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How To Find A High-Quality Grant Writer: Increase Your Chances Of Getting Free Startup Funding!

If you have a start-up, a business, or a non-profit that needs grant funding but have no idea how to get started, hiring a grant writer is a fantastic solution. This is a great strategy to help you to improve your odds of winning a grant especially given how competitive grants are. But finding a high-quality grant writer is not an easy undertaking.

Don’t worry, keep reading, because today we’re going to break down how you can find great grant writers, ways to pay them, how to work with them, and how to vet them, so you can increase your chances of winning a grant.

I’m Stacy Chin from where we help start-ups like yours secure non-dilutive federal grants to bring innovative ideas to the commercial market. We specialize in helping science and tech start-ups secure non-dilutive grant funding from federal programs called SBIR and STTR. As grant writers ourselves, we know a thing or two about the process of hiring a grant writer for your proposals. With that being said, let’s get started.

What Do Grant Writers Do?

If you need grant funding for your start-up, a business, or a non-profit, a common strategy is to find a grant writer. Although there are many grant writers out there, it is actually quite challenging to find a high-quality grant writer with plenty of experience and a strong record of success.

So what do grant writers do? You might be saying, “Well, they write grants, duh!” And while you’re right, of course, grant writers write grants, they also advise on what types of grants to pursue in your fundraising strategy. Now, if you find a highly experienced grant writer, they can provide even more value to your start-up, your business, or your non-profit than you think.

Benefits of Hiring Grant Writers

There are several benefits of hiring grant writers to help with your small business grant applications versus taking them on yourself.

Critical Advice

Firstly, depending on what type of grant you are going after, grant writers can provide critical business advice and consult on your go-to-market strategy or proposed research efforts. Strong grant writers can advise on what milestones you need to hit in the short term in your grant to set you up for your long-term business goals.

For example, as a Ph.D. scientist, my technical research background is incredibly helpful to advise my SBIR clients on their research strategy. And as a former start-up founder myself, my experience in business has been tremendously helpful to align their research efforts with their go-to-market needs.

Past clients have even expressed how beneficial it was to work with an experienced grant writer to accelerate their business. Not only does this help them to get non-dilutive funding but even just going through the grant writing process alone has revealed other technical or commercial gaps they didn’t realize beforehand in their business plan.

Repurposing Copy

Another reason why you want to find a high-quality grant writer is that they can provide your company or non-profit with well-written copy that you can reuse for marketing, fundraising, and other business purposes. For example, there have been many times I have helped clients to take a grant application and turn them into a white paper and vice versa.

Experts at the Art of Grant Writing

A strong grant writer should know how to take your ideas and articulate them on paper so that your overarching message is clear, concise, and persuasive to motivate an audience or reviewers why your idea should get funded.

This type of writing style can be incredibly advantageous, especially for science and tech start-ups where you have to break down complex technical ideas into a narrative that can be understood by reviewers. So although grant writing is a skill that can be learned, there is an art that goes into the process as well. The best grant writers know how to balance both the skill and the art of grant writing to best position your company and ideas on paper for future success.

For all of these reasons, it is definitely worth the investment to find a high-quality grant writer since they can help you position your start-up, business, or non-profit for the best chances of success for your short- and long-term growth.

How To Hire a Grant Writer

Now I know you are begging me to answer questions like: “Where do I even find a grant writer and how much do they cost?”

The good news for you is that there are many ways to find a grant writer at many different price points. But before reaching out though, you first want to figure out what type of grant you want to pursue. There are many grant writers out there that specialize in various types of grants.

For example, grant writers for for-profit companies may not be a good fit for non-profit grant opportunities. Similarly, if you are pursuing a technical grant that has a heavy research component to it, such as for SBIRs and STTRs, then you’ll want to find a grant writer that has a technical background and is aware of how to go about navigating these types of funding opportunities.

Where to Find Grant Writers

To find a grant writer in the first place, there are two general options for you to consider depending on the type of grant you’d like to pursue and how much you are willing to invest.

There are larger grant writing agencies and independent freelancers. Both are excellent options and it is your decision to go with whatever option will work best for you. You can find both through a Google search, LinkedIn, or freelancing platforms like UpWork and Fivver.

Typically larger grant writing agencies have a strong record of success and are composed of a bunch of different grant writers with varying backgrounds and levels of expertise. When working with these agencies, they usually have a standard approach to preparing grants and they might even assign you a team of grant writers. Although some agencies can work based on an hourly rate, most typically prefer a flat-fee arrangement.

Independent freelancers can also be an excellent choice as well and you can find one at your price points. However, the quality of the grant writer can vary more widely than with agencies, so you want to make sure you do your due diligence.

Cost of Grant Writers

Grant writing agencies are generally the more expensive route, costing anywhere from $3,000 and even up to $20,000 depending on the size of the grant. This is especially true for agencies that specialize in for-profit grants. Those that specialize in non-profit grants usually charge less.

However, very experienced freelance grant writers with a strong track record can also charge a flat fee per project within a similar price range. They do typically have more flexibility in their pricing structure compared to the larger agencies and would work according to an hourly rate, with the more experienced ones charging up to $200 or even $350 per hour.

Success Fee

Depending on the grant you want to pursue, some grants would allow companies to propose a small business fee within their budget. If so, grant writers can consider charging a “success fee” which would pay out for them if that grant got awarded. This is common for many SBIR/STTR grant writers. If you’d like to learn more about SBIR/STTR budgets and want more information on the small business fee, I’ll leave a link in the description to another video below.

