Running a small business is anything but cheap. Rent alone can cost a few thousand dollars, depending on your location. On top of that, you're responsible for utility bills, employee wages, payroll taxes, professional fees and more. The good news is, you can always apply for a grant to pay bills and stay out of debt.
TL;DR (Too Long; Didn't Read)
Most grants are not specifically designed to help businesses pay their bills. However, some programs support overall business growth and development, meaning that you may use the funds to pay your bills and support your day-to-day operations.
In general, government grants have strict conditions and eligibility requirements. Private grants, on the other hand, offer greater flexibility in terms of how you can use the money.
Getting a Grant to Pay Bills
First of all, make sure you know what a grant is and how it works. Grants are typically awarded by the government or private organizations to individuals and companies that meet certain criteria. In general, they serve a specific purpose, such as rural development, poverty reduction, research initiatives, business growth and more. For example, an organization may award grants to female entrepreneurs who plan to start a sustainable business and make positive changes in their communities.
Unlike bank loans, grants don't need to be paid back. You can keep and use the money as long as you meet the grant's requirements. If, let's say, you receive a student grant and then drop out of school, you may need to pay back the funds. Depending on your needs, you may apply for:
- Small business grants
- Research grants
- Project grants
- Home improvement grants
- Transportation grants
- Student grants
These can be further broken down into several other categories, such as government grants and private grants. If you belong to one or more ethnic groups and want to start your business or continue your education, you may qualify for minority grants. Some organizations also offer veteran grants, so that's an option to consider if you've served in the military. Small business owners may apply for a grant to pay bills, develop new products, conduct scientific research or expand their operations.
Government Grants for Small Businesses
Small business grants are often awarded by federal agencies. In general, they have strict eligibility requirements and the competition is tight. Additionally, grant approval can take months. Consider hiring a grant proposal writer and draft a solid business plan to increase your chances of success.
There are several ways to apply for a small business grant to pay bills. The first place you should check is Grants.gov. This online platform connects students, minorities, entrepreneurs, non-profits and individuals with organizations offering financial support. Another resource is the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA), which works with public and private organizations to help entrepreneurs secure funding so they can start a business or grow an existing company.
You may also want to check out the grants offered by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), which have the role to support agricultural and economic development in rural areas. For example, if you own a farm or a small factory in the countryside, you may use the funds to grow your business and finance its activities. Other grant programs for small business include:
- Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) program
- Department of Education (DOE) grants
- Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) grants
- National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) grants
Grants for Self-Employed Professionals
Self-employed professionals who are struggling to pay their bills can join the NASE (National Association for the Self-Employed) for the chance to win a grant worth $4,000. The funds can be used for any purpose related to small business growth, including the acquisition of new computers and software, website creation, advertising and more.
The only condition is to be a member of the NASE in good standing for at least three months prior to applying for the grant. If you sign up for a monthly membership, which costs $11.95, you must wait 90 days after joining the NASE to submit your application. Entrepreneurs holding an annual membership (which costs $120 per year) can apply immediately. The NASE awards one grant each month.
Successful candidates are required to maintain records showing how they use their money. They cannot use the funds to pay rent, mortgages or any outstanding debts. The funds are awarded to winners within 30 days after they submit the required documentation to the NASE.
Consider Applying for Private Grants
As mentioned earlier, government grants are hard to come by and have very specific requirements. Private grants, on the other hand, are more flexible. FedEx, for example, has awarded over $778,000 to entrepreneurs and small businesses since 2013; the grant amounts vary between $50,000 and $15,000 plus print and business services worth 7,500 to $10,000. Each year, the company holds a grant contest aimed at for-profit small companies that have been in business for at least six months and have no more than 99 employees.
Another option to consider is Visa’s Everywhere Initiative, which appeals to startups worldwide. The organization offers grants to small businesses that come up with innovative solutions for the payment challenges of tomorrow. For example, candidates who have applied for a grant in 2019 were asked to share their ideas on how to accelerate the adoption of digital payments and provide added value to Visa's customer network.
If your business is actively committed to protect and preserve the environment, consider applying for Patagonia's grant program. The company awards $10,000 to $20,000 to environmental organizations and other businesses that support sustainable initiatives. Entrepreneurs can also submit grant applications to Kuvio Creative, ExxonMobile Foundation, Wells Fargo, Comcast and other private companies that support small business development.
Small Business Grants for Women
Female entrepreneurs own about one-third of all businesses in the United States and Europe. Furthermore, women-owned companies generate higher revenue and create more jobs than those led by men. Yet, men receive 98% of venture capital funding. Considering these facts, it's not surprising that a growing number of organizations are offering grants to support and empower women entrepreneurs.
Cartier Women’s Initiative, for example, awards grants of $30,000 to $100,000 to women-owned businesses. Winners also receive one-on-one business and financial coaching, access to business workshops, media visibility and scholarships to attend an education program. If your business promotes gender and racial equality or economic justice, you may apply for the grants offered by the Open Meadows Foundation. The organization provides up to $2,000 to women and girls who have limited financial power and want to make a difference in their communities.
Female entrepreneurs who want to take their business to the next level may also apply for the Fellows Program, which is run by the Tory Burch Foundation. Successful candidates receive a $5,000 grant that can be used to continue their business education, buy textbooks and cover education-related expenses. If you need help to pay student bills, this grant program is worth checking out. You may also get the opportunity to attend five days of workshops and pitch your business idea.
- Official Guide to Government Information and Services: Government Grants and Loans
- Market Business News: What Is a Grant? Definition and Meaning
- Chamber of Commerce: Government Grants for Small Businesses in 2019
- Grants.gov: Search Grants
- SBA.gov: Grants
- USDA: Grants and Loans
- NASE: NASE Growth Grants
- NASE: Frequently Asked Questions
- FedEx: FedEx Small Business Grant Contest
- FedEx: FedEx Small Business Grant Contest Details
- Visa: Visa Everywhere Initiative (VEI)
- Patagonia: Grant Guidelines
- European Chamber of Digital Commerce: Statistics Show Women Are Better Entrepreneurs Than Men
- Cartier Women's Initiative: Cartier Women's Initiative Grant Program
- Tory Burch Foundation: The Fellows Program
- Open Meadows Foundation: About the Open Meadows Foundation
- U.S. Small Business Administration. "Grants." Accessed July 2, 2020.
- Grants.gov. "The Grant Lifecycle." Accessed July 2, 2020.
- Grants.gov. "Community Connect Grants." Accessed July 2, 2020.
- U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. "Community Development." Accessed July 2, 2020.
Andra Picincu is a digital marketing consultant with over 10 years of experience. She works closely with small businesses and large organizations alike to help them grow and increase brand awareness. She holds a BA in Marketing and International Business and a BA in Psychology. Over the past decade, she has turned her passion for marketing and writing into a successful business with an international audience. Current and former clients include The HOTH, Bisnode Sverige, Nutracelle, CLICK - The Coffee Lover's Protein Drink, InstaCuppa, Marketgoo, GoHarvey, Internet Brands, and more. In her daily life, Ms. Picincu provides digital marketing consulting and copywriting services. Her goal is to help businesses understand and reach their target audience in new, creative ways.