Hiring the right tender writer can make the difference between winning or losing a bid. In this article we look at what makes a winning bid or tender writer.
Bid and tender writers will take your ideas, and the RFP or tender that you’re responding to, and will turn that into a bid or tender response that wins. They may also help you edit the work of your technical experts, bring together all of the various bits of documentation that you need, and package and lay out the whole thing so that it is attractive.
What kind of bid or proposal writer you need depends on what size of team they will work in, and what kind of bid you’re trying to win.
Size of bid team
Smallest: There’s just you, you have the RFT on your desk, and you have a couple of weeks to respond. You’ll need a bid writer with experience, who can take charge of the whole process and make it fly. They’ll have at least a couple of years experience in responding to bids (see below for advice on specific industries), and they’ll need to know how to use the tools of their trade including Word, basic drawing tools and perhaps electronic submission software (if the bid uses that). They’ll also be a self-starter who won’t take no for an answer, and will be driven to harass you for information if that’s what it takes to win.
Medium: You and half a dozen other technical experts. You’ll need a bid writer who is good at working in a team, and at working collaboratively to get people to submit the information they need in a timely manner. They’ll have at least a couple of years experience in responding to bids (again, see below for specific industries), and they’ll know how to use Word. If you have a graphic artist to hand, or available externally, they’ll be able to work with them to translate the concepts that you want to put into your bid into effective diagrams. They’ll be the kind of person who takes the bid process seriously, but not necessarily someone who can drive the whole thing (unless that’s what you need).
Large: Dozens of people spread across the planet. You’ll have a specialised ‘Bid Manager’, that may be you or may be someone else, who will organise and motivate the team. The bid writer may fit into the team at a number of different levels, depending on what your Bid Manager decides. They may take charge of a section of the bid, or just write the Executive Summary (some writers specialise in this). They may be employed as an editor to just clean up the whole document and make it consistent. They make also take on the role of Bid Coordinator, working with the Bid Manager to make sure that all of the moving parts of the bid come together in time.
Remember that like any document, a bid should be written for the reader, not for the writer. So if you’re selling an IT system to a law firm, ask yourself the question: who’s going to be reading this proposal? Will it be the law firm’s IT Manager? Will it be the Managing Partner? Will it be ready by lawyers who know little about IT?
Your answer to this question will determine what degree of technical expertise your bid writer will need. After all, the best person to write about IT for a lawyer is someone with a legal background, not an IT background. Someone with too much technical knowledge can ‘assume’ too much knowledge on behalf of the reader and lose them.
Civil and construction tenders: Civil and construction tenders tend to be larger, and so you’ll need to think carefully about the structure of your bid team. If you need help with this, we’re happy to help – just give us a call. Once you have an experienced Bid Manager in place, they should be able to work out what kind of writer(s) they need, either for editing or writing. In our experience (and this is not true of all industries, as you’ll see from the balance of this article) technical knowledge and industry experience is not as important in the civil and construction space as it is elsewhere. Of course, it will help if the writer(s) have worked in your industry, but professional writers have to be adept at picking up new terminology and concepts and can generally move across industries with few problems.
Electrical and air conditioning tenders: Although you are an expert in this area, you have to ask whether the person who will be reading the tender has the same level of expertise. Or are they a civil engineer or builder who has some knowledge of what’s involved, but just wants an outcome that will meet their needs? The writer(s) that you add to your team should ideally have the same level of knowledge of your products or services that the person reading the tender will have: they don’t need to know as much as your engineers.
Engineering tenders: Working with engineers can be challenging, because although they have a lot of knowledge they can find it difficult to summarise and simplify that for a given audience. So the key skill of a writer on an engineering bid or tender is to be able to get information out of engineers and summarise it to the point where it can be absorbed on paper. You’ll be looking for writers who have this skill, rather than a prior knowledge of engineering.
Grants and funding applications: If you are a non-profit organisation, then you will have a certain culture within your organisation that attracts people who like to help others. It’s important not to use a bid writer who can make the best use of that environment: a tender writer who’s driven to the point of insisting that things are done a certain way may not work well in your team. Even if you are for-profit, but applying for government grants, it’s important to realise that the people who read your grant application will have a culture that may be different from yours, and choose a writer accordingly.
IT tenders: IT companies seldom respond to tenders from other IT organisations, so most of the time the people who read IT tenders are either in ‘the business’ and care more about business outcomes than IT, or are in an IT department within your customer and also care more about business outcomes than you do. Either way, it’s important to choose a writer who, although they are technical enough to understand what you tell them, aren’t too technical, and can understand what your customer wants to achieve. A background in business often helps.
Legal services tenders: Lawyers often have a hard time selling what they do, and legal tenders are a case in point. Organisations who buy legal services generally do so because they don’t want to need to understand the finer points of the law. They’re more interested in risk, cost and outcomes. So choose a writer that thinks like your customer. Not someone with a legal services background.
Mining tenders: The mining industry has a set of terminology all its own, and it’s important that any writer you hire for a mining RFT or mining tender has worked in the mining industry. You may also have a number of fairly ‘robust’ individuals in your team, so it’s important that the writer you add to that team can deal with strong opinions without backing down: after all, if you want someone who will just do what they’re told you should hire an admin assistant rather than a professional writer. You may not win the bid, but that’s up to you.
Office equipment tenders: Office equipment tenders seem to be all about price, but that can be misleading. There are a number of other factors (servicing, support, financial stability) that go into the choice, and it’s important that you choose a skilled writer who can bring out these factors. After all, if you end up competing only on price then your whole industry is in a ‘race to the bottom’. So a writer with some years of experience in bid writing, but also perhaps journalism, technical writing or even instructional design would be best.
Printing tenders: Like office equipment tenders, printing tenders seem to be all about price. But there are non-price factors in every purchase decision, and printing is no exception. Your customer will be concerned about quality, but also about timeliness. Make sure that you hire a writer who understands that there’s more to selling than just selling cheap. A writer with some experience in bid writing, but also perhaps journalism, teaching other communications profession would be a good idea.
Government vs commercial
Defence tenders: Being familiar with The Australian Standard for Defence Contracting (ASDEFCON) suite of request documents will help a bid writer structure a response to any of the arms of the Australian Defence Force. A good bid writer, however, should be able to interpret even the complexities of ASDEFCON without having to have been involved in Defence.
ASDEFCON templates are available on the Defence Materiel Organisation’s web site and are open to all, as are the guidelines for managing requests by Defence.
State government tenders: While all state governments and their respective departments and agencies have their own templates for building request documents, there are areas of commonality that a good bid writer will be aware of. As for Defence, a good bid writer will not need to have been in the state public service in order to interpret a state government request document.
Australian Federal government tenders: Australian government tenders can be complex and vary considerably by department and agency. While some knowledge of particular departments or agencies can be useful, the ability to analyse complex information is more useful.
Commercial tenders: Commercial tenders are often simpler than government tenders, but in some sectors, such as mining and oil and gas, can still be very large and complex. Once again, specific industry knowledge is not always essential for a bid writer, if he or she has the ability to distil the essence out of complex information and write a response that meets the stated requirements.
So in summary: What should I look for in a bid or tender writer or manager? What kind of bid or tender writer or manager you need will depend on the size of your bid team, what industry you’re in, and whether or not you’re bidding mainly to Government.