How to Choose Your Grant Consultant and What Questions to Ask
- Grants are complicated, and having the help of a consultancy can help you secure grant funds you otherwise wouldn’t know about
- In your consultant search, there are certain questions you should ask to vet for competency and level of service
- If you want to get in touch with industry experts, reach out to Granted’s team of Grant Angels!
A wise person once said: Grants are complicated.
If you have ventured into the world of small business grants, this statement will resonate with you. And now, you’ve decided to explore your options for grant consultants. To find the right consultant, you need to know which questions to ask. In this article, we cover the key questions you should ask any grant consulting firm before signing on with them.
Before you go booking calls with prospective consulting firms, there are a few things you need to ask yourself:
- Is your business doing lots of grantable activities (such as hiring, training, market expansion, cleantech investment, R&D, etc.)?
- What level of service are you looking for?
- Do you have the resources to learn and identify grants on your own?
- Are you looking for support post-approval (for example, requesting a project change or requesting more funding)?
- Do you need support with claims and reporting requirements?
These questions will help you start your search in the right place. Some consultants only help with writing, while others (like Granted) are full-service, so knowing your needs will help you narrow down your best options from the get-go.
What is your fee structure?
This is the question on everyone’s mind when they speak to prospective consultants. In many cases, it’s the determining factor and can make or break a business relationship.
Provincial and federal grant programs have specific rules around how grant consultants are allowed to charge for their services. Mostly, it’s to prevent applicants from using grant funding to pay for the consultant’s fees. In inquiring about fee structure, be sure to ask:
- Do you charge a retainer fee?
- Do you charge a success-based fee?
- Are there additional fees for non-writing-related services (such as claims, reporting, invoice vetting, etc)?
- What happens if I’m not approved?
- What are your payment terms?
In discussing fees, it’s important to consider what’s included. For example, one consultancy may charge ‘x’% for just the written portion, while another may charge the same ‘x’% for the written portion plus claims and reporting support and troubleshooting post-approval. It’s all about what’s included in the fee and what kind of support you’re getting. Additionally, be sure to get specific about the payment terms. You need to know when you’ll be required to pay the fee. Is it before submission or upon approval (ie. before you get the funding)? Is there a grace period upon approval? Do you pay regardless of approval? Be sure to evaluate what you’d be comfortable with so you know where you draw the line in terms of fees.
How much experience do you have?
With grants, experience matters; only by learning on the job and working with grants for an extended period that you gain valuable insights. As such, there are a couple of key questions to help you gauge the experience of a grant consultant.
1. What relationship do you have with government programs, officials, and trade commissioners?
Grant programs are closely tied with the government – often because they’re either government funded or run, or both. A grant consultant that has relationships with these officials means that they have the inside scoop on any program news. This is important because you’ll get a better application as a result. Additionally, in the event of rejection, the consultant will be able to reach out to their contacts to try to appeal the decision and get further clarity. A grant consultant with no connections has little insight into the minute details of the program and will have limited support in the event of a road black.
2. Do you have industry-specific expertise?
To support certain industry pillars, grants are very often industry-specific. Within each industry, there are certain types of grants and best practices in applying for them. You want to be working with someone who understands your industry, and knows what’s available for you in terms of grant funding. Otherwise, you could miss out on key opportunities because your consultant isn’t familiar with your industry and what you could be eligible for.
3. What types of small business grants have you worked with?
There are many types of small business grants, including hiring, training, expansion, R&D, and more. It’s important to know how familiar your grant consultant is with the range of grants so you don’t miss out on any opportunities.
What is your success rate?
One of the key ways to evaluate the knowledge of your grant consultant is their success rate. As you may have guessed, this refers to how many approvals they receive out of their total grant submissions.
Beyond asking what their success rate is, you should also ask how many grant applications they’ve submitted. One consultant could have a success rate of 99% (which is impressive!), but maybe they’ve only submitted 50 applications. A firm that has submitted thousands of applications with a good success rate is far more likely to be effective in the long term. Granted, for example, has submitted over 20,000 applications, and we are proud to maintain a success rate of 92%.
