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The Dark Magic of Quoting for Bid Writing Services

I’ll say right off the bat that there are probably as many ways to quote for bid writing as there are bid writers and tender services companies. With that in mind, I can’t tell you how other people work out their quotes, I can only tell you how I work out mine.

My quoting ethos

With every quote, I try to be transparent about where my time will be spent. My clients generally want to know that I’m not just sitting here staring out of the window and making things up or clocking my coffee breaks into their invoices. Being transparent about how I’ve broken down my quote helps to demystify the bid writing process and puts a time/cost value on each element of the tender, so that clients can easily understand what they’re paying for.

For me, because I generally quote hourly rather than day or whole project rates, it’s important that my quotes are accurate for both scheduling and invoicing reasons – bid writing is my business, so being able to accurately project work in and cash flow is essential.

I’ll admit, in years past, I’ve made some almost catastrophic quoting errors and ended up seriously out of time and out of pocket. There’s not much else one can do at that point other than suck it up and eat beans for a month but you can bet I’m much more careful about accurate quoting these days!

A great deal of preparing quotes comes down to experience. That is, not just my experience of different types of tender and the varying services each client chooses, but also the non-writing needs of the client and the method of tendering amongst other things.

Over time, I’ve developed a quoting ethos that uses a mixture of experience and measurable methods, with a little ‘gut instinct’ thrown in. And so, while it’s not an exact science, here’s how I work out just how long I think it will take to write your bid.

Imposed word limits

e.g. 500 words = [x] minutes

Some tenders stipulate exact word limits for all responses to individual questions; some leave it wide open. It’s marginally easier to quote for those that do impose word limits – literally because I don’t need to think too much about it, I can just tot up the time it would take to write each section.

Mystical thinking required: 2/10

Un-imposed word limits

Where no limits are imposed, I look at what the question is asking for and use my experience to determine roughly how many words it would take to properly answer that question, making sure all elements of the question are covered and adding in any USPs or other benefits and added value the client’s company can bring. Some subjects are simpler to write about than others; some subjects are simple to write about for one industry but less so for another industry; some concepts are easier to explain than others.

Mystical thinking required: 7/10

Extent of writing/editing required

Where clients can provide past tenders (successful or otherwise), pre-written information about their products or services, existing policies and/or process documents, or really just significant detail on various areas of the bid, the work becomes more about editing and filling in gaps than writing from scratch.

Where there is little pre-existing information and I’m working from client interview notes or my own research, the work becomes more about writing, framing and finding those areas that need further information even before the editing and gap filling can begin.

How long any given section of a bid will take largely depends on where I’m starting from: from scratch with little or nothing as a jumping off point, or from the relative security of having all or most of the ingredients ready to use.

Mystical thinking required: 5/10

Extent/quality/complexity of information provided

Even where the client can provide significant information, the format that information is currently in makes a difference. For instance, a client may provide me with every handbook and manual they’ve got in relation to their product, but I still need to translate that into responses that a) fit the question’s requirements and b) can be understood by an assessor who may or may not be an expert in the product.

Mystical thinking required: 6/10  

Requirement for additional policies/process/other supporting documents

For policies, the information each policy must cover generally determines how long it will take to write it. However, the industry the policy has to work within must be considered. For example, a standard environmental policy for a mainly office based service will be far less complex than an environmental policy for a company that deals with hazardous waste as part of its core or secondary activities.

For process documents, it’s a similar situation: the industry, the particular process and the requirements of the contracting organisation will determine how much needs to go into the documentation. For example, while both need to work within the law and certain legislation, the recruitment process for services that provide support to vulnerable people will necessarily be more complex and stringent than for those that don’t.

‘Other supporting documents’ can cover just about anything. From organisation charts to a table of customer testimonials, what goes into the supporting document determines how long it will take to pull together.

Mystical thinking required: 6/10

Extent of formatting required

Free-form proposal formats often require a fair amount of formatting – it’s a great opportunity to let your company brand shine through and the ability to use images, charts and other graphics can really add to the impact of your bid. Added to that, clever formatting of the text content can also help your bid tell a clear and persuasive story.

On the other hand, e-portals often offer little opportunity for clever formatting, unless they also allow supporting information as attachments.

How long this element of preparing a bid will take is determined by what’s allowed and what’s not.

Mystical thinking required: 3/10

Extent of client communication required

Now this has a formula all of its own. For clients who are content to throw a bunch of (high quality) information at me and only check in once or twice throughout the process, the time factored in for communication is minimal.

Other clients want to work closely with me through the entire bid writing process, whether that’s because they’re also taking on some of the work themselves (e.g. partial write services) or because they want to learn how to do it on their own next time.

Most clients are somewhere in between.

I generally look at the total time quoted for the writing and editing services and work out what 10% of that time would be. I then reduce or increase that 10% depending on my knowledge of the client, how much input they want to have, how much input I’m going to need from them and, quite often, what their comfort level is with handing over all their company info to me, a stranger.

Mystical thinking required: 9/10

Research and admin required

As with client communication, my starting point for research and admin is generally 10% of the total writing time quoted which I then increase or decrease depending on how much I think the project will need. Experience counts with this element more than anything and I consider all of the previous elements when making this decision. That actually makes this decision fairly straightforward.

Mystical thinking required: 2/10

Likelihood of Surprise!elements

Can you predict surprises? Probably not or they wouldn’t be a surprise. And sometimes things just happen that are beyond my, your or the contracting authority’s control.

However, through experience, I can often predict the likelihood of some kind of spanner in the works. Such spanners can include (but are not limited to) significant revisions to the tender, the tender being halted and/or reissued, the contracting organisation being challenged in court, the spec being too ambiguous (one recent tender had over 400 clarification Q&As).

I can only get a sense of what these spanners might be once I’ve looked at all the tender docs and other information but I do try wherever possible to identify them pre-quote, just so we’re all prepared to expect the unexpected.

Mystical thinking required: 8/10

Notice anything missing?

I don’t quote directly on scores or weighting. That is to say, I take scores and weighting for each question or section into account at every point during my quoting method.

So, when I look at – for example – how to determine a word limit guideline, how much information I will need to meet the highest scores is automatically factored in. But I don’t quote separately for ‘extra time’ to meet scoring requirements. Something about quoting that way seems a little off to me – why wouldn’t I quote for the time it takes to get the highest scores in the first place?

Get in touch

Now you know more about how I prepare quotes for clients, why not find out how I can help you with your next bid? Contact me today for a quote!




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