Working together apart

Working together apart

Collaborating and working remotely with people has been my normal for quite a long time now, and I’ve developed skills to make sure it’s successful. Given that working from home might be everyone else’s new normal for quite a while, here’s some thought and tips on working together, even when you’re apart.

Communication

When you work in the same office as the rest of the team, quick catch-ups are taken for granted, so having regular, scheduled communication is key to making remote working successful. Put these meetings in the diary with information on the mode (Teams, Zoom, Skype, old fashioned ‘phone etc), and make sure they happen. Issue an agenda and be clear about what needs to be achieved in the time. I find that videoconferencing works well and makes meetings focused.

Having a plan

Having a plan and communicating it clearly to the team keeps everyone accountable and on track with what needs to be achieved. Be clear about who is doing what and review the plan during your regular meetings.

Use technology to the max

The technology we have at our disposal is making this situation so much more workable – things really would have ground to a halt without phones, the internet and videoconferencing. Be grateful for it and maximise it. There have been loads of solutions mentioned over the past week, so I won’t go in to them here, but develop your skills and use them to work in new ways. I also have WhatsApp on my laptop and encourage people to message me there if it’s urgent – that way I’m not checking my phone or needing to go into my inbox multiple times a day.

Sharing documents

Document sharing and version control is one of the biggest challenges of working remotely (in my opinion). I’d recommend either using proper sharing technology, or numbering your documents sequentially. There’s nothing worse than editing the wrong version of a document! Agree where the documents will be saved and how you will communicate with the team when you’ve finished with them.

Maintain a semblance of office hours

There’s a rumour that freelancers work whenever they like, and perhaps some do, but I have always maintained office hours, so that I’m synced with clients. I start work early, generally have a long lunch and be contacted until around 6pm. Work out a structure that works for you and communicate this with your team. Make sure everyone knows how to contact team members. 

What have you learnt so far? 

These are some general points I’ve thought of, but I wonder if any of the working from home newbies have discovered anything else over this past couple of weeks? I’d love to hear about them – what’s keeping you productive and focused as a team at the moment?

Coronavirus – an opportunity to do things differently

Coronavirus – an opportunity to do things differently

Understandably, Covid-19 is causing a lot of anxiety – the news around it is worrying, especially if you have underlying health conditions or are close to someone who does. It’s already directly affecting many people and businesses and hopefully both the government and local communities will work out solutions that minimise the damage. Despite all this worry and stress though, I believe we are being presented with an amazing opportunity to be agile and find new ways of doing things – at least in the short to medium term and who knows how attitudes will change over the course of this year? 

Keeping in touch with people

One of the biggest changes for people is social distancing or self-isolation. As a freelancer I’ve been doing this for ages and I really enjoy it – I focus better on my work and get more done. It’s also forced me to be more intentional about connecting with people, which is how the idea of #VirtualCoffeeBreaks or #DigitalBrews came about.

I can’t claim credit for the idea, but I saw it Twitter a while back and thought it would be a great way to extend my own network while getting a lot of deadline-driven work completed. Over the past two months or so, I’ve met some great people, had a chat about what they do and looked for opportunities to build further links for them. In some cases, this includes creating opportunities of work for other people, helping freelancers connect with people providing complementary services, and collaborating with service providers to help them solve some problems.

If you’re new to working from home, why don’t you set up a virtual coffee break with your colleagues, just to catch up for half an hour a few times over the week. There’s plenty of software you can use that will connect people in different locations. I also use Slack channels, but I prefer video calls, because I have to stop what I’m doing and be present. 

Mindset

Thinking differently and being aware of our mindset is critical if we are to get through the next few months in one piece – not just as individuals, but as local communities and society as a whole. While it might feel difficult to keep positive when your trip to the supermarket resembles an apocalyptic scene, the trick is to remember that as humans we, and we alone, are in charge of us and our thoughts, and that no external power or event has any influence on us, unless we let it. 

It’s taken me decades to both realise this and fully practice it, but it is enabling me to observe what’s happening whilst not becoming emotionally involved with it all. If this experience helps other people to develop mastery over their internal chatter and realise their own power, then that has to be a good thing. 

