Skilled grant writers are not only in high demand, but this type of work can also be advantageous. Your expertise has the potential to help change lives and have a positive impact at a local, regional, or even international level. Moreover, as a self-employed grant writer, you can pick causes that speak to your values.
A grant writer should have a sense of curiosity, ideally knowledge of the donations, grants & endowment industry, and especially non-profits. To be successful in this business, you need to be a solid researcher, pay attention to detail and be an excellent wordsmith. Basic knowledge of business management practices will be a plus when starting your own company.
A grant writing business can be run full-time or part-time to make some additional income. If you are unsure whether managing a grant writing business is for you, learn more about the industry, costs, and steps to get started.
Grants can be described as gifted funds. These are usually awarded to companies, non-profits, and organizations by private or public foundations and government agencies. Grants typically support research projects, aid efforts, community projects, training, education, or new products.
Grant writers research the grants available, assess all the funding criteria, and then craft a compelling grant proposal on behalf of their clients to help them win the much-needed funding. The awarding of grants is a competitive selection process. Grant writers are tasked to highlight an applicant’s profile and competencies and showcase how these fit the donor’s values and criteria.
Although a degree is not necessary, grant consultants have typically earned an undergraduate degree. You can also add to your credentials by attaining a grant writing certification and developing a portfolio of successful applications. A grant writing business is often owner-operated, run from home, or run as a small business.
The donations, grants & endowment industry is a sizable one in the U.S., worth a respectable $ 148 billion. Some of the largest – and well-known – donors are the Getty Foundation, the W.K. Kellog Foundation, and the Gates Foundation.
According to Zippia, over 5,200 grant writers are currently employed in the U.S., most of them located in New York and Washington DC. Many organizations and sectors depend on funding from these donors and will often outsource professional grant writing to achieve funding success. However, data on self-employed grant-writers is not known.
The grant writing sector is directly linked to and impacted by wealth gains by the grantmaking institutions and their ability to offer donations and grants. According to IBISWorld, that industry is set to grow by 4.8%. By default, the outlook for grant writers is positive as well. According to the Economic Research Institute, grant writers can expect a salary increase of 16% over the coming five years.
Your target market will be any organization, community group, change agent, or business reliant on additional funding to support an initiative, project, or additional resources.
Health, education, animal welfare, arts and cultures, community development, civil rights, public policy and research, and international aid and development programs are all services and sectors that depend heavily on grants.
It pays to specialize in a specific area and know what grants might be available for certain sectors. For example, agricultural or research grants will likely vary significantly to international aid or arts and culture funding.
Specialized sector knowledge and solid connections within these networks will help you set your business apart from the competition and will also allow you to charge accordingly.
Skills, Experience, and Education Useful in Running a Grant Writing Business
Researching, writing, and interpersonal skills
Having solid research skills helps find grant opportunities that fit the applicant’s profile. Your interpersonal skills will help you gather relevant information and be an effective conduit between your client and potential donors. Finally, to run a successful grant consulting business, you’ll need to be able to take all that information gathered and transform it into a succinct and persuasive proposal. Your job is to express ideas and outcomes clearly and use your writing skills to help the proposal stand out.
Self-motivation and organizational skills
A positive can-do attitude and discipline are vital to running your grant writing business successfully. You might have to juggle multiple or last-minute funding applications at times. You’ll need to be detail-oriented and organized to ensure you have answered all questions concisely, have gathered all the supporting documentation required, and can meet all of the grant’s deadlines and guidelines.
Don’t forget to set aside time to look after your own business management needs, meet with potential clients, work on marketing, and keep on top of invoicing.
Computer skills and competence
The funding application process can run through several rounds before a decision is made, especially for more significant funding requests. Typically, these grant applications are made online. Therefore, make sure you are familiar with file-sharing functions, online teamwork, and discussion tools, know how to upload files, and have a well-working, well-protected computer with up-to-date programs and apps.
