By Annie Park
When asked, ‘What do you do for a living?’, bid writing remains a career which solicits a whole gamut of facial expressions from blank to intrigue, and only very occasionally recognition. Almost always, it necessitates a further question and a brief sales pitch on my end.
This breakdown of learnings from my first year as a Bid Writer aims to demystify the role for applicants and their families alike (and hopefully, help you answer that perilous question with deftness).
What is a Bid Writer?
Bid writers help businesses, ranging from charities and small to medium-sized enterprises to larger multinational organisations, win contracts. This could be to secure services, works, resources, or funding. The bid writer role at EiB strategically challenges the solution, brings learning from working across sectors and crafts compelling content to respond to the bid requirements.
The buying organisation will issue a Pre-Qualification Questionnaire, Invitation to Negotiate, or Invitation to Tender outlining the scope of the opportunity and inviting prospective suppliers to submit bids. Bid writers prepare and draft a submission, answering the buying organisation’s questions. These can range from asking how the supplier will deliver the service, ensure health and safety, or deliver social value within the project. To obtain the information to write responses, bid writers at EiB conduct workshops with the client, working with Subject Matter Experts (SMEs), who live and breathe these topics day-to-day.
Bidding is a competitive process, with the aim being to surpass all other bidders to secure the contract. For EiB, bid writers work across multiple sectors including rail, highways, healthcare, and utilities. They may be a sole writer or accompanied by a team but will always be supported by a project lead to provide support direction and quality assurance.
That’s the heavy bit done!
As a multifaceted role, the key qualities of a bid writer can be illuminated by exploring the various responsibilities.
Understanding your subject matter
Central to bid writing is understanding the sectors you are working in. The first stage of a bid is often dedicated to reading the tender documents in full, combing them for any specific compliance or contract delivery requirements. This preliminary work will aid your preparedness and confidence when engaging with clients, as you will have a more rounded understanding of the opportunity and background. When not working on a bid, you could be contributing to sector or solution papers; reviewing and challenging previous submissions to identify learning; building the EiB Way Toolkit; or supporting internal added value projects. As you gain experience on more bids and across more sectors, the knowledge will become instinctive – as in, you wish there was a ‘bid sector and solution round’ in-Christmas-trivia instinctive.
Core to any job is learning how to engage professionally with new people and for bid writers at EiB, working closely with clients requires stakeholder management skills. Building interpersonal skills and confidence in these interactions will come naturally with exposure, but a tip to being assertive is acknowledging your role in easing, rather than increasing, workload for the client. Storyboarding is like essay planning, as the formal process of taking the client through the questions and collating content which will map out the answer. This also identifies and resolves gaps in the client’s business offering. People management – more aptly digression management – is an essential skill of these information-gathering sessions, and it helps to build a rapport with the client to ease the process and increase receptivity. It’s often a case of learning how best to help SMEs help you, and how to adapt your approach to suit different personalities, communication styles, and the all-important workload pressures.
Writing, perfecting, and more writing
A bid writer needs excellent literacy to write compelling bids and transform even the most unintelligible of bullet points into articulate prose. A keen attention to detail will serve you well to refine and polish submissions to the highest standard possible. You will apply your superb proofreading skills to both your own work and others’ –and you’ll soon find, everywhere else outside of your working life, from books to menu cards.
Hard deadlines are part and parcel of bid writing, and the role will quickly develop (or test) your organisational skills and ability to manage your time across different projects. The nature of the job means the hours can be unpredictable and occasionally demand last-minute work, which makes managing and prioritising your tasks an essential skill. To do lists, tracker logs, and dedicated inbox folders are all your allies.
Entering bid writing following university can be a steep learning curve as you learn to navigate a new, often unknown industry and perhaps also the world of work for the first time. Still, those years of essay planning will stand you in good stead.
Making use of the support and expertise of those around you is important to progressing as a writer and managing stress. Colleagues will be happy to provide guidance and solutions, offering a proofread or to go through your work with you. Proactively asking for feedback will help you land on your feet and benefit from seeing how others approach things. EiB offers shadowing opportunities to its graduates, offering insight into the techniques of more senior members of the team.
Bid writing offers flexibility between home and office working to suit the varied nature of our work. Days of drafting may require greater focus and fewer distractions, whereas sometimes a collaborative day in the office with your team to bounce ideas around is the most productive. We encourage co-location to tackle key stages of the bid where face-to-face discussions optimise outputs, but we are flexible to client preferences and always seek the way of working which best suits the bid.
Flexible working is an important aspect of work-life balance and managing personal priorities alongside professional. Particularly in the early stages of a new role, in-person working plays a key role in team integration and making connections – an equally important part of learning a new job. Sitting down with a colleague face to face to resolve any questions or difficulties can be invaluable, both as a graduate and beyond. Office working is especially helpful for getting a quick response to all your bid jargon-related queries, preventing Death by Acronym.
Bid writing offers several opportunities for professional growth. In time, you might progress to a senior bid writer, or lend your organisational skills to becoming a bid manager.
Bid submission… aaand exhale
Completing and submitting a bid you and your team have worked hard on is a rewarding feeling. Doubtless, finding out you have been successful is the only better feeling, knowing your labours of writing, refining, and perfecting will make a difference. We impact significant national infrastructure across the UK, notably supporting the HS2 Curzon Street contract here in Birmingham. Having our office so close to projects we have been involved with and seeing the construction work from your commute makes this impact all the more tangible. Each new bid will expand your industry knowledge and experience, and the variety of the work is one of the highlights of the role. Your fast-growing oeuvre of responses might not qualify for WHSmith’s Top 100 non-fiction, but seeing the changes you have helped to make in the real world is reward enough.
My key takeaways….
- We are professional writers – not technical experts! We rely on SMEs to be engaged and provide us with the right, relevant content to craft a compelling, work-winning response. Bid writing necessitates collaboration, and it’s in both parties’ interests to help one another. Sometimes the collaboration just needs some gentle coaxing
- Anticipating answer content will give you the upper hand in a storyboarding session. No crystal ball needed – reviewing a colleague’s response on the same topic or brushing up on the client asks will help you to steer the session and provide prompts, avoiding baffled silences
- Everyone storyboards differently – you will naturally develop strategies and personal preferences for leading them over time. Initially, this might look like collating a bank of effective phrases picked up from shadowing others, so you are equipped with some stock responses for unfamiliar situations. This might be justifying a decision when challenged by a client.
Is bid writing the next step for you?
If you can picture yourself undertaking the roles I’ve mentioned above, maybe bid writing is a career path for you (not to worry – EiB will help you master the ‘I’m a Bid Writer’ pitch).
For more of an insight into the kind of work we undertake and some of our successful contracts, explore our case studies and get in touch.