Thursday, July 22, 2010

Let Us RE Introduce Ourselves

I know it has been a while since we have updated our blog. Yes, three years is a long time to wait for a blog entry (and we know you've been waiting with bated breath.) So instead of making excuses for why we haven't updated, how about we just reset this whole blog thing and start from scratch.

Hello! Welcome to the Advancement Ink, LLC blog! We are happy that you have chosen to follow us and learn more about our company and the services that we offer our clients. Advancement Ink was founded in January of 2006 by the mother/daughter team of Katherine Johnston and Bethany Piersol as a full-service consulting agency specializing in grant preparation services.

What does that mean, you may ask? Simply stated, we manage the grant submission process from inception to submission. We help our clients turn their ideas and programs into organized and compelling funding proposals. Our work is typically completed in four stages:

Stage 1 - Information Gathering - We do our homework on your organization, goals and objectives, and programs. We thoroughly review your web site and all accompanying written materials. Then, we ask questions. We interview key staff and other important stakeholders to learn the ins and outs of your organization.

Stage 2 - Research - After completing Stage 1, we take the information that we have gathered and reviewed and use that to research funding options. We search for funding opportunities in the private sector (corporations and foundations) as well as state and federal government opportunities. Once we locate opportunities, we compile them into a prioritized list that is ranked by programmatic fit, regional proximity, and deadline. We also make strategic recommendations to maximize your budget and make the best use of time and resources.

Stage 3 - Writing and Packaging - Once the client has given us the go-ahead, we begin the proposal preparation process. We strictly adhere to the guidelines and requirements of each funding entity when preparing proposals. We communicate regularly with clients to set timelines, collect necessary information, and give progress updates. Once we have completed the rough draft we generally need two rounds of review and editing by the client to finalize the proposal. In addition to the written proposal, we work with our clients to create program budget requests. (again, adhering to guidelines and requirements) One of our most appreciated services is our interactive budget model that eases the stress and confusion of preparing federal budget requests. The final step in this process is the packaging of the proposal. We work with our clients to compile the necessary attachments that accompany the final proposal. We double and triple check all of our work to make sure that nothing is overlooked. If requested, we will send out the finalized proposal (either in hard copy format or via electronic uploading as the funding entity dictates.)

Stage 4 - Management, Reporting and Stewardship - Once you have received your grant, we will assist you in managing the award, setting up the proper accounts and mechanisms for tracking spending, as well as all required reporting. (both financial and programmatic) In addition, we will create correspondence to corporations and foundations in the form of letters and reports (whether required or not) as a way to show appreciation and responsible stewardship of their grant or gift to your organization. Advancement Ink believes in the power of showing appreciation to those who invest in our clients.

These are our stages of work. Some of our clients choose to retain Advancement Ink on a full-service basis. This makes great sense. However, we want to be flexible to our clients and provide them with exactly what they need. So, some choose to utilize only certain stages of work.
This is okay, too. We will be happy to discuss your needs on an individual basis and design a plan of work that will best serve you and your organization.

Speaking of work plans. Advancement Ink ALWAYS provides project or service estimates up front and does not begin work until the client has signed off on the estimate. We stick closely to our project estimates and do not exceed them unless the client agrees to an addendum that is then signed by both parties. We require a deposit of 1/3 of the project estimate and then once work is completed we invoice the client for the project estimate less the 1/3 deposit. We NEVER work on contingency and charge a reasonable hourly rate. Advancement Ink's services can also be retained on a monthly basis for a set fee.

We encourage you to go to our web site ( and learn more about us and our services. Give us a call and let's discuss your grant writing needs.

Until next time...

Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Helpful Marketing Resources

When Katherine and I set out to start Advancement Ink over two years ago, we knew that we needed some help to establish ourselves in our market and promote ourselves to potential clients. We diligently completed a marketing plan after researching our market, competition, and client base. But once we had the plan in hand, we needed some help with execution. Where do we start and who do we start with? The questions were numerous.

As we've mentioned in previous posts, Advancement Ink was lucky to earn business from professional colleagues and contacts. But we wanted to grow our client base and take on new business. By virtue of the medium that we work with (grants and proposals), it is not always necessary for us to see our clients face-to-face. Thanks to telephones, fax machines and the Internet, we can research, write, and send a proposal for a client without ever leaving our homes. This opens up a 'boundaryless' door of opportunity for us. We are an east coast firm but can easily and effectively serve clients on the west coast (or any other region of the world for that matter). This is both exciting and overwhelming! How do we reign in this client base so that we can effectively market ourselves and compete with other agencies providing similar services? We decided to seek some professional advice from people who have 'been there, done that.'

