Starting a grant writing business is a dream for many who love both the written word and the chance to make a real 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, read on to learn more about the industry, costs, and steps to get started.
A grant writing business offers specialized writing services that help organizations obtain funding for research projects, aid efforts, community projects, training, education, or new products.. Typically, these clients are non-profits, educational institutions, and small businesses seeking to apply for grants from governmental agencies or private foundations. While excellent writing skills are essential, you’ll also need strong research capabilities to identify suitable grants, as well as an understanding of budgeting and project management to help your clients implement their grant-funded projects successfully.
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 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 at a minimum. You can also add to your credentials by attaining a grant writing certification and developing a portfolio of successful grants awarded.
Related Business Ideas
The grant writing industry is closely tied to the broader nonprofit sector and the availability of government and private funding. As social issues gain attention and the non-profit sector grows, so does the demand for skilled grant writers. While there are no strict qualifications for entering this field, a background in journalism, communications, or a specialized area like healthcare or education can give you an edge. Additionally, understanding the intricacies of compliance, transparency, and documentation is crucial.
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 from 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.
Steps To Start A Grant Writing Business
Starting a grant writing business can be an incredibly rewarding experience, but it takes more than just good writing skills. Here is a list of common steps to take to get your business off on the right foot.
Step 1: Research the Market
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 first step before you dive in is to figure out if there’s even a market for your services. Understanding demand isn’t just about ensuring there are enough customers; it can also be about finding a unique space in the marketplace.
So, why is it crucial to look into the demand for grant writing services before you go full steam ahead? Simple: no customers, no business. But beyond that, knowing the demand helps you target your services more precisely. Even though being a general grant writer can be quite lucrative, by researching the market, you’ll get a sense of what sectors, such as healthcare, education, or non-profits, need grant writers the most. This will allow you to specialize, offering your services to a niche that not only has a demand but also aligns with your expertise.
How do you actually assess demand, though? You start by listening. Tap into your professional network, attend industry events, and conduct surveys to collect data. Look for how often grants are needed and what kinds of organizations are looking for these services. The internet is your friend, so use it to find statistics and reports on grant funding in your desired sectors. You can even start locally, by meeting with community organizations, small businesses, and educational institutions to gauge their need for a grant writer.
Sometimes, you’ll find that the demand isn’t where you initially thought, and that’s okay. The research you conduct will help you pivot and focus your services on a niche that really needs it. This can save you a lot of time, effort, and money down the road.
Step 2: Write a Business Plan
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 is more than a document for funding. It is like laying down the blueprint for a house. Even if building that house doesn’t require a loan from the bank, you still need the blueprint to make sure everything stands up as it should.
Putting your business idea down on paper forces you to define your grant writing business: the services you’ll offer, the customers you’ll target, the costs to start, and the goals you aim to achieve. By the time you’re done writing this plan, you should have a much clearer picture of what your business will look like and what steps you need to take to get there.
Related: How to write a business plan
Step 3: Secure Funding
Starting a grant writing business isn’t just about having the right skill set; it’s also about having the financial resources to get your service off the ground.
In the business plan, you would have calculated the costs to start your business. If you skipped that step, you really should list all of the startup expenses. Once you have a handle on the costs, you can see if you have the funding to get started. With that number in mind, you are able to narrow down which funding sources are most appropriate. These include:
Bootstrapping: The most cost-effective way to fund a transcription business is to bootstrap, meaning relying on your own personal savings. Starting costs are relatively low, mostly just a computer, headphones, transcription software, and marketing materials.
Business loans: Banks and alternative lenders offer small business loans and lines of credit. These require good credit and will have repayment terms like interest and set monthly payments.
Business credit cards: A business credit card with a 0% introductory APR can help defer some upfront costs like equipment and website development. Make sure you can pay off the balance before interest kicks in.
Microloans: Another option is microloans, which are smaller loans often offered by economic development agencies and can be accompanied by business training and other forms of support.
