You Couldn’t Make It Up!

Or rather, you shouldn’t.

Yes folks, it’s that time again, where I come along to berate the very clients I rely on for my livelihood about what they should and shouldn’t expect from a bid writer. I’m aware that this could be counter-productive but feel that, much like my previous post about experience, it’s an important subject that deserves a bit of examination and that – ultimately – will help you get the best out of your bid writer.

I’ve noticed recently that there’s been an increase in requests to ‘just make something up’. Much of my role as a bid writer is one of guidance – many clients just don’t have the experience or time to write a full bid themselves and I appreciate that. Bid writers are here to give you the benefit of our experience and help you submit the best possible response you can.

However, ‘making stuff up’ is something that really should only be considered for the most simplistic aspects of a bid and in fact, if we’re actually following the rules, not at all. But more on that later.

I don’t know what you did last summer

Most bid writers are more than happy to take minimal information from a client in answer to a tender question, from which they can construct a workable and realistic narrative that explains the who, what, how, why, where and when of the service being tendered for. In these circumstances, our bid writing experience and skills are of great value. We can put together a pretty good draft response using those initial facts and figures and then come back to you for any further information needed or for clarity on an issue.

But without those nuggets of factual information, we’re simply constructing a fairy tale on your behalf.

I can’t speak for all other bid writers, only for myself, but I can tell you that that one sentence: “Can you just make something up?” makes my heart sink. It makes me deeply uncomfortable and from that point on, I know I’m winging it – I know I’m not going to put together the best bid I can for my client, because I’m no longer writing about my client. I’m making up a generic set of responses that may tick all the boxes but that have no substance, no evidence to back them up and no basis in the reality of who my client is and how they work. I may as well be writing a template bid response that could apply to any company in that sector or industry and I have absolutely no way of tailoring the bid to highlight my client’s actual experience, knowledge, standing in their market, aims, values and processes etc.

From the client’s perspective: At this point, you’re now paying for a service that’s not going to be anywhere near as good as promised. You will feel ‘done’ too. Your bid may not win – because it’s too generic – and you will wonder why you spent your company’s hard earned cash on a limp and fuzzy bid response.

From the tendering authority’s perspective: They’re not dumb. They can spot a generic response a mile away. There’s a reason they asked all those terribly specific questions about WHO will make up the delivery team, WHAT your processes are, HOW you will deliver the service, WHY your company is the best bidder. And so on. They need to know what makes you different from the competition and they need to know that the way you do things will bring about the best value for money for them.

Time is short and responding to a tender is stressful and it can make sense to out-source as much of it as possible to an experienced professional. I agree (but then, I would).

Look at it A N Other way:

A potential customer contacts A N Other, builders Ltd. The customer says he would like an extension built on his house and, as he is not that great at even simple DIY himself, he feels the sensible option is to get a professional in to do the work.

“Super”, says Mr Other, “I will come over and have a look and see what we can do. In the meantime, have a think about what kind of extension you would like, what it will be used for and how big it needs to be. What kind of style you’d like and so on.”

Come the day, Mr Other arrives at the customer’s house. Tea is made, biscuits are offered and Mr Other inspects the customer’s home.

“So” says Mr Other “What are we looking at then? A conservatory? Perhaps a loft conversion? Or maybe a kitchen extension?”

“Oh!” says the customer “I thought you’d deal with all that side of things”

“Well,” Mr Other replies, clasping his mug so tightly that the handle starts to break away “Perhaps we could narrow it down a bit. Do you need more space upstairs or downstairs? Is it for a new baby? A utility room? I notice you have a car but nowhere to park it – a garage? Or do you need more space for your home belly dancing instruction DVD business? Do you know when you would like it completed by?” Mr Other looks pleadingly at the customer as the once welcome ginger nut crumbles into ashes in his mouth “It’s just that I’ll probably have to put in for planning permission and the planners will need to know where it’s going, how big it is and what it’s for, you see.”

“I see. But” Says the customer “I dunno. Can’t you just make something up?

Ok, the example above is not that much like writing a bid but the principle’s the same. Mr Other is going to struggle to build anything of use or note, the customer is probably not going to be happy about whatever does get built and the planning department are going to refuse it anyway because it’s nonsense.

