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How to make sure you plan and structure your tender effectively

Many people make the mistake of planning and structuring their tender at the same time. But it’s much easier to do these two things separately, says Robert Ashton

Many people make the mistake of planning and structuring their tender at the same time. But it’s much easier to do these two things separately.

Planning: Consider the main subject areas for the tender. If the tender document has not suggested subject headings come up with your own. Answer the following questions: What? Where? When? How? Why? Who?

Next, use each heading as a brainstorm for the relevant information. You should end up with all the points that the tender needs to include. These are not necessarily the headings you’ll use in the final tender. Their main function is to make sure you don’t leave anything out.

Now think about the structure. Only essential information should go in the main body of the tender. Be ruthless. Look again at the piece of paper you used for planning. Take out anything that is not specifically asked for in the tender document or that you have not identified as a ‘win theme’.

Relegate any information that is ‘important’ or ‘of interest’ to appendices, footnotes or to a separate chapter.

Do include diagrams and tables to break up the text, if appropriate. But remember to label them clearly and correctly (and reference them properly in the text).

Remember, you need to build a persuasive argument, rather than a series of unstructured responses.

Good arguments, like stories, have a beginning, a middle and an end. The beginning sets out where the client is now, the middle explains why they can’t stay there, and the end explains what to do next.

Position: This is your opportunity to show you understand the job. It is especially important if your tender will be read by people don’t have relationships with. So don’t leap in immediately with how great your firm is. And never start with details of only one part of the project or, worse still, your terms and conditions.

Get the balance right. Show you’ve got to grips with the main issues, but don’t endlessly regurgitate information they already know.

Problem: This convinces or reminds the client that ‘something must be done’. Focus on how your firm can match the client’s needs. Put in facts and figures to show you understand the project’s scope.

Possibilities: You will only need this section if there is more than one option for your recommendations. Make sure you include the pros and cons of the various options. For example, if there are two options for cladding – natural stone and manufactured stone – make sure you include details of costs, durability, appearance for both.

Proposal: This is where you give the details of your tender. Link the details to what your client wants to achieve. Include a clear tender breakdown that is easy to follow. Keep it relevant.

Make sure your subheadings act as signposts, guiding the client to find specific topics. Subheadings should be informative. Rather than write ‘Experience’, write ‘Experience: more than 20 similar projects completed this year’.

A word of warning: work out a system of subheadings first – and then check for consistency when the tender is finished.

When two tenders share common material, cutting and pasting text can be a useful short cut. But beware: It’s very easy to leave in the wrong client name, which could prove embarrassing.

Robert Ashton is chief executive, Emphasis – business-writing workshops and consultancy services