Style is Substance

When writing for a long tender contract, it’s easy to forget about the basics of presentation and proof-reading. These things determine the impression your proposal will make. A messy, haphazard executive summary will give the impression of a messy, haphazard bid.

Agree on a style guide and make a checklist

In order to look professional, your bid documentation will have to appear consistent through-out. Doing that means agreeing on style conventions:

  • How will these documents look when printed? Will headers and footers be lost? Are the page boundaries appropriate?
  • Are the naming conventions correct? How are technical terms spelt or capitalised? Is the client’s name really spelt like that?
  • Does document layout make it easy to find information quickly and easily? Is the layout clear, or will the reader be lost in a sea of colourful titles and text boxes? Can they refer to a reference quickly?

A late change in the style guide will mean having to revise dozens if not hundreds of pages of text. Remember that you find yourself yawning in a debate about bullet points.

Implementing that style guide as a bid writer will require time and attention. By the time you’ve taken into account table fonts, page alignments and caption conventions, you could easily have a 20 point list. Which makes keeping one vital, as that really is too much to mentally keep track of in a rush.

Leave some time for review!

I know it isn’t always possible, but it really is important to try to leave ample time for editing and review after the bid writing process is completed. That time will be needed to pick up on mistakes, ensure the appendices are correctly referenced (and present!), and make changes.

Once you’ve written a document, you as a bid writer believe in your heart that you wrote what you meant to say. This will almost certainly be different to what you actually said, and if you try to review your own work immediately after writing you’ll miss those mistakes. Anyone unfortunate enough to have been subjected to the first draft of this blog post will understand that.

Or to quote that misbegotten document: “Anyone unfortunately to be subjected to the first draft will be understood.”

To avoid scattering such zen sentiments throughout your bid, you need to give yourself adequate time for review. If you or your bid writers want a second opinion or fresh eyes, Win that Bid’s document co-ordination services can help.

Qualifying the Bid

The G4S debacle we discussed in the last post raised a big issue for bid writers: how to qualify your bid. Is that astonishing £300 million tender opportunity going to turn into a real disaster for your company? Less melodramatically, are your bid writers going to waste weeks of sleepless nights filling out PQQs trying to win a bid you weren’t ever going to win?

Don’t go for every bid

Setting aside an apparent opportunity isn’t the same as wasting one. Trying to win a tender opportunity means putting in an enormous investment in time and energy. Much better to put that effort into a quality proposal than spreading it across dozens of failed prospects.

Before you choose which bids to aim for, read the tender contracts in detail and consider:

  • Are you qualified for the bid? Do you have the right accreditation, the right resources, the right documentation to get through the PQQ? More to the point, can you demonstrate that to the procurer?
  • Is the bid right for your business? Can you demonstrate prior work for clients in the same sector?
  • Do you understand the bid requirements? That unclear pricing structure could really hurt you after the contract is won, as happened to G4S!
  • Who is the buyer? Do you have a relationship with them? Will you be able to establish a dialogue with them? Will they ask you to provide five times the number of personnel you were contracted for at the last minute, and do you have contingency plans if they do?
  • Who are your competitors? Can your bid writers demonstrate why it is that your company will be a better choice?

Get some sleep!

The answers to those questions aren’t always as obvious as they sound, particularly in tender contracts with long or arcane PQQs. Win that Bid has a lot of experience in helping people to get those winning contracts, but also in avoiding two of the great curses of bid writing: wasting time on failed bids, or winning bids that the company was never suitable for in the first place.

How will the Public Services (Social Value) Act 2012 change your bid?

There have been some recent changes in the way that public bodies can take social considerations into account when procuring public contracts. The new Public Services (Social Value) Act 2012 aims to clarify the issue a bit.

The Act (applied to public service contracts) creates a statutory requirement for public authorities to have regard to economic, social and environmental well-being in connection with public services contracts and for connected purposes. However, the Act also states that these decisions must also be directly relevant to what is being produced in the first place. This is roughly equivalent to what the EU procurement regime already allowed for.

From the bid writer’s point of view, the main thing is to look at where the question of Social Value will come up in the tender writing process:

Before the public sector tender is issued: the contracting authority will try to identify non-commercial, social value considerations before they commence the procurement process. This will have a big impact on the technical specifications of the project that a bid writer should take into account.

In the terms of the Contract: if the contracting authority does decide it wants to place emphasis on a particular social need, it might include “special” conditions.

The selection stage: the contracting authority could well reject applicants who don’t meet the non-commercial needs of the contract. Bid writers should make sure that their bid meets those requirement.  For instance, the contracting authority might want to fulfil an environmental consideration and choose a company with a proven record in that area.

The Act states that the selection criteria must be non-discriminatory, proportionate and linked to the subject matter.

Need help writing a public sector tender? Contact one of our team today on 0203405 1850 and we can help.

Police privatisation: an arresting opportunity?

David Taylor-Smith of the security company G4S recently grabbed headlines by stating that private companies will be running large parts of the UK’s police service within five years. His statements were supported by news that at least 10 police forces are considering outsourcing parts of their service to the private sector in response to funding shortfalls brought on by government cuts.

