“What do you actually do?” – it’s a question I am asked frequently, which is fair enough because to my knowledge, the role and title of bid writer has only really appeared over the past ten or so years.
As a construction bid writer, I work with subject matter experts and translate their technical excellence into readable copy that scores the highest marks in bid evaluations. Managing stakeholders, understanding technical information and articulating why we are the best team for the project is how I spend most of my working life. This post takes you through what I do and how I work with clients.
In part, my role has come about because of public sector procurement and the legislation that governs it. Changing requirements have driven transparency around public sector tendering, with responses that demonstrate added value across a whole range of business operations. Private-sector tendering has similar requirements, but generally it isn’t as complex or rule-based.
The evolution of the bid
I have been in work-winning roles in some form or other since the early noughties and in this time bids and proposals have evolved from being a lesson in process management, with good presentation and information management (we call this content curation now), to a sophisticated activity producing high-quality written responses with tailored client messaging about how we will solve their problems and where we have done this before. Bids are scored using evaluation criteria provided in the tender documents and I write to meet these criteria.
How I work with clients
I work with a wide range of clients and although they are diverse in the projects they work on, they are all focused on designing, building or engineering a building or piece of infrastructure.
My initial conversation with them is to find out what the bid is, whether they have undertaken a bid/no bid process, and what the outcome of this was. If they haven’t considered the points I set out in this post, I take them through the process to define whether it’s a worthwhile opportunity. I offer pragmatic bid advice – I want all of my clients to have the best chance of winning any project they pursue and if I feel bids aren’t quite right, I am candid.
Planning out the bid
If we are proceeding, I develop a bid plan with my client, identifying key milestones, deliverables and questions. The responsibility for leading or managing the bid will generally sit in-house with my client. Sometimes I will pick this up but I am usually engaged to support the writing process and this is where I can add the most value to the bid.
The critical part of my role is structuring the bid responses to facilitate the answering process. Prior to the planning meeting, I will analyse the bid documents beforehand, assessing the evaluation criteria and the language and structure of the questions to glean as much insight into what the procuring organisation is looking for.
I will then organise a bid planning meeting, to take place either face to face, on the phone or by Skype. During this meeting I will gain further intelligence into the procuring organisation based on relationships and prior working experience and identify examples of previous experience that we can use to illustrate the claims we are making in the bid. These clues allow me to build a picture of the procuring organisation’s challenges and how we will be able to help them. We will develop win themes based on this information.
I will also use this meeting to identify key pieces of evidence that provide the proof to what we are claiming. Evidence is written up during the next stage.
Developing the answers
The art of the bid writer is taking the response structures and working with technical experts such as engineers, architects, constructors, and a range of other consultants, to develop and organise content in the most readable, scorable way possible. The actual writing part takes time to write, review and refine.
My approach is to develop an initial framework or outline, with headings and bullet-points of the proposed content, while I wait for the technical detail. I consider writing responses like a piece of knitting or a painting – by continuing to keep filling in the blanks, eventually it will be complete. On big bids, this process can take a couple of weeks. On smaller bids, I recommend clients develop information libraries, so they have a bank of content to draw from.
I have found in the construction industry that it’s much simpler to sit with people and interview them to gather the content. By having conversations, I can ask questions that will provide the answers I need much quicker than sending someone off with a blank sheet of paper. Using the information gleaned from the interview, I can put together a draft which can be further developed.
I’m not sure what the future of bid writing will be – change is happening so fast that it’s hard to predict how things will evolve. I do believe there will be more automation – currently parts of the process are inefficient and technology would reduce the administrative burden of bidding for work. This would reduce some of the repetition of bids (very prevalent in-house), but I still foresee a requirement for quality content that is strategic in tone and bespoke to the project being bid.
How I can help you
If you need help structuring bid responses or creating a library of standard information, please give me a shout. Next month I will be telling you about how I win work as a freelance bid writer – another question I am asked a lot.