Public sector procurement across the UK was valued at £379bn in 2022. This is £24bn or 7 per cent more than the previous period.
This translates into somewhere over 50,000 contract opportunities a year. The money is spent on everything from goods such as stationery and medicine, through to the construction of schools and roads, the daily delivery of back-office functions such as information technology and human resources, and front-line services such as probation and social care.
If you are not taking advantage of this, you are potentially missing out on a significant opportunity for your business. Unless there is a compelling reason not to, maybe this should feature in your business’s development strategy.
Whether you are new to bidding for tenders, or have experience already, it is worth reviewing your approach to bid writing and getting the whole process robust. Once you have identified a potential opportunity, you want to do everything you can to win that contract – if it actually is right for you.
For clarity, a tender is a document that you need to complete when bidding for a contract. The tender document is how a buyer evaluates your suitability for the contract based typically on price and quality elements. It is usually produced in response to an Invitation To Tender (ITT). Some tenders have Pre-qualification Questionnaires (PQQs) or Selection Questionnaires (SQs) that will need to be filled in.
Below is a simple framework to analyse the tender or bid, to verify that it is a good match for you and then start a process of writing the tender. The better you do on the initial submission, the more likely to be in with a chance and the less likely to have rewrites requested.
1. Evaluate the Tender – Is it actually a good fit for you?
Just because a contract is there and looks juicy, does not necessarily mean it is right for you. There can be any number of reasons to avoid it. This needs to be an informed decision, rather than a knee-jerk reaction.
The evaluation stage is critical as a first step in the process. It allows you to identify key elements of the bid, and provides a starting point for your bid strategy. A common mistake is to just jump in and start writing. Before actually starting, evaluate and consider:
- Is this tender worthwhile for you or not – and what will you base that decision on Be very clear on what your profit margins are.
- How closely does the tender align with what you actually do?
- Do you meet the needs and requirements listed (and if not how significant is that shortfall)? Especially, think about any prerequisite accreditations or memberships.
- How likely are you to win the contract - realistically? As a general rule of thumb, you are unlikely to win a contract as an SME that is worth more than 50 per cent of your turnover. Equally for situations where meeting the contract will take 100 per cent of your employees 100 per cent of their time.
- Can you complete the tender proposal in the given time frame? It is never good to produce a rush-job. A common mistake is to underestimate the amount of work required to produce a compelling bid that answers all of the questions.
- Do you have the experience and resources to a) complete the bid on time, and b) complete the contract?
Get these wrong, and you’ll inevitably give yourself a big headache later on.
2. Review the Tender
Ensure you have read, and understood, everything in the tender document. Bid writing is very like detailed essay writing from school days - remember those? The key instruction remains - “answer the question.” You have to answer the question … fully.
Don’t provide a bunch of information you think they should have, but haven't asked for. You will need to constantly refer back to what is being asked for, to make sure you have answered everything fully, that nothing has been missed and that you are on-point with your answers.
Review the tender, and identify specifics of what is being asked for. Ideally, break it into its component questions and requirements. This makes it easier to ensure you leave nothing out.
Do you need any clarification from the buyer or is there anything missing you will need?
Research - what do you know about the buyer? How much research have you done? Who is the buyer, what do they do, how do they do it? Are there previous contracts awarded that you can check out? Who are their main competitors and what do they do differently? Don’t skimp on research. They will want to see you have done your homework.
Are there any formatting requirements you need to consider – like layout, style or word count?
Do the bid documents need to be completed in a specific way?
Are there any potential issues with submitting your final bid? Submission processes vary. You don’t want to discover that you do have issues at the point where the deadline is snapping at your heels.
Make sure you understand any ‘point scoring mechanisms’ that come with the tender documents. You will want to maximise your answer scores.
Make sure you understand the deadlines - all of them. For example, some tenders have submission deadlines and clarification deadlines.
In this work there is never a single rule that applies all the time (apart from "answer the question"). Each tender will have its own characteristics and requirements. Probably, coming out of this stage is a detailed list of all of the questions and requirements.
3. Create your Bid Strategy and Action Plan
At this stage, you should be very clear on what the requirements and expectations are. After that it is basic project planning. Clearly define your goals, and your action plan of the steps necessary to meet those goals.
You will need to know:
- What resources you will need
- What size team you need to complete the bid
- What actions need to be done to complete the bid
- How much can be delegated
- What the timeline of activity is, and the deadline(s)
- What the key milestones are
- What the potential roadblocks and show-stoppers are
- When you will actually start, and in what order you will progress
- risk management – are there any new risks to your business that winning this contract would introduce?
- risk management – are there any new opportunities to your business that winning this contract could enable?
- change management - if you do win this contract, what will you need to change in the business (if anything)?
At this point also you should know what it is that will make a successful bid, and what winning the contract will mean for your business.
