Not sure how the bid writing process works? This comprehensive bid writing guide will explain how to write the perfect tender response!
When you’re starting out in business, calling prospective customers and sending connection requests on LinkedIn can get you so far.
However, if you want to pick up larger, more profitable contacts, you may need to consider applying for tenders.
Tenders can appear off-putting at first glance. There are essays to write, documents to attach… and so many different things you need to sign!
With a bit of planning though, they’re not as hard to complete as you might initially think.
This guide will explain how to write a great tender response, and some of the things you need to look out for.
What is a tender?
A tender (also known as a bid) is a document that your business needs to complete to apply for a contract.
If an organisation wants to find a company to carry out a service or supply a product on its behalf, it may choose to put out a tender.
Prospective suppliers can then apply for the work, and the organisation can assess them all to see which supplier is the best match for their needs.
Think of a tender like a job interview!
The benefit of tenders is that the process is fair and transparent. All bidders answer the same questions and are assessed anonymously. This transparency is essential in the public sector, where government organisations must be as objective as possible.
The bid writing basics
So, what steps do you need to consider to write an excellent tender response?
Before I started work as a copywriter, I worked as a tender writer for a large national business. For some strange reason, the marketing department and the tender writing department were one and the same!
Here are my top tips for putting together a tender that will help you win work.
Read the whole tender before you start writing
Before you put pen to paper, you need to read the tender application and all the attached materials.
Book yourself some quiet time and put your phone on divert. Download all the files that came with the tender – sometimes printing them out can help as you can make notes and highlight key phrases.
Read every single document from start to finish, making notes as you go.
Price vs quality
This can vary from tender to tender and could affect whether you apply or not.
As an example, a company that has put forward a tender with 100% emphasis on price may want to work with someone who provides low-cost products or services.
Make sure you understand what percentage of the tender is marked on quality, and what percentage is marked on price.
Limitations in place
Are there any limitations that may restrict you from applying for the tender?
For example, does the tenderer ask for a level of insurance you don’t have, or an accreditation you can’t achieve in time?
You should check if the Transfer of Undertakings (Protection of Employment) regulations, or TUPE apply.
TUPE is when you need to take on the contracts of the employees previously working on the contract.
Understanding the limitations before you begin the bid writing process can save time, as it means you don’t start writing a tender that you don’t want to win.
Products and services requested
Is the tenderer asking for anything out of the ordinary to what you usually do, and are you willing to provide it?
It may be that you need to bring subcontractors on board to be able to fulfill all the requirements.
Is there a word count in place? Many tenderers ask you to stick to a specific number of words or a number of pages per question.
If you go over this, they may discount a large part of your answer.
How do you need to fill the tender out? Is there a form to add your answers to, or do you need to upload your answers as Word or PDF documents?
Don’t forget to check if you need to use a particular font or text size.
Some tenderers mark down applicants for failing to follow the rules. It may sound petty, but it makes perfect sense – tenderers want to work with businesses that understand and abide by the regulations!
Like a job application, tenderers want to make sure you have experience in carrying out the work. To prove this, they may ask for references from businesses you have worked with.
Make a note of how many references the tenderer asks for and any requirements. For example, references may need to be of a specific value or have been carried out within a certain time frame.
Also, be aware of how you need to provide these references. Normally putting a name and contact details will suffice. However sometimes the tenderer will want the referee to fill out a form. This means you need to put aside extra time to wait for a response.
If you do put someone down as a reference, ask them if it’s okay first. While most businesses are happy to provide references, some prefer not to.
Are you going to need assistance from other departments or third parties? For example, some tenderers ask your insurers to complete a form verifying the level of cover you have.
You may need to ask your HR team for a training matrix or your QHSE team for examples of risk assessments and method statements.
Do you need to fill in the whole tender?
Sometimes, if you have a specific qualification or accreditation, you don’t need to answer certain questions.
This can save a lot of time!
How does the tender need to be submitted?
Most tenders are uploaded to a portal, but some must be printed out and posted. If this is the case, sending your completed tender by recorded delivery will give you the peace of mind you need.
Got any questions about the bid writing process?
If you have any questions about the tender, ask the tenderer for clarification. The sooner you can do this, the better, as some companies stop answering questions a few days before the deadline.
Bear in mind that some tenderers are more helpful than others. Some will bend over backwards to give you the answers you need; others will come back with ‘it’s all in the document’, which is never useful!
Tender writing tips to give you the edge
Is bid writing hard? It can be. There have been times when I’ve been working on a tender and wanted to throw my laptop out of the window!
However you can make the process easier by following these tender writing tips.
Give yourself plenty of time
So many tasks in the world of business get done at the very last minute. Tender writing shouldn’t be one of them.
You get out what you put in, so don’t expect to win if you’ve spent two hours on your submission.
When I used to write tenders for a living, there were so many occasions when I was asked to put together a tender with a day or two days’ notice. Once a tender landed on my desk at one in the afternoon… the deadline was 5pm!
Needless to say, we didn’t win that one.
Most tenders have a month before they need to be submitted. This gives you four weeks to prepare. Block out some time to research, write and check your submission before the deadline.
How much time should you spend on a tender?
It depends on the complexity of the tender and the amount of information you have at your disposal.
If you’ve completed similar tenders before, you might be able to prep everything in a day. However, if you need to ask other departments for information or get documents from third parties, it may take you a week.
Don’t fall into the trap of submitting your tender at the last minute. Your internet connection could be dodgy, the tender portal could be down for maintenance, you could panic and send over the entirely wrong documents.
