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How to Become a Freelance Grant Writer

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by Alexis Swenson
August 20, 2021
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Why Freelance Grant Write?

So, you’re interested in becoming a freelance grant writer? Yay! We’re so happy you found us on our little corner of the internet. There’s a high demand for your skills and shortage of talented grant writers in the world. We are here to fill that need while helping you realize your professional and personal goals—whatever they might be.

Are you motivated by a flexible lifestyle? Totally legitimate! The cool part about grant writing consulting is that all you need is a laptop, internet, a client and you're in business.

Do you want to take control of your destiny? 40% of people are freelancing right now and it's growing! The faster you can understand the mechanics behind a successful consulting business, the better off you are.

Do you want to do something meaningful? Do you want to contribute and make a difference in your community? Grant writing is an amazing way to lead a meaningful career while amplifying your impact in our world.

We want to help you on this journey of becoming a grant writer and creating your own consulting practice. This post covers our four top tips to kick off your rockin' grant writing freelance consulting practice:

  1. Build your network to continuously find great clients.
  2. Commit to learning the technical, managerial, and entrepreneurial skills required to own a successful business.
  3. Use a funding strategy to get a toe in the door.
  4. Create an action plan to address your specific pain points.

Organic Networking Framework

We want you to focus on the areas you have passion for. Once you’ve decided on a niche, you’ll quickly develop expert level knowledge on the topic which will help you to be even more sought after as a grant writer. But first, how do you decide on a niche?

  1. Create a list of industries or types of organizations that interest you. These organizations or industries do not need to be local. Think big here! No idea is a bad idea. Simply get your interests down on paper so you can look at the list as a whole. Are there common themes that emerged? Are you surprised? Excited?
  2. Once your list has about 15-20 different organizations, you can start in on the next step which is informational interviews. These interviews are hugely important when starting your grant writing consulting business. Essentially, an informational interview is exactly what it sounds like: you’re interviewing someone in an organization to learn more information about what grant writing looks like in their specific industry.

    You approach the interviews genuinely curious about the organization. Through a series of questions we will provide you, you draw out if the organization could use help with grant research and grant writing.
  3. If you spot an opportunity and are energized by the conversation, you can offer a Funding Strategy as an excellent “door opener.” A Funding Strategy is a roadmap of the best grants to pursue over the next 12-18 months that represent the highest likelihood of success and ROI.

    This strategy will help you gain more clients. We have tons of support and language available to help you through this process available through our Collective. Here’s a quick overview in video format: How to Get Clients as a Grant Writing Consultant.
How to get clients youtube video

Deciding on a niche will ultimately help you narrow your focus in regard to your precious time, energy, and capacity. Sometimes picking a niche doesn’t happen overnight (anyone else major in “Undecided” for what felt like forever in college?!). That being said, if you have multiple interests you’re equally passionate about, we encourage you to get some grant writing experience in each area to try them on for size. We’re confident that you’ll know when you’ve found your perfect fit.

Learn the skills needed to run a successful business

We know it can be overwhelming to think about running a successful business. I mean, have you tried googling “how to run a business” before? Well, if you haven’t, we don’t recommend you start now. It’s a doozy!

Instead, we want you to focus on the three big skills that will make you and your business shine: technical, managerial, and entrepreneurial skills. When you sign up for the Grant Writing Unicorn Collective, we walk you through these skill sets in bite-sized pieces (aka: we won’t overwhelm like Google does).

Our three part method follows this outline:
  1. Grant Writing: From Start to Funded.
  2. Finding Clients and Getting Paid.
  3. Freedom in Project Management.

The Grant Writing: From Start to Funded segment will teach you technical skills needed for grant writing success. We’ll teach you how to research and find grant opportunities, how to blend beautiful storytelling with statistics to illustrate the necessity of funding your project, and how to develop budgets for complex projects. By the time you finish this section, you will have earned your Grant Writer Certificate.