Katherine and I sought out the help of SCORE They are a corp of retired executives and professionals who serve small businesses nationally. They provide advice and counseling services free of charge and most metropolitan areas (and perhaps smaller areas as well) have a SCORE office. We needed advice on marketing, but anyone with a small business or a small business idea can benefit from a meeting with SCORE.

Our SCORE professional gave us great hints on how to position ourselves within our market, several outlets for advertising, and suggested many organizations that we might join for credibility purposes as well as networking opportunities. I can honestly credit SCORE for helping Advancement Ink to secure three new clients. I'll share some of his advice that directly benefited us, but I strongly urge you small businesses and non-profit organizations out there (or if you just have an idea that you would like to pursue) to visit your SCORE office. They also have counseling available online.

Katherine developed Advancement Ink's Web site. We are very pleased with its structure and simplicity. However, we needed to get it noticed on the vast world wide web. SCORE suggested that we register with Google and take it a step further by advertising our services on Google. I must admit that I was skeptical, but the results have not disappointed. We registered Advancement Ink as an advertiser with Google. The process was simple. We selected the amount of money we wanted to spend per month, and the key words that best described our business. I was able to choose many search phrases and view their popularity. The pricing is scaled on the popularity of search terms. I composed a 'short but sweet' message to be seen by searchers, and I was done.

The truth is, we have gotten some inquiries from strange places and for strange things, but as I mentioned before, we have gotten many legitimate inquiries that have lead to great business relationships. We are thankful that we took that step with Google Ad Words and continue to advertise with them today.

The other piece of advice SCORE shared was to register ourselves with trade organizations. The purpose of this is to keep abreast of what's going on in our industry, stay current with funding opportunities for our clients, and to network. Advancement Ink has chosen to register with a couple of organizations for grant writers and small businesses and that, too, has resulted in great contacts and legitimate business inquiries. We are so excited to be a part of these groups and look forward to forming great relationships and partnerships.

I think the best experience of our work with SCORE has been the effect that fresh eyes and perspective has had on our business. We know Advancement Ink inside and out, but it's nice to get some advice and suggestions from people who don't know who we are. We plan to revisit with SCORE regularly to hone our marketing plan and to continue through our on-going execution phase.

There are so many great resources for small businesses on the Web, through local and state government, at colleges and universities, and non-profit organizations. Katherine and I have had great success utilizing these resources and would highly recommend them to our fellow small businesses. Good Luck and Great Marketing!!

Long Hiatus from Blogging

Katherine and I wish to express our sincere apologies for not blogging for the last - oh - 5 MONTHS. It certainly is not due to a lack of ideas, but perhaps a lack of time. We've been busy. Which is great for Advancement Ink... not so great for this blog. But we promise to do better. In fact, I'm just about to start another entry on why we've been so busy. So thanks for reading and stay tuned!

Monday, February 19, 2007

Attention to Detail

Katherine and I have been hard at work marketing Advancement Ink and answering calls and advertisements for grant writers and consulting firms. In fact, we are currently writing a proposal on behalf of our company in response to a call. How very appropriate that a grant writing firm is writing a grant for themselves!

Anyway, Katherine and I had a conversation last week discussing the deadline of the aforementioned proposal and the necessity of hand-delivering it to the agency. We do not want to chance it getting lost or overlooked, or arriving late. Because if it arrives past the deadline, it will not be considered.

When I was working as a university grant writer, I attended lots of workshops where grantmakers would give presentations on successful fundraising and proposal writing. Time and time again they would reiterate the importance of paying attention to detail and following directions. An example might be staying within the space parameters allotted, or not asking for endowment money when the foundation clearly states that it does not fund endowments. This all sounded like logical advice to me. I was surprised to learn that there are quite a few people who don't take the time to cross their t's and dot their i's. I wasn't surprised to learn that the proposals of those people were the first to be thrown out.

It is a very large undertaking for staff to read all of the proposals submitted to a funding agency. A very easy way to narrow down the number of proposals read is to weed out the ones that have not met the deadline or who have not followed the basic directions. How frustrating would it be to have worked so hard preparing a proposal only to have it thrown out because you omitted a crucial component or turned it in late?

