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#004 Why People Don’t Have To Be Great Writers To Create Successful Tenders

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Why People Don’t Have To Be Great Writers To Create Successful Tenders

{These transcripts have been auto-generated, while largely accurate, they may contain some errors.}

Jordan Skinner (00:14):
Afternoon Kate, how are you? Thanks for joining us on the podcast.

Kate (00:17):
Thanks very much, Jordan. And thank you very much for having me. I’m really delighted to be here today and to share some knowledge with your audience.

Jordan Skinner (00:26):
Yeah, it’s going to be good. I’m looking forward to it. The topic that we’re covering today, you and I touched on it when we spoke a couple of weeks ago. But what we want to cover is, you said something that was very interesting, which is why people don’t have to be a good writer to be good at tender writing, which was very interesting to me. But before we get into it, I’d just like to start by letting you introduce yourself to people. So could you just give us a quick 60 to 90 seconds about you and how you got into tendering and how you got into the position that you are in today?

Kate (00:54):
Yeah, sure. So I have a background in journalism and corporate comms and marketing, and I worked for some large infrastructure companies that were very active in the tendering space. And when I went out on my own as a consultant in 2003, I ended up landing my tender writing editing gig, and I was on a shipping yard in Port Adelaide, actually, for six weeks editing this very large defense tender. And my involvement in tenders grew from there. And I ended up managing large tenders for clients across Australia and New Zealand, across all sorts of industries, but certainly including construction and infrastructure. But interestingly, I kept seeing professionals have the same struggles with tenders, and I unknowingly had my own approach that I applied to winning bids. In 2017, or before that actually, I started to develop some courses and some training material on how to apply my approach to winning tenders. And in 2017, the Tender Training College was born. I really enjoy helping people to improve making tenders easier and just more effective for them.

Jordan Skinner (02:03):
Yeah, I think it’s a really valuable resource. And as I said to you, when we had our pre-show, I know it’s something that when I was still working in the construction industry, it’s a daunting task doing tenders if it’s not something that you’re used of. So having that valuable resource there, I think is really great, and it’s part of the reason I wanted to have you on the show. The next question that I’m going to, which is a bit of a backwards step, but just for the audience, could you let us know something that’s interesting and unique about you?

Kate (02:30):
Well, I’m an animal lover. And so, if I had the room, I’d probably have a mini zoo, but we have four animals at home and all their names start with B. And my partner and I did that on purpose, but anyone would quickly realize that that gets a mouthful when you’re trying to remember four names that start with B, particularly when they’re misbehaving.

Jordan Skinner (02:51):
I’m not good with names, so it would be a nightmare for me. But so, as I said, in the pre-show you said something that was very interesting when we were having a conversation around why people don’t have to be great writers if they want to be successful at writing effective tenders. What exactly do you mean by that?

Kate (03:06):
So, when we look at tenders, you don’t have to be the world’s best writer to write a top scoring tender response. Because you’re not judged or evaluated on the quality of your written word, you’re being scored or assessed on how well you’ve answered the question and how well your company or business can deliver the contract requirements if you’re successful. So really, it comes down to clearly communicating the approach your company will take if it becomes, or if it is to be the preferred supplier. If you’re looking at a tender question that potentially asks for your methodology to build a two storey house, it’s asking you to tell the prospective client, what is your approach to constructing this two storey home?

Kate (03:56):
And so to do that, we need to communicate to the people at the other end like they have little or no knowledge of the process of how to build a house. Because, remember, the person who is evaluating the tender, they’re not a university English professor, I’m pretty sure. They’re, in fact, they’re people like you and I. And sometimes, like myself, would have no knowledge of how to build a house. And so, when we’re actually trying to communicate our approach, we really probably should be talking to someone like me, who has no idea, and trying to explain ourselves as clearly and explicitly as possible and giving them as much detail, like you would be explaining to me who knows nothing about building a house.

Jordan Skinner (04:40):
Yeah. I think that’s really important. I think sometimes when you’re in the business every day, whether it’s landscaping or civil construction or construction, you expect everybody else to have that same amount of knowledge. So I think what you just said there was pretty important, making sure that you simplify things and try and think that you’re explaining things to somebody that’s never had a clue or never looked at what it is that you’re doing. I think that’s great. So why do you think that it is that people get really stuck in that mindset around needing to be a great writer with their tenders?

