Step 1: Explore grant opportunities online.
Step 2: Sort through 7,521,472 different applications online.
Step 3: Give up. Start looking for help from a grant consultant. *sigh*
Grant writing has a poor reputation thanks to an increasingly never-ending supply of flaky grant writers who do shoddy work.
But that doesn’t mean you’ll always get bad grant writers when you outsource your grant writing services.
AAG provides grant writing services, and our success rate speaks for itself. We have worked with several business owners to produce most of the competitive grant applications on the AfricanAmercanGrants’ blog—one of whom was our very own highly competitive 41 list of grants for Black women.
We still, however, successfully worked with several Black-owned businesses through our professional consultation services.
In other words, when done right, outsourcing grant writing through consultations can be quite powerful.
In this article, we’ll show you our proven process for writing grants and working with grant writers. We’ll also tested some grant writing websites and techniques so you don’t waste time and money on those that aren’t worthwhile.
When should you outsource grant writing?
Here’s a great flowchart from Tim Ferriss’ Four Hour Work Week to help guide your decisions:
This flowchart is detailed and quite self-explanatory. However, there are some other good reasons to outsource grant services:
- You’re too busy. Finding time to create a professional grant proposal is impossible.
- You hate grant writing. Every time you sit down to write a grant proposal, you feel physically sick. In Hemingway’s quote, “There’s nothing to writing. All you do is to sit at a typewriter and bleed” resonates deeply with you.
- You believe that grant writing requires domain expertise. You need a subject matter expert to create expert grant proposals, and perhaps, a grant consultant to help guide you along the way, with accurate advice.
- You are on a fixed budget. You’re already doing content writing, starting a business, and can see the ROI. All you have to do at this point, is to double down and scale it up.
- You have tried before with no luck. You’re ready to try again, but your experiences of past applications are still holding you back.
Have you decided that outsourcing grant writing makes sense for your business or your grant application?
That’s the easy part.
Is hiring a team of grant writers right for your grant application?
Hiring a grant writing agency isn’t the only option available if you’re looking to outsource grant writing services and mentorship.
At AfricanAmericanGrants.org, we’ve tried all three of the options listed above.
We’ve worked with third-party grant writing agency, we’ve worked with independent freelancers, and now we’re mainly in-house.
We asked AAG forum members what works best for them when it comes to utilizing grant writers.
Here’s what they said:
The first preference is always to go with a professional grant writing agency. If you have no idea how to write a well-crafted grant proposal, then, by all means, choose an agency. They have the expertise and can help you with your grant writing goals.
However, grant agencies such as AfricanAmericanGrants.org and many others online, mostly operate in-house grant writers, and as such, have a grant consulting system with a fixed cost. These grant agencies also tend to have their own set of requirements, systems and eligibility criteria for grant writing. If you want things done your way, working with agencies can have a different outcome.
If you however, have an existing knowledge of grant writing, it’s better to work with independent grant writing freelancers. There are no obligations whatsoever. You can work with a few, then pick the best from the rest. The only downside of going with freelancers is that you have to train them in the way you want them to deliver.
In our opinion, and according to the results of our AAG forum survey, The best solution is an in-house grant writer like we operate on AAG. These grant writers only work with you, and you can train them on everything grant-writing related. There are less worries or concerns that they’ll leave or disappear without any warning.
Tanisha Coleman, Grant Writing Manager
Tanisha’s preference is a team of in-house grant writers, which explains our current makeup of the AAG’s grant writing team.
Be that as it may, hiring in-house grant writers can be quite challenge and expensive, to say the least, so the best option for most businesses is to start by hiring freelancers because:
- It’s more affordable.
- You can hire and fire as as you deem fit.
- You can choose to pay a fixed price per article, regardless of the time it takes the writer to complete.
- You can hire as many grant writers as you need.
- There’s more diversity in writing style and viewpoints.
- The number of grant writers looking for freelance writing jobs is huge, so you’ll have plenty options.
Of course, there are some disadvantages of hiring grant freelancers:
- Writers may disappear at will, or be unreliable.
- Writers may work for multiple clients at once, and they may not be as involved with your brand as an in-house writer.
- It’s harder for freelancers to collaborate with other team members.
- Freelancers may not meet up with your deadline as agreed
- Writers may need training and coaching to meet your standards
To reiterate, if you’re new to outsourcing content creation, then working with grant freelancers is almost certainly your best bet.
In fact, this is the process used by some of the most successful grant writing agencies.
