Applying for tenders can be, and usually is, costly and time-consuming. You are either using the time of senior staff members or business owners, or employing a bid writer. Employing a bid writer with experience may bring the benefits of experience in the style of response writing, but they will write what you tell them to write, so these tips still apply.
1. Find the opportunities
Since leaving the EU, adverts for public sector open opportunities over £10,000 can be found on Contracts Finder. This is a mandatory requirement for all public sector organisations, including NHS trusts. Once registered on the website, you can set up alerts based upon the search criteria you have set, e.g. home care, at the frequency you want.
It is important to remember that most tenders only give a maximum window of six weeks to reply, so I would recommend daily alerts to give yourself as much time as possible. The opportunities advertised on Contracts Finder will then give you a link to a portal where you can then express interest in the opportunity and download documents.
If you are working in a field where individual packages of care could be worth less than £10,000, try to find out who your local council/ICS/PCN use as their portal provider and register for notifications there as well.
2. Assess: Is it worth it?
Just looking at the headline figure on the advert on Contracts Finder is not enough to decide whether the contract is worth applying for. That figure, if provided, is the value of the total length of the contract, for all lots and for all providers on the framework.
If you think you might be interested, express an interest through the portal link provided, and download the documents. Read the documents carefully. Is there a ceiling on maximum cost per hour? What does it say about travel costs?
Different commissioners pay different rates. Think about your bottom line – there is no point in being busy working on contracts that don’t provide you with profit at the end – unless you are a charity.
3. Read the documents
It might sound simple, but the importance of this step cannot be overstated. If you have never responded to a tender before, make sure that you read everything, including the fine print.
If you are more experienced, ensure that you have read the Service Specification and anything relating to finance before you make the decision to write a response. Many adverts can make a difficult and high-cost contract look like a high value opportunity until you read the details.
4. Keep a standard template Pre-Qualification Questionnaire PQQ
Make sure that you save a copy of the standard company information requested as part of each tender. These questions are mandatory, so once you have this section completed for the first time by a senior member of staff, this time-consuming task can be delegated. This tip can save you hours of time in the future and make it easier to apply to a higher volume of tenders as you become more experienced.
5. Ask your customers in advance if you can use their contact details for references
Every tender will ask for evidence of previous contracts that you have delivered, along with contact details for referees. Try and keep details of a few commissioners or service leads who would be happy to provide a reference that you would be confident about. Try and vary the people used and make sure that you send an email or phone before each time you use their details out of courtesy – you want these people to say nice things about you!
6. Evidence the quality of your service
You will always be asked about evidence for the services you already provide. Both subjective quotes from service-users/family and objective, report data can be used. If attachments are permitted as part of your submission, a data report from your record system is great. This is where having a good quality care management software can really come in handy by making quality of care easy to evidence, export and submit.
7. Answer the question!
While this may seem obvious, this crucial element is often overlooked. This is the most important part of applying to tenders, which cannot be stressed enough.
We all want to tell the story of what makes our service special and different, but if what you’re writing doesn’t answer the question you’ve been asked, it will score NO POINTS. Points win contracts. Write your answer to each question, then get someone else to check that you have answered the question – you might think you have, but until someone else has reviewed it, you don’t know that others understand what you have written.
8. Stick to the wordcount
If the word count is 1000 words, writing 20 is not going to score you any points because it won’t contain the detail they are looking for. Take the word count as an indicator of the depth of response required to the question. That being said, don’t feel like you need to take up all 1000 words with filler if you feel you’ve competently answered the question in 800 words.
If the answer requested is only 50 words, then don’t write more than that – anything you write over the word count is not counted.
Simply, stick to the word count. No more, no less.
9. Look at the value of the question
Each question will have a value attributed to it by the commissioners. Make sure you focus on those questions that have the highest value and budget your time giving them the most attention.
Answering all questions is important, however. Some questions may have a low value but are mandatory, and by not answering them, you invalidate the entire submission.
10. Review and rewrite
Always review your work to make sure that you have answered all of the questions as comprehensively as required and that your answers make sense to the reader. It is really valuable to get a second person to do this review, ideally someone who has not been involved in writing the response.
Remember to use spelling and grammar checkers and to write clearly and succinctly.