Looking for a financial pick-me-up to test a new marketing channel or expand your product line? You may be looking for what some call “free money,” or a grant.
A grant is how the government and other organizations fund your ideas or business to stimulate the economy, benefit the public or generate publicity. Unlike loans, grants don’t need to be paid back — hence, the “free” part.
Sounds intriguing, right? Full transparency: what’s free usually doesn’t come easy. So, if you’re looking for a grant for your small retail business, you’ll find they’re hard to come by and even harder to qualify for.
In spite of the difficulty, there are a variety of grant programs worth exploring for your retail business. Government funding could be the infusion of capital your business needs to grow and expand.
Interested in exploring the options available to retail businesses? Let’s see if we can make the process any simpler.
Take a look at your business plan and the way you operate. Identify the ways (if any) that your business benefits your local community. Are there employment or environmental programs you can implement? Do you donate a portion of your profits to a good cause or a local charity? Do you use cutting-edge technology in your operations? If you have things about your business that differentiate you, capture a running list and keep it handy as you dive into the world of funding opportunities.
Searching for Government Grants
Government grants are offered on a federal, state and local level and you can search for them at Grants.gov.
These grants often support large businesses with national mandates, typically scientific initiatives and research and development programs. The Small Business Innovation Research program encourages high-tech innovation through research and development. If you’re an agricultural producer, the Value Added Producer Grant can help with expenses including processing, marketing and inventory.
These tend to focus on what impacts the economy within their own borders. If you own a business in Maryland, for example, and want to expand overseas, the ExportMD program can help offset the cost of marketing internationally. You can find an extensive list of state-level loan programs and grants here.
While these are often smaller amounts, they're less competitive for businesses on the prowl for funding. For example, the city of Miami has a Mom and Pop Small Business Grant Program that covers funding for equipment, inventory, advertising and marketing, minor renovations and more. Visit your local government's website to see if they have grants that apply to your business.
Applying for a Grant
Set aside ample time to read through posted funding opportunities to ensure you meet the long list of legal requirements. Applying for grants takes time and money, both of which are in finite supply for most entrepreneurs. So, make sure you read the fine print to ensure it’s worth while!
Before applying for a government grant, you need to register as an individual or an organization. The registration process can take up to three weeks, so it’s best to keep track of grant deadlines in a single place. Consider using an application that has built-in alerts to send you reminders. Otherwise, using a handy Excel spreadsheet or Google Sheets list can help you track deadlines and your progress in the application process for each applicable grant.
The actual process varies depending on the grant you’re applying for, but generally you’ll have to communicate your idea, write a proposal, and complete the application form.
Grant proposals will require several revisions and usually comprise of the following sections:
- Introduction of business
- Needs assessment
- Business objectives
- Plan of action
- Evaluation and future funding plans
While every grant application is a bit different, here are some general writing tips courtesy of NIH to help increase your chances of success:
- Make your business objectives/project goals realistic: Propose work or a project that can realistically be completed with the money from the potential grant.
- Be organized: Follow a logical flow in the organization of your application.
- Write in clear and concise language: When constructing your thoughts on paper, keep it simple.
- Be persuasive on paper: Really work to sell your idea. Include a thorough description of your work so that any reader could understand your proposal.
- Edit, edit, edit: It isn't enough to simply crank out a grant application. Take the time to edit it, then consider enlisting a second set of eyes to polish it to perfection.
For more advice, check out these grant writing tips sheets before you get started.
After the application is submitted, the review process is thorough and includes confirming applicants have met the basic requirements and that their financial documents are in order. If you’re awarded the money, you’re legally responsible for reporting on how you’ve used it.
Acquiring government funding requires you to be exceptionally organized before, during, and after the process. So, it’s best to get any relevant documents (bank statements, business plan docs, etc.) in order before applying to make the process as seamless as possible.
Looking Outside of Government Funding: Corporate Grants
In many cases, you’ll be hard pressed to find a government grant that suits your retail business. The good news is that some corporations offer grants to small businesses, as well
While there are fewer restrictions to apply, they’re often equally as competitive and, in some cases, more work for less money.
Take a look at these corporate grants and see if any apply to you and your retail biz:
GazMetro offers grants to stores and retail buildings that are energy efficient. They provide funding for equipment purchase and installation, use of high-efficiency equipment and appliances, as well as energy-efficient projects.
InnovateHer is an annual competition hosted by the U.S. Small Business Administration for business owners to showcase how their products and services impact women and families, whether their business can be commercialized or if they fill a void in the market. Previous winners include Flat out of Heels and Trusst Lingerie.
FedEx Small Business Grant awards three grants up to $25,000 to small business willing to submit their story. The winners are determined based on external voting, so you can tap on the shoulders of friends and family to help your chances.
IdeaCafe awards $1,000, publicity and national recognition to new or existing business owners who apply for their grant.
National Association for the Self Employed (NASE) gives small business owners up to $4,000 to help them grow. Funds can be used for anything from marketing to expanding your facilities.
Funding Your Small Business with a Loan
In the case that your grant search comes up dry or you need additional funds for your needs, consider alternative options in the form of a small business loan.
Visit the U.S. Small Business Administration’s (SBA) website to learn about programs ranging from microloans to disaster loans. The SBA has financial assistance programs to facilitate funding through third party lenders, guarantee a bond, or help you find venture capital.
First American Merchant is a loan provider that works specifically with retailers to give them easy access to the capital they need to start up and grow. In some cases, funds can reach your account within 24 hours.
Alternative lenders like Kabbage appeal to small business owners by giving them access to up to $100,000 as well.
Need more guidance on searching for the right loan, or not sure what to expect during the application process? Check out our guide on getting a loan for your small business.
Evaluating Your Options for Funding
Financing is one of the most fundamental aspects of starting and growing your small business.
Ideally, it will come in the form of grants, but being realistic about where you get your capital will help ensure you don’t get stalled when you’re trying to move forward.
Help your fellow small business retailers out! Share any grants or government funding opportunities below that may be worth investigating