4. Plan the answers
I’d suggest still not diving-in to start the detailed answering. Rather plan for how you will answer the questions, and what information needs to be included.
Throughout this process, continually refer back to what is being asked for. This way, nothing will be missed.
Develop top-level responses to questions, maybe as headings and bullet points. You are looking to depict a summary of what the answers will contain – not yet all of the details.
Many tender questions will have multiple sub-questions. Ideally, these all need to be broken down into their individual subheadings. Some questions are embedded within text and it is easy to overlook those. You need to provide answers for everything being asked.
When you are preparing answers, bear in mind answers are seldom, yes or no. It may well be yes, but then you need to provide the evidence to back that up.
For example, you might see, “Please confirm that you are GDPR compliant.” A one word answer, “yes”, will not suffice. You will need to provide the evidence.
At this point you should have a pretty reasonable idea of what information will be needed to answer all of the questions in the tender. With this in mind, it might be useful to go back to points 2 and 3 above.
Maybe when you first went through those points, you didn’t yet have all the information you needed to make the decisions you made. Especially around points like how much time will be required, and what skill-sets will be required.
Cross check what assumptions you might have made. Cross check that you have all of the questions and requirements covered. Cross check any formatting requirements you need to adhere to, especially word counts, and requirements on how the tender is constructed. Cross check how much time you have before the submission deadline. Oh, and did I mention, make sure you “Answer the question”.
Time spent doing this summary stage thoroughly will save you time in the long run.
As an example, typical questions in a tender might look something like:
- Quality management
- Health and safety
- Environment and sustainability
- Social value
- Service delivery
- Complaints handling
- Continuous improvement
- Supply chain and subcontractor management
As mentioned before, don’t underestimate the time it takes to produce a fit-for-purpose, compelling tender.
5. Answer the questions
This is where you start fleshing out your summary answers, expanding on your themes and bullet points. Inevitably, this stage will take longer than expected.
Do not start this without all of the planning we have talked about above. Avoiding the planning phase will inevitably make the whole process longer and more of a headache.
I’d suggest, continually refer back to the questions and requirements being asked for. This really does drive what the content needs to be.
Also, remember the underlying principles of any writing. Why are you writing this? The overall aim is to provide the answers to questions being asked, for the purpose of persuading the evaluator that you are the one for this contract.
It needs to be compelling, readable and accessible. Not just shove all the facts in a big blob and let them get on with it. It needs to answer all of the questions and requirements – yes. But it also needs to highlight to the evaluator why you should be the one who wins this bid. At its heart, a bid remains a piece of writing. Help them arrive at the natural conclusion that you are the best choice.
Anything that hinders that should be avoided. If you think they have missed out something important, let them know. Let them know that you know what you are talking about.
Having said that, bear in mind that the buyer or evaluator may have many tender submissions to read through. So be concise, and make their job of reading your submission as easy as possible. Grumpy evaluator = bad for you.
6. Review and Proofreading
It is always useful to get an independent person to proofread what you have done. Both in the sense of correctness of the text, but also that the bid answers all the questions and requirements. Also that the whole piece is consistent, compelling and fit-for-purpose.
It is notoriously difficult to thoroughly check your own work. A submission riddled with typos does not look good for you.
When reviewing, bear in mind:
Ensure all places requiring a signature have been signed by the appropriate person. Also, some tenders specify a pen-and-ink signature, rather than an electronic one
If any requested information has been deliberately omitted, make sure reasons are given
In most cases, a bid is evaluated based on the submitted bid documentation. Don’t make any assumptions based on any prior connection or experience with the buyer.
7. Tender Submission
Allow for a couple of days to submit your proposal. If you leave it until the last minute, all too often you will encounter technical difficulties, or servers crash, or comms go down.
Don’t leave it until the last minute. Missing the deadline does not look good for you, and in some cases missing the deadline, even by seconds, translates into an automatic rejection.
8. Improve your Bid Management Process
Hopefully, time spent producing a good bid will lead to success in getting the contract. And hopefully, the contract will be good for you.
I think it is important, once the dust has settled, once the bid has been submitted, and you know whether you were successful or not, pause and reflect on what you did and what the results were.
What could you have done differently? What could you have done to make it better? What lessons have you learned? What will you do differently next time? How will you make sure you will do it differently next time? How accurate were your estimates on how long it would take, and what resources it would require?
In addition, maybe the buyer gave you feedback on your bid. If so, pay attention to it, and learn from it.
Maybe if you haven’t already, formalise this into a documented Business Process, “Bid Writing Process” as a part of your overall Bid Management. If your business depends on winning bids, then developing your Bid Management Process is a winning strategy.
Allocate it to a business owner, review it regularly, use it as the basis for approaching future bids. As much as possible, learn the lessons from this experience, and improve going forward.
If you need help with any bid writing, or Bid Management contact me.
Dale.Spence@GenesisGRC.co.uk / 0777 560 4378