Consultancy Capacity’s One Best Tool: Your Business Plan
Note from Diane: We often get asked, how many grants can one grant professional write in a year? Or how do you best balance multiple deadlines? We are beginning a short series looking at grant professional capacity both from the consultant and employee point of view. Have a specific capacity question you want addressed? Drop me an email (firstname.lastname@example.org) and we’ll do our best to build it in to the series as it unfolds. Excited about our first post today that comes from Julie Johnson as it comes full circle to her post a few years ago about how she went about establishing her business plan. Missed it? Read it here.
As a grant consultant, I’m often advising my clients to realize their organization’s grant strategy and capacity. I found that it’s a question I need to ask myself as a consultant too. What is the grant capacity of my consultancy? How many clients do I have the capacity to serve? My business plan answers these questions for me.
Like the complicated moving parts of managing grants in an organization, the same can be true for a grant consultancy. The ebb and flow (think Gantt chart) of my workload timeline, shows some consistent, busy times and a few doldrum (think vacation) times of the year. With that said, a few moving pieces out of my control can quickly change my plans.
I found my capacity limit in a sudden overload earlier this year. First, a few of my current clients had government agencies change the deadlines for huge applications, and the new date was the worst timing for my clients’ event calendars. Next, a potential client that I had been speaking with for months received budget approval to offer me a retainer. Said client, as an absolute best fit for its order of grant needs, had to immediately pursue a very large, collaborative, assessment grant. Simultaneously, all the consultancies that I subcontract with were swamped with work too.
The result of this unforeseen convergence of work was me working six to seven days per week for several weeks. How or why did I work overtime? I did it because I knew it was temporary and my business plan laid out what to do.
My business plan predicted that I might reach capacity this year, my third year, as I want to remain a consultancy of one rather than building a grant team to oversee. To remain focused on the work in front of me, I referred new inquiries to other grant writers and I temporarily reduced the work I could offer in subcontracting. And, I hired more help in my personal life such as housekeeping, gardening, and food preparation, so I could solidly represent my clients during these converging deadlines.
I’m not saying this was a comfortable time. I felt fatigue like I imagined lawyers feel as they prepare and focus for a big case. Yet, having a plan in place helped guide me through the process. Managing grant client loads in a consultancy is like planning a grant calendar in a nonprofit. It’s a complex, changing process with multiple unknowns.
I would love to hear about your consultancy. What is your strategy? How has your business planned served you in crunch times? Do you work alone or have you built a team? Either way, what are some of the scheduling challenges that you’ve faced and overcome? What have you done in the opposite situation such as too little work or too few clients?