With over 20 years’ experience of leading bids and bid teams for several tier 1 and 2 contractors, here are 10 of my tips to improving your bids and winning more profitable work:

Manage the bid properly

You must have an effective ‘bid manager’ – either a permanent role perhaps in the case of larger organisations, or for SMEs, a current senior member of staff allocated to the role and with the authority to make day-to day decisions
Note: Don’t fall into the trap of thinking that this is an estimating function, it certainly isn’t, and don’t make the project estimator the ‘bid manager’, as notwithstanding any relevant skills and experience, both these roles are very busy at the same stages of the tender process, so something will inevitably suffer.

Get the right presentation software

Unless it is stipulated otherwise within the tender documents, do not use Microsoft Word to prepare the submission document. It is excellent at what it is intended for, but as a presentation format it is significantly lacking. Invest in a specialist package, such as Adobe Creative Suite.

Refine CVs and personalise the format

Keep staff CVs to a single page if possible, and most importantly put them in the ‘first person’ format. It’s a far stronger and more ‘personal’ message than describing someone in the ‘third person’.
Divide the text up into short titled paragraphs and bullet points, such as:
‘Who I am’, What I’ve done’ and critically, ‘What I’ll do for you and how that will benefit your project’

There’s no substitute for experience

If there is a question to respond to that requests previous experience, then this is often the key to success. If you can’t be sure that you will score at least 8 out of 10 for this question, then you’ve no chance of a good overall mark and a successful bid, so don’t even start the tender! You won’t recover sufficient marks from other lower-scoring questions.

Answer the specific question

Sounds obvious, but is it? Check carefully. For example, if a question about previous experience requests examples of completed projects, you must provide evidence of completion, such as by including Practical Completion or Making Good Defects certificates.

Confirm commitment at the highest level possible

Get the ‘boss’ to write (or be seen to write) the Executive Summary, not the ‘bid manager’. Accompany this with their photo and signature, alongside a list of promises entitled something like ‘My Commitment to You’ – very powerful!

Prepare and monitor a bid programme and a risk register

The two key tools of the trade for the ‘bid manager’. The difference between managing a bid with and without these control documents is immense.

Understand your competition and play to your strengths

Recognise that your competitors will be stronger than you in certain areas, whether that’s CSR or perhaps sustainability. Don’t get hung up on this, accept that they will probably score better in these areas, and just get the most marks that you can – pick up points in your own stronger areas. Unless of course the marks are heavily weighted towards their stronger areas – if so then consider whether you should be bidding?

Selectivity is the key

Directors – Don’t be afraid to say no. It’s pointless doing bids that you can’t win; it just demoralises staff, wastes your time and money, and you lose the opportunity to win something else.
Staff & ‘bid manager’ – If you believe that it’s the wrong decision to prepare a particular bid then make that known to the decision makers and be determined. It may not always work but you’d be surprised how often it does.

Make sure you have priced for what you have committed to

Sounds obvious, but you’d be surprised how often this is over-looked. A detailed review between the estimator and ‘bid manager’ prior to submitting the bid is essential. 

These are just some of many points I have picked up over the years, so I hope they help. I suggest that you start by following this strategy during the preparation of your next bid and see how you get on – I’m sure you will get the benefit and have greater success.

Trust me, it works!

Good luck and happy bidding.