Small Business Grants for Freelancers, Solopreneurs, and Collective Members

Financial options are available like small business grants when money is tight.
March 28, 2020

Opportunities for some cash when times are tough

Wow, so who would've thought that we'd be in this situation?

This is the type of content that I had always envisioned we would be coordinating and writing for the Collective for Creative Good and its members. But, I never thought it would be so soon or nearly as relevant. It's clear that as more cities and states implement shelter-in-place policies and shut down non-essential business operations, small businesses are going through a lot. In fact, I don't even think I'm expressing the severity of the situation, specifically for small businesses and freelancers alike. As the government continues to favor and support Wall Street, big businesses, and NOT workers, this is just going to get harder and harder.

Some of our members are fortunate enough to work with accounts and brands that will continue to give them work. We are so proud of you and the opportunity you have. Keep it up! We also have members of the collective that are struggling to find work, pay bills, and support themselves. As one of the co-founders of 409 Co, I can say that our team will continue to work hard to bring you work.

Sometimes in order to survive, we need some extra help. Luckily, we are moving into a time of economic uncertainty after a period of economic growth (that followed a recession). So, since we recovered from the 2008 recession, we've seen countless funds set up to help small businesses, freelancers, and independent contractors when money is hard to come by. Hopefully, this shows that if you need financial help, there are resources available to you.

What is a small business grant?

The reason why we're highlighting grants right now is that they're kind of the one time that money is actually free. Many of us are in the process of paying down our student debt. Adding another loan onto your burden can be like throwing an extra log into a fire that you're already standing too close to.  Small business grants really are free money, but they come at the cost of time and specificity.

Small business grants are given to freelancers, independent contractors, solopreneurs, hustlers (and of course, small businesses). They're generally given for a specific purpose. According to Bench.com, "...grants don’t need to be repaid, and they won’t hurt your business credit score..."

Great! But, as we mentioned before they are very specific with how you can spend the money. Typically grants are only given to small business owners when a business is in its start-up phase, expansion, or research and development.

Best strategies for grant applications

Even though grants have a lot of rules and specifications, they're still free money so they're pretty popular to apply to. They take a lot of time and even if there's a small pool of applicants, it's very competitive. It's important to find a grant that matches your small business and to stand out from the other applicants. The best way to do that is to follow all of the guidelines carefully.

Make sure you meet the requirements

Read the guidelines for the grant that you're applying to carefully. Investigate every detail and double-check that you meet the specifications to apply. You're a woman-owned business? Check! You're Latinx? Check! You've been in business for at least 3 years? No, only two. Then you have to wait until next year or find a different grant to apply to.

If you apply and you don't meet the specifications, your application will get thrown out. Do not waste your time applying to a grant that you have no chance to get.

Follow the instructions

Filling out a grant application is kind of like taking an exam. They'll never put in an instruction to mess with you, but they have their specifications for a reason. Be sure to follow the directions they layout, so if they say that the cover letter can't be more than one page, don't make it a page and a quarter.

Communicate with the grant officer

Every grant has someone who is the public face of it. I highly recommend that you reach out to them and get a clear understanding of the nuances that they're looking for. You should be certain about constraints, deadlines, timing, and more. The more information you get, the better you can direct your application to them. Be curious, not pushy

It's also generally a good idea to follow up with the grant officer once you've submitted the application. You can do so in a non-intrusive way that invites them to ask for any clarification they might need or address any concerns they may have.

Have your business plan handy

Organizations want to know why your business will succeed, so you want to have a comprehensive business plan available. This should be well crafted and explain how the money will be used to strengthen your business. Make sure to include how your business operations will accomplish the goals laid out in the grant.

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Different types of small business grants

For the most part, each grant is unique, but they fall into two primary categories: government and private. Government business grants exist at both the federal and state level. Private grants come from organizations and are typically separated into two categories as well: corporate and demographic-specific. Corporate business grants come from corporations that want to help out and support small businesses. Demographic-specific grants are established to help business owners in specific communities.

Federal Small Business Grants

Chances are, if you're a member of the Collective for Creative Good, you can skip over this section.

Federal grants typically focus on research and development rather than start-up phase or business expansion. Therefore, grants from the federal government typically go to the science, health, and conservation industries.  They can also help support non-profits, educational institutions, and local governments.

Grants.gov

This is the official gateway for grants that are administered by federal agencies. Follow these steps to apply for a grant through Grants.gov.

Challenge.gov

This site is cool because it consists of a variety of creative, technical, and science competitions and prizes run by federal government agencies. The intention of Challenge.gov is to drive innovation. Click here for the full guide on how Challenge.gov works and how you can participate.

If you're bored, these are just cool to see the winners.

GrantWatch

GrantWatch is a database that allows you to identify funding across grant categories throughout the United States and Canada. The only downside to this site is that you have to pay in order to get to see all the details about the grant. Browse grants for small businesses on GrantWatch and click here to sign up.

