“A stitch in time saves nine” they say. For me that holds especially true for bids and proposals. So much time in the bid process is taken up by administrative tasks in the beginning and should be given over to review towards the end, that the actual writing should be one of the easy parts. At least if you have a working bid content library.
If you have one of those, the bid content library thing, you should be able to save an enormous amount of time building a real first draft document. Not one of those ones where half the RAG status on the spreadsheet is red or maybe, at a push, amber. A real first draft should have chunks of text in place that can be tailored and tweaked, that can be updated, or added to, or deleted from. It shouldn’t be a couple of bullet points and a note to contact Joe in Project Management, because there is nothing in the last several bids that looks remotely OK to put in as a starting block.
A comprehensive first draft makes tailoring better and easier and allows you to weave in golden threads, hot buttons, win themes or anything else you need to because the basis is solid. When I talk about a solid basis, I mean exactly that – a stand-alone piece (or pieces) of text that answers, ”How do you deliver/ provide/address Project Management?” (as an example) or whatever other standard sort of questions come up. I often hear that each bid is bespoke, and I do agree – but in theory all organisations have a standard way, particular to their business, of providing their products and services. While these may be tailored to focus on specific items to meet a customer’s bespoke requirements, in general I’d be worried if you ran each implementation project differently or approached account management in another way for each client. Perhaps you have varying service levels – but that’s exactly it – they are service levels and each is provided a certain way.
If this is the case – that there are repeatable processes and workflows that are followed for everything your organisation does – then it’s a hop, skip and a jump to building a bid content library. You will save time and effort in the long run by spending the right time in the short run. I believe passionately in the abilities of each organisation’s specialists to explain what they do and how they do it. They may not be the best writers, but they don’t need to be. They need to be the best project managers, engineers, print-setters, train designers, lawyers or whatever it is that is their speciality. Our speciality as bid writers is creating bid responses using their knowledge.
So pick that one section of a response that eludes you every time (e.g. about how you deliver/provide/manufacture something) – the section that takes hours of trawling through every bid written to extract the key elements (and then worry you’ve missed something). Make an appointment with the Subject Matter Expert (SME) or Knowledge Owner (KO) who is responsible for that topic in your organisation and interview them. Find out what they do, how they do it, why they do it and what the benefits are to the end customer and your organisation. Take notes, write up a ‘Guide to XYZ’ in sections that can be used individually in bids, get them to review it and approve it, share it with your team and see the stress melt away the next time that topic needs to be addressed – you have a first draft, now all you need to do is tweak it! (And do the same with the next topic and the next and the next!)
Then, don’t forget to review it regularly with the SME/KO to make sure any new regulations or processes are included and it’s still up-to-date. You’ll also find they appreciate being able to share their expertise without the stress of having to write countless answers – or write at all, as writing is not everyone’s strong suit.
This article was written by Kathryn Potter.
Kathryn’s experience in bid writing covers sectors as varied as IT outsourcing to financial services, security services to reprographics and construction and rail. She sees content as the cornerstone of proposal development and understands that no matter what, it needs to be relevant and up-to-date.