Taylor-Smith’s statements simply focused minds on a trend already causing consternation among many observers. The American experience in privatised law enforcement has been riddled by stories of corruption, genuinely horrible scandals and enormous pork barrel spending at taxpayer’s expense. And while people laugh at the classic Fry and Laurie sketch from decades ago, areas of London have already reverted to the Victorian situation of overlapping private spaces patrolled by company personnel, disrupting police response times and creating some disturbing civil rights issues. If frontline police services are privatised, precedent suggests that most of those tender contracts will go to established firms with extensive backroom contacts.

Not all of the requirements being investigated by the police are so controversial. Managing the vehicle fleet, providing legal support and even helping victims and witnesses; these opportunities for bid writers are all less likely to be delayed or prevented by political clashes.  Existing companies experienced in public sector tenders for maintenance, human resources or social care could find important roles within the police force.

Bid writers looking to win public sector tenders in the police force must be aware of how politicised the process could potentially become.  Consider the image of the company and be ready to discuss issues of social value during the bidding process. The stated goal of the outsourcing deals is to reduce costs; bid writers will encounter procurers who hope they can reduce their overheads while improving levels of service at the same time.

As more information about potential police tender opportunities becomes available, companies should carefully consider their options. Win that Bid can help bid writers, both in putting together an appropriate tender document, but also in deciding whether an apparently lucrative policing tender contract is going become a dangerous albatross in the long term.

New procurement rules in Scotland

The Sustainable Procurement Bill passing through the Scottish Parliament aims to open up new public sector opportunities by making the public sector tender process more standardised and transparent.

Complaints in the construction industry were a major driving force behind this bill. Industry leaders have been complaining that the existing construction tender rules were unfit for purpose and exacerbating the decline of the sector.

The Scottish government claims that the Sustainable Procurement Bill would ensure that:

  • contract opportunities are advertised or awarded through Public Contracts Scotland;
  • public bodies adopt streamlined procurement processes friendly to Scottish businesses;
  • smaller and medium companies have more opportunities to win public sector tenders.

Alex Neil (MSP) also emphasised that community benefit clauses will be an important part of the new procurement rules. He stated that the “bill will seek to ensure that major public contracts deliver training and employment opportunities”.

If it passes this bill will obviously offer advantages to Scottish businesses aiming for construction tenders. However, the simpler public sector tender processes ought to make it easier for other companies as well, especially those that emphasise their CSR and training programmes.

Tender Writing Insights: Managing Online Tender Portals

Recently, some of the Win That Bid team completed a large and complex bid involving the public sector portal ‘Bravo’. There are hundreds of online procurement portals around all with their own language and foibles. However, there are some basic principles that can help you when, with that deadline looming, you find yourself wrestling desperately trying to submit your online tender.

Access

Know your login details and ensure you have the correct level of user access

Having spent weeks or months with your head buried in the tender writing documentation, the time has arrived to upload your submission. And if you’ve forgotten your login details or do not have a sufficient level of access let’s hope you haven’t realised this too late i.e. out of working hours, during busy periods or just prior to the deadline. Online help will only get you so far so if it’s a human being you need to speak to then make sure you do so in advance.

Utilise quieter periods

Early mornings, late nights, weekends and Bank Holidays are ideal

The majority of your competitors will leave their tender writing and submission to the last minute. The risk here is that the portal will time out due to the sheer volume of documents being uploaded. The Win That Bid team who worked on this latest bid submitted documents as they were completed, and in some cases as far as two weeks in advance. They also made use of early mornings, late nights and the Easter holidays.

Upload larger documents first

Larger documents take longer

As larger documents take longer to upload start with them first. This is especially the case with heavy document based tender portals such as Bravo that may not have a limit on the amount of tender documents you are allowed to submit.

Save, save, check, check again and save

Don’t get timed out or caught out

Tender portals will usually time out after 15 minutes of being dormant. Make sure to hit save as soon as you’ve uploaded your latest documents.

Once you have finished uploading go back and check all questions have been answered and all documents have been uploaded. Often you can print the documents list from the portal and more than often you will find there is at least one document missing. Never assume a document has saved.

And if it’s all too much outsource your tender writing, bid and document management to the 2am wrestling experts at Win That Bid.

Champagne! CompeteFor celebrates two years of business opportunities.

Hello fellow entrepreneurs. I seem to remember telling you 2010 would be an exiting year. Well, as January is now behind us, it appears we already have a few good reasons to party!

CompeteFor – the chosen website of London 2012 for the publication of Games-related contract opportunities – is celebrating its second birthday. Over 100,000 businesses across the UK have registered on CompeteFor to take advantage of various business opportunities ranging from printing to cleaning and from training to catering services.

CompeteFor’s second birthday saw the 5,000th business opportunity advertised. There are now over 600 ‘buying organisations’ that are placing contract opportunities on the website. Small businesses have been rewarded for thinking big: 74% of contracts awarded have been placed with SME businesses – 18% of them have gone to businesses with 10 or less staff.

And the icing on the cake? The success of CompeteFor has been most felt in London, where local businesses have won almost a third of the contracts awarded so far.

After two years now of Olympics and Paralympics related golden opportunities, there are still over £1 billion worth of Olympic-related contracts to come to the market. So, if you too would like to pop the cork but are feeling a bit overwhelmed by the pre-tendering process, give us a buzz on the Bid phone 0203 405 1850 and we will take care of  everything for you. Now, where’s that ice bucket…

Happy Birthday CompeteFor!!