know there is a part of you and me that says – yes well if you get these pockets of funding you’ll be able to devote more than your Monday to this work. And it is true if you give a woman one full time day of work on her business – she’s going to ask for more (Any If You Give a Mouse a Cookie fans here?).
So we are inevitably back here submitting long shot opportunities here and there because we do know that we need to put in more time, and more time at this stage means more funding. It is tough because these are groups that don’t know our work from Adam. Do they care about small town jobs? About sustainable, U.S. based manufacturing? If we spend 30 hours on an application, will it see the light of day? So we are taking a balanced approach here and only applying to low effort applications that are worth a certain amount of money and where we align with their mission.
And still I think about the seductiveness in thinking that one of these shiny organizations will make our dreams come true. In the early days, back in Durham, I applied to a lot of these – Y Combinator, some incubator in Boulder, Colorado, NC Idea in North Carolina, GirlBoss fellowship – there were too many to remember. If I’m being honest, we did more applying to things than the work itself because the thinking was that the funding would allow us to do the work.
As it turns out – we just had to go out and do it. For the most part these sorts of places only jump on board once you are already succeeding. Once you have a bunch of people who get it supporting you, once you’ve got some publicity, and a strong digital presence.
So I just want to get clear, in retrospect, about what is responsible for the success of initiatives for the most part. It is not big funding agencies, or venture capital, or fancy foundations – it is the foot soldiers who put in 100s of hours of time, years before the momentum was built and those larger groups were ready to jump on board. I think it is important to get this down in writing because if you are a fellow business owner or starting your own work of some sort, the media tells us that big funding is our route to success. And so maybe we get discouraged when we drop these applications in and hear radio silence.
The antidote to such thinking is to say – heck – I’m going to do the work anyways. I will find a way. Who’s with me? And little by little that group forms. Maybe you get iFundWomen support, and Founder Circle support and a whole group of local people who invest time in what you are doing, work hard to experiment with your fabric so the embroidery comes out just right, or find the resources to pay for your pattern making software. These are not fancy owners of glitzy incubators in San Francisco and Los Angeles, they are fellow small business owners, community activists, mothers and grandmothers who need better jobs. They have the most to lose and still they give because they know, intimately why it is important. You don’t have to make them a video or a PowerPoint presentation to convince them that it is worth creating some better, more inspiring jobs in the areas, to create a company in the community that makes high quality products we can be proud of.
And then, from this place, where we are doing the work, we are making progress, we are amassing more support we still do take moonshots. But we do not do that because our work depends on it. Rather we do that to send little flares out into the world – Hello! We are here! Look at the cool stuff we are doing in this scrappy little community!
I am cheering you on, in your endeavors. Here we strive to speak the truth so we can all get real about how to build our dreams. I hope I have helped advance yours in some small way.
Go, fight, win.
P.S. – I will be out of town next week so there will be no Weekly Letter. Happy Summer Solstice!