Doing things differently

I do believe the circumstances now present an incredible opportunity to create change and do things differently and we should grab it with both hands. Look at how air pollution has cleared up in various areas across the world – will we really go back to how things were? Will companies really demand their workforce to be in the office, if working from home has been proven to be successful? As individuals, will we find new ways to entertain ourselves that don’t involve consuming, or will we be happy to quietly read a book and go for a walk? Will the random kind acts continue, or will we be doing the future equivalent of panic-buying toilet roll?

Of course we may still be at the very start of things and we don’t know how the next few months will pan out, but I reckon if we take the panic out of the situation, we could turn a disaster into a great opportunity that we can all benefit from. 

 

Round up: February 2020

Round up: February 2020

February has been another busy month, starting off with two extended bids and finishing with TEDxManchester, with multiple deadlines and a significant win in between. I also wrote a couple of project case studies on very interesting pieces of work. The weather has been pretty terrible and on days like that, I’m grateful to work from home, although I did pop to Edinburgh this month for a flying visit. 

Social value update

I’ve had some great conversations this month about social value and its place within bids. A lot of these have centred around the importance of developing a strategy that can be delivered and measuring the outcomes of this, so that there is compelling evidence to include in bids. Put the social value strategy in place before the bid comes to market though. 

Evidence, evidence, evidence

The importance of evidence in bids and is only increasing. I’m seeing bid questions developing into requesting information provided within the context of a previous experience. The formula up until now has been more about describing your process or approach and evidencing this with a short example. I am writing about the importance of evidence as this month’s #bidtips post, so keep your eyes peeled. It’s no longer enough to allude to a project or experience – you need to demonstrate specific, detailed experience with quantified outcomes and client benefits.

Red Review podcast

A recent Red Review podcast discusses what makes good executive summaries – Jeremy hits the nail on the head when he says it’s a summary of the offer (rather than the bid). So many bidders misinterpret the purpose of the executive summary, so if you want to brush up your exec sums, take a listen here.

#VirtualCoffeeBreaks

I’ve had some great conversations with all sorts of people over the past month, with more planned for March and April. It’s a great way to network, even if you work from home, like I do. Conversations include social value, construction marketing, freelancing, procurement frameworks, writing bid libraries and a potential collaboration on a product to help other freelance bid writers. If you’d like to join me for a #VirtualCoffeeBreak, I’d love to hear from you.  

Awards this month

There is a slew of awards submissions this month, then a break until June. 

National Recycling Awards – submission 6 March 

Constructing Excellence Awards Wales – submission extended to 16 March 

LABC Northern – submission extended to 6 March 

Northern Housing Awards – submission 5 March 

LABC West Midlands – submission 20 March 

LABC West of England – submission 20 March 

Blog posts this month 

I didn’t quite hit my target of writing one blog post a week, but I did kick off my guest blogging series with a great post, with some more really informative guest pieces planned. 

  • My January round-up got the year off to a flying start 
  • I wrote a whole blog on sources of public sector opportunities – this is definitely one to bookmark because it comes up in conversation a lot
  • And last, but definitely not least, my guest blogging series was kicked off by the wonderful Alice Hollis, who wrote about storytelling. There are some amazing contributors lined up for this series this year, so keep your eyes peeled.

Availability

I am available from April for knowledge management, bid content and research projects. So get in touch if you would like to work together.

And finally…

Although the weather has been mostly miserable, I did spend a lovely Sunday over in Matlock and Bakewell a few weeks ago and saw the first hints that spring is finally around the corner. I’ve also got a few daffodils in the garden. Spring is my favourite season of the year, and think that new green leaves and pink blossom is the best colour combination in the world.

 

Guest blog: Alice Hollis – Storytelling for beginners

Guest blog: Alice Hollis – Storytelling for beginners

Meet this month’s guest blogger 

Alice is a B2B copywriter who helps small businesses scale up to the next level by writing regular top of the funnel content, such as blogging, thought leadership articles, white papers, guides and case studies, to create the tribe  that ensures a constant drip feed of leads. 

She has 14 years’ experience and works across the Thames Valley.  

You can find Alice…

 

Once upon a time…

Stop! No, that’s all wrong. I’m not here to read you a bedtime story, or talk about how you can turn your company into some magical fairy-tale. Stories aren’t confined to the pages of children’s books, where Little Red Riding Hood was eaten by ‘grandma’. But our love of stories does stretch back to our childhood when bedtime stories were a wonderful treat.

