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DIY Grants Pitfalls


“Is a Grant Writer Necessary?”: How to Avoid the Pitfalls of DIY Grant Applications

Life in business is busy. And yet as a business owner it’s easy to fall into the trap of adding more responsibilities to a full plate. As a grants specialist, I’ve observed this frequently with potential clients who are considering writing their own grant application.

Their thinking usually goes something like this: “Is a grant writer necessary? It can’t be that difficult; I’ll take care of it.”

However, I know from experience that the chances of this approach resulting in success are vanishingly small. Essentially zero.

So if you want to learn how to avoid leaving money on the table, read on to discover why a specialist can offer so much more than time savings, and how taking the do-it-yourself approach might cost you more than just wasted time.

Five flawed reasonings behind DIY grant applications

Business owners and managers choose to in-house tasks for many reasons, and a DIY solution often sounds good on paper. But the harsh reality of grant applications is that they are far more burdensome than most realise. Here are some common DIY grant expectations versus their reality.

1.    Cost saving

Expectation: “It’s more affordable to DIY.”

Reality: It isn’t. Most people fail to consider the resource and opportunity costs of tackling a grant application yourself. Do this and you’ll understand that engaging a specialist (for the cost of a small fraction of a grant’s value) is a sound investment.

2.    Specialist knowledge

Expectation: “Nobody else knows as much about my business as I do.”

Reality: Getting a grant isn’t about how well you know your business. In fact, much of your success will come from knowing the grant ecosystem and what it takes to win.

3.    Resource utilisation

Expectation: “I have employees who can handle the grant application.”

Reality: Your team aren’t grants specialists, so they don’t have the necessary expertise. Think of it this way: would you expect a sales rep to handle your tax?

4.    Control

Expectation: “We’ll get a better result if I handle it personally. I want full control.”

Reality: Any significant grant application will require more expertise, energy and time than you will be able to personally assign to it.

5.    Speed

Expectation: “It’ll be quicker if we handle this in house. We have our own ways of working and bringing on a third party will slow us down.”

Reality: Rushing towards failure doesn’t bring you any closer to success. A good grant consultant will slot into your organisation’s workflow and will enhance, not reduce, your efficiency.

What can a professional grant consultant offer you?

A common misconception people hold about grants specialists is that the only benefit we offer is saving you time. But really, saving your time is just one of the many things we can do for you.

Here are some of the many reasons you’re better off getting a specialist to handle your grant application:

  • You won’t add another distraction to your already packed schedule
  • You’ll have peace of mind that (as with other complex activities that are outside your area of expertise), your grant application is in the hands of an experienced professional
  • You won’t burn hours on menial tasks such as figuring out how to navigate the application in-house; you’ll be able to make a real impact by building upon what your grant consultant delivers
  • You’ll retain control over how you spend your days. You won’t feel constant pressure to go and meet that looming deadline
  • A grant consultant takes on most of the burden and the responsibility. We will prioritise your application as part of our daily activity — giving your grant the proper care it needs is what our fee is for.

How to work with a grant writer: it’s your decision

Some clients prefer to let me handle all aspects of their grant application, usually because they see their time as better invested in other areas of the business. Other clients prefer a hybrid approach where they build upon my drafts and take more control of the process.

I have no preference for how we collaborate; ultimately, it’s up to you how you choose to work with me as a consultant. I’m here to serve and to help you succeed — that’s my purpose.

Don’t fall into the trap: DIY grants are a false economy

I’m a business owner, so I understand that the idea of cutting a cost is always appealing. But what are you really saving by not investing in a specialist? Most of the time, the answer will be nothing.

Consider the opportunity cost: a DIY grant application will dominate your schedule for weeks at a time.

Consider your operating costs: if you put your team to work on a grant, other things they are responsible for are going to suffer and break.

And if you decide to do it all yourself, you won’t be able to do anything else, and I can assure you that doing this will make you miserable and exhausted.

There is no fixed number of hours needed for a compelling grant application; it can vary enormously.

However, as a specialist with a long list of grant successes to my name, I would advise you to expect investing no less than 40 hours for mid-range grants up to around $500,000.

