How to work with a freelance bid writer

How to work with a freelance bid writer

evFreelance bid writers can be really useful – supplementing existing teams or providing specialised help that you don’t have in-house. However, it’s worth having a think about how you work with them to get the most out of your investment.

Putting a contract in place

I’d recommend putting a contract in place to clarify expectations, deliverables, how long the piece of work is going to cost and what the invoicing arrangements are. Most freelance bid writers will have their own and will supply this as part of the start-up process. 

We don’t have magic wands

It’s worth mentioning that bid writers don’t have magic wands. They will work really hard for you, but they can’t magically cover the gaps created by a lack of existing relationship with the procuring client, a lack of experience in the right sector, or a lack of the right skills and experience in your proposed team.

This is why the bid/no bid process is so useful in checking how strong opportunities really are before going any further. As I’ve said before, ‘taking a punt’ is a very expensive and completely ineffective way of marketing your business.

Do you have any existing content to work with?

It’s useful to enable a bid writer to assess your existing content – do you have CVs and case studies already written and tailored to this sector and are they good quality? Are your business processes already written up and ready to be used as base bid content? This is all key bid collateral and may need to be written or developed during the bid process and will extend the time you will need to engage a bid writer for.

Be clear about what you want me to do

I’m a bid writer – I write content for bids and you should be clear with any bid writers you engage about what you need them to do on any tenders. For example, do you need them to coordinate the process or complete any graphics or formatting as part of the commission? My favourite clients are those that clearly communicate my role in the process and how they want to use my skills in their bid process.

I’m happy to coordinate smaller bids if asked to and can format content using InDesign and Word, however there are better process managers and graphic designers out there than me. Be clear about your expectations, because these extra tasks take more time. An alternative approach is to ask your bid writer to use their network to outsource this work to other freelancers. I work like this quite a lot with clients with great results.

Have realistic expectations about how long things take

Writing winning bid content isn’t a task that can be completed overnight, especially if there are a number of questions to be responded to, or you have no base content to start with. All responses should be drafted and reviewed at least twice before they are submitted.

While your putting time into the process may feel like a bind, what you will get out of it is a quality bid, and quality content that you can put in your bid library for the future. I guarantee you will be able to use it all again, really maximising your professional bid writer’s ROI.

Be engaged in the process

As I mentioned before, I don’t have a magic wand, but I can create great bid content if you and your team properly engage with me. There is nothing worse than people expecting the world, but not setting time aside to either provide technical information or be interviewed.

I get that we are all busy – however if you have engaged a bid writer to complete some work for you, please don’t go AWOL. Provide input and feedback and complete any reviews you have committed to doing.

While I won’t name names, the worst bid experience I have ever had was with a client with exactly this attitude, and a team of us had a hellish six weeks because the client point-blank refused to engage. This is such a pointless way of working with external bid writers – leading to a sub-optimal outcome.

Have realistic expectations about how much this will cost you

You may think that someone in the office can write a bid cheaper, but what you are paying for is years of bid writing experience, often within a specific industry. For example, I have worked across the construction industry for 20-odd years, and have 16 years’ experience as a writer working on some of the most high-profile bids across the world. This experience provides real insight and clients get the benefit of this every time they engage a professional bid writer. 

As a client, you are usually engaging another limited company to complete the work, with a range of overheads that clients get the benefit of, including IT software and equipment, insurance, travel expenses, training, website, finance and marketing – very similar to the overheads client organisations have! 

Please pay on time

I really value the clients that pay on time – they are my favourites, so please pay your freelance bid writers, or any other freelancers, on time. It is frustrating to chase for money for work that has already been delivered and you have had the benefit of because your bid has been submitted.

Paying freelancers late will mean that this stress is passed down the supply chain to other small suppliers – this really isn’t fair.

Adding value

I make sure I add as much value to the process as possible, creating high-quality content that will populate a bid library and can be used again. I also share my skills with the people I work with. Many of my clients tell me that they have learned a lot from working with me, and if I can make the industry more efficient by sharing my bid writing skills, then I am happy to make my little contribution.

I’d love to hear your feedback on this post. Do you engage freelance bid writers as a client? How do you work with them? Are there any other points that other freelance bid writers would add to this list?

 

Bid kick-off meetings

Bid kick-off meetings

Kick-off meetings set the direction for a bid and allow the team to get together to share intelligence on the client and opportunity, while agreeing the strategy, timeframes and tasks. They are second only to the bid/no bid process for making sure your bid is a success. This post takes you through how to approach a kick-off meeting to make sure you get the most out of it.

