After watching an Internet or TV infomercial on free government grants, you might feel compelled to take a chance. Maybe it is not only possible but far easier to accomplish than anybody else realizes. Maybe the U.S. federal government really does have billions of dollars in grant money that must, by law, be given away, to people just like you, for all kinds of entrepreneurial ventures. And maybe, as the infomercials say, not a penny of the money ever has to be paid back.
The fine print
The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) states that “free money” grant offers are usually scams. Now, it is true that the federal government does award grants to small businesses. And, yes, the money need not always be repaid. But the process of applying for a grant from the government is highly complex and laborious. Winning one imposes severe obligations on the grantee, including strenuous record keeping throughout the foreseeable future. Failure to meet these obligations gets you into big legal trouble with Uncle Sam. If you don’t follow through to success, you’ll probably have to return the grant money. If you are found to have misused or, in effect, stolen public funds, you could face fines and even a term in prison.
Video: FREE Government Grants - Can You Get One?
Don’t get taken
Follow a few basic rules from the FTC to make sure you aren’t wasting your time and money on scam artists.
Keep your banking information confidential. Don’t share it unless and until you find out why it is needed.
Don’t pay for a grant that is supposed to be free. The official starting point for all federal grants is free of charge, and anyone can use it.
Don’t fall for an authoritative-sounding name. A company can call itself anything, but a highfalutin moniker doesn’t mean a company is on the up and up.
Likewise, remember that phone numbers, logos and graphics that appear to be “official” can be anything but.
OK, you say, it’s not going to be easy, but the rewards are potentially so great that I just have to give it a shot. Before you begin, you must realize that few U.S. government agencies offer grants for starting or running a small business. Most federal grants are given to other federal agencies, state and municipal agencies and nonprofit educational and research organizations. Grant seekers like these employ staffs that do little more than apply for and monitor grants. It’s a highly competitive endeavor. And in the midst of nationwide economic woes, the competition is growing hotter every day.
Tips for applying
To take a look at small-business grants that are available, start with the Catalog of Federal Domestic Assistance (CFDA). This free service lists thousands of government grants and information on who is eligible to apply for them. If you find a small-business grant project that seems ideal, get ready for a long, drawn-out application and approval process. Take these tips:
Provide complete application information. Anything you leave out will just delay everything.
Prepare a detailed business plan to show that you understand what the grant is funding. Demonstrate how you will use the money to meet the goals of the granting agency. Hire accountants, consultants and other experts if you believe this will boost your credibility.
Get to know and stay in touch with your grant officer to keep up to date on your progress.
Video: Financing a Business - Applying for Government Grants
Loans as an alternative
The Small Business Administration (SBA) offers a guaranteed loan program. A good source of information on loans to small business is an SBA-backed program called SCORE, a nonprofit association that helps forge professional relationships between small-business owners and retired business executives. Why not consider a loan instead?