Clever ways to find funding for your small business
Small businesses can always use extra cash. Whether you’re a start-up or a long-standing business, it’s a great time to look for new types of funding. There are more resources out there than there used to be, due to the pandemic response. Technology has also given us more ways to get money on the cheap.
There are two main types of funding you can go after: money you have to pay back, with interest (loans), and money you don’t (grants and prizes). There is also a third type (crowdfunding), which is a hybrid. You don’t have to pay back the money you raise, but you’ll be charged a fee.
The pandemic era is a good time to search for loans because there is a big push to get small businesses back up and running. Federal and state governments have turned on the taps and the credit is flowing. The Small Business Administration is your headquarters for special pandemic-related financial help: sba.gov.
Part of the American Rescue Plan is the State Small Business Credit Initiative. This is new. It provides $10 billion to state and tribal governments to fund small business credit expansion (i.e., loans). As before the pandemic, there are special loans available to minority, women and veteran business owners.
Search your state’s small business portal to find out more about small business loans. Connecticut’s is here.
Microloans aren’t just for nonprofits or the developing world. Small for-profit businesses in the U.S. can get them, too. Microloans are small ($50,000 maximum) short-term loans extended to self-employed individuals, modest start-ups or small businesses with only a few employees. They are issued by alternative lenders, not big banks or government. Good news — microloans are typically easier to get than bank loans.
The Small Business Administration actually funds microloans, but funnels the money through community-based nonprofit organizations, which act as “intermediary lenders.” Learn about the SBA microloan program and how to find an intermediary lender here.
Grants are technically free money, but they cost you time searching for them and applying. (You may need to hire a grant writing expert.) Grants also might have restrictions on the money’s use. They come from governments, corporations and foundations.
If you’ve ever searched for scholarships, you know how vast that world can be. The grant world is the same, but that simply means there is a lot of money out there waiting to be claimed! Grantwatch.com is a good place to start.
Also, check your state. The Connecticut Humanities Fund has a grant portal here.
Your industry’s association should have tips on applicable grants, too.
Crowdfunding is simply going online and asking for money and/or investors for your business or product using specialized sites such as Kickstarter. There is an entire spectrum of business-oriented crowdfunding sites out there, such as Indiegogo (sister company of GoFundMe), Wefunder and Crowdfunder. Be sure to read the fine print because they all have different rules and target different users. These sites are not free, and they will keep a percentage of what you raise.
Business contests are probably the cleverest way to get “free” money. You might have to solve a problem or come up with a super-innovative product to win a cash prize.
Challenge.gov is a list of creative, technical and scientific competitions and prizes run by agencies across the federal government.
Some corporate contests include the FedEx Small Business Grant Contest, which provides a top prize of $50,000, plus free print and business services.
The Cisco Global Problem Solver Challenge awards $1 million in prize money to multiple categories of winners whose “solutions use digital technology to positively impact society or the environment.”
Check the major companies in your area and see if they offer business contests or grants. Many high-profile multinational corporations are developing small business programs as a way to give back.