What is a Bid Writer?
Everything you ever wanted to know about a bid writer
A bid writer is someone who is responsible for completing PQQs and ITTs on behalf of a company to win tenders and secure new contracts or funding. Sometimes this is an employed person within the business, but increasingly organisations are outsourcing this role to freelance bid writers or bid writing companies.
To get the best results, your bid writer should develop good relationships with your business development and sales teams. This helps them to really understand your potential customer or fund holder and their needs.
It can take many hours or days to complete a bid and this means a bid writer should have good project management skills, be very organised and have excellent communication skills. It’s quite possible to work remotely using today’s technology. An experienced bid writer will remain calm and offer advice despite the tight deadlines, because they have learnt how to handle this high-pressure role.
Bid Writing Glossary
There are several websites that are used to post up tenders to promote them to interested organisations. These websites allow you to register your interest and what sort of tenders you are interested in hearing about, and they will email you when a suitable tender becomes available. Some organisations collate these and send them out regularly. One tip is to register with any local government tender portals that you may wish to work with. They are very keen to use local business.
This term isn’t used very often, but it stands for ‘expression of interest’. If a tender becomes available on a portal, it’s usual for you to register an expression of interest to say you intend to submit a bid.
This is often the first stage of the process – it stands for Pre-Qualification Questionnaire. This is the stage where the prospect will whittle down what is often several bidders to a few. It often asks questions around finances, insurance, policies in place and other background information. Occasionally it includes some quality questions like method statements etc.
An ITT is an Invitation To Tender and this is the main part of the tender. This is usually only offered to those who pass through the PQQ stage. This is where the detail is presented.
Many tenders talk about method statements. This is just where you describe the process you use to do something. So, for example if you are a window cleaning company you may be asked for your method statement for cleaning high rise buildings. You wold describe your process and include safety measures etc.
These are usually between three and six messages that you want your prospect to really get out of your tender. They can be benefits, USPs or similar. In an ideal world they should be a differentiator from your competitors.
What does a bid writer actually do?
There are several activities that a bid writer will undertake to make sure your bid is the very best it can be before submitting. This includes, but is not limited to, the following:
Once the tender is released, it is important to review the specification to ensure that you make the best decision as to whether to bid or whether to leave it this time. I have worked on a few tenders where the company has decided that they no longer wish to tender half way through the process, because they have found conditions in the specification which they feel they can’t meet. It’s much more cost effective to conduct this process at the start of the process.
Having made the decision to tender, the bid writer will then advise you as to the best way to tackle the work. They will also note important information such as the closing date of the tender, and any special requirements like word or page counts and font style or size requirements. The bid writer can also guide an organisation through the process and determining the ‘win themes’ for the tender. These win themes are often different for each tender and will depend on the strengths of the business in different areas, competitor analysis and detailed analysis of the specification. If the tender is a large one, and there is a whole bid team included in the process, then the tender may be chunked up and assigned to different contributors.
During this analysis stage of the bid it’s also important to ascertain whether the organisation is ‘bid ready’. This usually involves collating accreditations, policies and procedures, financial information and other documents required. This is usually gathered and presented at the PQQ stage and can be subject to a pass or fail at an early stage in the process.
One of the biggest problems I find with bid writing is that clients sometimes expect me to complete the tender with no input from them. Obviously I have extensive experience and can offer suggestions in some business sectors that I know well, but the tender really should reflect how that particular business goes about it’s business. In view of this, it’s important that the bid writer works closely with subject matter experts to collect all the technical information and service details they require to answer the questions.
There are a lot of techniques that can be used to gather this information so that the result is a winning bid. This usually includes telephone interviews, editing and reviewing content provided by the subject matter expert, as well as content from previous bids. It’s very important not to just reuse content from a previous bid – winning bids have answers that are tailored specifically for the current tender opportunity.
Over time I like to build a form of bid library makes this process more efficient for everyone involved. The bid writer can use information contained within the bid library and massage and add to it to suit the circumstances. This will often speed up the bid writing process, easing the time pressures and cost of preparing the content.
Once all the information for a question has been collected, the bid writer will start to write. They will not necessarily gather all the information for every question, but may work one question at a time. It really depends on how available subject matter experts are during the process. There are generally at least three drafts of the document. The initial draft often contains many gaps and questions from the bid writer. But draft two and three generally nudge closer to the end result. Some organisations have a very formalised review process, others just rely on subject matter experts to review and check the content. It’s always a good idea to get several eyes on the answers to capture as much information as possible and to ensure mistakes get caught. With the time scales on some tenders it’s easy to work very fast, and let errors creep in.
The bid writer and/or an admin person will normally keep a record of who is responsible for each answer, and what stage each answer is at in the drafting process.
People often ask me what it takes to be a bid writer, and I find it hard to answer that question. In my own case it was my mixture of technical writing and marketing backgrounds, that together with a lot of general business experience contributed to my skills. I also used to run a magazine and often had to create adverts and advertorials, so whilst I’m no expert in design – I do understand the general rules around presentation of content. Bid Writing is a creative process – like any other form of writing – and often benefits from experience. It really is about taking the technical detail, emphasising the benefits and the value you can bring to your potential client, and making sure you have actually answered the question! It’s about telling the story of how you will take the challenge of the tender requirements and provide an excellent service and peace of mind to your client. A big challenge is to do this within the word or page counts permitted.
My training courses help with the process of learning to write winning bids and tenders, but also allow delegates to concentrate on how to answer questions properly to obtain the most marks.
There is a final job to do once all the answers are completed and signed off and that is to assemble the documents to form the final tender. Sometimes the answers will be in a Word document supplied by the contracting authority, sometimes in a document that requires formatting and branding, and sometimes just cut and paste into a portal, with little formatting allowed. This process also includes compiling all requested policies and procedures, accreditations and any supporting documents into appendices and numbering them correctly to match the references in any of the answers.
It’s important to approach this last stage in a methodical way, because failing to upload some vital piece of information can result in a failed submission. I like to have all the content uploaded a good 24 hours before the final submission time and date because it provides a breathing space to calmly check everything before pressing the submission button.
What is the relevance of the win rate?
I’m often asked – what is your win rate? Whilst I’m happy to give this figure I always like to add a caveat. This is because in most cases there is a lot about a tender that a bid writer has no control over. As an example, a bid writer can’t usually influence the price a client wants to use. I also am not responsible for the selection of the best product or service – although I have made suggestions to the clients that I know well. Where a bid writer adds value is in answering the quality questions and also in helping to manage the bid process, so it runs smoothly, everything is available, and the bid is submitted on time.
When you find a tender that you would like to win, give me a call. There are several ways I can help you. I can train you, coach you, write the whole thing for you or – if budget is tight – I can guide you in writing your own tender and then provide my review and edit service (The Bid Inspector). So, you get a little of my bid writing fairy dust for a very reasonable sum.