Part two, Finding Clients and Getting Paid, is a step by step system to making your first $1.5K, $15K, $50k, and then $100k+ annually. We walk you through how to find clients when you have none (you’ll use the list you created when you worked on deciding a niche!). Getting paid, setting rates, and combating imposter syndrome are also covered in this part. We’re transparent about where the industry is at in regard to rates so you’re able to make an informed decision about where to start and when to increase rates.

The last part, Freedom in Project Management, is the icing on the cake. There are tools and processes that will make your grant writing career hugely successful. We highlight them so you can start your career on the foundation of easily repeatable processes. We’ve developed templates you can access based upon our community of freelance grant writers who are doing this work for a living. When you work with an emphasis on process instead of haphazardly putting together a grant application, you will experience freedom. You’ll have freedom with your time, more balanced energy levels, and much less stress.

The best part about this three part method is that it gets you to your goals faster than you think possible. If you want to speak with a Member in the Collective for their perspective, drop us a line or DM us on Instagram. Our team has trialed and errored the grant writing process oursevles and further fine tuned it via feedback from hundreds of Members. Today, we’re grateful to stand before you and share a solid list of what to do for success.

Meredith Alex and Katie

Funding Strategy

How do you decide which grants to pursue? How do you research what grants are out there efficiently? And which ones will give you the highest return on investment for your time and resources?

Those are all good questions. The answer is having a Funding Strategy. A funding strategy is a roadmap of what grants you will pursue and when. Think of it like a 12-18 month roadmap. The funding strategy is the final deliverable after you have filtered through 100+ grant opportunities and narrowed down to the top 2-5 you want to pursue.

This is your toe in the door to landing clients for the long term and securing months long contracts (aka: job security!). Once a client sees the funding strategy, they’ll have the opportunity to hire you to carry out all the grant writing for the next 12-18 months.

So how does the Funding Research Funnel work? Here’s a quick run down (or you can watch our video all about funding strategies):

  1. Start by researching any and all grants related to your project. We recommend Instrumentl, an outstanding online grant database. This process should yield 100+ grants. Anything over 150 is too many to process, so you will filter your search if this happens to you.

    You can use this discount code LGW to save $50 off your membership:

    If you are wondering what database to use to query grants, we have looked at them all! Or, at least the top 10. Here's our review of the top 10 grant databases.
  2. Next, you’ll do a quick evaluation to determine which grants are worth further evaluation. We have a specific process we teach for this in our course, but it generally can be done in two sittings and will narrow your list down to 20-25 grants.
  3. Finally, the last step is the most time consuming, but is 100% worth it so you are confident you are focusing on the right grants. In this stage of the funnel, you learn how to determine competitiveness, ask quality questions of the funder, and think strategically about the top 2-5 grants worth your precious energy to pursue.

A funding strategy is crucial to grant writing success. It keeps your organization from thrusting last minute grant pursuits on you because chasing grants erratically is a recipe for burnout. It helps you position grants in such a way that you can leverage them against each other like dominoes. It gives you confidence that you are focusing your precious resources on funding agencies that genuinely want you to apply.

Free Grant Writing Class

Learn the 7-steps to write a winning grant application and amplify the impact you have on your community.

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student taking free online grant writing course

Developing a new skill when you're super busy

There will always be barriers when it comes to trying something new. Walk into this endeavor anticipating challenges. If you’re expecting challenges, you can create a battle plan to work through those obstacles.

A few challenges to becoming freelance grant writing consultants that our community has include working full-time, young kiddos, and financial concerns.

Working full-time

Before jumping into grant writing full time, a lot of folks keep their full-time job to maintain stability. Get creative: where are the chunks of time in your day when you can get a little work done on this side hustle? Does it look like getting up an hour earlier? Dedicating the first hour after work to building your business? A few hours on your weekend days?

As a Member of the Collective, you can plan on spending 3-5 hours per week in your first three months. Very doable and flexible as the material is all self-paced. In this window, you can earn your grant writer certificate and complete your first paid client project. You can download our custom app (for iPhone users) to listen to the online instructional content while cooking, driving, walking, etc. This allows you to soak up the information the first time audibly and then double back when you have a real client to deploy your learning.