For big grants of a million dollars and beyond, you should anticipate anywhere from 80 to 200 hours getting chewed up in writing, chasing letters of support, crafting project plans, plotting financial modelling, and other critical activities that will determine whether you succeed or fail.

My candid thoughts on DIY grant applications 

Here are some of my personal thoughts on DIY grants after navigating this discussion many times over the past 10+ years of specialising in grants.

If you are considering a DIY approach, my recommendation is not to, for the following reasons.

You won’t be able to be thorough enough. You won’t see the inferences that an experienced grant consultant can.

I can assure you that if you’re new to this, or you are not working to a proven successful process, there is a high risk you will miss pertinent information and you have a very high chance of failure — it’s that simple.

On large or complex grant applications, it is certain you will exhaust yourself just trying to figure out the multitude of puzzle pieces that will be needed to complete the application.

I know this because I’ve had consortiums with multiple collaborators express their utmost gratitude to me for orchestrating their grant journey from conception to fruition. They’ve been shocked by the seemingly endless list of activities that come with a grant application, and they’re grateful for not having had to grapple with such a challenge alone. Many people struggle to grasp the scope and difficulty of winning a grant until they are involved in the process themselves.

Ultimately, you may still say, “That’s all fine, but I’m still going to do it myself.” And that’s your choice as the business custodian. In which case, I can only offer you this advice:

If you DIY a grant application, you can forget about your evenings and weekends, because that will be the only quiet time you’ll get to concentrate and try to make sense of things.

You might think, “No, I’ll block out my days to concentrate on the grant — I’m the boss.” But you won’t be able to, because one of your many other priorities will emerge and snuff that idea out.

What will happen is you will end up burning the midnight oil trying to figure it all out, you will struggle throughout the process, and you will become overwhelmed and burnt-out. It won’t be the type of challenge that is fun — just the opposite.

And at the end of it all, your chances of success will still be low.

Many grants are only awarding funding to around 10% of applicants, so a submission must be exceptional to stand a chance. But I’ve been shown DIY submissions by clients who tried and failed, and despite their best efforts, the thoroughness of their output simply was not where it needs to be.

In the end, DIYing won’t feel worth it, because as our clients can tell you, it isn’t.


If I come across strongly in this article, it’s only because I think there are some widely held misconceptions about grants that need to be addressed. This is not a simple administrative task; it’s not something you can hope to achieve without total dedication (the kind you’ll get from a specialist like me).

It pains me to see businesses make the same old mistakes that could be avoided if they chose a better path.

So I’ll finish with a quick question. As a business owner, you must contend with a daily deluge of decisions regarding finances, marketing, technology, and business strategy — do you really want the added burden of a grant application on top of all that?

Resources and help to get a grant

There are many more grants available—check out our finding grants article if you want to get better at discovering grants.

Our Insights showcase some of the grant-winning methods we employ at GrantHelper, and they will help you create a stronger grant application. But no matter how well prepared you are, winning grants takes time—something we know many business owners and directors just don’t have. And that’s why we’re here to help.

GrantHelper can assist with your organisation’s next grant application, no matter what stage of the funding journey you’re at.

I need help applying for grants

Check out our How to Prepare Before You Apply insight to help you reduce the stress levels when you apply for a grant.

Check out our How to write a successful grant application to learn some time-saving tips to make the grant writing process easier.

Our in-depth eBook is the single most valuable resource you will find that helps organisations to truly understand how to win government grants.

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Our free eBook features 10 chapters of expert advice, professional tips and more to help you do better with grants, whether you’re new to the process or you’ve applied before.

Get your copy of the Guide to Winning Grants now.

Is your business eligible for this government grant? Or perhaps you’re not sure and want to know more?

GrantHelper offers a range of government grant services, helping businesses of all sizes to discover, apply for, and win the best grant opportunities. We can help you with anything from finding the right grants, to writing your application, formulating an ongoing grant strategy, and more.

Get started now by filling in the form below, or tap the ‘Book a Discovery Call’ button to schedule a no-obligation virtual meeting with an experienced government grants consultant.

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What's on my mind

Hi, I’m Steve Dowling – founder of GrantHelper. I’m a former champion of marketing and export business development turned business builder.

I do a lot of thinking and reading around grants, strategy, and funding. I send a monthly newsletter with what’s on my mind on this stuff.


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