Meeting outcomes

The outcomes that need to be secured from the kick-off meetings are to:

  • confirm the bid/no bid decision
  • share client intelligence, including project drivers and issues keeping the client up at night
  • agree your team’s USPs and how they can be developed into win themes – conversely how you can ‘ghost’ the opposition by neutralising their win themes (and not naming them, of course) 
  • agree the bid deliverables
  • agree the approach/methodology, articulating why this provides an enhanced offer
  • identify the experience that you will evidence in the bid
  • identify the proposed team, confirming requirements for experience, skills and availability
  • agree the bid programme
  • agree roles and responsibilities.

How to prepare for a kick-off meeting

It’s critical that everyone has read and understood the tender documents, so they come prepared to get into the detail of tender planning. Provide the tender documents and agenda well in advance and make your expectations clear.

Who to invite?

The key people involved in the bid need to be at this meeting:

  • senior sponsor and person responsible for signing the bid off
  • commercial lead
  • bid manager (they will probably be chairing)
  • technical experts responsible for developing the solution and providing the content
  • bid writer and bid coordinator (or however your bid team is structured)

Structure

Create a form that will capture the key points of the meeting. This form will outline the tender deliverables, so that you agree all of the actions, with timeframes. Don’t leave the room until you have all the answers you need! 

Bid action plan

When the bid kick-off form has been completed, it will form the action plan that will underpin the bid. This needs to be managed by the bid manager by regularly checking-in with contributors. 

How do you manage bid kick-off meetings? Do you have a formal process, or are things a bit less structured? What works best for you?

 

Managing conflicts as a freelance bid writer

Managing conflicts as a freelance bid writer

I was reading the background information for a professional services framework that will be published over the next few months, and I was surprised to read that bidders were advised to make sure their bid writer didn’t have any conflicts of interest. This was the first time I had ever seen bidders’ advice stating this, and wondered what had driven it. 

What is a bid writing conflict of interest?

As a bid writer, a conflict of interest may arise if two separate clients have approached you to work on the same bid. Although I’m sure this may happen to other writers, it has never happened to me in the five years I have been independent. I have however, written for clients bidding for different lots and services on a framework, and the last time this happened, I was successful across three different lots, so had three happy sets of clients and no conflicts of interest.

Any independent writer who values their reputation will proactively minimise conflicts of interest so they don’t present their clients with issues. My business is built on my integrity, so there is no benefit to me of working with different clients on the same bid – apart from anything, there just aren’t enough hours in the day.

How I manage conflicts 

To minimise the potential for conflicts, I work with a range of businesses across the construction industry, each one with its own sectoral specialism and therefore pursuing totally different projects. If I were approached by two potential clients for the same bid, it would be a case of first come, first served, or whoever provides me with a purchase order number first. I also make clear in my contracts that I am not engaged by any other party to bid this opportunity or lot on a framework. 

How to avoid them 

My advice to other freelance bid writers is to work with a wide range of clients and avoid direct competitors – ie businesses that offer the same services in the same sectors. If you are approached to work on the same bid by two clients, be open and explain your situation. It may be you have loyalty to one particular party and so would prefer to work with them – but make sure you are covered if they decide to no-bid the opportunity, leaving you with no work at all.

Personal ethics

I take ethics very seriously, and I never share written content (my contract specifies that I don’t own the copyright once the final invoice is paid), never gossip about conversations and never say who I am working with or the specifics of what I am working on – unless bidders are a matter of public knowledge which can be the case on large infrastructure bids.

How do other independent bid writers and bid managers manage their conflicts of interest? Do you find that it’s much of an issue?

July round-up

July round-up

 

July has been another busy month, with a combination of bids, writing content for my blog and working towards my hypnotherapy qualification…

Bids I’ve worked on this month

This month I have had the honour of writing for the practice of one of my architectural heroes – this was a big bid with a team located across the world. See my Instagram for the testimonial. I also kicked-off a couple of bids that I will be working on over August. A theme over the past six weeks has been Australia – writing bids and collateral for Australian projects and making connections with bid people over there. 

Availability for August and the autumn 

I am fully-booked until September, but please get in touch to discuss your bid requirements for the autumn (I can’t believe I’m typing the word autumn already).

Last autumn projects were put on hold ‘because of Brexit’. This year it seems like clients have realised that stuff still needs to get built and I have been approached about a number of bids, including a provisional booking for the period around Christmas, so if you want to book any time, please get your orders in!

Blog posts

I published a number of blogs over July, which are proving very popular. Thank you to everyone who has shared and commented on them. Let me know if there are any particular subjects you want me to write about, even if it’s just from my perspective.   

July blogs were: 

Podcasts I’m listening to 

People who know me well know that I’m a long-time politics nerd, and summer is the time when the next series of Peter Hennessy’s Reflections is published. It’s a long-form interview with a wide range of senior politicians, getting under their skin to understand the person behind the political personality, and understanding key events from their perspective. You can find it here.  