Storytelling is a powerful technique that needs to be applied to your content if you want to better engage your customers. From blogging to case studies and tender documents, there’s a way to sprinkle a little storytelling magic into everything.

To attempt to tell you everything there is to know about storytelling technique would be foolish. Instead, I’m going to share four simple tips to get you started:

1. Change your mindset

The mistake I see a lot of companies make, is that they talk about themselves:

“Established in 2000, our team of consultants have a combined experience of 200 years. We also have a number of awards and accolades…blah, blah, blah”.

The uncomfortable truth is that your customer doesn’t care about you, they only care about themselves.

With storytelling technique, you have to imagine that there are always three characters – the hero, the villain and the guide:

  • The hero is always (and I mean ALWAYS) going to be your customer because they must emerge victorious at the end.
  • The villain represents the pain your hero faces, the root cause of their frustration that must be defeated.
  • And you are the guide, because once the hero takes your hand, you’ll help them overcome the evil so they can live happily ever after.

When you place the customer front and centre in your communications, the focus instantly changes so it’s all about them. And all those wonderful credentials you hold become the way in which you’re going to help your hero to win the day.

For example:

“When the new regulations come into effect it’s going to place huge pressure onto your customer success team to implement the systems and processes needed to demonstrate your compliance. We were recently recognised at the Constructing Excellence Awards for a project in which we helped one client to transform their operations by…”

By applying storytelling technique, you’re still able to talk about yourself, but it’s pitched from a different angle, so your clients actually want to listen.

2. Make them feel something

If your client doesn’t feel it, they’re not going to buy it, because people buy based on emotions and rationalise their decisions using reason and facts.

It’s why ending your communications with a call-to-action like “Sign up for a free assessment” rarely peaks someone’s interest. But “1,257 companies have already signed up to our free assessment” does. In the second example, you’ve made the person feel like they’re missing out, so it compels them to take action.

Take a moment to think about how the frustration from your ‘villain’ is making your hero feel:

  • Scared about the consequences of non-compliance?
  • Overwhelmed about where to start?
  • Excited about new opportunities?
  • Apathy because they’re focused on business-as-usual?

Throughout your copy, think about how you can hook into these emotions through the reader’s senses. Use your language in clever ways to help them visualise what you’re trying to tell them. It doesn’t have to be a flowery, over-descriptive narrative, keep it simple and direct.

For example:

“You’ve probably seen the headlines and heard a lot of stories in the media about the looming regulations, and it probably feels a bit overwhelming and like you’re unsure about where to start with ensuring your compliance.”

Applying storytelling technique, it forces you to think about inserting trigger words that resonate with the audience and hook them in.

3. Talk to them

What better way to talk to your audience than to literally talk to them? Inserting dialogue into your copy is a hugely powerful technique for helping the audience to zone in on something important, while demonstrating that you empathise with them.

Dialogue is also a great way of introducing an impartial observer into your story – someone who has no vested interest in the situation, but who you and your client can both relate to.

‘And who could this impartial observer be’ I hear you ask? Another client of course.

For example:

Last week I was speaking to the Operations Manager at BID Construction who was really anxious when he said, “If I don’t get this right it’s my head on the chopping block.”

By lightly sprinkling a few sentences of dialogue throughout your copy, you can talk to your clients in their terms and this starts to build their trust in you – because if you were able to help the Operations Manager at BID Construction, you can probably help them too.

4. Use data to strengthen your argument

Everybody has an opinion – but your opinion is instantly more credible if someone else thinks the same as you.

Your audience isn’t necessarily interested in all the facts and figures, and they’re definitely not going to be able to recall them if you were to set them a test afterwards. But, the data you share will start to align your brand with trustworthy figures in your industry, and add more weight to your argument.

For example:

“We know that organisations are always fearful of new regulations – when speaking to our clients they’re most worried about the huge potential fines for non-compliance. In a recent report from the Construction Industry Council, it claimed that 80% of organisations are so worried about the fines that they’re ‘burying their heads in the sand’.”

