Do you dream of going to the office in yoga pants, waking up whenever you want and working from anywhere? Of course besides the obvious benefits of being your own boss, when you’re a grant consultant you also have the luxury of naming your own salary, deciding who you want to work with, and choosing how you want to work.
Not so fast. Before you take the plunge here are tips from my own experience of operating a successful business for seven years.
How Do You Get Started?
Here are five steps to get started:
Evaluate your experience
Being a mom to small children, I’ve met a lot of other moms who hear what I do and a light bulb goes off in their head. Wait a minute, you can work from home and make money writing—that sounds so easy! Not exactly. If you don’t have any nonprofit or grant writing experience (or skills that can transfer to grant writing), it’s a good idea to get practical experience before going out on you own. Volunteer, take classes, intern, or work for someone else first. Grant development as most of us in this field know, is a lot more than just “writing.”
Evaluate your personality
Do you like the security of regular business hours, paid vacations, and benefits? Are you easily distracted? When you work for yourself, there are no guarantees. You may have a month full of deadlines and long hours, and another month of hardly any work at all. If you’re the soul breadwinner and the thought of a month of no work gives you a heart attack, maybe this isn’t for you.
Develop a plan
Whether it’s a formal business and marketing plan or just some bulleted lists, don’t “wing” it. Get business cards, meet with an accountant, open up a business bank account, start a website, and jump onto social networks. Draft up a contract for clients. Research salaries in the area and determine how much you’ll charge to make a living. (Remember you’re not a volunteer and are an investment to agencies that work with you. Do not sell yourself short by charging below market rates). Will you work per hour, on retainer, or per project? Will you focus on the arts or public agencies? Will you work locally or nationally, or both? Look at your experience and interests to figure this out. Just remember, if you take your business seriously, others will too.
Scout the playing field
Before you jump into your own business, it’s important to research. Who are the other players in town? How much do they charge? Who do they work with? How do they work?
Go on informational interviews
Once you learn who the players are, ask them to coffee. Most grant professionals are happy to talk to you. Ask for tips and how they got started. Tell them about your background and experience and the types of agencies you want to work with. It just may lead to future contracts. For example, I have subcontracted with other grant writers and referred others to clients when I’m too swamped or the project is outside of my expertise or interests.
Okay, So You’re Ready to Go, Now Where’s the Work?
Word of mouth
I often get asked how I find new clients and this is always the answer. When you get started this isn’t easy. My first clients were former employers. Talk to anyone and everyone who you have worked with and let them know you’re open for business. Direct them to your website. Ask them if they know anyone who is looking for help.
Hunt through job ads
Consider responding to advertised grant writer positions even if they are not actually looking for a contractor. Tell them about the benefits to be gained by working with someone outside of the agency (such as no taxes or insurance plus the insight of a new perspective). Don’t forget to talk about the experience you bring.
Besides meeting with other grant writers one-on-one, join your local grants chapter if you have one. The Grant Professionals Association and the American Grant Writers’ Association are great resources for finding local chapters in your area. Of course, you can join other development or fundraising groups, too. It’s also important that you attend local and regional workshops and volunteer to get involved.
Post your info
Take advantage of free listserves that are relevant to your field (e.g. education listserves, nonprofit listserves, etc.). If you’re a member of Grant Professionals Association or any other fundraising group and they offer a consultant registry make sure you sign up.
If you’re comfortable in front a crowd, volunteer to host grant development workshops. Although these are normally unpaid, they can lead to referrals and clients. Check with local nonprofits, business/civil groups, and fundraising agencies to see if they have an interest and need for any workshops.
Most importantly don’t give up! It may take some time. You may not be able to quit your day job right away, but once you get that first client, take a deep breath and celebrate.
Focus on your clients and soon you’ll find your groove. Do a great job and chances are more work will follow. Don’t fret if every job doesn’t work out. As you get more established and work becomes steady, you can be pickier. Never stop learning, never stop challenging yourself, and enjoy all the perks of self-employment.
So if you want to sit by a beach in Hawaii with your laptop while completing a federal grant, go for it! I’ll meet you for a Mai-Tai.