Finding your voice

Writing a bid means writing dozens of documents for a wide (and sometimes mysterious) audience. That means employing some basic writing techniques to get the best possible impact out of your proposal. There are some basic strategies for clear bid writing:

  • Be direct and concise.
  • Avoid block text. If it becomes unavoidable, break the page up with images, charts and text-box quotes.
  • Avoid using generic boilerplate sales language. We’ll discuss why below.
  • Words like would, could, might and may reduce the sense of quiet assured confidence in your bid, creating doubt in the mind of the reader.
  • One idea per sentence. What you really should avoid when bid writing is giant run-on sentences full of commas and different notions, that confuse the reader and reduce the flow of the document to a thick viscous sludge that causes the client to struggle for breath like a beached whale, as demonstrated by this sentence. Aren’t you glad that’s over?

Research the client

When writing a bid be client focused and personalised. One company’s non-specific generic boilerplate reads much the same as another’s, and will likely bore the reader. More to the point, a cut and paste job will fail in one of the basic goals of the bid – to demonstrate that the bid writer has a clear understanding of the goals, issues and problems faced by the client.

Determine who the reader of the bid (and its separate sections) will be. Are they informed enough to understand the specifics of your solution or are they seeking to employ you to provide a service with which they are technically unfamiliar? You should also write with personality in mind, even if you know yourself to be writing a bid for a team to read. Pragmatic thinkers will be interested in results, and look for direct language, brevity and the strong use of graphics to quickly illustrate a point. Analytical thinkers will prefer a focus on detail and accurate facts, with charts and graphs.

In general, it is best to avoid lots of Technical Jargon in an Acronym Soup (TJAS), even if you are expecting an informed audience. Anything that slows down reader comprehension will hurt the bid. If the client is using different terminology to that commonly used in your organisation or even your industry, it will normally be best to use their wording.

Given the sheer scale of many bids, applying these ideas can seem like a frightening prospect. Win that Bid can pass the lessons learned over many successful bids to your bid team.

Mysteries of the Cabinet Office

Over the last year you may have seen mentions in this blog of the Cabinet Office’s “mystery shopper” initiative, an enterprise that offers businesses the chance to ‘shop’ bad public procurement practice.

They’ve finally released their first progress report, and it makes for fascinating reading.

They’ve investigated over 300 complaints. Of those grievances:

  • 81% of all cases raised issues with the procurement process.
  • 38% of complaints concerned the problems faced by SMEs in dealing with very complicated (and long!) PQQs.
  • Unachievable financial requirements were repeatedly cited as a major problem for SMEs.

The Cabinet Office claims to have been able to bring about a positive change in 4 out of 5 cases investigated. Among the successes they cite: reducing the required insurance levels for a British Council contract by 50% to 90%, settling invoices left unpaid by Imperial College Healthcare and working with the Eastern Shires Purchasing Organisation to smooth their procurement process.

Tender specifications came up for special criticism, either for being too complex or too prescriptive. Problems with insurance requirements were a repeated issue. Several cases (usually involving NHS trusts) required companies to have required insurance at the time of bidding, rather than in time for the contract itself. This was one area in which the Cabinet Office was able to make changes.

7% of issues dealt with the contracting process after the bid. A lack of clarity surrounding the end of contracts was something flagged up for attention. Other issues involved e-procurement systems. In one case, two companies with very similar names submitted similar bids, resulting in one company being entirely ignored.

The mystery shopper programme is one of the more realistic initiatives to have come out of the Cabinet Office under the current government. Unlike more top down initiatives it can respond to specific process problems quickly, sometimes during a live bid.

The Public Procurement process can be deeply intimidating for small companies with limited resources. However, in the event of unfair or dubious decisions there are recourses SMEs can take, the mystery shopper programme included. Win that Bid’s consultants have lots of experience on both sides of the fence: we can help you make the best decisions.

Did your Win Theme get bronze, silver or gold?

The client has a problem that it can’t solve itself. So it submits an invitation to tender (ITT) in order to discover the best available solution to that problem. In order to attract the client’s attention, a bid writer needs to have the most compelling solution to that problem, and that should all be encapsulated in the Win Theme which needs to run through the entire bid proposal.

Brainstorm the problem

If you are having trouble coming up with a win theme, consider the client. Is it a public sector tender or for a private company?

  • What does the client want?
  • Why do they want it?
  • What are the client’s priorities?
  • What are the client’s long term goals?
  • What worries the client?
  • What skills or products do I have that can answer those questions for the client?