Kate (05:08):
Well, I think, Jordan, really, it comes down to the fact that tenders involve so many written words. And the one thing about tenders that hasn’t changed over the years is that they’re largely a written response. And in addition to that, the documents themselves and the questions can be confusing, and the wording is a bit like a second language sometimes. And I think just getting past those obstacles initially is where people get stuck. But often, people also might think that they’re not great writers. They might be fantastic builders or estimators or landscapers or plumbers, for example, but writing may not come as naturally to them as what some of those other skillsets that they use every day.

Kate (05:50):
And it’s easy for me to say, as a professional writer, but as I said, I’m a terrible builder. So if you were to approach writing tenders, as I said, explaining yourselves as you would to me in layman’s terms and really giving me the full details, it helps you get on the right track. And it’s a really, just a good place to start, I think. Because it’s like having a conversation with someone, and if you can treat tenders a bit like being in a conversation with someone and telling them how you’re going to build that house, and that comes a lot more naturally to people as well and helps them get stuck and starts to help them put words on paper.

Jordan Skinner (06:28):
Yeah. So what are some of the unintended consequences of somebody that may be overthinking tender writing, or trying to take a bit more of an approach like they’re Shakespeare and just overcomplicating things? What sort of things or problems are they running into?

Kate (06:44):
They probably find it hard to maybe even start writing, if there’s a lot of things that are competing for their attention. And writers blank would probably come up for a lot of people, perhaps from the fear of not being able to write well enough, or not being able to write in a way that’s going to score them top marks. And I imagine that, for a lot of people, they would avoid tenders for that reason. Like with anything, the more you do it, the better you get. And certainly, the more familiar you are with tenders and the questions, you then start to improve your writing and improve the way in which you approach tenders. There are a lot of factors that contribute to writing tenders, but you want to be able to write a response, as I said, that really clearly communicates your approach. And if you can manage that in terms of a professional conversation style, telling them how your company does business.

Jordan Skinner (07:37):
So for those who are listening to this, what is step number one that they can take today in order to help their tender writing?

Kate (07:45):
So I think, Jordan, the key to writing a successful tender is really understanding what the question is asking. So you can be the greatest writer in the world, but if you don’t take the time to understand what is the client wanting me to respond to with this question, then you’re never ever going to score great points. So I would advise to really take the time before you start beginning to write, to read all the questions in the tenders and then go into each one, break down the keywords, figure out what they are actually asking and how you’re going to answer them individually, and what information is going to go where in what question.

Kate (08:26):
Because otherwise, what we tend to find is we put information that’s going to score us top marks in the wrong sections or under the wrong questions. And it’s helpful then to, once you have a strong understanding of what the question’s asking, to set up a framework structure for your response and map out the elements you want to discuss. So that makes sure that you’ve considered all the questions in the tender the way that you’re going to answer them, and you’ve got a bit of a pathway forward in how you’re going to actually respond.

Jordan Skinner (08:59):
Yeah. Okay. I think that’s really valuable. So Kate, we know that now that people aren’t being evaluated on how well they write when they’re putting together their tenders, so what is it that they’re actually being evaluated on?

Kate (09:11):
So Jordan, I guess, the very first thing the evaluators are looking for is that you’ve answered the question directly and conclusively with enough information to completely answer the question. So yeah, obviously answering the question completely with a direct answer in a clear and concise manner, so that means that you’re including also any type of mandatory information that’s being requested. Importantly, it also means that you’ve addressed the evaluation criteria. And from a compliance perspective, you’ve also addressed any of the relevant tender requirements in that response. And I guess the other element of a winning tender response for writing a winning tender response really comes down to how you communicate the benefits of your approach to the client. And at the end of the day, they are judging you or evaluating on which tender offers the best value for money. So we have to identify, what is important to the client and how can we provide that value to them over the term of the contract. So, how can you add value to your approach in terms of the overall quality that you’re delivering?

Kate (10:21):
And then lastly, we have to set out the response in a form that is easy for them to read and score. So the key aspect there is making sure that you have a very clear structure that’s set up to reflect the questions that the client’s asked, in the same format that they’ve sent it out. That you’re using, as we’ve talked about before, easy to read language, simple sentences, really communicating those message well, as I said, with enough information to ensure you’re answering who, what, why, where and how. And making sure, as well, that you’re backing up any claims with evidence, including data and stats and figures. And that really, I guess, makes your response far more credible at the end of the day. So thinking about it when you’re answering the questions, the client wants to know that you can meet their requirements over the term of the contract, and also potentially then showing evidence of where you’ve met similar requirements for other clients as well.