We know you can do this and we’re here to support you. Let your close family and friends in on your pursuit too. Let them know that you’re investing in something that will help you realize the future you’re dreaming of.

Kiddos 🐣

They’re the best, huh? And, probably one of your biggest whys for pursuing grant writing consulting. If you’re a parent, we already think you’re a superhuman. You obviously know your individual situation better than us, but some of our community members work during nap times, quiet times, or when grandparents or others can watch their kids.

Over half of our Members are parents, so you will be in good company! One of the biggest encouragements we can offer you is to stay the course. Stay the course as in remember your whys, keep close the vision you have for yourself and your family in the future, and recognize that there is incredible value in this investment into your skillset. We’re rooting for you.

Financial Concerns

We are certainly not a $19.99 Udemy course. Our pricing increases annually to reflect huge improvements we push to the program, so be sure to watch this training for the latest pricing. The biggest difference between our program and others you might be considering (check out this review of 20 online grant writing courses), is that we show you how to pay for your investment in the Collective in your first three to six months by getting paid to do a funding strategy for a client. The rest is then gravy from there as you build your business!

A Small Sample of Unicorn Wins

You can read about additional success stories here and on YouTube.

grant writing success story from brandis
grant writing success story from julia-grace
grant writing success story from Loretta
grant writing success story from Marianne
grant writing success story from Sarah
grant writing success story from Yosef

There are loads of other tips and tricks out there to help you make the most of your time. We just want to highlight a few more. First, do not underestimate the power of 15 minutes. In 15 minutes, you can wash a sinkful (or two!) of dishes, fold a load of laundry, write 500+ words, watch a video in one of our Modules, and a million other things that will add up over time. This is how we get things done: 15 minutes at a time. Or, in the words of Anne Lamott, bird by bird. Here’s the backstory behind the phrase bird by bird:

“Thirty years ago my older brother, who was ten years old at the time, was trying to get a report on birds written that he’d had three months to write, which was due the next day. We were out at our family cabin in Bolinas, and he was at the kitchen table close to tears, surrounded by binder paper and pencils and unopened books on birds, immobilized by the hugeness of the task ahead. Then my father sat down beside him, put his arm around my brother’s shoulder, and said, “Bird by bird, buddy. Just take it bird by bird.”

🕊 Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life by Anne Lamott

Most importantly, in case you haven’t heard this lately, you have already done hard things and proven yourself capable. We know that you haven’t arrived here completely fresh-faced having walked through zero challenges in your life. You can do hard things.

Final Takeaway

Whether you’re motivated by a flexible lifestyle, want to take control of your destiny, or wish to do something meaningful, we think becoming a freelance grant writer can help you get there.

We want to help you on this journey of becoming a grant writer and creating your own consulting practice. By deciding on the niche you want to serve, learning the necessary skills to run your own business, starting with a funding strategy, and facing your challenges head on, we have every assurance that you will be successful.

Grant Writing Resources

Discover Grant Writing as a Career

If you’re interested in becoming a grant writing consultant, check out this free training on how you can pull off a meaningful career change.

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Watch video to see if grant writing is a job for you

If you have any additional questions about the Grant Writing Unicorn Collective, let us know! We can connect you with a member of the program for their perspective. Shoot an email to [email protected] or DM us on Instagram!

About the author...

Alexis Swenson serves as Unicorn Coach and Content Director for Learn Grant Writing. The product of small-town northwestern Minnesota, she is a self-declared “old soul” and grounded free spirit. She has secured over $2.7 million in grant funding in her career. Alexis writes to help people learn, laugh, and not be so hard on themselves.

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Want To Learn More?

We made this video to answer your questions about how to build a career in grant writing without the fear of where you will find clients or the fear of failure. We cover the top three mistakes that keep people from making the leap from a soul-sucking job to something more meaningful.

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