Bids and proposals

How to create and manage a better bid library

11 minute read

As you’re here, you may be considering creating a bid library – or whipping an existing one into shape. And probably with good reason. A well-kept bid library can save you time (and stress) on every bid you create. It should also help you to make the most of every bid you’ve already written.

For anyone new to the term, a bid library is an archived resource of responses and supporting material from previous tenders. You can use the material for reference as you write new tender responses or reuse sections of copy for subject areas common to most tenders.

It’s the latter where the real beauty and danger of bid libraries lie for the hard-pressed bid writer, as we’ll see later.


What should go in a bid library

So, what should you put in your bid library? As a general rule, you’ll at least want to bank method statement responses (for evaluating the quality of your offer) and other material covering the following common themes.

For invitations to tender (ITTs), include method statements covering:

  • quality assurance
  • performance monitoring/development (including tracking and reporting against contract key performance indicators)
  • governance – organisational and sector-specific, eg internal meeting structures, and clinical governance if you deliver health interventions or treatment
  • social value – economic, social and environmental
  • workforce and staff – including recruitment and retention, HR, Transfer of Undertakings (Protection of Employment) (TUPE), line management, supervision, CVs and biographies of senior staff
  • data management and protection, GDPR
  • case studies, examples, testimonials, statistics or quotes
  • visuals – text boxes, diagrams, charts/graphs providing supporting data, statistics or quotes


For SQ/PQQs (standard selection and pre-qualifying questionnaires):

  • current/past contract references and details
  • last two/three years’ audited accounts
  • proof of adherence to or application of industry and organisational standards, ie Disability Confident Employer or ISO certification


These are just the basics. You will know the sector-specific themes and questions that crop up regularly in your bids, so add more folders accordingly.


Do you really need a bid library?

If you don’t tender for contracts very often, you might feel maintaining a bid library is more effort and resource than it’s worth.

It may be. But don’t be put off by visions of trawling through piles of paper or having to navigate labyrinthine electronic filing systems. Your bid library is what you decide to make it. It’s about identifying what information you know you’ll routinely need and making it easily accessible. And that means saving time in a time-sensitive business.

Yours could be a compendium of every word you’ve ever produced. Better yet, you can save the best of the best from previous responses. Or you could make it just a one-stop shop for documentation, accounts, certificates and any other elements you always need to produce to meet due diligence checks.

Whatever you decide, the success or failure of using a bid library will be largely determined by:

  • the quality of what you store in the library
  • establishing a systematic approach to keeping it updated
  • dedicating enough time and resources to managing it.


How to create and structure a bid library

Once you’ve decided what you want to keep, plan on making life easy for yourself and all users of your bid library from the start.


Create a helpful filing system

Set up your library with unambiguously labelled folders to store the information in a logical way, like ‘ISO certification’, ‘Audited accounts’, ‘Case studies’ and so on.

You will want a separate folder to store all complete bids in date order. But this is not the bid library! It’s a backup. It means you know that, if all else fails, you’ll be able to find what you need with some digging.

It gets more complicated when it comes to deciding what method statement copy to include and where to file it. Resist the temptation to include content that has not been well tested. Any you include should have been reviewed and marked as part of at least one procurement process. (We’ll look at this point in more detail shortly.)

No two method statements are exactly the same. For instance, one buyer’s social value question may focus on your local recruitment practices, whereas another may want a detailed breakdown of how you will reduce carbon emissions.

In this case, break down the different elements of social value into ‘Social’, ‘Economic’ and ‘Environmental’ sub-folders. This will help you zero in on what you’re looking for and save time.

And don’t forget visuals like diagrams, charts and graphs, and the data that populate them. Be especially careful to save any that you know, from feedback, were well received. Some will be reusable as they are, others can provide templates that can be updated and adjusted accordingly.


Set the right permissions

A bid library is hugely commercially sensitive. So it’s best practice to limit access, particularly in large organisations. If that describes your organisation, it’s important to ensure everyone regularly involved in bids has the right internal permissions to access the library.

