As a small business, access to capital can be a challenge. Where can we go for a fair shot at a grant or low-interest loan? Most private sources set their access to capital criteria to align with their agendas and don’t open their grant opportunities to the general public. The good news is that there are options for funding out there, you just have to know where to look.
First stop: the library
If you have a local or college library with a reference librarian, your first step is to arrange a time to meet with the reference librarian. Some libraries have services available over the phone so if your local library does not have the resources you need, try to find a library within your county or state, many have reciprocal agreements for services. If that is not an option, move up to the state university level and make a request to their library for guidance.
Given the best way to ask for help is to ask for precisely what you need, be blunt. You are a small business owner seeking access to capital through grants and low-interest loans. If they do not have the resources to help you, ask them where else you could try to get the help you need.
Set up alerts
If you prefer the do-it-yourself approach, construct a search alert using Google alerts. The search form is very simple; enter the search criteria and your email address. If you are looking for very specific types of capital, make the search very specific. For the best results, choose a general search and two or three additional very specific searches. One of mine is simply “Massachusetts, grant, creative” this returns results that reflect my business, the type of capital I want, and the state in which I reside. The other two are related to aspects of my business, they contain terms like “artist” “fiber arts” and “educational” to hone in on grants specific to the creative arts and educational grants.
The results returned by the searches are not only for open application opportunities but also grants which were previously awarded to creative businesses. This is critical information to track because you will want to keep an eye on the grants which are awarded on a regular basis even if you did not qualify to fill out the application for your business, this time. Tracking who got what grant and for how much money will help you build a list of opportunities to be on the lookout for in the future.
Sign up for email lists
Adding your email address to the mailing list of the local business incubator, chamber of commerce, Small Business Administration regional office, Center for Women & Enterprise, and SCORE will generate a lot of email traffic to sift through. The reward for going through these can be exceptionally generous. These organizations foster business development and as such are an incredibly useful tool to build your knowledge of available grants, educational opportunities, and networking events to attend.
If the volume of emails is too much, consider setting up a separate email address to keep all this information together in one place. Then, once a week, search the inbox for keywords like “low-interest”, “grant”, and “creative” to see which newsletters may contain a reference to what you need. The added bonus is that these newsletters typically will feature classes of interest to small businesses like using TikTok, social media advertising, or Quickbooks Basics, and most of these programs are subsidized so they are provided at low or no cost to you.
How to access the Small Business Administration
The Small Business Administration has historically not provided grant opportunities directly to small business owners. There have been exceptions in the past two years however the SBA is pivoting back to its historical model partnering with other entities through whom their funds are distributed. Navigating the available grants can be difficult.
To make the process easier and to avoid running into a circular search path on the SBA site, keep a log of screenshots when looking through the layers of information or keep notes as you navigate the site. When you find an opportunity, bookmark it using your browser of choice to revisit it when you are ready to apply or apply immediately if your time permits and you have the required documentation close at hand. Be forewarned, not all applications allow you to save a draft version of your application so having all the necessary documentation available electronically when you start the application will make the process much easier.
For an overview of available grant and low-interest loan opportunities funded by the SBA, begin your search at sba.gov under the Funding Programs tab. The programs herein are divided into different types of capital.
The next step in the process of finding grants funded by the SBA for which you may qualify, find a small business development center in your area. If you have the time, look at the development centers adjacent to your own. For example, the resource center in Rhode Island has a grant program available to any New England-based business, when you read this the grant funds may be diminished, but it pays to check back regularly in addition to receiving email notifications as the email notification may not tell the whole story about a particular opportunity.
Grants at the federal level
At the federal level in the US, there are grant programs listed on grants.gov. Although this website is arcane, it’s still worth looking through it for opportunities for which you might qualify. To reduce the noise on the site, set the eligibility filters to suit your situation, and search only for posted opportunities, and the type of funding desired. Some of the grants are remarkably generic like one I noticed today that fosters development in Samoa through cultural opportunities to promote stronger connections between the peoples of both nations. Grants like this could be a starting point for building an international component of your creative business.
With the majority of COVID-19-related grants exhausted, there are still opportunities to be found, you just have to put in the time to find them. A conversation with your local reference librarian, Google alerts, news alerts, and newsletters from the local or not-so-local Small Business Development Center are the best way to start. It’s better to be a collaborator than a competitor as a small business owner so don’t be afraid to reach out and share grant opportunities with others who may benefit from them, too.
Rosanne Fleischauer is the owner of First Byte Designs, a company that offers a range of services to the fiber arts industry. Whether you are a professional representing yarn manufacturer, wholesaler, yarn store owner, publishing house or individual fiber arts enthusiast, let First Byte Designs help you find a solution to suit your needs.