Focus on the client

The client’s problem isn’t going to be solved by a detailed description of your company, its history and achievements, or even the quality of your general services. It needs a specific solution, which your bid writer’s win theme should address. Is there one primary focus – cost, regulatory compliance, innovation?

What can you offer the client that beats your competitors?

Make it the theme of your bid proposal

Once you’ve decided on a win theme, weave it through your document – not just the executive summary. Your bid writers should emphasise how your technical solutions reflect the theme. Highlight how your solution will allow the client to meet the goals you have identified.

If you or your bid writers are having trouble finding a compelling win theme, Win that Bid can help you find the answer!

Processing your Proposal

Submitting a winning bid is an enormous task. The method statement alone might consist of 10 or 15 different documents and dozens of appendices. The final process of assembling a tender proposal often involves an enormous deluge of information, emails and revisions, during which time there isn’t time to stop and think. This is one of the reasons it is so important to take stock after the proposal for the tender opportunity has been submitted.

How effectively did the team work together?

Even when the bid writing team is working well together, there can be problems which effect the creation of the tender proposal. These often involve lines of communication, especially during the review process. It is important to ensure that the team is aware of where their different responsibilities lie. Creating checklists and document folders available simultaneously to the entire team can be a great help.

How effective was communication between the bid team and other people involved?

During a large proposal the bid writing team may well have needed a great deal of technical information for method statements or financial documents. A delay here can be a real bottleneck in submitting the final tender proposal.

Again, problems here can often be down to failures in communication. After submitting the tender proposal, discuss where those problems occurred and what can be done to ameliorate them later.

What can be done to improve on the process?

There will be times during a bid where you will wish you had done something in a different order or used a different method. During the final assembly of the bid there often isn’t time to implement that change.

After the bid, note down the problems that occurred and the solutions that came to mind. Take the chance to update your internal process documents or create a checklist of things to assess when going for the next tender opportunity. Win that Bid can help you assess your processes to make them even more effective.

Paying attention to EU procurement rules so you don’t have to

The Cabinet Office has released a Procurement Policy Note (PPN) discussing the latest results of negotiations in Brussels about changing the procurement rules which ultimately define public sector tenders. These EU rules can be a bit obscure and so it is interesting to get a window into the process and progress of these discussions.

There are a few specific areas of interest to bid writers within the document.

Reducing minimum timescales

The government has supported proposals to reduce the minimum timescales for responding to advertised procurements and preparing tender documents. So far a reduction from 40 to 35 days has been agreed upon, under the open procedure.

Increasing the use of self-declarations

Regular readers of this blog will have seen several articles about government initiatives (not to mention scandals and complaints from business) surrounding the length and requirements of public sector tender PQQ documents. The latest response is to increase the use of self-declarations, whereby only the winning bidder must submit documents and certificates proving their status, while self-declarations of compliance must be accepted by the procurement officers up to that point. This will be a welcome change for SMEs and smaller bidders, if it isn’t open to abuse.

Financial Requirements for SMEs

The Cabinet Office has continued to argue that SME business should be encouraged by breaking large bids into lots, at the discretion of the purchasing authority. It also wants to reduce the turnover requirements relative to contract size. Together with proposals in favour of “innovative public service delivery-agents” such as employee owned “mutual”, these are further moves in favour of diversifying the pool of bidders from which governments and public sector purchasing authorities draw their contracts.

The final results of these discussions will probably be adopted in early 2013. Win that Bid can help bid writers keep up to date with the latest public sector tender developments.

Knocked out at PQQ stage? Learn how to get feedback

Writing a tender for the vast majority of public tender contracts in the UK will involve filling out a PQQ. There are plenty of suppliers eager to fill those tender contracts and so the contracting authorities use them to keep the number of tenders they look at manageable. This can raise problems for suppliers that we’ve discussed before.

However, even if you do provide everything requested by the PQQ , it’s still possible to get knocked out at this early stage. It isn’t always easy to find out why you’ve missed out on a contract at the tender stage, let alone the PQQs.  For this reason it is important to know what the regulations are.

Regular 29A of the Public Contracts (Amendment) Regulations 2009 states that a contracting authority must notify an applicant of exclusion from the process. Regulation 32 then clarifies that the contracting authority must provide reasons for this decision, including details of why successful candidates progressed.

It is important to ascertain what went wrong in a failed PQQ so you can use that information the next time you find yourself writing a tender. Win that Bid can help you analyse the feedback you received and help you seize the next opportunity.

