Chris Martin shares the three steps you should follow to win your next tender.
Winning work is hard. The problem is that it’s always easier for someone not to give you some work than it is for them to employ you, and everyone wants an easy life. As budgets in every sector are reduced it’s becoming even harder to persuade them. But persuade them we must, otherwise how will we afford our majestic festival hats for this year’s Wordstock?
Receiving a ‘Request for Proposal’ can take us right back to the classroom, with a set of questions on our desk, a ticking clock overhead, and a pervading sense of dread born of the fact your future is at least partly tied up in how you reply to this pile of paper. You can practically taste the chewing gum and smell the excess hair product.
Regardless of whether it’s a formal public sector tender, or a quick ‘send me a proposal’ email from a prospective client, following these three steps will help you put together a proposal which will give you the best possible chance of being able to afford that harlequin jester’s hat this year…
1. Read, then read some more. First, and most obvious to 26ers, is making sure you REALLY read what they have asked you for. The language they use in the stuff they send you might betray what they were really thinking when they wrote it. Their choice of words could show you whether they think it’s a risky idea, and whether they want a ‘hands off’ contractor, or if they plan on sitting looking over your shoulder all day (everyone’s favourite kind of client).
But that’s not enough reading. There’s a whole world beyond this proposal in which your potential client is playing around. Take the time to read their recent press to understand what initiatives they have going on, and read whatever policies and reports you can get your hands on. Use this to build up a picture of a few ideas/needs that are important to that business. Let’s use some jargon and call them ‘win themes’. Decide which of these most closely relate to the work you’ll be doing with them, and work out what you can do which will help to support those ideas.
2. Write about those ideas. You now know what your potential client wants to hear, and how they write, so you can begin writing your proposal (finally). Your understanding of those themes mean you’re not just going to tell them what you offer; you can tell them how your offering aligns to their broader business needs.
So write away, and make sure you weave those themes into your document. If they’ve sent you a formal RFP with a set of questions, then you need to work out which themes are relevant to each question. Then it’s just a case of working out how you can phrase your answers to target and emphasise that theme and your ability to satisfy it, with plenty of examples of doing that type of work before. If there’s no formal structure, build up your proposal around those ideas, and explain why you know they’re important to the client.
3. Ask a friend (or enemy*) for feedback. We all know that good editing is key to good writing, and proposals are no different. Once you’re finished, you need to give your document to someone else to mark. That’s right, it’s school time again, and your friend gets to play teacher.
Public sector bids usually tell you in the document how they’re going to score your answers. Open proposals don’t, but luckily you have a set of themes which you know that buyer wants to hear about. So give this to your impartial friend (ideally not someone from your own team, as they stand no chance of being objective), and have them score your work. They’ll be able to tell you whether you’ve explained yourself well enough for a potentially un-informed evaluator, and they will also see whether your evidence justifies what you say you’ll do.
And that’s it. You’ve written a proposal which is crafted to your client, you’ve had the chance to see how you would have scored, and hopefully you’ve improved it.
You’ve practically banked the cheque. Now to ebay to buy some very fetching headwear…
* You’ll probably get a more critical review from an enemy. However they might keep hold of it until after the deadline, or even worse hyperlink some of your content to dodgy websites. Best be careful.
Chris Martin is a Bid Manager at Tenders-UK, and spends his days listening to the clock tick and cursing the man who invented minutes.