A group of us in the SEC recently met virtually (using the Zoom platform) to discuss how to bid for contracts, and to exchange hints and tips. Here are some of the points from our discussion.
The first point to make is that you have to be prepared to fail, most of the time. The consultancy market is very open, and there are many small firms bidding for contracts (including SEC members!). So we need the mind-set that goes full out to win a tender, but we must also protect ourselves from the impact of failure by arguing that it’s all a bit of a lottery in any case.
Does this mean that we have to put in shedloads of bids in order to stand a chance of putting bread on the table? Well, yes, frankly: but nothing much usually is gained by bidding for work where we have neither the knowledge nor experience. We’re likely to be particularly wasting our time, and no-one wants to appear to potential clients like the child in class who always shouts “Me! Me! Me!” whenever teacher asks a question.
But, OK, we’ve decided to bid for a particular project, and we’ve got the “Invitation to tender” in front of us. What to do? My next point always strikes colleagues as obvious: in putting our bid together we must follow the instructions in the Invitation, precisely. This is an exact equivalent of the “read the instructions on the exam paper carefully” advice we all used to get as pupils. If we take care to answer all the questions posed in the Invitation, in the order given, with signposts (“You ask for our experience in designing reading schemes for KS1. Our experience is …”) then we will give a good impression from the start.
However, and in any event, any good tender needs in my view to include five things.
- A background analysis of why the work is actually necessary. We may think that the Invitation to Tender has told us this already, but we should add value here by digging a little deeper into why the work needs doing. (What, in our view, is wrong with existing KS1 reading schemes?).
- A very detailed workplan of what we will actually do if awarded the contract. It is hard to go into too much detail here: clients’ main worry is that consultants will take their money and then just faff around until it’s all spent. The best way of alleviating this worry is to lay out our proposed work plan person day by person day, with calendar dates. Our workplan also drives our fee calculation (see below).
- Specifically, a detailed description of what the client will get out of the project, both at the end and along the way if appropriate. This is another “anti-faff” measure. Will we produce a report? Will we run workshops, for whom and how many? Will we write materials, and who will retain the copyright? It’s always good to offer deliverables that the client didn’t specify in the Invitation to Tender, as a bonus – how about a staff training day, no extra charge?
- Why we’re likely to be the best consultants to carry out this project. What are our skills? What experience do we have in similar projects? We’ll need to offer both skills and experience if we’re to be successful. If we have worked for the client before, that should be a plus, providing the project went well …
- And finally, what’s it going to cost? Well, we can multiply the number of person days we calculated (see above) by our daily rate, and that will give us our fee. Most tendered projects are price-competitive, so a low daily rate will increase our chance of winning, but it has to be worth turning out. People often say that a low daily rate wrecks the market for one’s work, but I’ve never experienced this. And it’s perfectly OK to charge extra for travelling expenses (including car mileage): by stating this cost separately we can keep our daily rate that bit lower.
The very best of luck with all your competitive tenders.