When you ask your bid writer to ‘just make something up’, you may as well be throwing your money away. I’m going to struggle to write anything of substance, you’re going to think it’s a weak and woolly response and the tendering authority are going to reject it because it doesn’t answer their questions.

The exception to the rule (of course)

There are some circumstances where making it up is partially ok – for instance, if you are asked for a business continuity plan or a specific policy and you don’t already have one (many micro companies don’t and, in fact, are not legally obligated to maintain certain policies) – your bid writer can help you with these, by tailoring a suitable, industry approved template to your needs, or writing one from scratch. Even so, you will need to stand by that policy at some point, so it’s important that what we declare in those documents is truthful and accurate.

As an example, the business continuity plan: This document explains how you will get your business up and running in the event of a disaster, fire, flood, theft, loss of a key staff member etc. It needs to include how your data is stored and how you’ll get it back, where you’ll run the business from if your office is out of action and what timescales will likely be involved before you’re back to 100% capacity. If you don’t already have a plan like this, I can write one for you but you will need to confirm that all the things we state are true. It’s no good me saying that you back up all your customer data through an online secure service every Wednesday if you don’t – if something does go wrong, not only will you have lost your data but it’s possible you might lose the contract too, if they find out you were bluffing.

We can be up-front about it and state that this is a new plan and that it is currently in testing phase – the tendering authority might check up to see how far you’ve got with it but it’s still better than saying you don’t have one at all. Also, you’ve then got that plan in place for the next bid.

That’s all she wrote

Policies aside, the point of hiring a bid writer is – beyond all else – to prove that you know what you’re doing and show that you do it better than anyone else. As bid writers, it’s our job to draw out and present the facts about your company that will raise you above your competitors. But we do need to know those facts to be able to do that.

In conclusion then, it’s better to think of your bid writer as a ‘ghost writer’; someone who takes your knowledge and plans for the project and writes about it in a way that is appealing to the tendering authority and that answers all their questions as well as possible.

Otherwise, your bid writer is effectively writing fiction in your name – just fiction that’s never going to make it onto Richard & Judy’s top 50 summer reads.

 

Agree? Disagree? Let me know your thoughts in the comments

– Lyndsey

 

 

 

 

4 thoughts on “You Couldn’t Make It Up!

  1. So true it hurts!
    I sometimes draw a recipe analogy for clients that are unwilling / unable to give me the basic information required.
    You want a hot chilli? Then gimme the damn jalapeños!

    Great article.

  2. I most definately feel your pain, working in the bid team for a national safety distributor the difference between input from a sales force can be remarkable.
    Some members of the company understand that you get out of the bid team exactly what you put into it. I can write generic prose all day but I do not have the relationship with the customer to know their exact desires from the process e.g. what Sainsbury’s want from this process compared to Morrisons or Tesco etc.

    I can only provide this information from a generic understanding of what customers within the retail and distribution centre are likely to want but each one will have slightly different requirements or expectations from a supplier. It’s almost needless to comment as to what level of involvement brings about the greatest levels of success.

  3. Hi Kris

    Absolutely! I always tell my clients ‘you know your business best’ and try to help them understand that the contracting organisation is looking not just for the best value for money in terms of cost but also in terms of the best response to the issue at hand, through the delivery of the service itself. Whether I’m writing for a micro-business or a huge corporate beast, I always look for the details that will make them stand out from the rest – their understanding of that particular organisation’s needs, rather than a ‘one size fits all’ answer – getting those details though is the tricky bit!

    Once I’ve been working with a particular client for a while and I understand how they work, I can take an educated guess at a lot of it (also true when working in-house in a bid team) and put together a response that’s 80-90% there, through the knowledge I’ve built up over time. Even then though, I still feel it’s vital to get the specifics for that last 10-20%; that’s the bit that shows that the bidder knows what they’re doing and understands the issues and it’s the bit that makes all the difference to the assessors. It’s also the bit that I will never learn on my own, as I’m not out there doing what they do day in day out and getting to know their customers. Only they can answer that!

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