Well, I wish I had something more exciting to report.
To recap, a contact pointed me in the direction of a tender that I might be interested in bidding for myself. The tender was for ‘the supply of tendering advice services’ to a small but growing SME – right up my street – and the work was to be part funded by that company’s local LEP (Local Enterprise Partnership – find yours here).
Despite the unusually meta nature of a company tendering for tendering support, it actually makes sense. At £10k, the value of the contract did mean that there was no legal obligation for it to go through a formal tender process. But some organisations, particularly publicly funded ones, often like to do it anyway. The funder, in this case the LEP, wants to maintain transparency to their stakeholders over where their funds are going. They also want to know the company being funded will meet the fund’s parameters and not just spend the money on bon bons.
I did it all for you (sort of)
I was looking forward to going through the process of bidding, not just for the contract itself (which would have been great!) but – more importantly – to properly understand what my clients go through from their point of view, when they hire me to help them put together a bid.
With that in mind, I treated myself the same way I would treat any of my clients. I even worked up a realistic quote for myself, based on my usual calculations, and booked out the time in my work schedule. I didn’t do it ‘after hours’ on my own time because I wanted to know what it really feels like to spend actual money on a bid writer.
I set myself internal deadlines, filled out my usual ‘information needed’ form, put together the basic structure of the response document (headers, sub headers, prompts for information) and worked on filling in, reviewing, editing and re-editing the document exactly as I would with any client. Having a few other projects going on at the same time gave me a good insight into the restrictions and challenges my clients face when they’re trying to put together a tender response while also doing their day job.
I clocked on and off the same way I would with any client work and added it to my timesheet. Keeping an eye on the time I’d quoted myself, I ultimately made the call to increase my time on it to make sure I got it just right (not an easy decision, as it was going to cost me more). But hey, worth the investment, right?
And they all lived happily ever *record scratch*
I had my first misgivings when my email to the company to ask for clarification on something went unanswered. Turns out, my email system had been somewhat flaky that day, so I put it down to that, re-sent my email with an explanation and waited. And waited.
I knew it had been received but no response was forthcoming. This was frustrating as the questions I’d asked were to clarify whether doing something one way or another would be grounds for disqualification. In the end, I just had to take a punt and hope for the best.
I submitted my finished bid, by email as requested, well in time for the deadline and got the ‘read receipt’ back through my email provider.
And then……. Tumbleweed.
No formal acknowledgement of receipt, no communication at all.
They ghosted me!
The contract was due to start in early January so I’m left to assume I didn’t win. Not winning’s never great. Worse though is that I don’t know who did win, how I scored, or even if my bid was assessed and scored at all. Pretty frustrating.
Hi ho silver lining
Unfortunately, because this was a low value ‘tender by choice’, there’s very little I can do about it. The funder and the company tendering for the services aren’t obliged to follow the processes they themselves have set in place. If it was higher value and subject to formal tendering rules, I’d have some recourse, some grounds for complaint.
However, applying for lower value contracts is pretty common for many SMEs, so I’m sure I’m not the only small business who’s been left kicking my heels in this grey area between what’s legal and what’s right.
Part of me wants to contact the LEP and politely explain that it’s not good practice. That if they’re not going to hold themselves or the companies they’re funding to their own requirements for transparency and accountability, then they may as well not bother. And that, by making interested suppliers – who are also small businesses – follow a tender process, yet not follow the process themselves, they are placing a resource and financial burden on the very types of companies they’re supposed to be supporting through their remit as LEPs.
But it’s hard to say that without it coming across as sour grapes.
So, what did I learn, in the end? I learned that it’s not that easy to be the client, no matter how much stress the bid writer tries to take off you. I learned that some of my own processes could probably do with a few tweaks here and there to make them more effective or more efficient. I learned that once you hit ‘submit’, that’s when the real worry starts!
Dear clients, I feel your pain.