And you may not want to limit it to the immediate team charged with writing and submitting bids. If you often ask internal subject matter experts to help write on complex or technical issues, it is useful for them to see what you’ve submitted previously and how it is structured and styled.


Tidying up an existing bid library

The question ‘Do we need a bid library?’ comes as often from people tasked with sorting out a chaotic mess of a library as from those considering starting one from scratch.

If you are charged with overhauling an existing bid library, here are a few pointers:

  1. Start afresh. Agree a structure and set up a new bid library that can be populated with relevant or fresh content as you go along.
  2. Run a thorough content review to weed out out-of-date or untested copy.
  3. If there is capacity in the team, share out the process. Agree who ‘owns’ different content areas for both the initial and ongoing reviewing and updating.


Effective bid library management

So, who’s the best person to task with developing and managing your bid library? As I’ve already indicated, this will depend on your company’s size.

Anyone who has applied for a bid writer role will know that ‘maintaining and developing/updating the bid library’ is baked into most job descriptions. Some large teams will have an administrator or coordinator who handles SQs/PQQs and who banks documentation and evidence.

If it is just you, keep it simple. Start by identifying the content areas, documents and assets that you’re asked for on a regular basis and build your library slowly.

Whether it is a team effort or solo undertaking, it’s essential you allow sufficient time for managing the bid library. If you treat the process as purely cutting and pasting copy into folders, then you’ll miss a trick. Reviewing library content provides invaluable opportunities to reflect and improve on what has gone before.

If you have a team, it can be helpful to divide up the library management into subject areas. This can be based on previous experience or areas of professional interest.

Create an easy reference guide for when you or your colleagues are searching for the most relevant content. This can be a centrally held Excel spreadsheet split into subject areas, listing the question, the bid, date and feedback marks.


Excerpt of spreadsheet with headers of theme, question, bid, date and mark/feedback. Transcript below under summary field labelled ‘Open transcript of image’.

Click image to enlarge in new tab

Open transcript of image

Economic theme
Question 8: Please describe your approach and processes for recruitment of staff …
Bid: Newcastle
Date 03.02.2022
Mark/Feedback: 5 (max 5)
Question 2: How will your organisation utilise local sub-contractors and supply chain …
Bid: Portsmouth
Date: 14.11.2021
Mark/Feedback: 4 (5)

Environment theme
Question 21: How will you influence staff, suppliers, customers and communities to …
Bid: Bracknell
Date: 06.01.2022
Mark/Feedback: 4 (5)
Question 11: How will you reduce carbon emissions generated as a result of delivering …
Bid: Wellingborough
Date: 14.10.2021
Mark/Feedback: 4 (5)

Social theme
Question 22: How will you promote volunteering opportunities or other activities …
Bid: Hereford
Date: 05.02.2022
Mark/Feedback: 5 (5)
Question 4: How will you proactively ensure an organisational and work culture that …
Bid: Newcastle
Date: 03.02.22
Mark/Feedback: 4 (5)


And keep discussing and evolving the library-management process. If something isn’t working or too much responsibility is falling on one individual, you can adjust it.


Common challenges – and solutions

Creating and managing a bid library comes with some common pitfalls that it’s worth being aware of from the outset. In my experience, the biggest two of these pitfalls are reproducing outdated or weak content and not protecting the time needed to manage the library effectively.


Not validating content before saving

You may feel your latest tender is your best yet, but unfortunately that counts for nothing until it’s been assessed by those with the power to say yes or no. No copy should be added to the library until it has been assessed and marked by a buyer first.

Even then, buyers are human and their priorities vary. Basing too much on one set of feedback is risky. It’s often only with the second or third set of feedback that clear strengths and weaknesses emerge. Like a real library, it takes time and patience to build a worthwhile collection.

