I didn’t set out to be a bid professional. At school, I wanted to be a writer – preferably the next Douglas Adams.
What I actually did was to train, qualify and graduate as a research chemist with my horizons set firmly on working on a cure for cancer (as you do when you’re in your early 20s). Progressing ever upward in academia, I came to an abrupt halt in my 30s when – freshly printed PhD certificate in hand – I realised there was actually nowhere for me to go. I was over-qualified, too specialised and had two small children to cluck over.
The university I worked for at the time nudged me away from research and into setting up a bidding and tendering function for them as part of their business outreach mission. I was unwilling, possibly resentful, at first but the Research Director sweet-talked me into it. I had been specially selected, he claimed, because a) I learned quickly, b) could spell and c) had nice handwriting. The latter was important at the time because bid submissions were all handwritten.
So, I came into the profession 25 years ago knowing absolutely nothing about bidding and with little subject matter knowledge outside of sciences.
Fast forward a quarter of a century (eeeeek!) and here I am running my own successful consultancy practice focusing on bids and tenders. There was a convoluted route to get here that involved working as a bid specialist in private and public sector organisations, winning business, and hoovering up knowledge and information along the way. (I won’t bore you with my CV here. Connect with me on LinkedIn maybe?)
The point is that being successful in the world of bids and tenders isn’t all about subject matter knowledge – that’s what businesses have subject matter experts (SMEs) for. I write and manage bids in rail, construction, architecture, IT, nuclear decommissioning, design….and I’m no expert in any of them. I never claim to be, but I’m never afraid to ask questions.
While having working knowledge of an industry can be helpful, subject matter knowledge can work against you if it’s not absolutely up to date. I’ve found it’s safest to let the SMEs tell me the answers and I’ll fill the gaps by asking them questions.
In the rapidly changing bid landscape, I have to learn new information every single day and, yes, it can be exhausting. To write a successful answer, for example, I must deconstruct complex technical information and simplify it so that other people can understand it and grasp the value. I ask questions until I understand; I research and read relevant subject matter. I make friends with Google and ChatGPT when I don’t understand a technical phrase. My favourite question is “So what?” and I ask it dozens of times a week when I’m interviewing SMEs and trying to get them to articulate the value of their solution. Sure, they understand the value that [insert “industry-specific technical jargon” here] brings, but will the person scoring the bid understand it?
If you’re thinking about coming into the world of bidding and tendering, I don’t think you necessarily need industry-specific knowledge, but there are some things that will certainly assist you:
- The ability to understand and answer the bid questions is fundamental
- Information from Shipley, PRINCE2 and APMP is helpful
- Document and version management skills are valuable
- The ability to talk to people, understand concepts and simplify complexity is priceless
For me, bid success isn’t knowing the answers – it’s being able to ask the right people the right questions.
That’s it really. Other than saying although Terry Pratchett beat me to being the next Tolkien, I do get the opportunity to author works of creative fiction on a daily basis…
This article was written by Dr Karen Croshaw.
Karen has been involved in bidding and tendering for nearly 25 years, firstly with universities and training providers, then in large private sector organisations. She now runs her own successful freelance bid consultancy. Her consulting career spans public and private sector bids including government frameworks, nuclear, rail, road, construction, digital, defence, healthcare and skills. She has strong Middle East bid/project delivery experience gained by living and working in the UEA, Saudi Arabia and Oman, where she also trained and qualified as a scuba instructor.