Background in bid writing
I began my bid writing career at a large, national charity; originally established as a soup kitchen it has since expanded to deliver support services to people with complex needs. I cut my teeth writing to grant-making organisations on its behalf, proposing ‘innovative’ projects to supplement a range of existing, commissioned services: from women’s refuges to drug and alcohol recovery services. While the projects were varied, the ethos remained the same: write to tug the heart strings. After all, these were usually relatively small amounts of money (up to £10,000 in most cases) that were fiercely fought over. And while the monitoring of grant-funded outcomes has improved (or has at least become more stringent), the winning bidder was often the one who made the best case on behalf of beneficiaries rather than for the efficacy of the project itself.
So I learned to write emotively, convincingly some might say; a style completely different, if not at odds with, tender writing. It should be noted that this split, between grant writing and tender writing, is commonly reflected in business development/bidding teams in the third sector. You start with grants and graduate to tenders. My own graduation came after successfully bidding for some larger grants administered by the Big Lottery Fund and the European Social Fund (ESF) – the Big Lottery has since been renamed; and ESF is to be replaced by the government-ran Shared Prosperity Fund, though you’d be ill-advised to hold your breath for its release. The team I worked in had no formal training; being predominantly graduates of humanities degrees, the expectation was that we could write, so we could write a bid. Our tender writing process, such as there was, meant drawing on the knowledge of ‘subject matter experts’ within the organisation (read: available personnel in our head office functions), repurposing existing material, and using a little common sense to respond appropriately to specifications. All things being equal, we garnered fine results – we expected to and did win about one in three tenders we submitted.
Writing training with Executive Compass
Of course, it didn’t occur to me that this was a slightly non-specialist approach. When I joined Executive Compass, our technical director Matthew Walker delivered our training as though I was operating with a blank slate. The difference in approach is stark: my earlier approach, admirably spirited if a little amateur, was moulded into something more systematic:
- Driven by the tender question
- Results focused
- Written in polished prose
- Faithful to the ethos of our clients.
I was to learn that good bid writing was the result of assiduous preparation – marshalling the information from ITT/PQQ documents, researching the sector and comparative companies to understand competition in the market, thoroughly answer planning to ‘hit’ key points of the response, and delivering interviews with clients that gather pertinent information to underscore their high-quality delivery and USPs.
Working with a range of clients
Having previously worked in research consultancy, working with clients was not completely new to me, although the tenor of conversations with clients was very much coloured by the nature of client-consultant relationships in this sector. The single biggest difference for me moving from in-house bid writing to outsourced bid writing was the scale and perspective gained from working across sectors. It is a key part of what I believe keeps our tender writing fresh – drawing on operational models across sectors to demonstrate best practice, tailoring our writing styles to suit the sector, and consistently applying our accumulated knowledge of sector-specific legislation and standards to deliver responses that exceed minimum requirements. This approach enables us to maintain a win rate of over 85%.
In the last six months alone, I have worked on tender projects for:
- A small care company based on the south coast of England to deliver hospital discharge services
- A nationally-recognised recruitment company to deliver contingent labour to two global suppliers of foodstuffs and waste management services respectively
- A train track welding company to deliver, you guessed it, track welding services, across the UK
- A supplier of disinfectant products to deliver surface sanitiser to public buildings across the West Midlands
- A facilities maintenance company to deliver responsive works for a housing association in Northern Ireland
- A fostering company to deliver independent fostering agency services across south central England.
This is to name but a few. The variety has enabled me to integrate into the company readily, putting me in contact with knowledgeable, qualified and experienced individuals who have backgrounds in a range of sectors, from construction to recruitment. In my own way, I hope to have given something back to my peers in the company, drawing from my experience of complex needs support and legislation. Long may it continue.