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Bid writing – Structure & Narrative Part 2 – Telling Your Story

In part 1, I talked about how structure defines what information you are going to include for each answer and how having a good structure in place will give you the opportunity to develop a compelling narrative without missing a thing.

Analogy time again. Narrative is: render, windows and roof slates; blueberries and whipped cream; mascara, lip gloss and kohl; chuck steak, tomatoes and beans.

Narrative is what you add to the underlying structure to make your answer your answer. It’s how you demonstrate that not only can you meet the specification but that the way you will meet it will provide great benefits to the contracting organisation. Whether that’s through telling them how you will bring your experience to bear on the contract, how you will adapt and evolve your processes to suit their needs or why your unique ways of doing things will be more cost- and time-efficient (or all of the above), narrative is where you transform dry facts into a coherent story.

Choosing your narrative

So what’s your story? Assuming you can do or provide all of the things the specification asks for, what makes your business different and why should the contracting organisation care?

Deciding the angle to approach both the entire bid and each answer from is less time consuming than developing your structure but it’s not necessarily easy.

You may hear people talk about ‘bid themes or ‘win themes’ – certainly if you talk to more than a few bid writers – and, while they certainly have their place, they’re not without issues. I wrote a (very) short post on the pros and cons of bid themes here. In brief though, bid themes can be as restrictive as they are useful and should probably be thought of as guidance rather than dogma.

The two most obvious ways to work out the angle your narrative should take are:

What the contracting organisation wants

The specification, background, scoring and weighting and even the way the questions are worded can give you a good insight into what the contracting organisation deems important. For instance, if there is a distinct emphasis on value for money, you could build your narrative around how your products, services and processes can give them more for less. Value for money doesn’t always mean lowest cost; if your systems are particularly efficient and can reduce the burden on the contracting organisation in some way, that equates to value for money just as a high quality product for a low cost does.

What your business offers that other businesses don’t

Are you specialists, where your competitors are generalists? Do you have experience with other, very similar organisations that you could use to demonstrate your understanding of the contracting organisation’s more complex needs? Are you local, employing only local people and using a local supply chain of independent suppliers? Are you particularly environmentally friendly?

Anything that sets you apart from everyone else can be used to demonstrate that you understand the contracting organisation’s needs and have carefully considered how best to meet them.

Building your narrative

Using a small section of the example given in Part 1, you can see how the narrative can be built into something coherent and informative:

  • Overall approach
    • Why have you chosen this approach?
    • How do each of your departments work together to meet or exceed the contract requirements?
    • What benefits or added value does this approach bring to the contract?

Let’s say that the contracting organisation is a Housing Association seeking a supplier to carry out disabled adaptations within their residents’ homes and that you’ve concluded that what the organisation wants, more than anything, is value for money and good public relations. Because your company has worked with several similar housing associations in the past, you already know where you can be more efficient than your competitors and you already have training and processes in place so that your staff deal with the public safely and courteously.

For example:

Rationale for our approach

We have more than 17 years’ experience working with housing associations within the region, and we are therefore very well versed in the challenges housing associations face when undertaking refurbishment in general but particularly when carrying out disabled adaptations within residents’ homes.

We understand the need for efficiency; installing new equipment to a high standard while minimising the disruption to the householder and their family is a key priority. Our site supervisors monitor progress daily and quality check all work, recording performance in real time via mobile tablet.

We also understand the need for sensitivity and flexibility; our staff undertake formal training in customer service and working around vulnerable people and work to a code of conduct that includes clear processes for responding to resident enquiries, concerns or complaints.

Working together to meet and exceed contract requirements

Our account management team work closely with our site teams to ensure that every aspect of the contract specifications are understood and carried out to a high standard, exceeding KPIs wherever possible. We have stringent quality and performance measuring and monitoring processes in place and actively seek ways to improve our service delivery. This includes regular update meetings between account managers and site supervisors so that any potential issues can be raised and resolved swiftly and any areas for improvement can be noted and actions agreed and implemented.

We also take time to develop close working relationships with each housing association representative, encouraging and providing opportunities for both informal and formal feedback from the housing association and from their residents, which we use to further improve our service delivery.

Benefits of our approach

This proactive approach ensures that housing associations receive the highest quality service at all times. Our overall adherence to KPIs on contracts of this type stands at 98%. This approach also significantly reduces the administrative burden on the housing association which delivers real value for money over the duration of the contract.

Weaving

On any of those points above, you could go into much more detail right there and then, for example, detailing exactly what training your staff undertake or the ways you provide those feedback opportunities to residents.

However, in this example, you will have already addressed some of the specifics of your approach under their own headline topics within the same question, allowing you to use ‘overall approach’ as a neat summary that reiterates your earlier key points.

In other bids, the place for that detailed information might be within your answers to other questions, for instance, if there’s a question specifically about staff training, add in the list of courses, course content outlines and (if you can) attach a training matrix as an appendix. You should still include some detail about why your staff undertake these courses and how that benefits the contracting organisation if you can.

Having nailed your structure before you started your narrative, you will be able to easily see which questions need detail and which may be better with overviews and summaries.

Reinforcement not repetition

Inevitably, there will be similar information in more than one area but if you can think of it as ‘reinforcement of your narrative’ rather than simply ‘repetition’, you’ll lose a lot less sleep. In fact, a certain amount of reinforcement is crucial. If you’re hanging your hat on one or two underlying strands – what they want and what you offer – then weaving both of those throughout your entire bid is only going to make your bid stronger.

Word limits and finishing touches

With your narrative lovingly weaved around your structure, your response will now be in pretty good shape. It’s highly likely that you are well over the word limit by now though, at least on certain questions, so it’s a good time to start condensing, bullet pointing, taking out any waffle (‘in order to’ = ‘to’, ‘as a company we’ = ‘we’) and generally just sharpening it up a bit. My series on word limits will help you with this stage.

Your finishing touches are truly the icing on the cake. Have a break, then come back to your bid and give it another read through. Better still, have someone else read it through for you. Are there any statements that could be stronger or more confident? Is there anything in there that wouldn’t be clear and obvious to someone outside of your business? Is the information on what you offer and what the contracting organisation needs nicely balanced?

If you missed Part 1

Structure & Narrative Part 1 – The Foundations of a Great Tender Response

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If you’d like to know more about how to write compelling, compliant content for your tenders, contact me today.

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