What is a tender?Before we explain what a tender is, or a tender document, let’s rewind a little bit. Quite often if a large company, corporation, charity or public sector body requires specific works, goods or services, they will publicise a formal offer for relevant businesses to bid for the work/project. This can be known as an ‘invitation to tender’ (ITT), ‘invitation to quote’ (ITQ), ‘request for proposal’ (RFP). Or, depending on how they manage their procurement, they may initially ask for an ‘expression of interest’ (EOI) or some form of prequalification to take place (often called a PQQ, ‘selection questionnaire’, ‘European Single Procurement Document’ (ESPD). Once shortlisted a business would then be ‘invited to tender’. Businesses who are interested in delivering the project will then create a ‘tender response’ or ‘bid’ that they will submit in a hope to win the contract or gain access to an ‘approved supplier list’ (ASL) or framework. The entity requiring the services will then evaluate the tender documents submitted by a variety of businesses and select who they think is best suited to deliver the project. If this is within the public sector there are specific rules about how they need to complete this to ensure a fair, open and transparent process. In the vast majority of the cases the evaluation is looking for the ‘most economically advantageous tender’, which is a mix of price and quality. The only way for them to assess either of these elements is from your proposal, tender response or bid. This is why creating the perfect tender document is so important – depending on the requirement, buyers may receive numerous competitive bids, which are trying to persuade and convince them that they, as the bidder, are best placed to be awarded the contract and win the tender. You really need to make yours stand out if you want to win more business and clients. A lot of the time tendering organisations, or contracting authorities tend to be larger, well-known organisations, for example Transport for London, Network Rail, Highways England, regional Councils, Universities, the NHS and those businesses large enough to have specific buyers or procurement teams, therefore winning bids can be a great way to get your services out there and secure formal contracts.
What is tender writing?Bid writing or tender writing is the process of creating a strong application to win work, a response to a buyer’s requirement, quite often through a formal process - also known as the tender process. This involves planning, writing, gaining internal input from other members of the team to help strengthen the bid and submitting it. Having the bid reviewed by someone before submission is also a very important part of the process. This could be a senior manager or even just a colleague. When you have had your head stuck in the same response document for a while it can be easy to gleam over simple spelling errors or repetitive content. You may have even missed out some important factors, which are critical to the buyer's requirement or that make your solution unique and stronger than others.
How to plan a tender or bid responsePlanning before writing a bid/tender is essential, just like any other project that you are involved in. When planning, don’t just consider the submission deadline. Of course, this is key and allows you to set out your timetable to complete the bid – but there is much more that comes in to play. Before entering the tender process at the very least you need to consider:
- Do you fully understand / can you deliver the service/requirement asked for within the bid and can you evidence it?
- If provided, does the evaluation criteria, specification and questions play to your strengths?
- Can you deliver to the buyer’s budget?
- Do you understand your competitor’s solution and how yours can compete?
- Do you have the resources to complete the bid?
- Who is writing what part of the bid? Different members of your team will have different areas of expertise, and may be best placed to create the initial draft. Or, you may need the help of other departments, often called subject matter experts, to provide information e.g. health and safety, so plan your meetings with these people ahead of time.
With several people being involved in a bid it is then important to ensure the response as a whole has a ‘single voice’. This can be achieved by setting up initial rules and guidance for anyone ‘writing’ or having a single person pulling in each element and re-writing for consistency.
- When are you submitting the bid and how? How much work does it require from both a pricing, coordination/management and writing perspective? Does the bid need to be at the top of your priority list, or can it wait? How are you going to submit the bid - will another member of your team need to help you with the submission process? Does the bid need to be designed, does it need to be uploaded online or physically posted?
- What are your win themes? The points that will make you THE choice and not A choice need to clearly shine through in the tender. It is based on what the buyer requires and how that fits with your solution better than it does for your competition.
- Who will review the bid? What is their level of expertise? Will technical jargon need to be broken down into layman's terms? How long will the review take and how long will you need to action any changes? Getting this person involved early when storyboarding or developing the structure to tender questions can often save a lot of time.
- What documents need including in the bid and are they up to date? Are policies relevant, signed and dated within the last 12 months? Do you know who has access to these documents and where they are saved? Is the data in the documents time-specific and therefore dated?
- What evidence will you include in your bid? Tying into the above point about documents, where can you get evidence that you can either attach as a supporting document or include in the body of the bid? This could be quantitative data, reference to procedures, performance or even just testimonials.
How to make sure your bid is compliantIt is essential to make sure your bid is compliant. Carefully read and follow the instructions as failure to include certain elements can affect a bid's success. You should consider:
- Font, word and page limits followed: even something small such as the text being one size larger can make your bid invalid
- Have you asked all the questions you need to? When initially reviewing a tender opportunity, it is essential you note any points which are not clear within the instructions or specification. Ask the buyer or contracting authority a clarification question to ensure you are compliant
- Have you fully answered all the questions? You can have the best bid in the world, but if you haven’t answered all the questions you won’t be considered. Within the questions you need to ensure you are specifically confirming how you can meet or exceed key elements of the specification or requirement which relate to the question
- Have you included all the documents requested? Make sure to attach everything you need before sending off. This could be the ‘form of tender’, confidentiality agreement, elements from within the invitation to tender, as well potentially method statement responses and further supporting documents
- Are all of your documents that you are submitting up to date? Triple check before you send them off - they need to be recent and relevant to the submission! This may mean tailoring policies and procedures to reflect differing client requirements. All policies should be signed, not older than 12 months and with a record of any changes since they were last updated.
Top tender writing tipsThere are a few really important factors that make a tender stand out from the rest, which are broken down below. Really understand the tender and buyer’s requirements As with any decision, you need to base it on some considered rationale. A Bid/No Bid process will help you win more bids. There is a theory that it is all a numbers game and that out of every 10 bids, you’ll win 1. Sound familiar? What if the decision had been to go for just 5 bids? The most likely result is that you would have had more time to concentrate on all 5 bids, perhaps increasing your win rate to 3 or 4 out of 5. Understanding the tender and the services the organisation wants in more detail is essential. Can you actually provide that service better than others? Do you have the resource to develop that bid or is there another tender that is more suited, for example? Evidence Evidence is crucial to your bid and can make the difference between a successful and unsuccessful tender. Evidence includes anything that supports your bid. This could include:
- Testimonials from your clients
- Photos of similar projects you have worked on previously
- Statistics that prove why you are the best candidate to get the job done
- Value of cost savings
- Case studies, organisational structures, team bios, policies and procedures
- Aftersales service
- You’ve bought the product before
- The product fits your budget