$75/hour and on food stamps?

Coming “out of the closet” about my financial situation’s dire state turned out to be a good move. People have flooded me with what feels like genuine hugs and applause.
After that post, a friend asked me how much I charge for my work. When I told her, I felt the smothering feeling of shame again. Yes. On the grantwinners.net website I note our typical fee is $75/hour. How can someone who charges that rate possibly require assistance from the government?
As I said earlier, I’m antsy about having gone public with my situation because I believe it could hurt my business. Because I’m not “hiding” here, I considered posting on doinggoodbetter.org (the blog for grantwinners.net) but I believe these thoughts belong here.
How can someone who charges $75/hour possibly require assistance from the government?
Working as a consultant means no benefits, no paid time off, nothing provided by someone else (office, computer, supplies, phone, website), and carries with it loads of expenses that many of us are terrible about tracking (marketing, admin). The fees we charge need to take these things into account. The client doesn’t pay all the overhead, of course, but the real costs of doing business need to be included when the fees are estimated. That said, with contracts or when we work using a “by the project” fee structure, the rates are typically lower than $75/hr.
No matter what rates are charged, however, I don’t see most of the money. This is how grantwinners.net works (clients know about this process): Initially, I work with new clients directly. Soon after the work begins, I find a good match from among the grantwinners.net team members (independent consultants) and I subcontract work to them. Thankfully the group I’ve got are very talented and dependable professionals. But, I don’t take much “off the top” of the fees the client pays. I learned in the last couple years that I usually don’t take enough. Finding people who do the job very well but will accept what is essentially a “below market” rate can be very challenging. A couple of my best subcontractors are executive directors of non-profit agencies doing work on the side (not depending on the work to survive). I have a few very bright women I’ve been training who have had very little experience winning grants. They are quick learners, but it takes more of my time to process their work because I need to be sure our clients are getting what they are paying for. People trying to make a living as grant writers generally need to be paid what I need to be paid, not less than that.
The time required to nurture relationships that might blossom into professional partnerships is time I haven’t had available based on my choice to focus on my children. I also tend to shoot myself in the foot (“don’t hire me”) because I believe so sincerely that most nonprofit organizations should be winning their own grants, not hiring consultants. Because I don’t think I offer (through the grantwinners.net team) some kind of magic potion that will get grants for organizations, I can’t in good conscience try to convince someone to hire us. I’m not a “direct sales” kind of person. I can discuss their needs and let them know what we can do, but I won’t say “if you hire us, you’ll get better results.” It doesn’t always work that way, though sometimes it does. (There are some very common mistakes people make in grant writing that I forget aren’t common knowledge. Just simple things, like, if the grant maker says a proposal should be no more than two pages, that means no more than two pages.)
Because of the work I have done, and the relationships I already have, grantwinners.net has had great clients in the last few years. Not many, but as this blog describes in more detail elsewhere, it’s been a Hell of a last few years. The post about being on food stamps and looking into additional support options describes where I am now.
As I’m writing this, I’m thinking, “Who on earth will find this interesting?” The answer is, “These are things I need to say.”
I feel guilty, less-than-deserving of the support I’m getting from the government, when I discuss my business rates in the same breath as “government assistance.” My business has the potential to be a decent source of income, but it isn’t my top priority. That is probably one of the most difficult phrases I’ve written in all of this (“it isn’t my top priority”). Amazing how awful that feels. My children are my top priority. That shouldn’t feel bad to write or say.
I won’t take on work that I won’t be able to do well. This means I haven’t taken on much work (or, rather, I haven’t followed up on requests for more information). As my 3-year-old gets older, I will make more time for growing my business. For now, I need to keep it very basic and simple and know that putting my children first, for me, means being with them more than it means going to meetings to try to drum up new business. Time with my children comes first. I’m going to keep saying that until I don’t feel guilty when I say it.