Image Making is a business and most governments offer business grants to help with various aspects of your activities. So whether you are a commercial photographer, graphic or web designer or other creative, if you are in business you should at least consider grants.
Whatever country you live in, your federal, state and local governments will probably offer grants to businesses for various purposes. Just because your business may be photography, design or something similar, this is no reason why you should not have access to grant money.
Governments support business in many ways. One of these is through grants and entitlements. Entitlements mean that if you meet certain criteria you are entitled to some money. A grant, on the other hand, may be competitive and there is no guarantee that you will get it. Grants also generally require that you meet some contribution amount. So for some grants you contribute a dollar and the grant matches it, in others the proportion is more favorable.
Finding out about grants can be tough. When you take into account the three levels of government most of us deal with, there is usually no single place to go.
In Australia a good starting point is the AusIndustry (http://www.ausindustry.gov.au). Another is GrantsLink (http://www.grantslink.gov.au/). The various state governments have similar sites. There are also businesses that do all the legwork for you. One is Grant Ready (http://www.grantready.com.au), a site that, for a subscription, will notify you of applicable grants. There are also many schemes to assist in the startup phase of a business, such as the New Enterprise Initiative Scheme. Another scheme that is a bit different is the Enterprise Connect program (http://www.enterpriseconnect.gov.au) which comprises manufacturing and innovation centres and a national network of experts who will do a free business evaluation and then move forward from there.
In the US, sites like Business.gov (http://search.business.gov/startLoans.html) and the Small Business Administration (http://www.sba.gov/services/financialassistance/index.html) list appropriate grants and assistance programs. Private sites like Proposal Writer (http://www.proposalwriter.com/govtgrants.html) and Federal Grants (http://www.federalgrants.com/). Also check your state government website and find their business and trade agency.
In other countries you should start with your federal or top-level government website and head for the government department that looks after business and trade. So in the UK try http://www.businesslink.gov.uk http://www.berr.gov.uk/ and in New Zealand try http://www.business.govt.nz/Finances-and-cash-flow/Grants-and-other-financial-assistance.aspx. Likewise with state or local (canton, etc) governments and their websites. Note also that there are major philosophical differences from country to country about how much the government is prepared to assist business, so your mileage can vary greatly.
One thing to remember is that grants are not free money. Firstly there can be a significant upfront cost in preparing the application (time and effort, perhaps with paid consultants) and most grants require that your business meet some of the expense for the activity being covered. Since grants are often competitive there is go certainty that, despite all the time, effort and cost, that you will receive the grant. A side benefit of applying for a grant can be that the process of organizing the information for the grant may give you more insight into your business and how it is doing.
Grants can also help you leverage your own investment in your business and expand the scope or quicken the pace with which your business can grow. If you have investments to make in your own business, why not see if there is some grant which has a government matching your expenditure dollar for dollar, for example.
Business grants are not a complete answer, but they can be worthwhile.
All the same also holds for arts grants, except that art grants are usually even more competitive than business ones. To get anywhere with arts grants you will typically need a substantial art related CV already, so they are not generally for newcomers, no matter how good your work may be. We will look in more depth at art grants in a separate article.