Small Business Innovation Research Program (SBIR)

This is a competitive grant program focused on technology and innovation. There are a lot of eligibility requirements so please check them out. Browse "solicitations" posted by federal agencies and filter by program, agency, or phase. Click any headline for further details on how to apply.

Small Business Technology Transfer Program (STTR)

Similar to the SBIR, this one is also a competitive grant program focused on technological innovation. The biggest difference is that the STTR is focused on collaboration with non-profit research institutions. See a list of solicitations posted by federal agencies and filter by program, agency, or phase. Click any headline for further details on how to apply.

You can also find SBIR and STTR programs offered through the Department of Energy and the Department of Defense.

State Small Business Grants

For collective members, you're probably not going to find a grant you're going to match up with on the federal level. But, you will have better luck looking for grants at the state or municipal level. These grants are less widely known so the competition is not as big and they tend to be more focused on individual businesses in non-tech industries.

Economic Development Administration (EDA)

The EDA is the government agency dedicated to encouraging entrepreneurship and innovation. Even though this part of the U.S. Department of Commerce, it's specific to the state level. These grants help businesses find financing, secure office space and recruit employees. Click here for the full breakdown on how to apply for an EDA grant.

Small Business Development Centers (SBDCs)

Small Business Development Centers exist all over the United States. SBDCs are focused on ensuring businesses in a competitive market remain competitive. They're great at connecting you with financing, but also business mentors and networking opportunities. Use this portal to find the nearest SBDC to you.

Corporate Small Business Grants

Maybe you don't want to be getting money from the government. To be honest, I don't blame you! But, luckily there are tons of businesses and corporations that have grant programs set up to help your business. Corporations typically host competitions where they offer pretty big prizes as well as good publicity and even runner-up rewards.

Do research into the big businesses in your industry and see if they offer grant programs. The more industry-specific, the better the match you'll be.

FedEx Small Business Grant Contest

This is a big one. Specifically, your business can win up to $25,000 in addition to print and business services. Definitely check this one out! They've already selected their finalists for 2020, but keep an eye because they may do an additional run because of COVID-19. Click here to learn about what you’ll need to prepare to enter.

Visa Everywhere Initiative

It just seems right that a credit card company would have a good grant program. This one is a global program that is focused on solving payment and commerce challenges. If you've got a cool idea, why not apply? Watch this video of past pitches and visit the Visa resource center for information on how to apply.

National Association of the Self-Employed (NASE)

The NASE is a good resource even not in times of crisis, so it's not the worst idea to become a member. As far as grants, they have different programs, but one of their most popular is every month they award $4,000 to a member. Click here for more information on the NASE grants and how to become the next grant recipient.

Bumble Community Grants

Yes! The dating app bumble has community grants in place during COVID-19. They're actually pretty cool in that they have grant programs in different cities for women-owned businesses. For COVID-19, Bumble is giving small businesses up to $5,000 in grant money to help. Click here to apply to be considered for the Bumble Community Grant.

Demographic-specific Small Business Grants

We've all got communities that we're part of looking out for us. Granted, maybe don't look for communities supporting cis-straight white males (ahem). But, there are all sorts of funding opportunities for womxn, people of color, first-nations persons, immigrants, and more.

Eileen Fisher Women-Owned Business Grant

If you're a female business owner, this is one to watch! The women's clothing retailer awards a total of $100,000 to 10 female business owners each year. In order to be eligible, women must make up at least 51% of the businesses' ownership and leadership. Check out the other eligibility requirements here.

The Amber Grant

The Amber Grant is a $2,000 grant that goes to a different female entrepreneur every month. Then at the end of the year, one of the monthly grant recipients is eligible to get $25,000 in funding! Learn more about how to apply for an Amber Grant.

Veteran Small Business Award

If you're a veteran, there's a grant program that can give up to $15,000 to veterans that own a business. They are also partners with 409 Co corporate partner, Biznexus.com! Read the full terms and conditions for eligibility and application guidelines.

First Nations Development Institute Grants

This grant helps Native Americans, Alaska Natives, and Native Hawaiians that own businesses. They have a variety of programs available and have successfully provided over $29 million in grant money to First Nations owned businesses. View a list of available grants and stay in touch with new opportunities through their newsletter.

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In the end, there are financial programs that we can participate in that aren't loans. 409 Co is determined to find the best resources and opportunities for our Collective for Creative Good members. Stay safe, stay healthy, and stay inside.

Thank you Aron Vellekoop León (@aronvellekoopleon) for the incredible graphics! Check out his website, Instagram, and Behance

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Stephen Davis Hernandez
Co-Founder & Business Director Co-Founder & Business Director Co-Founder & Business Director Co-Founder & Business Director Co-Founder & Business
A guy who loves dogs, travel, cooking, and so much more. You'll always see me at a pride parade and supporting my queer brothers, sisters, and everyone in between! I was a Haverford College student.
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