I work as a freelancer so don’t actually have an ‘industry’ – but I have developed some specialist knowledge working in other people’s industries for over 20 years.
In the early 2000s, the bulk of my bid work involved vegetation management on linear assets. This encompassed highways, rail, waterways and utilities – any assets you can measure in a straight line. I subsequently narrowed my focus solely to the utilities vegetation management and pylon tower painting.
These are disparate service activities with the same goal. Technically, they protect network resilience and the supply of electricity to homes and businesses across the UK. Practically, they keep kettles on (to keep bid teams saturated with coffee and tea!), TVs tuned in and WiFi working. Both service streams also require work in safety-critical environments.
The anthropologist Margaret Mead once said, “Always remember you are absolutely unique. Just like everyone else.”
The same is true for utilities bids and this sector’s bid professionals. Each tender is unique depending on where the affected routes are located (urban or rural, near roads or residences, etc) but all are just like each other (same service requirements, same processes and procedures). Successful utilities proposal professionals are unique in their ability to distil technical, safety-focused information but are just like bidding professionals in other industries, working through the bid lifecycle, etc. A thorough understanding of both aspects is essential to creating high scoring (winning!) proposals.
What else makes these service streams unique? They are:
- Highly specialised – So much so that fewer than five large companies (supported by subcontractors) deliver vegetation management and only three deliver tower painting across the UK
- Highly…high – Climbers carry out work at height. Tree canopies can exceed 30 metres and pylons range between 36 and 190 metres.
- Highly dangerous – Works are delivered under outage and non-outage conditions, i.e. the power is off (outage) or on (non-outage, and very much “touch me and you’re dead”)
- Weather dependent – Arboricultural and hedge maintenance can be affected by adverse weather (lightning, rain, etc) and painting works depend on constantly monitored conditions (dew point, wind speed, wind direction, temperature, etc)
- Heavily monitored – Legal standards apply and clients carry out quality checks at every stage of service delivery
- Prescriptive – Only certain types of machinery, PPE, paint, brushes, hand tools, etc are allowed. Environmental restrictions which are unique to each route (e.g. bird nesting season, wildlife habitats, Sites of Special Scientific Interest, Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty, etc) assessed and mitigated to avoid programme delays and potential financial penalties (for both client and contractor).
- Both client- and stakeholder-facing – Client liaison is fundamental to develop achievable work programmes, particularly under outage conditions. Stakeholder engagement is required for land access, identifying potential for damage or disruption (livestock in fields, loss of amenity), etc.
However, this is not a mature market in bidding terms. This multi-million pound industry is cyclical (every five to eight years) which makes business development and capture a very long game indeed. These services are not sales-led so understanding who the buyer is for each project (procurement or operations) is vital – as is an unwavering focus on protecting the client’s reputation. On a positive note, this type of work also encompasses cell and radio towers (which have similar requirements but different stakeholders) so growth opportunities do exist and may develop further as the renewables market expands towards the government’s Net Zero 2050 targets.
A specialist utilities bid professional must have an excellent bidding skillset and thorough knowledge of the utilities sector. There are a few ways to enhance your skills if this niche market interests you:
- Educate yourself. Research the work and the clients. Read and understand the industry standards against which you’ll have to demonstrate capability. Ask the operations team to take you out on a site visit. Watch how the work is done. Take notes on what you see. Take photos. Talk to staff. Find out what they know so you’ll know it too – and will be able to write about it.
- Be ready to be immersed. Positive and proactive interactions between bidding and operations are more critical in this environment than in many others because of their technical and specialised nature. These are not ‘everyday’ services and necessitate a symbiotic relationship to ensure the solution ticks every client box.
- Boost your SME engagement skills. Those who deliver technical services tend to have a technical mindset. In my experience, SMEs have a wealth of knowledge but don’t always realise there is more to bidding than just saying how things are done. Extracting features, benefits and evidence from the SME requires perseverance and great interrogation skills.
- Adapt your usual bid writing approach. You know the one – where you use well-chosen words to tell a fabulous story about developing synergies to deliver outstanding features and excellent benefits. In this industry, the client is only interested in two things: how the work will be delivered on time and on budget, and how you’ll do those things without killing anyone. Sounds dramatic, doesn’t it? But safety is paramount in this type of work and an accident (or worse, a fatality) can damage the client’s reputation beyond repair. So no fluff, no sales speak, no ‘touchy feely’ stuff.
APMP certifications, degrees or other formal qualifications will add value but are not specifically required in this market. What is most important is the ability to clearly and concisely condense the complex service solution into responses answering the client’s very technical questions (with some evidence-based support included if page/word limits allow).
Comedian and social commentator George Carlin once remarked, “Electricity is really just organised lightning.”
If you’re technically minded, you may be able to organise this type of bidding lightning into an electric, specialist bidding career.
This article was written by Lisa Readman.
Lisa is an expert Content Evaluator and APMP Certified Practitioner as well as a highly skilled proofreader and copy editor of bidding, sales and marketing documents. Her bid and proposals career began in 2003 and she established her own business (Readman Writes) after 15 years as a Bid Writer, Bid Coordinator and Knowledge Manager. Lisa combines her unique skillset and passion for words with a sensible, commercial approach to clear and concise written communication.