Feedback should be a combination of marks and comments for each response. If the buyer only supplies you with marks, ask them for written feedback. You need the nuance to properly understand the strengths and weaknesses of your responses.


Relying too much on library content

If writing bids is just one of your day jobs, it can be all too tempting to backfill a tender response with copy that has worked before – without checking if it still stands up. That’s why regular reviews of library content are essential.

There is also a danger that new writers will rely too heavily on bid library copy as they feel their way in their role. In fact, the best way for them to learn the subject is to research and write an answer themselves, using the library for pointers.

Will your bid library be a useful resource or a repository for virtual dust? Here are the best practices to follow (and pitfalls to avoid) to turn your library into a bid-winning asset, via @EmphasisWriting Share on X

Not tailoring pre-existing copy

No writer writes in exactly the same way as another. Some writers write more fluently than others. You may adopt different tones for different bids. Or you may have many writers contributing to one bid. But the end product always needs to have a clear, consistent voice.

So guard against simply cutting and pasting even the best copy. It will still need tweaking and reworking to read as specifically tailored for your buyers.


Not carving out time to review and maintain

Finally, there is always the temptation to hang on to high-scoring content for too long. What might have been innovative two years ago could now have been superseded by your competitors.

This brings us to the absolute necessity of ring-fencing enough time and resources to keep your library working effectively.

I’ve seen first-hand what happens when you don’t. As part of a medium-sized bid team under new management a few years ago, I was given a range of subject areas to maintain as part of a library refresh exercise. All well and good, in theory.

However, it coincided with a busy period. For six months, I did nothing but shift from one bid to the next. Updating the bid library wasn’t a priority and I had no time earmarked to do it.

By the time the dust had settled, the library was even more out of date. Two colleagues had left, and the tumbleweed began blowing through their subject areas. The process ground to a halt and the library remained unfit for purpose.

Smaller, consistent actions are better than relying on a Herculean effort after a long period of inaction. If the work can be split across a team, all the better.


Software for bid libraries

As we’ve seen, bid libraries can become complex and are very admin heavy. It’s no surprise then that tech companies have stepped into the space and developed bespoke bid management software.

These sorts of solutions are worth investigating for medium- to high-volume bidders. Software packages such a Loopio have features enabling you to build and customise subject areas, automate review cycles, assign content freshness scores and view duplication flags.

Others, like RFPIO, use AI to populate up to 80% of tenders by matching existing content to the tender questions. This sounds great, but you must be confident that your library content is all gold standard – and that you get asked almost exactly the same question time and again.

It would also still be vital to go through the resulting content to tailor it to the opportunity, double-check it for flow and proofread it to catch any errors that could have crept in.


You get out what you put in

Done well, a bid library is an invaluable organisational asset and resource. It can help you grow by competing for – and winning – more contracts. Done poorly, it can cost you business.

Decide if setting up and maintaining a bid library is really necessary for you. If a bit of bid writing is just a small part of your role and you already know where everything you need is, you may well decide you don’t need one.

Bid libraries come into their own when they not only save you time but lead you to the best up-to-date content for your responses. That needs effective and systematic management and a commitment to the time and resources required to do it well.

The price of not doing it is confusion, duplication and valuable time wasted trawling through vaguely labelled files full of redundant copy.

As with just about anything, it’s a case of rubbish in, rubbish out. And rubbish won’t win business. Ultimately, your library will only be as good as the content in it.

Want more hands-on help with your bidding? Have a look at our bid consultancy services or bid-writing training and get in touch if you’d like to chat about options.

Image credit: RossHelen / Shutterstock


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Tom is an experienced bid writer and consultant, as well as a former journalist, communications director and press consultant.

Before going freelance, he was a senior bid writer for social enterprise Turning Point, where he led on successful bids worth over £10 million annually.

In his journalism days, he regularly wrote for The Times, Telegraph and Guardian. These days, his copywriting skills help him share his bid-writing expertise on the Emphasis Knowledge Hub. He is also one of our bid consultants.

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