Stay up to date and on top of trends.
The fundraising network is often a tight-knit community. Understanding what is happening in the funding, fundraising, and donation landscape is crucial to running a successful grant writing business. Know when and where to look for new grants available. Attend conferences and events relevant to your expertise. Stay connected with your networks and professional associations. They offer a raft of resources, certification options, and workshops.
It will help you stay on top of trends, be proactive, make your clients aware of funding opportunities, and deliver high-quality services.
Costs of Starting a Grant Writing Business
Starting your own grant writing business should not break the bank. Your main cost will be investing in time. Time to gather experience, learn by doing, and build a portfolio and credentials.
Work hard to create a professional portfolio and engage with potential customers. An excellent way to test the waters is to put your grant writer profile on platforms such as Upwork or Freelancer and get started with smaller projects to build up experience and a customer base.
If you decide to open up a brick-and-mortar office, location, square footage, and amenities available will determine the costs.
When working out your budget, ensure that you have enough capital to cover costs for the first three months of business operation. That budget will also need to cover internet costs, an initial marketing drive, plus ongoing costs such as keeping your website up to date and printing business cards or marketing flyers.
And lastly, invest in working with a reliable computer or laptop, up-to-date computer programs and apps, professional spell check programs, and team and video conferencing tools.
Steps to Starting a Grant Writing Business
Step 1: Write your Business Plan
You’ve decided to start your grant proposal writing company. You might have discussed your ideas with family and friends, perhaps even with a business mentor. The next step should be to write a business plan. You might think a plan is not that important because starting a grant writing business doesn’t require a large sum of capital upfront. But the business plan will make you focus on some critical aspects of your business, such as who your customers are, how you plan to reach them, projecting income and expenses, and much more. It is also vital to research and understand your competition and find your point of difference.
Multiple studies have shown that a business plan helps increase the odds of starting a successful business and sustain it longer-term. And having a detailed business plan is a must, should you need a loan from the bank.
Step 2: Name the Business
Finding the perfect name for your grant writing business can be challenging. Not only does it have to resonate with your customers, but it also has to be available to use.
Step 3: Form a Business Entity
A business entity refers to how a business is legally organized to operate. There are four primary business entities to choose from: sole proprietorship, partnership, corporation, and Limited Liability Company (LLC). Each type of entity has its pros and cons, such as liability exposure, costs, and administrative requirements. Even if you decide to start on your own as a freelancer, make sure you understand all requirements.
Related: Comparison of Business Entities
Step 4: Select your Location
Many grant writing businesses are owner-operated and run from home and online. If you decide to offer your services from home, ensure you can rely on a quiet place to work and lock confidential business information safely if needed. Make sure you understand the regulations – if any – for running your business from home; it might differ from state to state.
If you decide to start a grant writing agency, rental costs may come into play, although many grant writers work remotely and in distributed teams. Costs will depend on the office’s square footage, location, and amenities. The closer your space is to the CBD or a high-traffic area, the higher the costs will likely be.
Related: Choosing a business location
Step 5: Apply for Business Licenses and Permits
A business owner will need to obtain certain business licenses and permits. These permits and licenses can vary based on the state and town where the business is located. In addition, some common local, state, and federal registrations a web design business may need to include a sales tax permit and Employer Identification Number.
Step 6: Open a Business Bank Account
Keeping your business and personal finances in separate business banking and credit card accounts is vital and makes good business sense. It will also make it easier to track the income and expenses of your business and identify trends.
Step 7: Get your Marketing Plan in Place
Typically marketing techniques for grant services include a website presence, social media marketing, and online advertising. In addition, printed marketing material and business cards will be helpful to have ready for relevant expos, events, or conferences. Especially health, research, or education conferences can be fertile grounds for grant writing businesses. Marketing costs will depend on the activity performed and its volume.
