It's Not Free Money: The Key to Finding the Right Small Business Grant
All small-business leaders are inundated with information on how to build a successful organization. The lure of small business grants can become incredibly tempting as you're wading through difficult times. However, as your organization grows, you will find that many grants being offered aren't necessarily your best option.
Why? For one, there can be massive costs incurred, far beyond the obvious time cost of simply writing the grant application. Every grant incurs its own burden of research, creation, submission - and if your organization wins the grant - the post-award reporting. Only you can decide whether there is sufficient return on the investment you must make to secure and complete a given grant.
There are also many grants out there that are limited to women-owned businesses, which you would think would also help your organization's chances of winning a grant. However, valid criteria for whether a grant must be developed to have a chance of succeeding--both at winning the grant and forwarding your organization. If a grant's top amount awarded is $20,000 and you need $200,000 to accomplish your aims, then it's the wrong grant for you.
Eliminate first, then move forward with the right grant When researching grant funding opportunities, the best possible way to look at a request for grant applications is to see if you can eliminate your organization from the running. The faster you can do that, the faster you can move on to find one that is the right fit. There are going to be any number of criteria for you that are important, but some key attributes to help eliminate specific grants are:
Is the funding a fit for your business? Interests range as widely as the funders do, but if you own a medical services business, a funder's request for a program/project that promotes art in the communities is not just not a good fit. Rather, it's wasted effort on both your part and the funder's.
If you and the funder share the same interest, but the funder is oriented on a specific project that is not already in your plans, then put them to the side. Do you really want to hire six new people to complete a project that must be completed in six months according to the grant rules? If a specific program or project is not appropriate to you now, you should not change your company to meet a grant funder. Grant funding is, by definition, temporary - will happen a year from now when the grant money has been spent? Many funders even specify that you must skip a year between applications to their organization.
Is there formal certification (such as Woman-Owned, Disadvantaged Business) that is required to be eligible to apply? Do you have it? If not, can you get it in time for the application deadline? If you're finding that the specific certification is required by a number of funders, and that your organization has the ability to get certified, it's time to move forward with certifying, but may still not be settled until after the deadline for the current funder you're researching. Put them on a "future grant applications" list, but set them aside for now.
Past behavior is the best predictor of future action. If you need a quarter million, find a funder who has awarded that much in the past. If they haven't, then put them to the side. How do you find out? Call them! Most private or public funders will be happy to let you know.
Are the logistics more burden than your company can reasonably support? When you're filling out a 42-page, printed-out application to apply for a $2,000 grant, it's simply not a good use of your time. Neither are monthly 30-page required reporting for small grants. One way to decide on the post-award requirements burden is to reach out to businesses who've achieved the grant in the past and get an honest assessment of the effort involved in completing the grant. These conversations are valuable in terms of grant application efforts, as well as building your community of business owners like you.
As a woman business owner, you need to belong to a community that will offer the support, ideas and morale needed to stir your firm to higher levels. Pailor is the fastest growing women business owners' community in the United States. We come together for peer learning, access capital and strategic services.