Step 4: Register the Business
Starting a grant writing business involves several steps to ensure it is properly registered and legal. Here are some suggestions:
Forming a business structure: There are four main types of business structures: sole proprietorship, general partnership, corporation, and Limited Liability Company (LLC). The type of structure you choose will impact your liability, paperwork, and taxes.
- Sole proprietorship: This is the simplest structure, where the business is owned and operated by one person. It’s easy to start and has lower costs, but the owner is personally liable for all business debts and obligations.
- General partnership: This involves two or more people sharing ownership of a single business. Like a sole proprietorship, owners are personally liable for business debts and obligations.
- Corporation: A corporation is a legal entity separate from its owners, providing them with personal liability protection. However, it is more complex and costly to set up than a sole proprietorship or partnership.
- Limited Liability Company (LLC): An LLC combines features of corporations and sole proprietorships/partnerships. Owners have personal liability protection, and it’s easier to manage than a corporation.
For grant writing businesses, the sole proprietorship is a popular choice to start with because it is easy and inexpensive to get started, and the potential liabilities are low.
Related: Comparison of business structures
Forming an LLC sounds complicated and expensive, but using an entity formation service guides you through the process so you know it was done right.
Some popular LLC formation services include:
IncFile - $0 plus state fees & free registered agent for 1 year!
ZenBusiness - Best for beginners. $0 plus state fees & free registered agent for 1 year!
Northwest - Best privacy protection. $39 plus state fees & free registered agent for 1 year!
Business name registration: After registering the business structure, you may need to register your business name. This process will vary depending on what business structure you pick. Sole proprietors and partnerships will often be required to register a “Doing Business As” (DBA), while corporations and LLCs register with the state during the formation process.
During this time, it’s also a good idea to check if the name you want is available as a web domain, even if you’re not ready to set up a website yet.
Obtain business licenses and permits: Depending on your location, there will likely be a variety of general licenses or permits needed before opening. This could include a business license and seller’s permit.
Step 5: Set Up the Office
Setting up an office for a grant writing business involves careful planning and organization. If you have a spare room, that would be an ideal place to set up a dedicated workspace. A dedicated space helps you separate work from personal life, making it easier to get into a “work mode” when you step into that room. You’ll need a desk with ample space for your computer and any additional monitors, as well as room to spread out grant documents or proposal drafts. Purchasing a comfortable, ergonomic chair is worth the investment as you’ll be spending a lot of time sitting, so invest in one that supports good posture.
When it comes to equipment, a reliable computer is a must. You’ll also need strong internet connectivity, as a lot of your research and submissions will be online. Depending on your work style, a second monitor can be incredibly helpful for multitasking, like keeping a grant application open on one screen while researching or reviewing guidelines on the other, for instance. Storage solutions are also important; you’ll need a place to keep essential paper documents, so consider a filing cabinet. While not strictly equipment, good lighting is vital. Invest in good-quality, adjustable lighting to reduce eye strain.
Step 6: Determine Pricing
Setting the right price for your grant writing services can be a complex process that takes into consideration several factors. Here are some common pricing models and considerations grant writers often use:
- Flat fee: Some grant writers charge a flat fee for a complete project. This fee usually includes research, writing, and submission. For example, you might charge $2,000 to $5,000 for a federal grant proposal.
- Hourly rate: This model is often used for smaller projects or for projects where the scope is not well-defined. Rates can vary widely, from $25 to $100 per hour, based on experience, location, and demand.
- Retainer: Some clients prefer to keep a grant writer on retainer, ensuring availability. Retainer fees can be a monthly flat rate or a reduced hourly rate for guaranteed hours.
- Success fees: Some grant writers charge a percentage of the grant award if they are successful in helping their client win the grant. This percentage typically ranges from 5% to 15%.
Step 7: Market Your Services
The grant writing market is highly competitive, and it can be challenging to stand out and attract potential clients, especially as a new business.
One effective way to get the word out is through social media platforms like LinkedIn, which can position you as an expert in the field. Share valuable content, network with nonprofits, and join groups where your potential clients may hang out. This approach not only educates potential clients about the importance and process of grant writing but also builds your credibility in the field.
