Bid writing – not as scary as you think

One of these days you may be asked to write a bid, whether you work in the commercial world, the public sector or even the third sector. Here we welcome bid writing expert Nicola Gordon-Thaxter CP APMP of NGT Associates Ltd, who shares her top tips with us now… 

Bid writing tutorial

Message from the President of the United States, to the two houses of Congress at the commencement of the first session of the Thirtieth Congress, December 7, 1847…

**Are you a small business owner who has to bid for new or existing contracts?
**Do you find it daunting, time consuming, perhaps a little bit scary?
**Bidding can be all of these things at times but you still have to win new work, right?

So if you have to bid then you might as well find out the best way to tackle what can at times seem like a very onerous job, especially if you bid for public sector work. Use the tips below to help you approach that next bid with excitement rather than trepidation.

Before you bid, find the relevant contracts

Do you look for suitable bids or are you just reacting to what may get sent to you? If you want to get ahead of things there are ways to find out what business is being put out to tender.

Now admittedly it’s much easier to find ads for private sector bids than for public so this tip will focus on public sector contracts. Having said that, if you want to look out for private sector bids, your best bet is the relevant trade/industry publications.

For public sector bids, I find the two best portals are ProContract Due North and Contracts Finder. (Contracts Finder is a government portal that advertises government contracts worth over £10,000. They have a step by step process for signing up which is easy to follow.)

It’s relatively simple to sign your company up and once signed up you can search for relevant opportunities. But it is much better to set up an alert so that relevant opportunities come directly to you as soon as they are published.

To do that click on workgroups on the front page once you’re logged in (it’s at the bottom right hand side) and follow the instructions. Make sure you add yourself as a workgroup member in order to get the email alerts.

There are of course many many more portals you can sign up to; local authorities and government departments often have their own portals, but Procontract and Contracts Finder are good places to start.

Read the documents carefully

Now this step might seem like I’m teaching grandmothers to suck eggs, but it is surprising how many mistakes are made because people simply did not read the bid documents carefully, especially the specification and the terms and conditions.

The specification will tell you exactly what the customer wants you to do, so it makes sense to become very familiar with it.  The terms and conditions can contain all kinds of clauses that can affect how you deliver the service and these may include financial penalties for bad service.

In addition to these documents, there will be instructions for how to respond to the bid and a timetable.  All of the information sent with the bid is very important, so give yourself time to read the lot at least twice.

I suggest you extract the following key information and save it into a spreadsheet for easy reference:

  • Deadline for sending clarification questions
  • Deadline for submitting the bid
  • Pass-fail questions
  • Show stoppers from the terms and conditions

Qualify the bid

I know, this article is about writing bids and so far, no writing. Well we want to avoid writing if the opportunity is not suitable. So you need to decide if the bid is something you should go for; you need to qualify it. Some questions to ask yourself:

  1. Can I provide credible evidence that I’ve provided this service in the past to a high quality?
  2. Do I have customers that can give me great references?
  3. Can I provide the services requested at a price where I can make a profit and at the same time be attractive to the buyer?
  4. Can I meet the delivery deadlines?
  5. Do I have the relevant accreditations to do this work?
  6. How will taking on this work affect my ability to service my existing clients?

I know you need to gain more clients, but it is still important to take some time to decide if a prospective client will be a good fit for your business

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You may also like:
How to write better Terms & Conditions
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Plan your response

Once you have qualified the bid and have decided to proceed, you need to actually get down to writing the response. Before you do that you should plan. So, examine the bid documentation and save all the questions in one place. There may be questions in a questionnaire; they may ask you to write method statements. There may also be requirements in the terms and conditions.

Especially in public sector bids, they can litter requirements throughout the documentation. So gather them all together and decide what information you need to answer the questions, where you can get that information from and who you may need to approach to get that information.

Next, you need to look at the evaluation criteria. How are they going to mark you? Put the maximum marks you can get for each question next to it. Then timetable it all, working backwards from two days before the submission is due, to give you some breathing space. Once you’ve done that you will be ready to write the bid response.

Write your bid

Now you can write your bid. Keep the evaluation criteria in mind. Also, if you have received any responses to clarification questions from the buyer, check to see if they impact on your responses.

If you are not completely comfortable with your writing skills, there are many freelance bid writers you can contact who can write for you for a fee. If you are writing the bid yourself, it’s a good idea to line up a knowledgeable colleague who can review what you have written. Give them the evaluation criteria and ask them to ‘mark’ your response, to give you an idea of any gaps.

Review

Review what you have written carefully.  Have you answered the questions in the first line? Have you answered all the questions?  Have you responded to the pass/fail questions?  Have you provided all requested attachments? Double check everything.

Submit

Make sure you leave yourself enough time to submit, as you may encounter IT issues and you don’t want to be late submitting an important bid because your WiFi is acting up. I suggest you aim to submit at least the day before if not two. Then if you do have issues and things slip, you’ll still be able to submit on time.

Good luck with your next submission!

Bid writing jargon-buster

Now public sector bidding especially, uses a lot of jargon. Below I’ve included a short glossary to help demystify some of the common terms:

Cpv codes: Stands for common procurement vocabulary. Basically, it’s a numbered code that tells you what category of goods and services you are bidding to provide.

ITT: Invitation to tender.

Method statement: An ‘essay style’ response that explains in detail how you will provide a service or supply goods.

Portal: A website that allows you to access and ITT and respond to it. You can also ask buyers questions.

PQQ: Pre-Qualification Questionnaire. Some bids have a two stage process and the PQQ is the preliminary stage where you usually have to answer simple questions before you are given the go ahead to proceed to the next round.

RFP: Request for Proposal. Same as an ITT.  ITT is usually used by public sector buyers and RFP by the private sector in my experience.

RFQ: Request for Quotation. This means they generally just want you so submit a price.

OJEU notice: Official Journal of the European Union. This is where all public sector bids valued above a certain EU threshold are published. Depending on what happens in March this may or may not be replaced by a UK version.

Schedule: An attachment to the terms and conditions that outlines a particular part of the service, for example Schedule 1 might be the Key Performance Indicators and schedule 2 might be the pricing document.

Soft market test: A short questionnaire where the buyer feels out the industry to see what appetite there is for bidding for a particular piece of work. These are usually simple to fill in.

Nicola Gordon-Thaxter CP APMP

NGT Associates is run by Nicola who has thirteen years’ experience writing winning bids for a large number of companies. For five of those years she has written successful bids exclusively on behalf of domiciliary care companies and care home providers for local authority contracts. She is a certified bid manager (practitioner level), certified by the Association of Proposal Management Professionals (APMP). Please see her LinkedIn profile here. Feel free to connect. 

If you have any comments or questions about bid writing, please leave them in the comments section below and I’ll pass them on to Nicola. Sz

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