Writing a tender and living to tell the tale (part one)

tender writingTenders present a terrific opportunity to win lucrative new business. They may also require a significant investment of your time and resources, with no guarantee of a successful outcome.

The Victorian Government recently compensated the unsuccessful of the two bidders for the desalination plant construction contract. The payment was in recognition of the size and complexity of the project, and the huge effort involved just to pull together a proposal. In most cases, however, an unsuccessful bid is just that. When it comes to tenders, the issuing agency holds all the cards.

So how do you increase your chances of success in the tender process?

Firstly, read the request for tender document (RFT) carefully and make a realistic decision about whether you actually have a decent chance of winning. Understand what is required for your response, and whether you have the capacity to provide this information, as well as the final deliverable. This ‘qualify in or out’ decision is crucial and can save hours of wasted effort.

Ask yourself a few basic questions:

  • Do I have the time and the resources to develop a quality response?
  • Will I need to partner with other organisations to deliver the required product and/or service?
  • Can I submit a compliant tender?
  • Do I know how many organisations I will be competing against?
  • Do I have a clear and compelling case to convince the issuing agency to choose my organisation over my competitors?

Even if you answer ‘no’ to some of these questions you might still decide to proceed, but at least you have made a tactical decision, and hopefully identified some of the weakness you will have to address in your response.

At this early stage, it can be useful to create a separate document for noting any special or unusual requirements of the tender.

  • When is it due?
  • In what format is it required? (e.g. electronic document(s), single or multiple hard copies)
  • How is it to be delivered? (e.g. electronic upload, by post, hand delivered to a tender box)

In the last-minute rush to submit the tender document(s), it can be all too easy to overlook a crucial submission requirement.

Tenders have strict conditions you will need to abide by. For instance, approaching someone within the issuing agency for more information (other than the official contact) is usually strictly forbidden and can get you immediately disqualified from the process. Read these terms and conditions carefully.

If a draft contract accompanies the tender, you must also check each clause and note any you want to have modified or removed. Some businesses think they can deal with this after they’ve won the job, not realising that by then it’s too late. Your tender is your offer, and you need to be upfront about any modifications you want made to the contract.

As a general rule, you shouldn’t be afraid to ask for changes, so long as you can demonstrate good cause. Remember that the issuing agency will have written the terms to suit themselves, so you should exercise care when agreeing to anything they have stipulated.

Unless it is a specific requirement of the tender, you don’t have to state exactly how you want the change worded, just a reason for requesting the change. This will give you an opportunity to negotiate the terms if and when you get to the shortlist stage.

So now you are ready to begin writing. In part two we’ll look at the process of actually drafting your response, and provide some tips to make this easier.


Image credit: Providence Lithograph Company. This image is in the public domain.