The word ‘tender’ is a bit of a dirty word in some parts-the mere mention of the word has been known to make the palms of the most enthusiastic of managing directors leak with perspiration. If you’ve ever attempted to bid for a contract, let alone navigate the sign-up stages of some of the tendering portals, you can probably relate. If not, then you’re in for a treat!
Bidding for a contract is an arduous, time-consuming process. Many factors come into play when preparing an effective bid, each of which requiring a meticulous and methodical approach.
- You need to invest time and money assessing your suitability, preparing the necessary resources and assembling the right team
- You must follow strict guidelines, ensuring you complete your bid in a concise and informative manner whilst adhering to a word count
- The tender process is very competitive, so it’s nigh on impossible to evaluate if your submission will be successful
It’s not all doom and gloom, however…
Despite its shortcomings, bid writing is very lucrative; Tendient, for instance, secured its clients public-sector contracts worth upwards of £6.5m in its first year of trading alone! The public sector spends billions – yes, billions – of pounds every year through tendering to suppliers, thus providing businesses of all shapes and sizes with an alternative means of revenue generation.
The aim of this article is to introduce you to the concepts of tendering and bid writing and to provide you with some useful tips on how to write a successful bid.
Isn’t tendering and bid writing the same thing?
Before sharing with you tips on bid writing, let’s get to grips with some of the fundamental components of bid writing and the tender process:
Bid writing vs tendering
This has been known to trip people up in the past. The difference is simple:
Tendering is a process in which public sector contracts are offered to the private sector. They come in the form of an Invitation to Tender (ITT), which is an official invitation to suppliers to bid for a supply contract. ITTs are usually published in online tender portals such as Sell2Wales and eTenders Wales.
Bid writing is the craft of preparing a formal response to such ITTs by private sector businesses. Suppliers must already be signed up to the tendering portal in question to register for a contract opportunity, view all the necessary details relating to an individual contract and apply.
The parties involved
Quite self-explanatory, really:
Supplier – the business (i.e. you)
Buyer – the public-sector organisation issuing the tender contract
How does it work?
Despite the level of work and commitment involved, the process is fairly straight forward:
- Assess if your business is suitable for the tendering process:
There is a whole host of stringent criteria each business must adhere too, plus as already alluded to above, the process is arduous and requires careful planning.
- Register with an online portal such as Sell2Wales or eTenders Wales:
Be sure to provide your CPV code (a code that states what services or goods you provide) and DUNS number if you have one (these can typically be acquired further along the sign-up process).
- Once you have found a suitable contract, register your interest
You typically need to do this to obtain all the necessary information and have access to any public Q&As (i.e. questions asked by other businesses, with answers provided by the buyer).
- Make a decision: should you bid or not?
This is the tricky bit. Consider the following:
-Is this tender crucial to the growth of your business or just something that interests you?
-Will you need a bid partner?
-Who will manage the bid? Will you need a support team?
-Timescales and action plans: who does what by when?
-Can you make the deadline?
-Do you have contingency plans in place (i.e. sickness)?
-Is this contract the right size for your business?
-What happens if you are successful: do you have sufficient cash flow and resources?
Whilst the advantages of bidding for public sector contracts are fairly obvious, there are quite a few drawbacks. As highlighted earlier, bid writing takes time and money. You or your team will need to plan well in advance, perhaps at the expense of other internal or client work. Make sure you are not only capable of fulfilling the contract itself but also the tendering process.
As attractive as the contract may seem, it may not be worth it in the long run – if you are unsuccessful, there is no way of recuperating the time and money lost in preparation for the bid. Therefore, think long and hard to yourself if it is something you can truly commit to.
There is one benefit to losing a bid, though- you get to learn a lot about your business and how you stack up against the competition. Overall, tendering can act as a business audit, shining light on unknown weaknesses and areas for improvement.
Let’s get started!
By now you should have an idea of what the tendering and bid writing process entails and if it is of value to your business. The following hints and tips should prove useful to any business that is contemplating completing a tender for the first time.
To bid, or not to bid…
First of all, you will need to balance the requirements of the bid against your likelihood of success. Known as a bid/no bid decision, this process requires careful consideration on the part of the seller and is a crucial first step.
Make sure, as an organisation, you can perform what is being asked of you. Don’t forgot to assess the Pass/Fail criteria included-bids that do not satisfy all the Pass/Fail criteria will not be considered.
These must be adhered too. For instance, if one question states a word limit of 400 words, you will be penalised for producing a response in excess of this (i.e. anything after the 400-word mark will not be considered). Ensure your responses are succinct and focus on the key messages you want to get across.
There is another element to this, though…
If the word count is 1000 words, for example, use it to your advantage and really sell yourself! Buyers like to see rich, well thought out answers.
Using the evaluation criteria provided in the ITT documentation, make sure you answer exactly what is being asked of you with full, detailed responses backed up with examples or hard evidence where possible. It might be a good idea to make a list of all the individual elements a question is looking for, and use these to help guide your response.
What sets you apart from the rest of the pack? What is it about you and your organisation that can add value to the project you are bidding for? In essence, don’t produce answers that simply satisfy the bid criteria-clearly explain what else you bring to the table (i.e. the added value).
Other things you will need to consider are:
As the saying goes; “The best-laid plans of mice and men often go awry’’. Be sure to leave enough time to plan, write and submit your bid. DO NOT leave it until the last minute. As a rule of thumb, we tend (get it?) to shy away from tenders that present themselves two weeks before the submission date.
Partnering (collaborative bidding)
Perhaps you have spotted a contract opportunity that you and your team can part fulfil but the rest is not applicable. Partnering with an organisation to help plug the gaps of your business offering may strengthen your bid-together you can fulfil all the required elements of the contract and improve your chances of winning. A little due diligence goes a long way, so make absolutely sure that whoever you partner with is a good match.
Competence and compliance
We constantly hear stories of business owners failing to win tenders due to complacency (i.e. prior successful bids). They presume that the panel will have prior knowledge of their capabilities and will therefore summarise their responses or cut corners. Big mistake. Only compliant bids (i.e. those in-which the word count has been adhered to and all required forms are signed and submitted before the deadline) will be considered. Bullet points are fine provided they form part of a complete answer.
What could possible go wrong? EVERYTHING. What if someone on your team falls ill at the last minute, or your internet connection fails a few minutes before the submission deadline? Think of every possible eventuality and make a list of contingencies you can fall back on.
- Triple check the document for the usual (i.e. spelling, grammar) and make sure you have fully answered the questions asked.
- Be sure to include references and testimonials if required.
- Has all the required documentation been signed, scanned and uploaded?
- Submit early to avoid issues (essentially, do not leave it until the last minute!)
If at first you don’t succeed…
As previously mentioned, tendering is extremely competitive, so there is a high chance you will be unsuccessful the first-time round. If so, make sure you request feedback from the buyer to assess where you went wrong, the relative advantages of the winning bidder, and what improvements you can make for future bids.
Bid writing is no walk in the park. If you lack the experience or internal resources required to craft a winning bid, contact us today to see how we can help.