How do I improve my tender writing skills? Let’s be honest, the prospect of writing a business tender makes most of us shudder. It reminds us of school exams, English essays and having to spend hours writing down stuff that you already know and which you feel your client should already know about you.
The fact of the matter is though, that both public and private companies see the tendering process as the most effective way of commissioning new projects, products and services. Tendering is seen as a good discipline for a business to go through, to set out their stall on paper and be judged against their peers. Plus of course, it shows a fair degree of commitment on behalf of the tendering business, in the client’s eye tendering separates the wheat from the chaff.
So you’ve decided to tender for a new contract and to give this one 100 per cent effort to make it a winning tender. What then do you need to consider and how can my tender make a good impression ? Here’s ten tips that might help;
Unlike a social media blog (like this!), a tender document will be read by just a few number of people. For smaller contracts, it may just be one person whose job it will be to pore over many sets of documents and come up with a shortlist or even the winner without wider consultation. It will be very useful to know who will be appraising the submitted tenders and then gear the presentation of the document to that person. Make it personal, using ‘you’ and ‘your’ in your prose is quite acceptable.
How do I answer all the questions in a tender brief ? Whilst it may be some years since you sat in a sports hall on a steaming hot day stressing over exam essays, this key principle still applies. Read the tender brief carefully so that you have as full an understanding of the client’s requirements as possible. It is very easy (and sloppy!) to write what you want to say about your company, how good you are and that you have the best proposition in town, but this will count for nothing if you’ve not addressed the question e.g. ‘how will you meet the service specification…’. This is a very easy trap to fall into, the client specifically wants to understand about aspects of your business such as business processes, quality control, logistics, meeting deadlines etc. Indeed, the process of answering these sections may well highlight improvement points in your business.
Following on from point 2, your tender needs to include clear details of your product or service. This is not the place to respond with vague answers. You need to set out, preferably in bullet point form, exactly what you are offering using the SMART acronym as a guide (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic and Timebound). In addition, you need to be circumspect with your words, keep responses tight with the minimum of fluff. It really pays here to get the tender answers down in long form, making all the points that you feel you need to answer the question, and then as a separate exercise (after a good night’s sleep) go through and edit your words so the answers look much more succinct.
Your tender document has less than 15 secs to make a decent first impression. Again, be mindful of your audience for this document and when and where they will first get round to reviewing it. This could be quite late at night, after a couple of glasses of red wine perhaps and the appraiser is considering one more tender to review before heading for bed. If your opening summary reads somewhat dull and assumes a level of prior knowledge by the appraiser, you’ll not receive the attention your tender deserves. If however your summary starts with a bold, confident headline that grabs the reader’s attention, you have them hooked. Then you build on this with further qualifying statements before drawing the reader into the full body of the document. If you recall the Rupert Bear cartoon strips, that’s a good analogy, where you had the image to grab the readers’ attention, then the rhyming couplet and underneath that the full story. And keep a thread running through the whole document, which should be your top selling point i.e. ‘we have been the #1 manufacturer for our product over the last five years’.
For the most positive appraisal of your tender document, you will need to hand-hold the reader to an extent and guide him/her through your words of explanation. If for instance in the opening sections you explain what you are offering as set out in four or five objectives / bullets, then in the next section, which might focus on how you will deliver this product / service, the reader will be looking to hook into the same set of statements. This should continue through to the end of the document and cover such topics as pricing, deliverables and timescale. A well-structured tender is always well received, will encourage the original reader to share with others and gives the impression that yours is an equally well organised business.
You will know what is best about your business, and probably where you see your business against the competition. So wherever the opportunity arises in the tender response, highlight your achievements, track record, customer testimonials, awards won etc., and back these up with evidence. The client will want be assured that they are placing their business with a reputable concern, but they do not always explicitly ask you to say just how good you are, it’s probably an English thing!
You will need to answer the ‘so what’ and ‘what’s in it for me?’ questions within the tender and again, if they are not explicitly asked, do it anyway. It is helpful for the appraiser, who may not be the most senior person in the client organisation for you to state quite clearly not only what you do / how you do it / why you are better the rest but to ram home how this will help save the client money / improve the client business / make the client more money. This is what the client really wants to know and it will look better coming from yourself in the tender document, it shows that you’ve understood the client’s real needs and have the solution they need.
Often in a tender document, the section covering costs and prices comes towards the end. So the temptation is to crack on with the words first and deal with the figure work in due course. If you think you have plenty of time to do this, fine, but you might want to bring a colleague who is strong on the numbers to assist (people are usually wordsmiths or number crunchers, rarely both!). It is very easy when calculating your tender prices for figures to slip somewhere in the spreadsheet with startling results. I was once quoted £175,000 by a builder for a loft extension, when he probably meant £17,500. I might have gone with this price but then I thought what other numbers might they get wrong once they start measuring and cutting, so immediately lost faith in their ability to meet the spec.
Same as the point for the numbers, get a friend / colleague in to assist, preferably someone that is less familiar with your business or the job you’re tendering for to read through your tender and give you some feedback. This feedback should cover an overall sense check, consistency of response and of course typographical and grammatical errors – these are so common and really let a tender down. Some people when appraising a tender (like me!) will not read past the first page if they spot howlers on the cover sheet. Don’t take the feedback personally, just make sure that the points raised are addressed and not repeated the next time.
If the customer asks for responses by midday on Thursday 29th March, that’s the deadline. Make sure you know when the deadline is and whether just an electronic copy is acceptable or a hard copy needs to be delivered. Take the tender and all the supporting information personally or use a courier to the customer’s premises, ideally a day or two before the deadline and get an acknowledgement of delivery. Don’t leave finishing the tender to the last minute, I’ve seen traffic congestion, bad weather conditions, illness to key personnel etc., all contribute to late submissions which of course the customer is not bound to accept.
There are many more hints and tips I could offer and I’m always available to assist with your tender preparation. I hope these help you to prepare a high-quality document which bowls your customer over and wins you some profitable work – good luck!
Having supported 100s of small and growing businesses across different industry sectors over the last 20 years or so, I now tend to work with a more select group of firms in the advanced engineering / manufacturing, technology and construction / property markets.
I most enjoy working with businesses on their strategic development and facilitating partnership building to help broaden their perspectives, networks and customer base. I regularly link up with other professionals and service providers to help these companies achieve their growth ambitions.
My technical strengths lie in a broad knowledge of funding options, covering grants, bridging loans and equity finance, combined with a common sense approach to accessing much-needed finance. My particular forte is preparing business proposals, business plans and tenders, helping businesses to prepare high quality funding applications and sales documents to increase their success.
I have had the privilege to help guide and nurture some fantastic business owners over the years, many of whom I regard as true friends. Many people in my field of work describe business consultancy simply as 'helping people' and it is a cloak that fits well.