Writing winning bid proposals

CalculatorAs copywriters, we are in a great position when it comes to writing winning bid proposals.

The skills we use on a daily basis to write compelling copy often means we have the edge when it comes to writing successful bids.

This blog post lists five key tips for writing winning bid proposals – whether you’ve been commissioned to write one by a client, or are submitting one of your own with the aim of securing a copywriting contract. They are based not just on my experience of writing bids, but also on the many years I have spent on the opposite side of the desk, evaluating bid submissions for buyers.

Read the instructions

Read the instructions that come with your tender pack and then follow them. We are all used to working to a brief from the client, in bid writing sticking to that brief is crucial. Tendering organisations have to show they evaluate all their bid submissions equally; they do this by following procurement rules.

If you break these rules then your bid may be deemed non-compliant and rejected, meaning all your hard work will have been for nothing.

Shredded paperOrganisations will often ask you to read other documents alongside your application too – ignore these at your peril. In a recent high value tender for training services, all eight bid submissions were rejected.

The instructions told bidders to read the company’s business plan before submitting their bid; none of them did.

The plan said the buyer was dedicated to improving access to engineering skills for young people, so the eight carefully crafted bids offering everything from catering skills to lifestyle coaching were not much use to anyone!

Answer the question

Answer the questions you are asked in the tender document not the ones you hoped would be asked – I cannot stress this enough. A tender document usually consists of a series of questions designed by the buyer to elicit the information that is important to them.

Do not be tempted to shoehorn your preferred answer in to the box instead. Buyers are looking for reassurance that you can deliver what they want. Reading the questions carefully will also give you a good insight in to the buyer’s mind. They will tell you where the buyer’s focus is, and more importantly, what is worrying them most; you can then target this in your answers.

Make sure too that you check the weighting given to each question, it will show you where you need to direct most of your effort.

Keep your bid proposal focused

Keep your bid proposal focused on the bidding organisation and not on your product or service. Like all good copywriters, you need to keep your customer in mind at all times. It is what Scott Keyser calls being ‘buyer-centric’ rather than ‘bidder-centric’.

I recently worked with a charity who were not having much success attracting new funding and wanted advice on how to improve their win rate. I suggested when writing their bids they needed to think less about what the funding organisation could do for them and more about what they could do for the funding organisation.

Today’s market is a crowded one; organisations offering funding often receive hundreds of competing bid submissions. Your bid needs to stand out from the rest by highlighting the benefits you offer the funder. How good a fit is your client with the buyer?  Will your client be able to publicise the funder widely enough? Will your client be able to enhance the funder’s reputation?

Keep it simple

FoldersThis is where as copywriters we have the edge; we know how to write accurate and engaging prose.  The need for plain English does not change just because you are writing a technical document.

Most bid evaluators don’t get the luxury of time to study your bid in depth. Being thrown 40 bid proposals on a Friday night and told to read them by Monday is soul destroying, as is reading the same clichéd phrases 40 times.

Avoid using jargon too, evaluators often assume you do not have a substantial product to offer if your bid is full of meaningless padding.

Instead, write a great executive summary that is concise and to the point. Evaluators are far more likely to read this and then decide whether your bid is worth reading in full. It is your chance to show you are credible from the start. Briefly spell out the important things here like your legal status and of course your financial position. Show the evaluator they can trust you.

Getting the right tone of voice

These days your bid proposal can be evaluated by a wide range of stakeholders and not just the procurement specialists. More and more organisations are asking members of the public to sit on tender evaluation panels.

In a recent bid we had a panel of young people who evaluated one of the questions in the tender. This was made clear in the instructions, (back to point one here – make sure you read them), but only one provider submitted an answer that was written for the target audience. The rest submitted lengthy answers filled with jargon and statistics that were hard going for anyone to read. One response in particular so angered the young people evaluating it that they refused to consider the submission any further and the bid was rejected.

You are all great copywriters, which means you can write winning bid proposals too. Keep the above in mind and for anything else I recommend reading Winner Takes All by Scott Keyser – a fantastic starting point if you want to further your bid-writing career.

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