Q: I am looking to change careers. I have been in non-profit development work for years. I am tired of begging for money at black tie events! One part of my job that I really love is grant writing. I am a journalism major and feel like this part of non-profit work really plays to my strengths. I would love to start a business focused solely on grant writing. How does one do this?
A: Congrats on finding something that you enjoy doing and it sounds like you also have skill and experience in that specific discipline! Non-profit organizations are often looking for grant writers who have experience understanding the grant application process and the requirements of submitting grant applications to a wide range of organizations and foundations.
Many smaller non-profit employers do not have internal resources to handle grant writing. They also probably have limited funds to compensate a full-time grant writer. This seems like an obvious place to start. Additionally, there may be larger non-profit organizations who could benefit from your expertise. If a larger company has a gap in their grant-writing team, because of a resignation or a leave of absence, they may be willing to hire a resource like you to fill that gap.
The first challenge in starting a professional services business like yours is to build a base of clients. Letting your existing network know that you plan to “hang your own shingle” will be important. Those with specific needs will likely reach out, but your follow-up skills will be tested. Additionally, think about joining a professional association to continue to build your network and keep your skills current. I found www.grantprofessionals.org after a quick google search. This website also lists local foundations and their assets. This information could be very helpful to you as you advise your clients. Referrals will be key to your business development. You will likely be drinking a lot of coffee and meeting a lot of professionals to understand who hires independent grant writers. You will also need a place to work and it could be your kitchen table, your local library, a coffee shop or a work sharing space. Have simple business cards printed. Think also about establishing a website, which will summarize your experience, your offering(s) and how to reach you. Get active on LinkedIn so others can easily find you. You will make mistakes. We all do. Set goals for yourself, including financial goals but also other goals. For many of us, money is important but not the only goal for starting a business.
Finally, consider how you want to structure your organization or if you could benefit from formalizing your services as an LLC or other type of business entity.