Bids and proposals

Five things to remember when writing your first bid

6 minute read

OK, there’s no getting away from it: successful bids take a bit of effort to create. And if you’ve never written one before, it could seem like a particularly daunting task.

But keeping a few crucial principles in mind will put you in the strongest possible position when you have to write one for the first time.

So here are five things every beginner to bid writing will do well to remember when that time comes.


1. A bid is not an info packet. It’s a persuasion tool

If you start the bid-writing process from the wrong perspective, chances are high that your proposal won’t do its job. The goal of a bid is to persuade someone to choose your company. Therefore, you must think of this process as an exercise in persuasive writing, not in providing an encyclopedic description of what your company is capable of.

Taking a cue from sales, the best road to persuasion is understanding your customer, identifying their need, comprehending that need, showing your customer you understand it, and then showing that you (and only you) have the solution.

By simply supplying your potential client with an exhaustive treatise on why your company is wonderful, you’ve not taken any of the necessary steps towards persuasion. If you don’t show the relevance of these facets to your potential customer, you’ve failed from the start. Don’t assume this is self-evident: connect the dots for them.

The next four pointers will set you on the right pathway for actually writing your first bid. Follow them and you’ll end up with an effective persuasion tool that gives you the edge over your competitors. (To learn how to apply them to your own bids, check out our bid-writing courses for individuals and for teams.)


2. A bid should be personalised for the client

Take the time to customise the proposal. Bid writing should not be a template-driven process or an exercise in copy and paste. You’ll need to do your homework and create a bid that’s completely tailored for the client.

This means you need to put in some solid research before you can even write a word. Yes, it’s time-consuming and nearly impossible to farm out, but doing so will dramatically raise your chances of winning.

Begin by approaching your bid writing from your client’s perspective. That means finding out who the key decision-makers and influencers will be and writing specifically for them.

Finding out who the decision-makers are is only step one, however. Then the real detective work begins: your aim here is to work out the mindset of this person (or these people). The more you can get inside their heads, the more likely you’ll be to strike a chord with them and be selected for the job.

How to do this? Again: research. This will mean you can take the perspective of your prospective client. Only then will you be able to see the ‘problem’ from their point of view. Exactly why is it a problem to them?

Determine the decision-makers’ focus. You’ll need to consider different approaches depending on what this is. For example, are they more concerned about customer service or cost savings? Are they operations-orientated or finance-focused? Write your bid in a way that speaks to that point of view and its needs.

The more you can sync your bid to the client’s way of thinking about the project, the more likely it will be that they’ll see your proposal as offering the right solution for them. Which brings us to the next point.


3. A bid should show that you clearly understand the job

Think of your bid as a customised solution to the client’s unique problem. Just as you should tailor the bid to the decision-makers’ thought processes, you should also tailor your proposal to the job at hand.

Bids that win are those which show clearly that you understand the job. (If you don’t understand it, check whether this is the right opportunity for you to bid for.)

It may seem obvious that your understanding of the project is inherent to your providing a solution. However, keep in mind that your bid is a sales tool. Therefore, you’re taking the reader through a sales thought process. That process involves leading the client from step one all the way up to the conclusion that only your company can do the job.

An essential part of that sales thought process is confirming that you ‘get it’: you understand the job as the client understands it. Once you’ve laid that groundwork (and reassured them), the next logical step is showing how you’ll provide a great solution.

How can you show that you understand the job? At the risk of repeating myself: do your homework. Look at the client’s website; look at everything they’ve told you. Use their language. The more your bid lines up with the client’s way of thinking about the problem, the easier it will be to present the right solution.


4. A bid should show how you will provide value

In the business environment, persuasion is all about adding value. If your bid isn’t showing the client how your company will add value, then it’s not a good bid.

Merely describing your company’s capabilities isn’t necessarily going to win you the job. Put teeth into your proposal by describing what results the client can expect. If you’ve ever worked in sales, think of the classic ‘features versus benefits’ approach and you’ll understand what needs to happen here.

Clients want to see the benefits of choosing you. Make these explicit. Listing the features of your organisation does not equate with showing benefits: don’t expect your client to pick apart such a list and guess at how each thing will help them. Simply telling them you’ll put the best and the brightest to work on their project means nothing if they can’t make the connection between expertise and added value for them.

What really lights up decision-makers’ eyes are statements like ‘we project an increase in sales after three months’ or ‘you can expect a 10% upturn in leads by the end of the month’.


5. The devil is in the detail

Don’t forget logistics. Provide a timetable for delivery and explain how and where everything will happen. Include a timeline for development too, so the client will feel informed at every stage of the plan.


And don’t forget

Finally, everything we’ve covered could still come to no good if you submit a bid littered with obvious grammar problems and typos. It may not seem likely (or fair) that a stray apostrophe could bring the whole deal crashing down to earth, but it’s not worth taking that risk.

Good writing reflects the quality of your company’s abilities and attention to detail. If you clearly haven’t taken the time to proofread your bid for errors (or even hire an editor to clean it up for you, if that’s an option) it could make you look very bad.


The last word

Your bid is an indication of how well you’re going to perform the job. If you’re serious about creating a winning proposal, these five reminders will serve you well.

Keep this as a guideline and follow these steps and you’ll be well-placed to put the competition to shame with your first bid – and every one after that.


Image credit: Sunny Studio / Shutterstock



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After working for years as a client relationship and project manager for two major media owners and over a decade as sales director at Emphasis, what Tom doesn't know about project management, business development and client liaison isn't worth mentioning. (So we won't.)

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