It may also be worth researching available funding sources and working backward to find potential companies and not-for-profits that could benefit from grant proposals. You could also find lists of successful grant recipients and reach out to see if they are looking for a grant writer to assist with writing additional grant proposals.
Step 8: Get Insurance
Compared to other businesses, a grant writing business will not need an extensive range of insurances. But you should explore:
- General liability insurance protects the business from expenses like medical and legal bills that it could face if a customer is ever hurt while on the business’ property.
- Professional liability insurance helps cover any damages owed if your professional services or advice result in a financial loss for your clients.
- If applicable, worker’s compensation insurance covers expenses like medical bills and legal fees that a business might face if an employee were ever hurt while working.
Insurance policies will vary in cost depending on factors like the business’s location, the value of its inventory (if any), and the number of employees on staff (if any). To get the most accurate idea of what to budget for insurance, request quotes from multiple providers. When comparing the quotes, consider the premiums and how the plan exclusions, coverage limitations, and deductibles compare.
Step 9: Hiring Employees
Many grant writing businesses are owner-operated, but hiring additional staff will allow you to expand the range of sector-specific expertise you offer and the volume of work you can manage. Unfortunately, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics has not gathered statistical data on the pay range for grant writers. However, according to the Economic Research Institute, the average annual pay for a grant writer in the U.S. is $69,554, or a very respectable $33 per hour.
In addition to salary costs, make sure to include other employee-related expenses in your budget. For example, workman’s comp insurance, unemployment insurance, and paid time off are common expenses that a business will need to cover when hiring staff. It will also be helpful to factor in both time and budget for training and development.
Related: Hiring your first employee
Step 10: Set up an Accounting System
Setting up an accounting system for a grant writing business is critical to its long-term success. A sound system will allow you to stay on top of your billing and track income and expenses. It will help you maximize profits, identify trends, and keep the business out of trouble with the government.
How much can you potentially make owning a grant writing business?
Considering that your original outlay and especially your ongoing business costs are relatively low and the outlook for grant writers is positive, starting a grant writing business can be a relatively safe and scaleable career move.
Grant writing pays well. Some grant writers will charge by the hour, while others (especially those starting out) will only charge for a successful grant application. Experienced grant writers with an excellent track record and offering their services in specialized fields can charge up to $100 an hour. Although that also depends on location and the client organization they work for. And don’t forget that you’ll also have to cover your overheads with your income.
Even at $50 per hour, a grant writer can make an annual income of $100,000 by working full-time.
It is worthwhile to know that non-profit organizations often prefer to offer long-term contracts with reliable writers. These allow for better business planning as you can count on a steady income.
Things to consider before starting a grant writing business
Grant writing is writing with a purpose. A grant funding application is likely to be more successful if you are passionate about the cause. And running your own business allows you to choose what causes you want to support through your work!
It will be easier to market to your clients if you can narrow it down to a particular niche to focus on. Popular grants vary from specific types of non-profit or charitable organizations, geographical areas, small business grants, focusing on state or government grants, and many others. Regardless of your focus, having a passion will set you apart from other grant writers.
The grant and donations industry is a highly competitive environment. Any specialized knowledge you can offer as well as excellent people skills will be a plus. Even though you don’t need a qualification to become a grant writer, consider getting an industry certification. Also, remember that running your own grant writing service means you will be responsible for all business decisions, managing your business accounts, and for your staff if applicable.
If you don’t have grant writing experience, one way to get started is volunteering with a non-profit. Volunteer to help with writing the application, and word will likely spread quickly about your services. Some groups will have in-house grant writers, and some will rely on freelancers or even other volunteers. It’s good to be prepared as many organizations will ask for you to volunteer more time, but remember that you still need to make a profit – and a living.
On the other hand, owning your business gives you the freedom and flexibility to work for yourself, develop your brand and services. Plus, being a grant writer can be a hugely rewarding job, especially when that application you developed was successful and supported a worthy cause that made a real difference to communities.