For example, African American Grants consultation program is a 6‑figure grant writing services provider with only seven part-time staff (none of them writers!) We’ve outsourced all the content creation to contractors.
With that said, how do you get started?
1. Decide on the type of grant writer you want
Not all writers are created equal.
There is a difference between a grant application copywriter, a journalist and a technical writer and a formal writer. Ask a journalist to write sales copy, and your conversion rates will tank. Ask a copywriter to report on the news, and your readers will leave in droves.
Before you begin looking for a grant writer, you need to be clear about what you want.
Here are some questions to guide you:
- What kind of grant writing do you need? Are you using the grant writing on how to apply for grants? how-to apply for a business or non-profit grants? Do you need a new blog grant proposal, or are you only looking to update your older grant applications?
- Do you need the writer to have domain expertise? Does your writer need to be an expert, like in the medical industry? In general, the more industry knowledge you require, the more expensive the writer.
- What is your budget? Indeed, there are writers available at any price. Your budget per article will determine the quality of content you get.
- What is the duration of your grant submission? Are you flexible with the timing for the grant services that you seek? The earlier you want it done, the more expensive.
Your answers will affect the entire hiring process: where you look for grant writers, the copy in your job listing and much more. For example, the consulting services that are offered at AAG can help you with your grant writing services.
Don’t rush into the hiring process.
Without clarity in this step, you may end up hiring a bunch of low-quality writers (and inadvertently create more work for yourself!)
2. Put together a winning grant writing listing
More does not always mean better.
The goal of hiring is not to get as many applications as possible. Looking through poor applications is a waste of time.
Instead, your goal is to find only relevant and qualified people.
To do that, you need to structure your grant writing requirements so that it attracts the right kinds of writers. And this is where you include a few smart “pre-qualifying” tricks.
The purpose of these tricks is to:
- Dissuade low-quality writers from applying;
- Allow for quick filtering of any low-quality writers that slip through the net;
- Encourage experienced, confident writers to take you seriously;
- Dissuade those with little or no experience in your vertical from applying.
- Choose specific quality writing
a) Give clear instructions on how to apply
Here’s an detailed example of how you can do the grant hiring process:
AAG outlines a predefined format for applications and expects writers to answer the questions in detail in a particular order.
By outlining a specific structure, you instantly dissuade lazy writers from applying, and that means less work for you. PRO TIP
Tell potential applicants to apply with a specific subject line. This little detail allows you to quickly weed out anyone who doesn’t bother to read the full listing. It also helps filter applicants who are incapable of following simple instructions.
Working with grant freelance writers is all about effective communication. Being able to follow instructions should be the bare minimum.
If they can’t do this during the application stage, it’ll be challenging to work together in the future.
b) Ask insightful questions
You should aim to find out the answers to these questions:
- How knowledgeable are they about your grant writing niche?
- Have they written similar content before?
- Do they have a genuine interest in your niche? (or perhaps write about anything and everything);
- Do they have high attention to detail?
In our regular grant writing job listing, we ask five specific questions:
Here’s what Kevin from AAG had to say when asked about his thought process:
Question #1: “What are your favorite grant blogs…?”
This gives us an idea of how knowledgeable that person in my niche. We know pretty much all the blogs in our niche and based on what a person is reading I can tell if he/she is a good fit.
Question #2: “Did you ever purchase grant writing services on any of those platforms?…”
If he/she has written for some of the best blogs in our niche, it usually gives us the ‘green light’ right away. The owner(s) of that website effectively did the vetting work for us when they allowed the applicant to ‘guest post’ on their site.
Question #3: “You may request links to your blog/Twitter/Quora/etc. profiles”
You could use this to see if the applicant is genuinely interested in grant writing and what he/she is actively sharing on social media.
Question #4: “What’s your first-hand experience in the grant proposal niche?…”
You need to know that the applicant is not just a reader/writer, but a ‘“DO’er.” Our goal with the AAG organization is to publish the kind of content you won’t find anywhere else. Your goal should not be to hire people who can research stuff and rewrite it. Instead, look for people who can DO things and write about their first-hand experience.
Question #5: “What do you think of the posts currently on the African American Grants’ blog?”
You should see if the person can be honest and critical or flatter us by saying “your content is awesome, I want to be a part of it.” In our opinion, good writers see flaws in everything, so if a person will criticize our existing content, that’s a good sign for us. However, criticism for the sake of criticism means nothing. It needs to make sense and align with our vision for the African American Grants’ organization.