Do you have dedicated grant consultants?
As you refine your search for a grant consulting firm, an important consideration should be whether or not they have dedicated grant consultants. With a grant consultant, you have the support of an expert who can help you navigate the grant application process. It’s important to ask what level of service is provided. For example, can they provide strategic advice based on the unique position of your business? Can they help you create a grant planner for the next year?
The benefit of having your own dedicated consultant is that there’s a fractional member of your team to help you bring in financial support for your business. Ad-hoc grant consultants are great in a pinch, but if you want to leverage grants continuously, then you might consider a firm that can offer you your own consultant.
Click here to get connected with one of our in-house Grant Consultants!
Do you have in-house grant writers or do you outsource?
It may seem obvious that a grant consulting firm would have in-house grant writers – but you’d be surprised. It’s common for firms to outsource the written portion of their grants to contractors. On the flip side, you could also engage with a writer from the get-go if you have a specific grant in mind. This gets tricky as transactional grant writers don’t work on every type of grant, so you’ll have to shop around every time you want to apply for something new.
The problem with firms that don’t have in-house writers is that there’s no way of knowing who will be writing your application and similarly, how much or what kind of experience they have. Additionally, this means that the firm isn’t familiar with grant writing. This results in a knowledge gap that could impact your grant performance. Without knowledge of the written portion, it’s difficult to set the right expectations and identify the right grants for your business.
What support do you offer post-approval?
It’s a common misconception that getting grant approval is the hardest part. On the contrary! The real work begins post-approval when your project actually begins. This is due to the reporting requirements associated with small business grants.
Let’s take one of the most common small business grant types, hiring grants, as an example. Hiring grants are most often wage subsidies. This means that you will be reimbursed for a portion of the wages on an ongoing basis until you’ve maxed out your funding. To get your reimbursement, you need to submit claims along with all the required documentation. Most grants require claims, and it can get complicated when you have to collect pay stubs, invoices, reports, and proof of payment. Knowing whether or not the consulting firm provides this service is an important factor in your decision-making because it’s complex and has many moving pieces.
Other post-approval support to consider is pushback (ie. pushback on a claim), invoice auditing, project changes, and communication with the program. If you require post-approval support, be sure to ask about it.
For more information on how grants pay out, we go over it in detail in this article, as well as in our Grants for SMEs Guidebook.
How do you find and monitor grant opportunities?
In speaking with a grant consultancy, it’s safe to assume that they are aware of the current grant opportunities and what’s coming up… but how?
Each firm will have different ways of doing this. The manner in which grants are identified can tell you a lot about how an organization runs, and how well it’ll be able to serve you. Some companies use free grant databases, some have in-house researchers, and some rely on their consultants to keep track of everything.
Granted, for example, uses our proprietary SaaS platform, GetGranted. GetGranted is a grant database that gets updated every week by our in-house team of researchers. It includes grant descriptions, funding amounts, eligibility criteria, best practices, weekly notifications, links to application pages, and more. With GetGranted, our team and our clients have the most up-to-date grant information at their fingertips.
Where are you located?
This may seem obvious, but if you’re a Canadian business, you should be working with a grant consulting firm with a Canadian presence. This also extends to some of the previous questions, such as having a dedicated grant consultant and in-house grant writers. If the consultants and writers are outsourced, it’s important to know from where. If their writers are located throughout the US, it’s very hard to say how familiar they are with Canadian grants, and how to write for them.
The best time to get a consultant is when you don’t need a grant. Seems counterintuitive, yes, but starting your search with a clean slate and no impending deadlines will help you identify a consultancy that can truly help your business, and not because they were the only ones available.
And there you have it! By asking these questions you should be able to assess whether or not a particular grant consultancy is right for you, and your business. Ultimately it depends on how much you want to handle on your own, and what level of grant funding you’re searching for.
If you’d like to get in touch with our team of industry-specialized Grant Consultants, head over to our Grant Calculator! You’ll be able to find out how much grant funding your business could qualify for, and one of our Grant Angels will be happy to answer any of your questions.