The Truth About Government Grants for Your Business

Free money! Receive up to $25,000 that never has to be paid back -- Guaranteed! Get a grant to start your own business today!

If you're a small business owner, or you've always dreamed of starting your own business, you've probably run across ads like these. Companies that "guarantee" you'll get a grant to start your own business that never has to be paid back. Purchase their product, and they'll give you the "secrets" to making all your money troubles go away.

Have you ever wondered if all the hype is true? Can you really get free cash to start or expand your business? Before you spend your hard-earned money on what could turn out to be nothing more than a list of names and addresses (that you can actually get for free in the Internet by the way), keep reading to learn the truth about grants for individuals and business start-ups.

First of all, what is a grant?

A grant is a sum of money that is used for a specific purpose. Grants are given away by charitable organizations called foundations, and their sole purpose is to give away that money.

In addition, the U.S. Federal government also gives away billions of dollars of grant money every year for many reasons -- including to support and encourage economic development and small business growth, which is where you come in.

So what's the catch? (You knew there had to be a catch, right? I mean, if it was that easy, every new business out there would be starting out in the black!)

Most corporations, foundations and government agencies ONLY give grant money to nonprofit organizations that have a 501(c)(3) designation from the IRS.

The most common grants given to individuals are in the form of scholarships.

So, are there any grants available to you as a small business owner? Yes. Is somebody just waiting to hand you a check for $25,000? No. In fact, you may never actually see the cash. But that doesn't mean you can't take advantage of all the programs that are out there -- and that could add up to a lot more than $25,000. You just have to know where to look and what to ask for.

Here's how it works. First of all, be prepared. Finding a grant is going to take some work on your part. You'll want to set up a system for keeping the information organized. You can create a paper system with files and a calendar, of do it on your computer. You're going to want to separate your research into classifications that make sense for your business, plus you'll need to keep track of who's giving what away and the corresponding deadlines.

Next, you'll have to do some research to find what programs are available in your area, and what the guidelines are. Then you'll have to do some deeper research, to eliminate the ones you don't qualify for. (Most grants have some type of restrictions -- some are geographic, some are targeted towards specific groups, some are for specific types of businesses, etc.)

And the third and final step will be to apply for the grants you qualify for and need. (For a small business grant, what's required is usually a well written business plan).

So how do you get started? Before you start looking for grant money, you need to figure out exactly what you're looking for. What exactly do you need to take your business to the next level. This will not only help you to be more focused on your business goals, but it will give you a better idea of where to start looking and save you time in the long run.

For example, do you need training? Maybe you've realized you need to learn how to use a computer, learn to build your own Web site, or master a specific program such as word or excel.

What about technical assistance? Are you trying to learn a new process or need to learn how to use specific equipment?

Do you need assistive technology because of a disability?

Do you need cash to purchase equipment and supplies?

Make a list of exactly what it is you need, and prioritize it. Figure out a schedule of when you need to have it. Create a basic budget based on how much what you need would cost if you had to pay for it out of pocket. Also note down where, in your local area, you can find what you need.

Now it's time to start looking for your grant. A good place to start is the Small Business Administration. They've got a great Website that has lots of information to get you started. You can even take free online classes to learn how to write -- or tweak -- your business plan.

After that, start locally. Check with your own Small Business Development Center, Chamber of Commerce or, if you're in a rural area, Association of Government office. If there are small business grants available in your area, these are the experts who will know about them.

Don't forget about your local library. The librarian in charge of the research section is very knowledgeable, and can provide you with a wealth of materials.

It's important to keep an open mind and think outside the box when you're looking for grants. Not all grants come in the form of cold, hard cash. You might be able to find funding that will pay for the training you need, business classes or get a scholarship to go to your local community college.

Your local Small Business Development Center may operate a "small business incubation center" and can provide you with low-cost office space that includes telephone lines, use of office equipment, meeting rooms and someone to answer calls and take messages.

If you need help with advertising or marketing your products or services, look to larger corporations, your local chamber of commerce or your city's economic development office. They may offer co-op advertising programs, reduced printing costs on specific advertising campaigns, and other resources for getting your name out to your target market. If you sell products for nationwide companies, check to see if there are advertising incentives where they'll help to pay for your advertising costs.

If you're a member of a professional or trade organization, see if they offer programs. Check the Internet. You can find grant information from the federal government online. The foundation center is another great resource with an interactive database. Women should utilize women's organizations and the women's business centers.

You can check the foundation center online for a very comprehensive listing of foundations and the grants they offer. Again...remember that most foundations DON'T give grants to individuals, so don't waste a lot of time looking at the foundations themselves. Instead, LOOK FOR THE NONPROFIT organizations they have give grants to! You're looking specifically for economic or community development grants.

That's you'll actually be able to access whatever grants, services and resources are available, because the nonprofit organizations are the ones who work with indidivuals and provide "service delivery."

To find out who is getting the money, check the foundations 990 tax forms, which are usually available online. That will tell you which nonprofit organizations to contact.

Keep a file of all the possibilities, and hone your research to the sources that provide the best fit for your needs.

There are resources out there, if you're willing to spend the time looking for them. Keep an open mind, be willing to think outside the box, and never give up!

Cheryl Antier is the President/CEO of Dream Weaver Enterprises, a business and fundraising consulting company. MAPS (Microenterprise Answers to your Personal Success) was started as a way for her to give something back to other women, because of the blessings she's received in her life. MAPS offers a free monthly ezine called "Directions". Subscribing is easy and you can unsubcribe at any time with a simple click of your mouse. Your privacy is important, so your information will NEVER be shared. "Directions" does all the research for you -- find out about the latest programs, grants and funding opportunities in your area -- and know BEFORE you apply if you qualify. NEVER be taken in again by a con artist. Monthly ALERTS will warn you about scams. Read reviews of the latest programs, books and software that can help you succeed. Each issue is jampacked with information about a single topic, so you can learn what you need to know quickly and easily. Sign up today -- it's FREE! http://www.microenterprisesuccess.com

In The News:

Small business is big business in SC  Charleston Regional Business
Goldman Sachs Started 7300 Small Businesses. What's Next?  Harvard Business School Working Knowledge
Small Business Hiring Slows  The Wall Street Journal

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