Email marketing can also be incredibly effective. Consider sending out a regular newsletter with grant tips and success stories to keep your audience engaged and showcase your expertise. A well-designed website with a blog section can also be a great asset. Here, you can post articles, updates, and useful tips about grant writing, which not only adds value but also improves your site’s search engine rankings.
You could also give seminars or workshops on grant writing, which not only positions you as an expert but can also lead to direct business inquiries.
Another way to find clients is to set up a profile on platforms such as Upwork or Freelancer and get started with smaller projects to build experience and a customer base.
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: Prepare to Launch!
As you put the finishing touches on your grant writing business, there are several additional steps you may still need to consider. Every business is different, but here are some common items:
Acquire credentials: While not required to be a grant writer, certifications from the Grant Professionals Certification Institute can provide professional development training and demonstrate your expertise to clients.
Business insurance: Though you may be tempted to overlook it, business insurance is important for safeguarding your operations. Errors and Omissions insurance, in particular, can protect you in case you make a mistake in a grant application that costs your client money.
Setting up bookkeeping: Accurate record-keeping is essential. Whether you decide to use software like Wave Accounting (FREE) or Quickbooks or hire a part-time accountant, keeping track of your income, expenses, and tax liabilities is a must.
Contracts: Having legally binding contracts is crucial. In this industry, you may encounter contracts for retainer services, project-based agreements, and non-disclosure agreements to protect proprietary client information. RocketLawyer and Law Depot have free and inexpensive templates that may be helpful.
Opening a business bank account: Separating your personal finances from your business finances makes bookkeeping easier and is generally considered a best practice.
Joining industry associations: Associations like the American Grant Writers Association (AGWA)and the Grant Professionals Association (GPA) offer opportunities for networking, continued education, and credibility.
Common Questions When Starting A Grant Writing Business
How much does it cost to start a grant writing business?
Starting your own grant writing business should not break the bank, with costs typically ranging from $500 to $3,500. Your main cost will be investing in time. Time to gather experience, learn by doing, and build a portfolio and credentials.
The cost to set up an office from home is usually minimal, as you may already have a computer, desk, etc.
Business insurance is another cost to consider. The premium for professional liability insurance can range from $500 to $1,000 per year, depending on your coverage needs. Remember that this is a yearly cost, so you’ll only count the first payment as part of your startup costs.
Marketing costs can also vary widely depending on your approach. If you’re starting small, you could set up a professional website for around $200 and spend another $300 on initial promotional activities like business cards, flyers, or online ads.
Additionally, there are other smaller costs to consider, such as setting up your bookkeeping, getting a business license, and grant writing software.
How profitable is a grant writing business?
Considering that your original outlay and ongoing business costs are relatively low and potentially high revenues, starting a grant writing business can be a lucrative opportunity.
Generally, grant writers charge either a flat fee, which can range from $2,000 to $5,000 per grant, or an hourly rate that can be anywhere from $25 to $100. Let’s consider a scenario where a grant writer manages to secure contracts for 20 flat-fee projects in a year, each billed at an average rate of $3,000. The annual revenue would be 20 projects x $3,000 each, totaling $60,000.
Expenses for a grant writing business are relatively low if you’re operating from home. A yearly breakdown might include software subscriptions costing around $200, marketing around $500, insurance at $500, and miscellaneous costs like office supplies and better internet adding another $300. So, yearly expenses could be about $1,500.
Subtracting these expenses from your revenue, you would have:
$60,000 (Revenue) – $1,500 (Expenses) = $58,500 in annual profit before taxes.
Keep in mind these figures are a basic example, and the actual numbers could be higher or lower based on your individual circumstances, specialization, and success in securing grant contracts.
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.
What skills are needed to run a grant writing business?
Grant experience: 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.
If you aren’t yet an experienced grant writer, one way to get started is by volunteering with a non-profit. Volunteer to help with writing applications 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.
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.
What is the NAICS code for a grant writing business?
The NAICS code for a grant writing business is 813,219, which is classified as Other Grantmaking and Giving Services.
The NAICS code (North American Industry Classification System) is a federal system to classify different types of businesses for the collection and reporting of statistical data.