Each year tens of thousands of small companies successfully tap federal and state programs that furnish grants, contracts, or specialized loans. While the biggest sources (such as the Small Business Administration and the Department of Defense) are known to virtually everyone, lesser-known entities (some of which operate only on a state level) are well worth sniffing out as well. Of course, finding the right agencies and then putting together the right kind of proposal takes time and can be stressful, particularly if you've never done them before. But fortunately, there are all sorts of guidebooks to help.

Winning Government Grants and Contracts for Your Small Business, by Mark Rowh (McGraw-Hill, 1992, $29.95), provides a solid overview of how to go about obtaining money through government agencies. Without being excessively detailed, it takes you through the process of developing proposals, creating budgets, and administering awards after they've been granted. The book also contains samples of effective proposals and a brief glossary of commonly used terms.

For those seeking information about a wider array of financing programs, The Action Guide to Government Grants, Loans, and Giveaways, by George Chelekis (Perigee, 1993, $24.95), may be a better pick. The discussion about how to organize proposals and about things to keep in mind makes up fewer than one-quarter of the 470 pages, but the listings alone -- of names, addresses, and phone numbers -- make the book a valuable tool. -- Bruce G. Posner