Taking the time to check and double check work, no matter what kind of work it is, will always pay off. Discovering potential mistakes before they become real mistakes can save time and headaches.
That extra moment spent will insure that you are putting your organization's best foot forward.

Wednesday, February 7, 2007


As Bethany wrote, all of our business to date has come from colleagues and friends. We know that this will not always be the case .. so we are exploring ways to market our services. What we have learned is that marketing a business is not a simple thing. A firm may have excellent experience and exceptional talent, but getting business requires a special expertise that isn't always innate or even learned as one gains other job experience. It seems to me that the cardinal rule is to articulate the value that you can bring to the prospective client .. e.g., what can we do for you that you can't do for yourself. OR, what can we do for you that is different or better than others in our field. I was reminded of the importance of focusing on the client's needs last week when I participated in a meeting to select a consultant. The consultant started his talk with "let me tell you about my company. No, let me tell you about me." His tale of "me" went on for 30 minutes, during which he name-dropped excessively. In the next 30 minutes, he went through a canned presentation of the general process ALL consultants use in performing this service. NOT ONCE, did he relate either his experience or the process steps to our project. I filed this experience in the "what not to do" folder.

Monday, February 5, 2007

The Importance of Saying Thank You

An important lesson that I am constantly relearning is that of showing appreciation. Saying thank you is so easy and means so much. Case and point. I have learned in the fundraising world that it is easier to get the second gift than the first. Why is that? The answer is you prove your organization a worthy recipient and steward of this gift. By thanking a funder for his/her contribution to your organization (and demonstrating how their gift has made a difference), you show them that they can feel confident investing in your organization, and that their contribution (no matter the size) is appreciated and utilized.

There are so many ways to say thank you: a hand-written note, a glossy report with photos and personal anecdotes, an invitation for a visit or to an event, or even (when and if appropriate) a plaque or small gift. It is really rewarding to find new and different ways of expressing your or your organization's appreciation. I always love hearing how other organizations thank their donors, patrons and/or supporters. So if you're out there, we'd love to hear from you!

Advancement Ink is a young business and my Mom and I have been very fortunate to have former colleagues give us business as well as refer business to us. We have worked very hard for them (as well as our other clients) to prove that we are worthy recipients of their business. And we have tried to remember to thank them as often as possible for their business and referrals. We believe this is vital to the success of Advancement Ink.

So, to end this blog for the day, I want to say thank you for reading. We appreciate you taking the time out of your day to visit our site and read what we have to say. And should you (or anyone you know) ever need grant or proposal writing services - or a resource allocation study or cost analysis - please know that Advancement Ink will be a worthy recipient of your business. And we will always say thank you!

Thursday, February 1, 2007

What do we do?

Bethany here. And it occurred to me that we haven't shared what it is we actually do. Drumroll please... We are Advancement Ink, a strategic communications firm. In other words, we write content to achieve the goals of our clients. It might be federal grants, proposals to corporations or private foundations, or promotional materials such as brochures and newsletters. In addition, we conduct cost studies and analyses of client organizations to determine how they can better allocate (and maximize) their resources.

I want to refer back to my mom's first post for a moment to tell you how we came up with the idea for Advancement Ink. My mom decided to retire in June of 2004 from the world of higher education. She spent many successful years in administration, dealing specifically with budgeting, financial planning, facilities, and various other (major) functions of a university. I knew she wasn't really ready to give up her career, but instead was looking for more (well deserved) flexibility in her daily life.

I too was entering a new phase in my life as a mom. And while I enjoyed my job and the work it entailed (I was doing corporate and foundation fundraising for a major research university), I too was really looking for a little more flexibility.

We talked and talked about how we could mesh our strengths and talents into a business. And voila, Advancement Ink was born. Drawing from our experience in higher education and the non-profit world, we knew that there was a real need for solid communicators with grant and proposal writing experience.

Time and resources are stretched thin at most universities and non-profit organizations. Staffs are fully engaged in their organization's work and don't always have the time to complete grant applications and follow the fundraising maze. And what an important process it is. It takes time, attention to detail, and lots of follow up.

We believe that hiring a firm like Advancement Ink makes great economic sense. There is no need to hire writers on staff. Save those positions and hire writers only when you need them. We can supplement staff in peak times, or provide our clients with a turn-key solution. In addition, our cost studies and resource analyses help clients operate more efficiently and maximize their funds. It's a great combo!

So there you go. This is what we do. Check out our Web site for more information on us and Advancement Ink. And we are never too busy to provide free project estimate for you and your referrals.