Bid Writing

As they used to, apparently, say in Vietnam, if you have to ask what it is then you weren’t there. I should probably add, “Maaaaaan” at this point, not least because it’s about the only mildly amusing thing in what’s the more and more serious business of bid writing. I’ve done it for about twenty years.

More and more, it’s the only way for any business to get any work doing pretty much anything. Want to provide beds for hospital patients to lie on? You’ll have to bid for it. Ambulances to get people to hospital? You’d better know how to bid for that too.

It’s about writing. You know, even if you want to pretend otherwise, that another business can probably do pretty much the same things as you. You might do them a bit cheaper, or they might, or you might do something a bit differently, but in an increasingly commoditised world and one where buyers who get too publicly cosy with their suppliers sometimes find they aren’t buyers anymore unless things can be gently arranged, then your business’s entire Unique Sales Proposition needs to be down on paper and examined in the hard, cold light that comes from not doing business over lunch on a sunny Soho afternoon after two gin and tonics to kick off and a bottle of red with the food.

In other words, everything that is going to make the buyer choose you or your company is going to have to be down on paper. Not even joined-up writing.

A lot of bid writing is cut and paste stuff, or it is if anyone in your organisation has ever taken the trouble to put together a bid library. Things like the resource you have, the health and safety provisions you have in place, the standard stuff that has to be in a lot of bids that doesn’t require much effort if someone’s actually taken the effort beforehand. I once had to promise, in writing, that I didn’t use three different kinds of asbestos in producing any part of a written report. That one was for the MoD. We kept that contract, the biggest market research contract ever awarded by the Admiralty for nearly five years. And never used asbestos once, oddly enough.

What makes the difference is how you tell the story. Once upon a time there really was a big bad wolf and if there isn’t now then you have to keep the reader interested enough to find out why.

I used to think you’d have to be an expert in whatever industry it was to do the job properly, but given that we won bids and contracts in industries from nit shampoo to football pools to maritime satellites to High Street computer magazine research I don’t believe that anymore, however commoditised and transactional recruitment agencies sometimes like to package things they don’t understand.

What am I bid?

You have to be able to write. And that, dear reader, that’s the hard thing. I’ve done it for the NHS, in mental health, on drug and alcohol projects, satellite communications, defence (well yes, I could give you more details, but then I’d have to kill you), publishing, education, transport, holidays and social research, taking technical detail and presenting it in a way people can understand. Engagingly. Compellingly. If two ‘lys’ doesn’t break all the rules, which it probably does. But it made you read it. And that’s really what it’s all about.

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