How to choose a grant writer?

June 15, 2021

R&D Grant Funding has become hugely attractive – no debt, no equity, external validation – in short – the most desirable funding option for innovation-led businesses. There is more R&D grant funding available than ever before – Horizon Europe has a €100bn budget to 2027, the UK has committed over £2bn per year through Innovate UK grant funding and every nation in the EU has its own growing R&D grant funding budget. 

Where the money goes, consultants follow. From the large multi-national global corporates like Alien TT, ZAZ Ventures and Inspralia, to the freelance grant writer working from home, the range of fee models and approaches to the process of grant writing provide real choice. 

This blog (it might turn into a few blogs) is intended for those businesses seeking external support from experienced grant writers. This first article aims to help you learn about the different business models in the grant writing sector, giving you the knowledge to decide the approach that best fits your way of working.

A quick note (and declaration of interest) before I get into it. I have an interest in three grant writing consultancies (Granted Consultancy, Venturenomix and Impact Funding Europe) based in the UK and EU. I have also worked for a brief time as a freelance grant writer.

Fee models for grant writers – How do grant writers earn a fee?

The three main R&D grant writing fee models are:

  • Project Fee: A pre-agreed fee payable on submission of the R&D grant application
  • Success Fee: A no-win, no-fee arrangement based on the total grant funding secured
  • Blended Fee: A combination of a project fee + success fee

Project fee

Project fees for R&D grant writing can vary from a few thousand ‘bucks’ (Euros, Pounds, Dollars, etc) to tens-of-thousands. The fee will depend on the time taken to write the R&D grant – some take a week, others a couple of months. The quantum of the upfront fee will depend on:

  • Experience: How experienced the grant writer is with the specific fund; because the more grant applications you write to a specific funder, the quicker you get, without losing quality. So, it makes very good sense to find a writer experienced in the specific R&D grant you are applying for.
  • Overheads: Obviously, the bigger the company (and the closer its business model is to being an accountancy firm), the higher the overheads and the higher the upfront fees. Micro consultancies (they prefer the term ‘boutique’) have lower overheads = lower upfront fees.
  • Speciality: It is fair to say that PhD level grant writers are more expensive than a writer with a degree in business studies (incidentally, both can make excellent writers). So, if you are in need of a highly specialised technical writing capability, expect to pay more. If you have an ad-tech company, negotiate hard! 

Success fee

The Success Fee Only grant writing fee model is becoming more prevalent as the amount of R&D grant funding increases. As the name suggests, the fee for the writer is contingent on a successful outcome – a grant being awarded. Consider the following points:

  • The success fee %: This can range considerably depending on experience, success rates and overheads. You should perhaps have an idea of how much grant funding you are looking to apply for and then work out the potential success fee. Does this seem reasonable?
  • Payment of the success fee: Ideally this should be tied to the drawdown of the grant funding as your company does not want to put undue stress on cash flow. Can you spread the success fee payment over the course of the project rather than in one lump sum at the start?
  • Liability: What happens if you decide not to submit the grant once the writer has done a considerable amount of work? Are you free to choose or would you be liable for a fee at that point to cover the time spent? Equally, what happens if the grant funding is not released by the funder (this is rare, but if something goes wrong with the project it can happen) – are you liable for a fee?

Blended fee

The most common fee model for R&D grant writing consultancies is the part-upfront and part-success fee model. Effectively, the writer offers to lower the upfront fee in return for a share of the success. The fee will depend on (again) the requirements of the funder and the amount of grant funding you are going for. Of course the higher the grant funding value, the higher the potential success fee for the writer. Consider asking the following questions when discussing terms with a grant writer working on this fee model:

  • How many days will it take to write the grant? This will give you a rough understanding of the day rate the writer is charging – is this in line with what you expect for a “reduced day-rate” based on also charging for success?
  • Who will be working on the grant writing process? This gives you an idea about the level of consultancy involved – is it one writer who takes your business plan and writes a grant or do you get access to consultancy advice around how to shape your project to maximise success? 
  • Will I get to work with the senior grant writers and consultants? Of course, the senior people have the most experience and are the most time-poor. Even an hour or two of their time will improve your chances.
  • What happens if we are successful? Sounds strange, but will the writer help you with the Grant Agreement, the Project Plan, the Exploitation Plan and the Kick-off meeting? This is all time-consuming for you, but simple enough for an experienced grant consultant.
  • What happens if we are not successful? Can you get the writer to include a resubmission at no additional cost perhaps? If you are not happy with the service, can you take the application to a different consultant without being liable for the success fee?

Choosing an R&D grant writer or R&D grant writing consultancy to work with is based on much more than fees of course. I will explore this in future blogs in a bit more detail.

In the first instance, I hope this helps and if you would like a second opinion on the proposals you have received, Venturenomix offers a quick turnaround service to assess options. Finally, our network of grant writers and grant writing consultancies is strong – we have trusted partners – and we are always happy to make a recommendation.

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Alex has over 15 years of experience in founding and running businesses, the most recent company having raised over £50m in funding for businesses based across the globe. He has a thorough knowledge of business funding options and can draw on many successful consultancy engagements to bring impetus to venturing. Alex has now set his focus on working with entrepreneurial teams looking to make a positive impact on the climate crisis and the broader UN Sustainable Development Goals.

Contact Alex