Ask the Expert

What makes a successful bid?

Question by: Ian

Hi Pippa

In your expert opinion what makes a successful bid the winner from the loser, as it seems doing the actual job on the ground seems to be almost void.

Regards Ian

Connor Construction


Hi Ian

I can understand your frustration – when you know you do a good job, how come the business of winning the work through the bidding process is so hard? In an industry where word of mouth is often the best way of getting the right person/service, why do you have to jump through so many hoops that don’t seem to focus on actual delivery but more on the paperwork?

Please don’t despair. There are ways to ensure that the job you do on the ground is taken to consideration, but that has to be done within a compliant bid. Your potential client may have upwards of 10 – 15 companies applying for the same piece of footpath, the same junction or roundabout, so they have to have an easy way of sifting through the submissions. Quite often, in my opinion, the process is a way of getting rid of as many contractors as possible before they get to the point of actually having to choose, as much as it is about ending up with the right one. I should point out that this response is based on successfully tendering for projects/frameworks, not on what is required to administer a contract – that paperwork is necessary to ensure safety, quality and sustainability

A few tips that should help you include:

Before you bid:

  • Build relationships with your clients before the tender documents arrive
  • Pick your targets through a ‘Bid/No Bid’ strategy that is focussed on your business plan – think quality not quantity and go for the contracts you really want and have a good chance of winning
  • Build up a library of good case studies – alongside scope, values, dates, and images, think about the issues your clients will want to know about – how have you added value? How did you deal with the public? Did you propose any innovative products or processes? How did you deal with challenges and unforeseen issues? This should be completed at the end of every scheme as part of your Post Project Review – preferably jointly with your client and supply chain.
  • A well-organised document library will make each process easier – certificates, policies, model answers, CVs and case studies
  • Ensure that you are clear what you do differently to your competitors that will give you the edge, your Unique Selling Points, ‘win themes’, your cherry on top of the cake. These themes should run through your submission like a politician’s strapline! Work out how you can add value to this particular client. What is it that they need? For example, can you offer innovative processes and materials, do you have enough flexible resource to cover emergency call outs within a certain timescale, can you offer local employment opportunities – the list is endless and will depend on your client, but make sure you know why you are the best and document those facts for use on bids by backing claims up with evidence

When you are bidding:

  • Make sure you understand what is being asked in the documents
  • Tick every box required, while keeping within page/word limits and other requirements including font size and allowable images
  • Structure each response in the same way as the question is asked
  • Back up your approach with evidence
  • Ask yourself ‘So what?’ If your response doesn’t answer that question, then change it. For example
    • You may say, “We will offer employment during the contract.” So what? Make it meaningful – “We will offer two full time employment opportunities during the first year of the framework, focussing on the long term unemployed within the county. We have have taken on three full time employees over the last two years who have now achieved NVQ Level2 and continue to be important members of our successful delivery team” This way you focus on their needs of local employment and the long-term unemployed, as well as providing a clear commitment, and have backed it up with evidence that you have done it successfully in the past
    • You may say “We’ve got 8 pavers”. So what? Make it meaningful – “Our well-maintained, wholly-owned fleet of eight pavers will be dedicated to this contract, ensuring resilience in times of peak workload or unforeseen events”

After bidding:

  • Gain feedback – whether you win or lose, this is really important to learn and improve, to focus on the information and processes you need to build to become a winner
  • Keep gathering evidence of great service delivery

My advice for small companies who are not used to bidding and need some guidance? Don’t sit and grumble – do something about it. It is worth paying for a week or two of someone’s time to help you, be that a bid consultant who can advise on strategy or a freelance contractor who can physically put your documents together – or someone who can do a bit of both. They can provide a strategic focus, talk you through the bid documents, show you how to score well, write the responses for you, review your submission or all of the above. If you have targetted a contract and KNOW you are the right company to deliver the works, it is worth spending the money to make sure you put a compliant, high-scoring tender response together that showcases your ability to deliver the works on the ground.