By Kelsey Boudin
President and Founder, Southern Tier Communications Strategies, LLC
Introductory meetings mean so much. I had just been hired as the grant writer, on a contract basis, for a nonprofit organization. We sat down for the first time to discuss the path forward. And, oh was there a lot on the docket.
Program overviews. Facility tours. Current financial realities. Funding priorities. Past funding pursuits. A layout of the ideal working relationship. Initial deliverables. I left the meeting with an email inbox full of past grants written (both successful and failed) and organizational documents to reference in understanding the current trajectory and strategic plan.
Hiring a consultant — whether for grant writing, digital marketing, organizational messaging or community outreach — is a big decision. In some ways, it can feel like a gamble. That’s understandable. You’re bringing an outsider into your organization to quickly understand its ins and outs and develop a strategy that meshes yours perfectly. On one hand, there’s typically a great cost savings. You’re paying a contractor only for a set number of work hours or specific benchmarks, as opposed to an internal full-timer who comes with a salary and benefits. On the other, you’re hiring a third-party contractor with autonomy over their schedules and work styles.
So what do you need to make such a decision? Trust. You must hire an experienced consultant who understands and believes in your strategic plan. And that individual must learn on the fly to have an immediate impact.
Hiring a Contractor Who Knows and Respects Your Vision
Attention to Detail
An experienced consultant will listen to and quickly retain the details you provide. Methods to retain such information may include:
- Video/audio recordings
- Meticulous note taking
- Interviews with stakeholders and participants
- Organizational document review
We seek to understand — to truly understand — and to immerse ourselves inside your vision. During a recent onboarding process with a grant writing client, I toured both of its facilities separately and participated in several meetings to absorb current initiatives and upcoming plans. Following the meetings, I drafted a 10-page blanket proposal from all of the information gathered to serve as a document for reference. After working with my clients to revise this document, we arrived at a comprehensive understanding of the organization, its messaging, and all aspects necessary to explain the strategic plan and financial needs. What’s more, this blanket proposal was a living, breathing document that can be altered and updated, as needed, to create the strongest grant narratives and grant letters of intent possible.
For this client, in the interest of producing a volume of grant proposals necessary to achieve, the blanket proposal was a living, breathing document that could be altered or expanded, as needed.
A consultant or agency for hire may wear many hats. Some may focus on grant writing and/or strategic planning, while others may do ony digital marketing. Some, like myself, may do all three or more. Doing so requires that individual or agency to have the expertise and bandwidth to accomplish these varied missions as well as the hundreds of other subtasks to get them right.
Contractors typically handle multiple clients simultaneously. Some have a staff of writers, strategists and other content producers, or a stable of subcontractors sometimes required to bring jobs to the finish line. Rest assured, a writing professional with experience across a range of such disciplines will be versatile and committed to handling a busy schedule and shifting gears easily.
Responsiveness & Communication
Your communications consultant is, after all, a communications expert. That includes communication with you, the client. Expect your contract consultant to stay in frequent contact about:
- Content strategy and production
- Status reports
- Ongoing initiatives
- Upcoming opportunities
- Requests for information/clarification
I use regular emails, text messages, Zoom conferences, phone calls and in-person meetings (exercised safely during Covid) to update progress and gather new insights toward strategic goals. Any good consultant should attempt to touch base daily, if possible, for an open and transparent process. On your end, expect prompt responses (Horror story: a client told me their previous contract grant writer would neglect projects and go weeks without an update.) Similarly, on website development projects, I have updated the client at each step from domain registry and content creation through design and completion.
Effective communication also involves honesty. If a grant process wouldn’t be a good fit or the data doesn’t support a certain digital marketing campaign, expect your consultant to express their best judgment.
Quality & Quantity
The ability to produce quality communications day in and day out comes only through experience. A writing professional will be accustomed to strategizing, drafting, writing, revising and editing virtually any style of content. My writing experience comes through years as a reporter and editor in the newspaper industry, where I compiled nearly 10,000 stories on deadline and edited thousands more. I also worked for a digital marketing agency, where I produced content strategies, blog posts, social media and premium content for numerous client companies. And as a grant writer for a local nonprofit, I compiled numerous grant proposals every day as we’ve aimed toward millions of dollars in funding. My drive toward producing volumes of quality content is second to none.
Strategic communicators like myself typically bring years of experience and confidence to their contract careers. Few, like myself, have such a breadth of experience across professional disciplines. Contact me here if you’d like to discuss a contract plan that may fit your organization.