If you’re late, the tenderers typically won’t be willing to give you any leeway, especially if they already have a lot of responses.
Give yourself an hour or two at the bare minimum to get your tender sent out. After that, you can sit back, relax, and wait for the outcome.
Here’s a top tender writing tip. If you’re worried that you won’t have enough time to prepare a high-quality response, ask the tenderer if you can have an extension.
If the tenderer has the flexibility, they may be happy to give everyone an extra couple of days to send in their submissions.
Answer the questions
This sounds super-obvious, but this tender writing tip is incredibly important.
Let’s say that a tenderer asks you how you will carry out the work. You may be tempted to talk about the history of your business, when you were established, why you’re the best company to carry out the work…
…Stop right there.
Anything irrelevant to the question will lead to no points. In the worst-case scenario, your tender may get thrown out.
Take the time to read each question and focus on what is specifically being asked. Going back to the original example, it is in your best interests to mention timescales, the equipment you will use and how you will liaise with staff on site.
Reading the documentation that comes with the tender can help you understand what the tenderers want you to mention.
Look at the question and highlight key words. Some tenderers may even include bullet points specifying what they want you to talk about.
If there is a word count, you don’t have to hit it. You’re more likely to get points for a 200 word response that is clear, concise, and answers the question, rather than 1000 words of fluff.
One more thing…
…Don’t attach documents unless the tenderer specifically asks for them. So many businesses throw price lists, brochures and data sheets in with their tenders, cross their fingers and hope for the best.
They won’t get read, and you may be penalised for not reading the instructions properly.
CVs, mortgage applications, social media profiles… we’ve all thought about embellishing the truth a little.
While you may think it’s okay to say anything on your tender submission to help you get the job, you must avoid this at all costs.
It’s important to remember that tenders are legally binding. This means if you are successful in your tender application, your submission will become a legal part of the contract.
If you don’t uphold what you have written, then you could be in breach of contract.
You can write your application to sound more appealing and stand out from your competitors; that’s absolutely fine. But don’t say you’ve done anything you haven’t done or are willing to do anything you’re not happy to do.
You will get found out.
Think about pricing
For most tenders, pricing is the most significant component. This means while it’s still important to focus on your quality questions, you need to think seriously about what price you will submit.
I’ve seen many businesses go in at a low price in the hope they will get the tender. This is especially true in the maintenance and service industries. This is because companies think they will get first refusal on the more lucrative installation contracts once they have a foot in the door.
This can be a dangerous strategy for many reasons.
Once you put your price in, you’re not allowed to change it. This means that you could be stuck in a loss-making contract for several years. Plus, there’s no guarantee that tenderers will come to you for any other work.
While you want your price to be appealing, you also want it to be realistic. Account for potential price increases as well as any additional services that are needed. For example, if the tenderer wants additional levels of insurance, you can factor that into your costs.
If the tenderer is looking for a rock-bottom price for your business – they’re probably not someone you want to work with.
Consider your approach to CSR
Corporate social responsibility (CSR) is a significant thing in tendering now, especially in the public sector.
As well as working with someone who can provide a high-quality service at a great price, organisations want to work with businesses that care about the local community
You may be asked to complete a section or spreadsheet about your approach to CSR. Different tenderers will value different aspects of CSR, but some things you will need to consider include:
- Sustainability – what are you doing to reduce your carbon footprint and recycle materials?
- Employment – are you employing locally based people, especially apprentices, school leavers, the unemployed, and veterans? Are you willing to offer educational opportunities to local schools and colleges?
- Supply chain – are you working with local, sustainable suppliers?
- Community – Will you work with the local community? For example, helping local charities raise funds or providing discounted services to vulnerable people
Only promise things you are willing to deliver. If you say you will take on ten school leavers a year, and don’t bother when you win the work, the tenderer will be within their rights to cancel your contract.
Don’t assume you will win
If you’re the incumbent (the existing supplier), you may think you’ve got the tender in the bag. It’s all just a box-ticking exercise so you can carry on providing your services… right?
Your tenderer may be swayed by a cheaper deal. They may know someone and want to give them the contract. They may even be looking for an excuse to get rid of you.
If you are the incumbent, you need work just as hard as everyone else to win the business. Don’t rest on your laurels, and invest the time in putting together a solid application.
Create a bid library
If you regularly write tenders, a bid library is a fantastic way to speed up the process and ensure all the key points are covered.
A bid library is also ideal if you have multiple people in your team writing tenders, as you can ensure all your responses are consistent.
What is a bid library? A bid library is a folder containing typical responses to questions, as well as supporting materials like certificates, insurance documents, and financial information.
How to write a tender application – some final thoughts
Tenders do require a lot of planning. However, get the bid writing basics right, and you’re guaranteed lots of long-term work with high-profile customers.
If you only take one thing away from this post, it should be this: read the tender documents from start to finish before you start your response.
Even the best tender writers don’t win bids each and every time, so don’t be too disheartened if you don’t get the results you were hoping for. There are plenty of tender opportunities out there, so just keep trying.
Good tenderers will provide you with feedback about your submission that you can use to help improve your tender writing in future.
Don’t be afraid to ask for feedback if you don’t get any by default.
Impress your prospective clients with the perfect tender
Don’t know where to begin when it comes to bid writing, or just don’t have the time? Keep It Simple Copywriting can help with high-quality tender writing services.
I will work with you to help complete your tender applications, and put together a bid library that you can use for any future responses.
Get in touch with me today and see how I can help you win brand-new contracts.