The answers to these questions help our expert grant writers quickly assess whether the applicant is a good fit. Do the same for your grant writing search.
You don’t need to use these exact questions. Craft your own around what’s important to you.
c) Challenge them early on
It’s a good idea to add friction points to dissuade lazy writers from applying. One method is to exclude your email in the ad. Just give them your name and website.
If they want to get in touch and apply, they’ll have to make an effort to find the information on their own.
3. Found a good writer?
Here are some tips for hiring and working with them.
a) Start with a “test article”
A test article is an important stepping stone for both parties.
Like a probation period, it helps you figure out how skilled and reliable the grant writer is, and whether they’re a good fit for your business.
You will usually negotiate a test article at a slightly lower rate. However, some writers will refuse to work at this discounted rate. At that point, rely on your intuition. If the writer didn’t seem that great initially, it’s probably safe to say goodbye. If the writer seems promising, it may be worth risking the money to see if they fit the bill.
Take note that this stage is not for you to lowball the writer into writing a free article for you. If you don’t like the grant article, pay them for their time and move on.
Your reputation matters. If word gets out, hiring grant writers will get even more difficult.
With all “tests” passed, you can finally hire them “officially.”
Now it’s time to communicate your business goals, company core values, target audience, and any other important marketing and business information. Send them an editorial guide to ensure that they understand how to format their posts for your grant application.
Give them access to your communication tools (e.g., Slack). Discuss with them how to track their hours and how payment will work. Process all administrative matters, so the work going forward is a cinch.
Teach them how your product works. At AfricanAmericanGrants.org, we use our articles to educate users on how to use our product. To do that successfully, our writers must be familiar with our toolset. Knowing the ins and outs of our product allows writers to weave use cases into content easily.
c) Working together
Working with one writer is easy. Working with many? You’ll need a process.
There is no specific way of doing this. Every company has its own. Instead of giving you the “one true way,” I’ll share the “behind the scenes” look at how AfricanAmericanGrants.org creates grant writing services.
We use this process for both our in-house and freelance grant writers.
It starts with a list of potential topic ideas. When Josh was freelancing, Tim used to send a list of ideas to him:
From the requirement list of your grant options, we’re free to choose the topics that interest us most.
We then add the chosen topic(s) to our project management tool, Notion.
After reviewing the grant niche or interest, and brainstorming ideas with the AAG consulting team, (via our grant writing process), we create a rough outline for the grant proposal.
Here’s an example for this post (meta!):
In the document, we describe our thought process to our client. we’ll tell him what we think grant-issuing agencies are looking for (grant intent), what angle we should take, suggest a few grant formats and show them an outline of the subtopics we should cover.
For this, we use Google Docs.
AAG grant experts then comments on whether he agrees and if the outline works. If we get the go ahead, we’ll then start working on our first draft. (If not, it’s back to the drawing board.)
We then review any comments, edit the post (sometimes multiple times) then send it to the client who has requested it.
Without a defined process like this, efficient collaboration would be near impossible. However, we’re able to collaborate (almost) as efficiently as we would in-person, which allows us to overcome one of the main drawbacks of a successful grant writing system.
Yes, it takes some time and effort on your part, but it pays off in the long run.
d) Keep them motivated
Grant writing freelancers are not technically our employees at AAG, but the relationship is still a potentially long-term one.
If you stumble upon a great grant writer, you need to keep them motivated so that they stay with you for as long as possible. (Reggie wrote for AAG for 21 months before turning full-time!)
Monetary incentives are one way to do this. But, don’t neglect the softer, human approach.
- Make them feel part of the team.
- Let them know their work is important.
- Share company news with them.
- Show them performance metrics so that they know what they’re doing is working.
One of the best things you can do when looking for a grant freelancer is to give them an outside perspective. Offer feedback on their writing and help them improve. As Ryan Holiday says in Perennial Seller, “Nobody creates flawless first drafts. And nobody creates better second drafts without the intervention of someone else.”
They may be a grant freelancers now. But they might eventually decide to come onboard full-time too.
This entire article is based on our experience running and growing the AfricanAmericanGrants.org orgnization via our grant expert team.
Though we’re mostly in-house now, we wouldn’t have been able to grow the organization to where it is today without freelance grant writers. Even now, we still work with freelancers like Bengy from Grant Expert Hub from time to time to craft grant proposals.
Now, we’d love to hear from you.
Let us know in the comments if we missed out anything or if you have any thoughts to share! 🙂