Typically grant writers that get paid through a “success fee” would charge less upfront to prepare a grant since there’s a huge upside for the grant writer to potentially have 10’s to even 100’s thousands of dollars if that grant gets awarded. Larger grant writing agencies often prefer to get paid whereas this can vary depending on freelance grant writers.

For that reason, offering a success fee can help to incentive high-quality grant writers to work with you to prepare a grant while holding them accountable to produce high-quality work. But of course, with everything in life, securing an SBIR/STTR proposal also comes with risks especially given how competitive these grants are.

That is why it is incredibly important to know your options, interview many different grant writers, and go with an option with a pricing arrangement that would work best for you.

Establishing a Collaborative Relationship

Now even if you hire the best grant writer in the whole world, that does not mean you can sit back on your couch and have the grant writer do all of the work. That is absolutely not how you work with a grant writer effectively.

When we work with new SBIR/STTR clients, I always emphasize that preparing a grant is a very collaborative process and will take a lot of hard work and time from both the grant writer and the start-up. Throughout the process, experienced grant writers should be relying on the founders and executives to be the experts in their technology and company. Then it is the grant writer’s job to figure out how to structure their narrative, ask the right questions, and provide guidance to ensure they have the strongest grant possible for the best chances for an award.

From my experience, if you are working with a very strong grant writer, ultimately at times it likely comes down to client quality to determine how strong the grant will be. Or in other words - how well is your company ready to pursue a grant application? Strong grant writers know how to advise a company to position themselves to increase their odds of winning a grant. And because of that, there are things you can do as the client that can help position yourselves for an award. This is pretty much a “please help me so I can help you” situation!

For example, if a grant writer advises that you would need consultants with particular expertise to add to your team to strengthen your chances for an award, BUT you don’t know anyone with that expertise or won’t take that advice, well there’s nothing a grant writer can do about that!

If you are serious about investing your time and efforts to work with a high-quality grant writer, make sure you listen to them, take their advice, and are ready to work hard to get all the proper resources and materials in place to prepare a strong application. Because if you are not committed to the process, then you are unfortunately just wasting your precious time, money, and efforts.

Vetting Grant Writers

Finally, how do you find a high-quality grant writer that is reliable, has a strong track record, and can improve your chances to win a grant?

Well, there are a couple of things you can do as the client to figure this out. First, you want to interview several grant writers and I would recommend reaching out to a mixture of freelancers and agencies to understand what each has to offer. Again, you can find them either through Google searching, Linked In, Upwork, Fivver, or just through your network.

Interview Questions

When you interview grant writers, you can ask them questions such as:

  • What type of grants do you specialize in?

  • How many years of grant writing experience do you have?

  • How much grant funding have you secured to date for their clients?

  • Do you have experience reviewing grants or serving on review panels?

These are all good generic questions to start with. However, when you are speaking to seasoned grant writers, they are also evaluating whether you are a good fit for them! And that’s a really good way for you to identify a high-quality and experienced grant writer.

For these reasons, experienced grant writers should also be asking you questions such as:

  • Where are you currently in your developments?

  • What do you need the funding for?

  • What are your short- and long-term business objectives?

Noticing if grant writers are asking you the right questions helps you to distinguish whether or not the grant writer wants to be invested in you, your company, and your idea, instead of the dollar signs that come along with winning a grant. A high-quality grant writer knows they need to spend a lot of time and energy to become fully invested in you and your company throughout the whole entire grant writing process.

Making the Decision

So when speaking to grant writers, you need to figure out if they can add value to you and the company. Are they already thinking about your grant strategy? Are they sharing what they have learned from their past experiences and advising how you should proceed?

From my experience writing SBIR and STTR grants for over 10 years, first-rate grant writers should be able to understand where you are in your developments and can then suggest the possible next steps for you. Experienced grant writers know the right questions to ask to ensure they have all the necessary information to prepare a strong narrative on paper for your grant application.

Most importantly, an excellent grant writer will also be transparent and honest with you. If you have seen my other videos, you should be aware that winning a grant is challenging and very competitive. No matter how strong a grant can be, there are external factors that can lead to whether or not a grant can be awarded that are completely out of your control.

For instance, we specialize in SBIR and STTR grants for start-ups and there is typically less than a 10% chance of securing these big grants, especially the first time around. We have clients that got awarded the first time around, we have others that took a couple of tries, and then there are others in which it didn’t work out. And this is just the stark reality and risks you have to consider when pursuing funding for your company through grants.

You have no idea who is evaluating your grant application and the impression your grant might have on the reviewer. You also have no idea about your competition or how many other grants are getting submitted during the same cycle. Unfortunately, you could just catch a reviewer on a bad day. So there is definitely a bit of luck that needs to be in your favor to get a grant awarded.

Final Advice

If there is any simple piece of advice I can offer it’s that when interviewing grant writers, anyone that may seem overconfident or guarantees they can secure grant funding for you, that is a big flag– 100%, RUN AWAY!

Now, it’s no surprise that typically the more experienced grant writers will come with a higher price tag which is why, again, it is very important that you know your options and different ways to pay them so that you can identify a high-quality grant writer and motivate them to work with you.

If you have any questions about hiring a grant writer or how they can help you on your SBIR/STTR grant application journey, leave a comment below! And, make sure you check out our website for resources and advice to help you and your start-up secure federal grant funding.

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