In my many years working with not for profits and charities as a tender writer, it’s not surprising that one of the biggest challenges is lack of resources. When it comes to tender writing, time frames are short, expectations are high and staff are already busy with their day to day work. Additionally, there is need to collaborate and engage with external (and internal) stakeholders. There is a lot to pull together and usually much at stake when it comes to tender writing.
Not for profits and charities are increasingly turning to the engagement of contract tender writers. Yes, tender writers provide an excellent opportunity to manage the demand on internal resources but a word of caution – there are risks to be considered when using an external tender writer. The key thing to remember is that you are putting your trust in the skills of the tender writer and with limited time frames there is little (no!) room for error.
Tips for Engaging an External Tender Writer
Consider these tips before engaging a contract tender writer to help minimise those risks and give your tender the greatest chance at success:
1. Who will be the key person within your organisation to coordinate working with the tender writer? Who has the knowledge, who has the influence/authority to engage others and harness the necessary input for the success of the tender? My advice is this person needs to have a degree of authority otherwise they risk not being able to call staff to action. Without authority comes the risk they will simply be the one blamed when assistance is not forthcoming for the tender writer.
2. Who will be final person/s to approve the tender submission? Make sure that person sees a draft early enough to allow for amendments or changes. Sometimes this is a Senior person, a team of people or the subject-matter ‘expert’ within the organisation. A huge word of caution.. consider carefully when the final approver sees the tender draft otherwise you can sets yourself up for major changes at the eleventh hour.
3. Who will provide key business information and arrange signing and/or submission of the tender documents – ensure that is discussed with the tender writer so that lines of responsibility are very clear when it gets to the business end of the submitting the tender. Often a CEO can sign the necessary pages ahead of time.
4. What key background information do you have on hand to give to the tender writer so they can get a broad understanding of your not for profit or charity. Provide that information as early as possible so the tender writer can get context and come up with suitable questions.
5. Collaboration – will your tender writer need to engage with individuals or organisations outside of yours? What about letters of support? The sooner you start on them the better and who are you assigning that task to?
6. Do you know what a successful tender looks like for your not for profit or charity? Might seem like a silly question, but previous successful tenders are an excellent resource and can populate future tenders with background information. They make a great go to for information.
7. Have you considered including a case study or real life example? These add a powerful dimension to tenders and sometimes provide the necessary human element to get your tender over the line ie the difference between success and failure. Stories are quite simply one of the most powerful ways get an emotional message across.
8. Consider taking a team approach and assign different sections of the tender to various individuals. They don’t necessarily have to write parts of the tender but can work closely with the tender writer and be responsible for agreeing to the draft of their section.
9. I have a lot of experience implementing large scale tenders so know my way arrange project management well. I find a basic project management style approach to assigning resources and timeframes is a great way to bring all relevant parties on board with expectations when it comes to tender writing. From the outset, a spreadsheet or similar makes a good tool for outlining all the key components of the tender plus critical paths/activities and then assigning responsibility and timeframes. Share the information with all those involved and ensure you have the necessary buy-in or authority to delegate to those individuals. Share this with the tender writer and provide them with relevant contact details and you are well on the way to working towards a superior and stress-free submission.
10. Last but not least, set clear communication boundaries and expectations with your tender writer. Arrange regular catch ups and set times for when you will review particular draft sections. A ‘section by section’ approach is a manageable way to ensure your tender writer is meeting your expectations and allows you time to manage major changes if required.
Engaging an external contract tender writer is an effective and affordable way to achieve success with tenders writing, but not surprisingly is dependent on getting the right tender writer in the first place. Even when you have engaged the best tender writer, it still requires a good, clear internal management approach with that tender writer and relevant internal stakeholders. Plan for success at the earliest step to the tender writing process and take a coordinated approach to both internal and external resources, particularly when it comes to managing an external tender writer.
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