Jordan Skinner (11:22):
Okay, great. I remember listening to something in Shivendra & Co, was it five pillars, or you had some framework…?

Kate (11:27):
That was probably what I was talking about there. So that answered the question directly and conclusively, ensuring that it’s compliant. So compliant against the requirements and the evaluation criteria. Demonstrating value for money, and making sure that it’s written and presented in a form that’s easy to read and score. So, as I said, we put a lot of pressure on ourselves sometimes, I think, in terms of, as we just said, the quality of the written word. But at the end of the day, our job is to answer the question and answer the question with sufficient detail, and make sure that’s compliant. And I think if people can remember those key steps… And we’re trying to communicate, we don’t often know who our audience is at the other side of the table, in terms of the evaluation team. So we can assume that there will be a subject matter expert, potentially. If you’re writing on safety, there might be a safety person reading it. It might just be a procurement officer or official in the room who doesn’t have any knowledge of the subject.

Jordan Skinner (12:33):
And that’s good, because in the previous one, you did speak about writing as if the other person on the other end has no idea about how to do the job. So I think that’s good. So Kate, if there’s one takeaway that you would like people to get from listening to this episode about writing better tenders, what is it?

Kate (12:49):
Look, I think, at the end of the day, it’s people reading our tender responses and people buying people. So we want to be able to engage them. And I think about tender writing as telling a story, and I keep coming back to this concept of having a conversation as we’re writing, and it makes tender writing a lot easier. Communicating your story and your approach, the who, the what, the why, the where, the how, with sufficient detail to the person at the other end. And like everything, if you come into work on a Monday and you say, “And how was your weekend, Kate?” And I would say, “Oh, Jordan, it was great. I went to the cricket on the weekend and Australia beat England.” Then you would ask me questions like, “Oh, whereabouts did you go? What was the final score? And how did you get there? And who did you go with?” And that’s our normal conversation style. So when we’re writing tenders, particularly when we’re writing questions around our methodology and our approach, we want to be able to give the reader and the evaluator all the detail as part of that response.

Jordan Skinner (13:57):
I think that’s really great. And I think that is one thing that people tend to do. I know I did when I was writing tenders. You just overcomplicate things and forget that, at the end of the day, you’re talking to another person on the other end of the piece of paper or the presentation. So I think just making sure that you stay in that mindset, as you’re just communicating no differently you would with somebody else, I think it maybe takes some of the complication away. So let’s just round things out, Kate. If you could go back in time to when you were writing your first tender, what piece of advice would you give yourself?

Kate (14:28):
It’s a tricky one, but I think one of the things, I think, is about always putting yourself in the shoes of the prospective client. And that includes the people that are reading your document, as well as the client that’s going to be managing the contract if you’re the successful supplier. And so I’m always asking myself throughout the tender, what’s the client hoping to achieve? And normally, within the construction industry, it’s on time, on budget, with low risk. And we really want to be able to put ourselves in the shoes of the prospective client and say, well, what’s their objectives? How can we help meet them with our approach? And really then, putting yourself in the shoes of the people that are reading the tenders. And as you would appreciate, they receive so many responses and, like all of us, are time poor. And so, they have limited time and limited resources to evaluate these responses, so making it easier for them to read as possible.

Kate (15:27):
As I said, really providing direct answers to the questions. So making sure that you’re including information that’s easy to read and score, providing enough details, and answering the questions in the format that they’ve requested. As I said, you want to make it engaging for them, so tell them about your past experience, how you can help them, what value you can add, and how you’re going to meet the requirements. So I always say, put your client hat on as you’re writing your tender.

Jordan Skinner (15:55):
Yeah, that’s awesome. So if people want to learn more about you and more about your business, where can they go to find out more?

Kate (16:02):
If you visit our website, the, that would give them a range of information about some of the training courses that we offer for people within the construction sector. And certainly if anyone wanted to reach out personally, you can email me at if you’ve got any questions about what we’ve covered today or how you might go about implementing that into your tendering going forward.

Jordan Skinner (16:30):
Awesome. Well, thanks very much for coming on the show. I know I appreciate your time, it’s been great talking with you. And as Kate said, get in touch if you have any questions. But other than that, have a good rest of your day, Kate.

Kate (16:41):
Thanks so much, Jordan. I appreciate your time.