Tender Writing Insights: The Devil is in the Detail

When it comes to completing PQQs or tender writing the devil is often in the detail especially the closer you get to the submission deadline.

Take for example a company Win That Bid worked with a few years ago. The PQQ was for a contract with the Irish Government. At short notice, the client had asked us to complete the tender writing part of the PQQ and help them develop their win themes. All very straightforward and as often happens on the final day we worked onsite to ready the submission which included the PQQ submission itself and all associated documentation such as insurance certificates, health & safety policy, accounts, etc. Job complete we left the client’s office. Some weeks later we received news the PQQ had been unsuccessful, the reasons; the health & safety policy hadn’t been signed and the the insurance certificates weren’t included. How could this be? We knew they were in the pack before we left. It turned out the secretary in charge of sending the PQQ to Dublin with two days until the deadline automatically put it in the normal post. On realising the error of her ways she quickly printed out the pack again and sent it by courier. Of course this was the first submission received as well as the one which arrived prior to the deadline and therefore was the one marked by the procurement team.

The moral of the story – do not leave your tender writing and PQQ submission until the last minute whether its submitted by post or via an online portal. From the off, create a timetable of deliverables to lead you to two or three days prior to submission and build in some slack.

For all your PQQ, tender writing or bid co-ordination needs contact hello@winthatbid.com or give us a call on 0203 405 1850.

Why aren’t your PQQs being shortlisted?

When assisting clients with their pre-qualification questionnaires (PQQs) you’d be amazed at just how often we see the same mistakes rear their heads time and time again. And if we notice them, you can bet your prospect will too. Unfortunately it’s a bit of a catch 22 situation – you know you have to improve your responses, but each practice PQQ is a missed contract and worse still possibly a dent in your reputation.

To help you try to identify where you might be going wrong we’ve decided to let you in on the top 3 PQQ blunders that in our experience prevent suppliers from getting shortlisted:

Strike One: Not proof reading! You’d think this one was obvious. The main culprits are;

  • Concentrating on the narrative questions and not spending enough time on the detail of shorter responses
  • Cutting and pasting text from different drafts
  • And the really embarrassing one, using content from old PQQs and forgetting to change the details!

These kind of mistakes disrupt the flow of reading and can start to distract from what you’re trying to say. And in the case of using copied text from former PQQs they say to the buyer that you aren’t taking them seriously, therefore how on earth will you be able to deliver the contract?

Often clients have proof read their documents, they just haven’t done it well enough or because they have written it struggle to see the wood from the trees.

Tip One: finish your response in good time and ask a colleague to give it a good proof read.

Strike Two: Not taking maximum advantage of your word limit! What a waste! The buyer has given you a set amount of space to tell them about your company, and you leave it blank?! It may be difficult to think of how best to structure your answers, but you should always aim to use as much of the allotted space as you can. Lots of blank space can create the impression that you don’t have much to offer.

Tip Two: Decide what’s important to the buyer in this section. Consider why have they asked this question. What would be the ideal answer?

Strike Three: Not selling your business! It may feel strange to blow your own trumpet so shamelessly but don’t forget this is a competition. The buyer will have a ton of documents to read through and if you don’t convince them that your company is the best then you won’t be shortlisted. If you understate your capabilities and achievements the buyer will reach for the next PQQ, so make sure they know you’re the best.

Tip Three: Before getting into the content, identify your story. Why are you better than your competitors and why should you win this contract. Carry this theme throughout the PQQ.

So there you have it, three simple rules for success. We know that this is only a small part of growing your business, but at times like these every little helps. Every PQQ is important, so don’t waste your chances.

Check, Recheck and Chick Again

Every week proposal writers tell us frustrating stories of how they were rejected for an opportunity because their Health and Safety policy wasn’t signed or because they had ‘only just’ exceeded their word limit.  But the even more annoying thing is that many of these issues could have been avoided if someone else had checked the proposal before it landed on the buyer’s desk.

So here’s a helpful list for your colleague when asking them to proof read your bid. Get them to check:

  • Grammar
  • Spelling
  • Font sizes
  • Amount of words
  • Lengthily sentences
  • Presentation style
  • Consistency
  • The finished article i.e. binding, pagnation, etc

And if you are short on colleagues (or willing ones!) or can no longer distinguish your ‘check’ from your ‘chick’ Win That Bid provide a valuable critiquing service at the point of submission. Call us on the Bid Phone today.