Understanding Small Business Grants
If you’re looking for small business grants you’re not alone. Many business owners are hoping they can find a grant to help them start or grow their small businesses. Demonstrating this, a recent SCORE webinar, How to Find and Get A Small Business Grant, was the most popular webinar to date.
Grants offer money that doesn’t have to be repaid and that’s very attractive to many entrepreneurs. But finding—and landing—a small business grant takes research and work. Here’s how to get started.
Who Makes Small Business Grants?
First, understand that there are hundreds of small business grants offered every year. (While this article focuses on grants for for-profit businesses, much of the information also applies to grants for nonprofits.)
The three main funding sources are:
- Federal government grants
- State and local grants
- Private organizations and foundations
Later in this article, we’ll suggest resources for searching for each.
Both government and private organizations fund grants for businesses trying to survive the economic challenges brought about by the coronavirus pandemic.
There are three main federal government COVID-19 grant programs for entrepreneurs:
- Targeted EIDL grants of $10,000
- Shuttered venue operator grants
- Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) loans
Though PPP loans aren’t technically grants, they may be completely forgiven if funds are spent properly over the right time period. That makes them similar to grants because forgiven debt does not have to be repaid.
There are a variety of private organizations offering grants to businesses impacted by COVID-19. Additionally, state and local governments may offer grants to businesses in certain states or counties. Funds for these programs may go quickly, so you want to keep your eyes open for new programs and apply if you think you qualify.
Tip: Sign up to get email alerts from your SCORE chapter. Many will alert you to local grants as they become available.
How to Find Grants
Searching for grants takes time and effort; there’s no shortcut and a grant shouldn’t be considered “easy” money. If you are serious about applying for and receiving a grant, you will have to regularly look for opportunities. Subscription services, such as those listed below, may ease your search by alerting you to grants that meet your criteria.
Here are some resources you can use to find grants:
Grants.gov is a website operated by the federal government. It lists grants from different government agencies. You can register for free at Grants.gov. Note that if your business does not have a D-U-N-S number you will need to request one. (It’s free.) This will be used as an identifier for your business in the federal government’s system. It may also be required for state or local grants.
Grantwatch.com and Foundation Directory Online are two additional resources that provide up-to-date information on available grants. Both charge a subscription fee; if money is tight your local library might have a subscription. Your librarian can help you find other resources to search for grants as well.
Tips for Success
If you find the perfect grant, you’ll want to give your business the best shot possible at landing that funding. The federal COVID-19 grants listed above are very broad and offered to thousands of businesses, but they are more of the exception than the rule. Most grants are competitive and you’ll need to stand out. Here are a few ways to do that:
- Make sure your business plan is up-to-date and compelling.
- Perfect your “elevator pitch.”
- Make sure your bookkeeping is up to date.
- Nurture your fans; some grants require “votes” and having an email list or social media following will help you get the votes for your business.
- Understand the grantor’s motivations. What are they trying to accomplish with this grant?
- Follow directions exactly.
- Ask your SCORE mentor or a trusted colleague to review your application before you submit it.
- Don’t wait until the last minute! Note deadlines and try to apply early if possible.
Nav (where I work) offers a quarterly $10,000 small business grant, and the businesses that make it to the final round clearly demonstrate how they will use the money to solve a business challenge or take their business to the next level. Try to present your grant application the way you’d present your business to a customer or client.
Startup Business Grants
There aren’t a lot of grants to start a brand new business. In particular, the federal government does not give grants to begin a business. But don’t let that stop you from investigating your options.
If your goal is to start a business, your first step—before you try to find a grant—is to create a business plan. This will allow you to understand how much money your business needs, and how you will successfully use funds. Your local SCORE chapter is a great place to start. You can take advantage of their free services to learn about how to create a business plan and grow your business.
Alternatives to Grants
A grant is not the only way to fund a small business. In addition to grants, you may want to look at financing, including:
- SBA loans: These include a variety of loan programs (up to $5 million, at low-interest rates).
- Microloans: These are smaller loans often made by non-profit organizations.
- Crowdfunding: Raise money online from individuals or groups.
- Business credit cards: low-rate credit cards may provide small amounts of funding.
- Small business loans: A variety of multi-purpose small business financing options are available.
Some of these options are available to newer businesses as well as established ones.
For detailed information on how to get a small business grant, watch the recording of the SCORE webinar: How to Find and Get A Small Business Grant.