For many charities and social enterprises, bid writing for grants applications, contracts, or other types of funding is increasingly demanding in terms of time and resources. Some organisations are even developing bid writing “factories” where a team of bid writers search for, screen, select and answer bids in an industrialised manner. For those who are new to this process it can be confusing and frustrating – indeed, many smaller to mid-sized organisations are put off by the prospect of bidding for work because of bad experiences or lack of resources. Through our experience of bid writing, we have identified six common pitfalls to avoid to maximise your chances of winning a bid.
1. Not having an appropriate bid strategy
A comprehensive bid strategy should also cover what happens before writing the bid commences. A bid qualification process ensures that only relevant opportunities are selected. As tendering can be a demanding process, both in terms of time and efforts, it is best to only qualify in opportunities that you have a realistic chance of winning. It is also worth remembering that losing a bid does more than just affect your win rate – it can be demoralising for the bid team and could negatively impact the quality of future bids the team works on.
2. Lack of cohesion in bid team
A cohesive bid team requires an effective team leader. This person should have a robust understanding of the capabilities of the team – both on an individual and group level. The team leader should know where areas of strength and weakness lie and should divide, delegate, and manage sections of work accordingly. This is particularly important when bidding in a consortium. It is also important to bear in mind that, especially in smaller organisations, bid teams are comprised of staff extracted from operational roles and who do not specialise in bid writing. These team members may lack bid skills or knowledge of particular bid techniques, and so it is essential that the team leader accounts for this in both the strategy and work plan.
3. Not treating the bid as unique
A common piece of feedback from commissioning organisations is that bid teams often complete an inflexible bid template or use a process that does not account for the individuality of the commissioning organisation. Rather than using a ‘one-size-fits-all’ solution, it is essential that bid teams treat each bid as unique. This involves doing some background research into the commissioning organisation and ensuring that your approach is tailored to their needs.
A successful bid will not only assess and understand the commissioner’s needs, but will also identify which drivers are affecting those needs. From this stage, through until delivering the work, everything a service delivery organisation does needs to be aligned to the needs of the commissioning organisation. Ensure that your Value Proposition – how you add value and differentiate yourself from other providers – is easy to understand and featured in a prominent section of the bid.
4. Weak communication
Communication is at the heart of the bid writing process. Your articulation of what your organisation can offer should be clear and should directly answer the question that is being asked. If you find yourself having to make up an answer or deceive the final recipient, it may be a sign that this is not a relevant bid for you. In this vein, ensure that written sections are easy to understand for an outsider, and that graphs, diagrams, and appendices are being used properly and to maximum effect – an irrelevant graph, although it might be impressive, will leave a reader more confused than illuminated.
Communication also includes your engagement with the commissioning organisation before you begin work on a tender document. It is important to make the most of the opportunity to ask questions relating to the bid before it goes live. Where possible, a proactive approach to relationship management with key officers in the commissioning organisation is a very effective way of understanding what the organisation is looking for in a service provider.
5. Lack of competitor focus
One truth that may be uncomfortable to face when writing a bid is that your organisation will be in direct competition with other able service providers. The best way to disarm the threat that competitors pose is to do a thorough competitor analysis to understand their strengths, weaknesses, value proposition, thematic and geographical areas of focus, etc. A comprehensive understanding of what your competitors are doing will identify the areas in your service provision that you can use to your advantage and may help tip the balance in your favour. This also means, however, being flexible to commissioner’s needs so that you do not exclude yourself from a piece of work for not being as adaptable as a competitor.
6. Poor pricing strategy
Another uncomfortable truth is that pricing plays a huge part in the success of a bid. As opposed to something that happens at the end of a tender, when all the associated costs are totalled and put in a table, your pricing strategy needs to drive the rest of your bid. Bid teams must understand and implement pricing strategies (e.g., ‘pricing to win’, ‘winning by value’) that complement their value proposition and make their complete bid an appealing proposition for the commissioning organisation. Although many service providers are specialists in their particular area and assume that the quality of their work will win them the bid, a pricing strategy must be competitive in a landscape where funds are scarce. This does not necessarily mean being the lowest bidder, but has more to do with understanding the value delivered and the competitor landscape.