Awards this month

The CIBSE Building Performance Awards are open for submissions, with a deadline of 13 September. The awards judge in-use performance, rather than projections, and the 2020 Awards focus on all aspects of a project, product or innovation that create safe, healthy, functional and sustainable buildings that operate efficiently and meet users needs.

I am also working with a really inspirational client to put together an awards strategy for the next 12 months. If I can do the same for  you, please get in touch. 

And finally…

Enjoy the rest of the summer. If you don’t have too many bids on, use the time to strip out the content from previous bids and build up your bid libraries, update your CVs and case studies, and get ready for a busy bidding time over the autumn.  

Five things I’ve learnt in my first five years a freelancer

Five things I’ve learnt in my first five years a freelancer

I wouldn’t have thought it possible five years ago, but that’s how long I’ve been freelancing for. It’s the longest job I’ve ever had, and I put that down to how great my boss is – she understands me completely and doesn’t give me any mither. I’ve learned a lot in this time and developed a broad range of business skills, such as sales, finance and strong-arming payments out of clients – probably more so than technical skills as a bid writer.

So, to celebrate this milestone in my freelance life, here at the top five things I’ve learned in the past five years.

Structure your freelancing business as if it’s a corporate organisation

I wish I had thought about this more seriously in the beginning. Proper administrative structures enable you to manage the back-office efficiently and deliver your work better. This means accounting, IT, insurance, a marketing plan (however that looks for you), and most importantly, contracts. Issue contracts for each commission, making sure everyone is crystal clear about expectations and deliverables, invoice on time, and deliver what you say you’re going to.

Outsource the stuff you either don’t enjoy or are crap at. For me that’s the finance, legal and IT (clueless), some social media (it’s great to get fresh ideas), admin and graphics. I’ve developed a strong network of professionals who help me with all this and it’s not as expensive as you might think, particularly when you consider what it’s costing in non-billable time.

Learn where you can

Skills development has to be a priority as freelancer – you haven’t got the support of an employer anymore and the world of skills is constantly moving on. Suddenly you’re the training budget holder and you’ve also got to carve out the time amongst project delivery.

Every day’s a school day and I’ve made the most of learning opportunities on live projects – particularly when you’re working in a demanding, deadline-driven environment like me, it’s just not feasible to block out time each week for training and development.

I’ve worked with some top-flight writers as a freelancer, particularly on big infrastructure bids and these experiences have pushed me to reflect on my own abilities and look for ways to improve. Working with other people is invaluable in sharing ideas and discussing challenges and I really value my bid network. They are a mix of freelance and in-house and I keep in touch by meeting when I’m in town, social media and referring them for work.

Be confident talking about money

This isn’t the easiest of subjects and I’ve found that many freelancers have an in-built anxiety around money, particularly getting paid what we’re worth and getting paid at all. It’s been a journey for me, certainly asking for the financial value I bring clients and demonstrating the value of a professional bid writer. I’ve tolerated situations and circumstances in the past that I just wouldn’t now – you live and learn.

I deliver a service that is generally measured in time rather than by project and I ask about budget early in a qualifying conversation to understand expectations. Over time, I have developed packages to provide clients with a range of options for scope and price. I will also discuss and agree payment terms – generally 30 days, with invoices being issued at the end of the project or at the end of the month, whichever is soonest. I’m always happy to negotiate, but if I get too much push back, I know it’s not the right client for me.

The challenge of late and non-payment is real for freelancers and I’ve had my fair share of difficult experiences, which I will blog about another time. Have a plan in place for when and if non-payment happens to you – research your options and don’t back down – you will be glad you overcame the difficult emotions and made the hard decisions.

The importance of relationships and sales

I have found sales to be a slow burn process. No one needs a bid writer until they have a bid to write. I keep in touch with people to make sure I’m the first person they think of when they have a looming deadline, and relationships established years ago have really come to fruition as a freelancer. By staying in one industry I have created a niche and clients refer me on – I am grateful for this and consider myself very lucky. 

I’m also generally too busy to attend networking events – I am always working to a deadline. To counteract this, I am very active on social media – I find it easier to slot in to my day – to keep myself front of mind. 

The client becomes the boss

It’s not true that just because I work for myself now that I don’t have anyone to answer to. While the client/consultant relationship is different (usually more equal), I still need to answer phone calls, respond to emails and deliver, generally during office hours. When I have deadlines to meet, my diary is not my own and I have to be very flexible with my time. In many ways, it’s not that different from being employed, although I prefer this dynamic and can often work from home.

Happy to help!

As an experienced bid writer and a relatively experienced freelancer I’ve made all the mistakes, so you don’t have to. If you’re new to freelancing or considering making the leap, particularly as a bid professional, I’m all ears and happy to have a chat to help you with any quandaries you might have. After all, what’s the point of five years’ experience if you don’t share it with someone else who could benefit? You can catch up with me on InstagramTwitter and LinkedIn.