The other wonderful thing about using data is that it draws the reader’s eye. When we read, we tend to scan to find the useful/interesting/relevant information and one of the things we naturally seek are numbers. Pepper your copy with figures and it forces your audience to stop scanning and start engaging with your content.

And because everyone loves a beautiful bonus…

By choosing to tell a story, rather than regurgitate your carefully crafted credentials, your words will naturally come across as more personal and friendly.

It’s cliché, but people really do buy from people. So while the corporate façade is great for providing the reassurance that you’re going to do what you say you can do, ultimately, your customer wants to talk to a person. They want to find:

  • Someone they can trust to act in their best interests.
  • Someone they can call whenever they’re worried or have a question.
  • Someone they can hold to account if something goes wrong.
  • Someone they can celebrate with when they feel on top of the world.

They want you.

Applying storytelling technique, your personality and the things that really matter to your customer will be right there in black and white. Yes, it’s still professional but it’s personal and that’s what’s going to help you stand out in your market.

 

Learn more about storytelling technique…

I’m fascinated by storytelling technique and it’s something I’ve read about extensively and studied in great depth. If you want to find out more, I can highly recommend:

And of course, you’re always more than welcome to ask me anything…

Sources of public sector tendering opportunities

Sources of public sector tendering opportunities

I’ve been asked a lot about sources of public sector opportunities over the last couple of months. I have a few thoughts on this. It’s good to know what opportunities are in the marketplace, but it’s not necessarily good to bid for them. This was echoed by Andrew Turner of Interserve on Twitter a while back, that if we are waiting for opportunities to come to market via portals and other websites, it really should be an automatic no-bid, because it’s too late to influence the client and you’re already on the back foot. Building relationships in advance with clients is critical to winning bids, and as I mentioned in a previous bid post, taking a punt is a very expensive and rarely successful approach to winning tenders.

Putting all that aside however, there are a number of sources public sector tendering opportunities, some of which are free to access, and some are paid-for subscriptions. The benefit (in theory) of having a subscription to paid-for site, is that you should be made aware of all the relevant tenders in your particular field, with none slipping through the net (which I know can happen sometimes).

I have split this post into three sections:

  • free sources of tender information
  • procurement portals; and
  • paid-for sources of tender opportunities. 

Free sources of tender information 

Free sources of tendering information are TED and Contracts Finder.

TED

For larger value contracts, I would always recommend you start with TEDI have been using this site for years, but you need to be aware of the threshold limits, which are currently (due to be revised this year):

  • EUR 139 000 for most types of  services and supplies purchased by central government authorities
  • EUR 5 350 000 for construction contracts

Projects with a value below these will not be published on TED. You can find out more about TED here

Contracts Finder 

For smaller value contracts, have a look at Contracts Finder

Procurement portals 

There are myriad procurement portals, and I’d recommend signing up to the portals used by your public sector clients. Some key portals include: 

Scotland 

Public Contracts Scotland

Wales 

Sell2Wales

England

These are definitely worth looking up if you want to work regionally with public sector bodies across England. 

NEPO: North East England 

The Chest: North West England 

YORtender: Yorkshire and Humber 

Supplying the South West: South West England 

South East Business Portal: South East England

East Mids Tenders: East Midlands  

London Tenders: London area 

Social housing 

Housing Procurement Portal: Social housing providers across the UK (but not all of them)

Universities 

London Universities Procurement Consortium 

North Western Universities covering many higher education establishments in North Wales and the north west of England

Southern Universities Purchasing Consortium 

Bluelight  

Bluelight for police and fire rescue opportunities  

Construction and infrastructure 

CompeteFor

Defence

Ministry of Defence 

Healthcare 

NHS Supply Chain 

Other popular portals 

Procontract

BravoSolution

Delta e-Sourcing 

In-Tend 

Paid-for sources of tender opportunities

There are a wide range of providers in this space, and I list these in no particular order. I have no commercial relationship with any of the businesses and I’m not being paid to list them here.

Tenders Direct

Live Lead

Contracts Advance 

Tenders4U

Tracker Intelligence 

Supply 2 Government Tenders 

B2B Quote Tenders 

 

How do you search for public sector tendering opportunities? Do you track these projects before you bid them? Are there any ideas that I’ve missed? Get in touch and let me know.